Basic Principles for Spiritual Builders
Basic Principles for Spiritual Builders
We are laborers on a spiritual construction crew hired to build a spiritual building. Are you following the blue prints of the Master Builder?
I'd like to begin by thanking the GCE planning committee for the work that they put in each year. They are a group of people that work behind the scenes and they work for, literally, the entirety of the year in some form. When we leave here, the next day after the General Conference of Elders they'll go through a briefing to see what can be done to improve, what was done well and what is to be maintained. Summer is a little softer in terms of their schedule, but right after the Feast of Tabernacles they are busy again. This last year Mr. Dave Register, the chairman of that committee, sent a memo to all the committee members and said, "We've got a teleconference on November the 2 nd and I want you to come prepared with theme titles." Well, on Nov. 2, we came online and one of the committee members, Mr. Bill Bradford, suggested 'Build the House' and here we are half a year later with an excellent theme and and opportunity for both of the speakers to concentrate on that particular message. Mr. Salyer and I talked after arriving to make sure that we weren't talking about the same thing. I was a little apprehensive that I was stepping into his bailiwick and thankfully he didn't, so we were able to speak without covering each other's topic.
You can take the term 'Build the House' in many directions, in fact, Mr. Salyer mentioned just exactly that. He took it here, he took it there, he took the spiritual, he took the Godly, he took the eternal, he took the Church. I'd like to take it in a different direction. I'd like to begin by asking a question. What drives an architect, a builder or a skilled artisan in the building trades as they face the same question? I have a number of men who are skilled from architects to electricians to drywallers, to general contractors in the Portland area and I know if I sat down and talked with them, I'd get a range of answers. There are, obviously, a number of answers to the question.
Last summer I had the opportunity to go to Chicago to do something that I had thought about occasionally, but never had the chance to do. I went into the Chicago suburb where Frank Lloyd Wright lived on a beautiful summer day and walked the six or seven blocks around his personal residence looking at, one by one, from the earliest of his designs all the way up to the grand Prairie style of homes that became the hallmark of Frank Lloyd Wright. I had the opportunity to take a guided tour through his personal residence and hear the guide as we walked through the home describe the thoughts in his mind, the concepts that he envisioned, the styles that he embraced as he, as an architect, devised an entire vision of architecture for that day and time. Our world – when I say 'our world', I'm referring to we, the Church of God – our world is different from Frank Lloyd Wright's. We are not the Architects. We work for the Architect and we work for the Master Builder as laborers and craftsmen. But none of us is the Architect of the plans that we work on. None of us is the Master Builder. We have all hired on as laborers and craftsmen and every single one of us is driven by our loyalty to Him, by our loyalty to His designs, by our loyalty to His vision for the future. Even when we can't visualize all of His structural design clearly, we still work according to His architectural plans. If you find a truly, great architect, and you come down from his level to those who are subordinate or support, you will find at that level men and women who embrace his philosophy, embrace his ideas of design. And there is a phenomenal loyalty to where he's going. The same is true here. We've embraced His design, we have embraced His vision for the future and at times we walk along, as Mr. Salyer alluded to, we don't always clearly see where the road goes, but we do trust the skills of the master builder.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 5 and verse 7, Paul makes a comment – in fact, in your Bibles, it's probably in parentheses because it stands alone. It's one of those verses that needs no context. It is in a context, but it can be taken from the context and applied as a universal. The Apostle Paul reminded the Corinthians in the middle of the thought that we walk by faith and not by sight. As I said, it's a freestanding concept. It doesn't need a context to make it understandable. Every single one of us from the time that we signed on as laborers in this field have walked, at times seeing where we are going, at times not seeing where we are going, but always dedicated to the Architect, the Master Builder. If you stop and look at our calling - and it doesn't matter who you are: the newest member, the oldest member, a deacon and deaconess, an elder – it doesn't matter. We were hired to build a building. We are laborers on a spiritual construction crew. Our Church seal which we labored over for quite some time - looked at many, many, many designs over years before finally settling on the one that has become our symbol - carries the two basic design elements of the building Christ is building: Preach the Gospel, Prepare a People. I'd like to concentrate today on the first design element in that equation: Preaching the Gospel.
I think most of us are aware, whether we stop and think about it, whether we massage it mentally, whether we go over it – all of us are aware that preaching the gospel is the first step in preparing a people. It is the first stage of building, if you will. Consider what Paul had to say to the Romans regarding this very concept in Romans chapter 10, verses 13 through 15. The Apostle Paul walks step by step by step through an equation. He says,
Rom. 10:13 - For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.
There are many evangelical thinkers who stop with this verse, look at that verse alone, preach it exclusively. It isn't freestanding like the previous quotation. This one is connected and without it's connection, it doesn't make sense. Paul says,
Verse 14 - How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?
Verse 15 -And how shall they preach, except they be sent?
Yes, it's nice to know that whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, but there's an entire blueprint for how that takes place. You can't have a people to prepare – the second leg of our construction plan – unless they are called. And they can't be called unless they hear. And they can't hear unless we preach.
Preaching the gospel and residential design share a common reality. What attracts and moves people changes from generation to generation. Every single one of you who studies your Bible from an historical standpoint sees the dynamics of calling and response are never static. They change and they vary through every age within the scriptures. To carry that analogy a little further in terms of residentials, if you leave this auditorium and go out to the highway beside us and take it in toward Cincinnati, you will go through a community that goes all the way back to, I believe, the latter part of the 1700's, the beginning of the 1800's, the community called Newtown. As you drive through it, you will see historic examples of what was necessary, what was needed, what was appropriate for residences at the turn of the century between the end of the 1700's and the beginning of the 1800's - simple, rectangular, 2-story, narrow in length. In the mid 1800's, the grand, Victorian, painted ladies were symbolic of the opulence of that time. Homes literally covered with gingerbread, tricolored paint schemes, different designs on shingles, millwork from top to bottom. The mood changed as the century changed and men like Frank Lloyd Wright brought in the arts and crafts movement and the appeal was on simplicity. At the end of the Second World War, due to the economy and due to the fact that society needed everything that it could put, in terms of resources, into the war effort, houses were the classic, cracker-box houses – small, 900 to 1,000 (sq. ft.) unpretentious dwellings. And as prosperity began to hit America in the postwar period, the vision was the suburban ranch home.
You know, it doesn't matter what period, to build intelligently key principles need to be kept in the forefront of the mind – whether it was the Federal Period I alluded to originally, Victorian, the Arts and Crafts, or the modern Ranch. There are two key principles that are critical to our day and to our efforts as a Church, key principles, important to understanding how we are to go about Building the House.
1) Times change / objectives do not. You know, housing styles may change, sizes of homes may change, construction materials may change. But one constant remains: people need a roof over their heads, a place to protect them from the elements. Every generation has contributed to different conceptions of what that should look like and what it should be like. That constant has never gone away. Times change, objectives do not.
For two thousand years spiritual laborers have been supplied to the same basic blueprint. I don't care whether it's Peter, Paul, James and John or whether it is the United Church of God today or anyone in between the two, the master blueprint placed before them has been the same. Mr. Salyer took you to a place, read a scripture that I am going to read to you and put the emphasis on a different syllable, as they sometimes say. We will go to the exact same place and emphasize totally different elements of it. I'd like you to turn back to Matthew chapter 28 once more. Jesus Christ, at the time that this is written at the time of the conclusion of this Gospel, is but a short time away from ascending into the cloud, disappearing from the sight of His disciples, having the angels say, "Why are you standing there staring into heaven? He's gone. Get on with your work." And He says to them before His departure,
Mat. 28:19 - Go ye therefore... and I, like Mr. Salyer, am reading from the King James ...Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit:
Verse 20 - Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.
Was there an expiration date on the commission? Not according to verse 20. If I am with you always, even to the end of the world, then you'd better be about the business of doing the building until the end of the world. This was not a commission for twelve men standing there listening. It was a blueprint for every generation, no matter how limited in resources, no matter how limited in capacity, or no matter how deep and broad were their resources and their ability to fulfill the commission. The blueprint was the same. Have we ever outgrown it? Was there ever a time in the last two thousand years when the Church of God could say, well, "We passed that, we've outgrown it." Is there ever a time when it has become obsolete – its no longer applicable? Is there a time when you figuratively take that blueprint, roll it up, put it in it's tube, stack it on a shelf and say, "We're not going there again."? It's an absurd question. Times, moods, customs and temperaments change, but the blueprint doesn't. As we preach the gospel to the world, we have to remember those facts. You are in a situation where you have balance pans on both sides and both are relevant. You can't focus on one or the other to the exclusion of the opposite, it doesn't work. You have to remember both. Times, moods, customs and temperaments change, but the blueprint doesn't. As we preach the gospel to the world, we have to remain focused on those facts. We have to work off the same blueprint even though the times, the moods, and the temperaments have changed. This is not the world. And I say this in the sense that this is a body of people who understand a day of great accomplishments in our culture. This is not the world of the 1960's. And to ignore that is to go about - the equivalent as a contractor today, finding yourself a lot, going out and building yourself an absolutely lovely 1960's ranch home and then expect people to want to buy it. What changes must we respect? What has taken place between 1960 and today that we need to respect? Among some of the seminars that exist on an ongoing basis either in Ministerial Refresher programs, GCE workshops, Louisville weekends have been some of those presentations on generational differences. I think at times we need to look at a completely different facet of the generational difference issue. Probably the component that has the biggest effect upon our work today as compared to the 1960's: we're not preaching to the generation of the '60's and we cannot expect the modern generation to respond as did the people of the '60's.
I would like to take you for a moment to a listing of the Cohorts in the United States. It is from a study by William Strauss and Neil Howe – many of you are familiar with the book, Generations of the Fourth Turning – as they describe some of the different bodies of people and the dynamics that move those bodies of people. If you look at the people who drove the society between 1960 and 1970, and you look at the people who drive the society between 1995 and 2010, they are a different people. They are not alike. They don't think alike, they don't see the world around them alike. Those generations that move the society - meaning those who have come of age - they have married, established families, are established in their careers – those in the 1960's would be somewhere between (age) 25 and 30 on the low end, (age) 55 to 60 on the upper end. They were marked by these qualities: in the 1960's when the Church of God was growing exponentially, this was the mindset of the audience who listened. The Cohort, referred to as the WWII Cohort, born between 1922 and 1927 was characterized by the nobility of sacrifice, a sense of the common good, a high regard for patriotism and a sense of team play. The postwar Cohort born between 1928 and 1945, characterized by conformity, conservatism, traditional family values were the audience that we spoke to in the 1960's. And we spoke to those qualities. We spoke to those characteristics. Most of us in this room are Baby Boomers by age. The older segment in this room are in the WWII Cohort. There are probably few, if any, that fall below that level.
The Baby Boomers, such a huge body of people, they are divided into Cohort 1 and 2. They are the economic movers and shakers of today. They are the largest mass of the American, and probably even the Western world's, population. They are marked by these qualities: individualism, free-spiritedness, distrust of government and general cynicism. This is not the audience of the '60's. The blueprint 'go you therefore into all the world and preach the gospel to everyone and work with those who respond' is the same. The house is not a 1960's ranch.
The fruits of that have spilled over into many different areas. One of the fruits that has sprung into our society's fabric since the '60's is the decline of institutional religion. And along with that decline of institutional religion it has had major effects upon the society. With the decline of old-line Protestant denominations and the rise of community churches and unaffiliated mega-churches, the strong, very set and established doctrinal biases of denominations have softened. And with that softening we have experienced some very interesting effects. In fact, they have had effects upon us in a most unusual way. One of those is as we preach the gospel, we are faced with the fact that the uniquenesses of our faith in the '60's are no longer unique. You can channel surf on Sunday through religion and you will find prophet upon prophet upon prophet upon prophet upon prophet preaching about the end of the age and the book of Revelation and Daniel. You will find that people with a relatively complacent shrug acknowledge the paganness of the pagan holidays. I booted up my computer, I believe on Easter Sunday, and MSN came up on the screen and over where their cyclical news feature flashes on, up came the flash of the pagan origins of Easter. This is my entry screen into msn.com. Click the button. Looks like somebody did a cut and paste from one of our booklets - screensaver on one of the largest ISP providers in the world – information that once upon a time was quiet shocking to people.
The secularizing of America has had its own profound effects. I chide Northwesterners at times for being the great unwashed - meaning simply in that regard there is probably a low (I shouldn't say 'probably') - demographically the Northwest is an area that has statistically a lower involvement in religion in terms of the percentage of people who attend church, go to church, avow affiliation with church. So it is in that context that I speak. And yet, on the front page of last Sunday's Oregonian was an article (a front page of a section if you would pardon me – not the front page of the entire paper) was a lead article on the rise of Biblical illiteracy in the United States. We've always laughed at how people when given quizzes do poorly. They did the same. They were having a chuckle at the fact that the answer to who was Joan of Arc was that she was Noah's wife. They can understand the connection, but sort of missed. The inability to tell the difference between the sayings of Benjamin Franklin and those of Solomon – you know, not as bad as it could be. Some of the wisdom of Benjamin Franklin sounded like the wisdom of Solomon. But the article went on to show that we have reached a time in our society where there is broad ignorance of even the most fundamental elements of the Bible. One of the reasons, as we all are aware, is the endless assault on religion in any public forum. Another one is simply the fact that we have reached a day and time in our society where the relevancy of the Bible has been marginalized. There is a common attitude of 'what difference does it make?' Or, 'why should it make any difference?' And when you reach the place where the Bible is looked as 'it's an interesting book, it's a piece of our culture, a part of the fabric of our past, but in terms of relevance, it simply does not have relevance.' You have a challenging audience. You have a difficult audience.
We have another element that I would refer to as 'the Daniel 12 effect' and it has had quite an interesting affect upon society. It is in Daniel 12, of course, that God had said to Daniel, "Daniel, go your way, seal these books." He said the time would come when men would run to and fro and knowledge would increase. You know, in the 1960's, I remember when we installed the IBM 360 computer and the absolute, total awe at this machine that made available the sorting, the collating, the filing of information in a way that none of the previous types of tools could even begin to match. Now we look back at that and laugh at how archaic it was. Those who thought that we had reached the entire world through the mediums of television and the printed word in the 1960's, couldn't even imagine the capacity to reach the world with the mediums that are here today. The entire developing part of the world experienced something that you couldn't imagine. All the conventions of the past said that you had to work societally through certain stages of physical development. And the developing countries simply did not have the wherewithal and the resources when it came to communication to lay the land lines, to connect their communities and their villages. And so communication was forever hampered. And with the advent of the satellite and the cell phone, the developing countries hopscotched an entire level of development and went from the capacity to communicate to space age communication. There is no place in this world so remote that you cannot communicate on a 'first world' basis. Herbert W. Armstrong died not even remotely capable of grasping the capacities that knowledge dissemination would make available a decade or two after his death.
One of the side effects that I watched on the news not too long ago was a commentary that said, "You know, today a criminal has a very difficult time getting away with a crime in a public place." And they showcased a particular criminal who had committed a crime and there were 10, 15, 20 different people with cell phones that had captured every conceivable angle of the commission of the crime and the escape from the scene. We live in a world that has phenomenal communication capabilities. And on the tail of that same coin, is a dilemma that is created, that is a horrible dilemma for us and that is, in the world of communication. We have so diluted the media that is hard to figure out how to reach people. In the '60's, you had your choice in a good market of three channels: an ABC, a CBS and an NBC. You take your pick. Today you surf through 50 channels of nothing and then turn it off to go and read a book. But buried in those fifty may be a legitimate message and that's for the people who can only afford economy cable. The others have to surf through multiple times that many and end up wondering why they turned it on in the first place. We face those challenges.
All of this confronts us with one of the greatest building challenges of all times. How do we reach the hearts and the minds of the world around us? We haven't changed our desire. We haven't changed anything. The blueprint is the same thing. The dedication to the desire and the Architect is the same. The zeal to carry out His mission is the same. How do you reach the hearts and the minds of the world around us? That leads us to a second principle.
2) You didn't pick the assignment and you don't control the outcome. As labors on this great project, one of the great truths that all of us have to remember as the years go by, is that we didn't pick the assignment and we don't control the outcome. Typical of ministers – those of you here who are ministers know the way it goes. Mr. Salyer and I ask each other the question, which scriptures are you using and I'd forgotten, if I actually knew it, that he was going to John 15 and I said, "Stay away from there." He stayed in a different part. We read this every year at the Passover time. I'd like to read a few verses past where Mr. Salyer read to remind us of the reality of the point I just made. As I said, you didn't pick the assignment and you don't control the outcome. In John 15 and verse 16 Christ said to His disciples,
John 15:16 -You have not chosen me... You know, at times we forget the fact that we're not here because we chose to be here. Even those who are second and third generation who are here, have to eventually come back to the fact that you aren't here because you chose to be here. If you don't understand that, you've got a fundamental that you need to reestablish. You have not chosen me, I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give you.
We didn't pick the assignment, the assignment picked us. And so I can be a little more precise, when I said you don't control the outcome, we don't control the ultimate outcome. It is foolhardiness to say to any laborer who labors with energy, zeal and drive and with all the components that Mr. Salyer put before - which are the guidance of God, the inspiration of God and the Spirit of God - that you don't have some control. But we have never had the ultimate control and we have never been offered ultimate control. God has said, "This belongs to Me. This is My domain. You work for Me and at certain levels I give you both responsibility and authority, but ultimately the task is Mine, the end results are Mine." That can be difficult at times. For those of us here, it can be very difficult because unlike the day laborers you may see on the corner in an industrial part of town, you know they are waiting there in the hopes that somebody needs day labor and will stop and say, "Okay, we need five of you or ten of you for this particular job." Unlike the day laborer, you and I have an emotional investment in this building. We stand back and say, I didn't design it, I'm not the architect that envisioned its shape and size and its use, but like every good craftsman who works inside of those parameters, we have a sense of ownership and we have a pride of craftsmanship and we have a deep concern for the quality of what is produced.
So we may not be the architects, general contractors, but every one of us has a vested interest in the quality and a pride in the quality of what is produced. You may ask, well why bring this up? Because we all yearn deep down inside for the same thing. There is nowhere within the Church of God at any level where the yearning is not for the same thing within this building. There's not a thing in the world that stirs all of us and excites all of us more than growth – growth in all of its forms. When I look at my entire life within the Church of God, the most exciting times and experiences in my whole life in terms of a snapshot is sitting in the years of 1957, '58 and '59 at the Feast of Tabernacles in Big Sandy listening to the roll call of the States and the simple request, "Would every person who is new and here for the first time, stand up." To watch a third of the room rise to their feet and stand was electrifying. To listen every year as that fledgling body grew in its attendance by a third, to hear as the roll call of the States to a place. There were States that you remembered from the previous year that were called and no one rose as you looked through the auditorium to see if there is a soul in the room who stood up at the call of Maine or North Dakota or Rhode Island, one of the geographically smaller States or one of the more remote States or one of the less populated States. And you came back the next year in anticipation and say, will somebody rise to their feet from there this year? Speaking to the elders and the pastors, that are in this room, there is not an experience that any one in this room has that supersedes the absolute delight in watching the experience in someone else of first love; the energy, the zeal, the excitement that is resident in the face and the voice and the mannerisms of the person that is experiencing first love have no equal; the simple delight in watching the numbers within a congregation grow and the synergy that it makes possible. I have delight as a pastor, for instance, in Portland, OR watching for the last two years a 'birth-quake'. I think we have in the neighborhood of thirty members of our congregation who are below the ages of four or five. It is an absolute thrill to watch a new generation physically, to know as you look at multiple generations in the fabric of that congregation that they are potentially, one day, people who will be sitting, if time goes on in that fashion, in a room like this making the decisions that will come forth from bodies like this. These are the things that we all want. I think many of us live emotionally in the world of Haggai chapter 2 and verse 3. The question was asked at that time in the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month where the word came to Haggai from God and the question was asked
Hag. 2:3 - Who is left among you that saw this house in her glory? and how do you see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing?
I've had enough conversations with enough people in enough continents and enough settings to know that verse 3 of Haggai 2 is resident in the hearts of ministers and members alike. We also have to live in Hag. 2 and verse 4 where He said,
Verse 4 - Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all you people of the land, says the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts:
Build a House was a good title for this year's GCE. As I said, we don't control the times, we don't control the tempo of the times. We have a blueprint to work with and it is not altered, nor has our function. And as He said to these people who were emotionally in verse 3, He said, "I've got a work for you to do and I want you to do it." There are times in history when the laborers simply stood and watched the avalanche of response. It is a delight to read the book of Acts starting with the day of Pentecost about the baptisms on that day and then read the next few weeks as they just incidentally in an 'oh, by the way' fashion say, "Oh, by the way, there were thousands added here." and "Oh, by the way, there were a thousand more added here." You start adding these multipliers. Peter and James and John were sitting there and watching a literal avalanche of response. There were those who lived in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah where the numbers were far smaller, but there was a determination across the board to do what was right. What they lacked during the days of Ezra and Nehemiah in numbers they made up for in the quality of commitment and dedication. And there were yet other times that try the hearts of dedicated laborers when you have to labor even when you see no evidence that your labor produces anything.
We have some cultural phrases in our Church that evoke images. In the society around us if somebody wants to bring forward an image of – I use the term romance and I don't mean that in the sexual sense but in the sense of days of glory and days of splendor. They think of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. When we do that internally, I can say a phrase to you and it invokes that same majesty, that same energy, that same mystery. It is the phrase, 'doing the work of Elijah'. You want to know the person who was least inspired by the thought of doing the work of Elijah? His name was Elijah. In 1 Kings chapter 19 all of us are intimately familiar with the still, small voice that spoke to a disheartened prophet in a cave in the wilderness whose view of doing the work of Elijah was this.
1 Kings 19:14 - I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and slain your prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
Not a whole lot of encouragement at this time for doing the work. You know what? When you read that verse and you ponder it – you ponder it in its context because this was dialogged between this man and God. His discouragement didn't change a thing. God didn't even hesitate. He, simply, at the end of that breath from Elijah said, "Get out there and do the work." Elijah is falling on his sword and he is beating his breast and in the next breath,
Verse 15 - The LORD said unto him, Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus: and when you have come, anoint Hazael to be king over Syria:
And then I want you to go from there (verse 16) and I want you to anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi to be king over Israel and when you're finished with that I want you to anoint Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abelmeholah, you anoint him to be your successor. You know, God didn't blink. He didn't scold. He didn't philosophize. He didn't say, "Let's discuss this". He said, "I've got work for you to do."
Now, so He didn't leave the man totally bereft, He said, "Oh, by the way, you miscounted slightly. There are seven thousand that they didn't wipe out (verse 18), but that's incidental because I've got a work for you to do and I want you to do it."
All of us need to remember one thing as we labor. It is the point that I made at the beginning of this segment. You didn't pick the assignment, you don't control the outcome. We pray for the same results. We desire the same results. We are encouraged and inspired by the same results. It doesn't change our work whether we have phenomenal results, modest results or no results. We have a house to build today. The blueprint is the same blueprint that has been there for two thousand years. As we enter the job site, there's not a one of us who knows as the trucks roll up how much building material will be delivered to the site for us to work with. Maybe we'll not change the task at hand. Regardless, whether we see vast growth like Peter and Paul, modest resistance like Ezra, a simple holding of the line like Elijah – the job is the same. Build the House.