A Place Where People Count
“A PLACE WHERE PEOPLE COUNT”
Jesus: Head Of The Church – Part 2
Big’s Discount Store in Middletown, Texas, closed several months ago. According to a company spokesman it closed simply because of a lack of profit. And when asked why they thought this particular store didn’t make it, residents of the town made the following comments: “It’s too big;” “It’s too hard to find things;” “It’s too impersonal.” But the local Wal-Mart is huge and still thriving. Why does Wal-Mart continue to do such a good business when Big’s did not?
Well there are several factors, but the primary reason Wal-Mart does well is personal attention I think. People seem to matter. There’s a greeter at the door. There are personnel eager to help you find what you need. And Wal-Mart is noted for giving good service and treating people right.
Paul Harvey recently told of an elderly couple who borrowed their neighbor’s truck to go to Wal-Mart and they brought home a truckload of mulch. But several days later they realized they still didn’t have enough mulch and they discovered that in the interim their neighbor had sold his truck. So they called the local Wal-Mart and asked if they would deliver the mulch. And the manager said, “Well, we’ll see what we can do.” And several hours later he came with a truckload of mulch. When they offered to pay him for the delivery, the manager said, “Well actually Wal-Mart does not deliver. I borrowed my neighbor’s truck to bring this to you.”
You know, when people matter like that a business will continue to grow and thrive, regardless of its size.
Now my question for you today is this: Will the future of Oakwood Park Christian Church be like the local Big’s, or will it be like Wal-Mart? Will people count, or will we just count people? This is such an ongoing critical issue that we need to revisit it again and again. If we want God to bless this church in the future then we’ve got to be the most people friendly church we can be.
In Luke 13, Jesus talked about His vision for the church. Jesus intended the church to be a foretaste of what the eternal kingdom of God would be in Heaven—a place where every individual is valued and loved. And in Luke 13:18-35, I see five characteristics that the Lord wants in His church. And when these qualities are present they guarantee individual significance.
I. THE CHURCH IS TO BE A GROWING PLACE. (Luke 13:18-22)
First, the church is to be a growing place.
Verse 18: “Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches’” (vv. 18, 19). Now the mustard seed was so tiny that it could barely be seen on the tip of a finger, but when it was planted in the ground it would grow and expand until it was a fairly large tree, a large shrub, about the size of some Redbud trees – so big that birds could build their nests in it. And Jesus was just saying the growth was massive in comparison with a small beginning.
Verse 20: “Again he asked, ‘What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough’” (vv. 20, 21). Now when a little bit of yeast is kneaded into the dough it works unseen until it causes the entire loaf to rise. And Jesus said the church is like that. It began with a tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger in the little village of Bethlehem. Almost no one even noticed. Then 30 years later, that young man gathered around Him 12 disciples, and they weren’t very impressive. Then 3 years later, that small core had grown to 120 dedicated people who, after the ascension of Jesus, waited and prayed in an upper room in Jerusalem. And the book of Acts, the 2nd chapter, relates that the Holy Spirit came on in them in power and they went out into the streets of Jerusalem and began to proclaim that this Jesus of Nazareth had died for sins and had risen from the grave. And 3,000 people believed the message and were baptized.
And the kingdom of God began and it rapidly exploded in growth. Acts 4:4 says the number of men in the Jerusalem church grew to about 5,000. Now if there were 5,000 men, it’s generally speculated that there must have been, counting women and children, about 20,000 people in the church in Jerusalem. And its growth continued until the church spread throughout the whole world. Acts 17, verse 6, reads that some of the opponents in the city of Thessalonica said, “These [people] have caused trouble all over the world [and] have now come here.” The tiny mustard seed had become massive. The yeast had worked quietly to impact the whole batch of dough. You see, folks, that’s what Jesus meant the church to be—to be a growing place.
But you know what, when a local congregation grows to be large—say several hundred or several thousand in attendance—so often the perception by many people is that it’s too big. I just don’t understand why that is. I mean, people will say, “You know what, such and such university has expanded the seating at their football stadium. And you go down there and there are 75,000 plus fans all dressed the school colors rooting for our team. You really ought to go, you know. It’s so inspirational!” And yet, they look at a large church and say, “Boy, I could never be happy in a church like that. It’s too big.” And I always want to respond, “Well don’t go to heaven, then, because you’re going to hate it. Because there are going to be more people there than you can count!”
But realistically, the larger we grow the more we will need to guard against being cold and impersonal. Because a church is not like a football game where 75,000 people are spectators and they sit in the stands and watch. The church is to be a family where every member is loved and involved. So a danger any growing church has to avoid is this spectator mentality. There are so many people who come to church and say, “I don’t have to give. I don’t have to work. Somebody else will do it.”
Home Depot is another company that’s often held up as a model for corporations. Though it’s large, Home Depot has continued to be effective. They have a motto: “Cultivate relationships.” That’s why Home Depot doesn’t even put numbers on their isles. They want their employees to walk with the customers to the isle and assist them personally.
Now as a church that wants to grow, we have to work hard to cultivate relationships. We need to have greeters at the doors to make people feel welcome when they arrive. We should encourage people to participate in Adult Bible School Classes, and small groups, women’s and men’s groups, special activities and work projects, where people get to know one another and can be ministered to. But the most important factor is that individually Christian people who are a part of this church make the effort to give special care to people who need it. The Lord wants a growing church to be a caring place.
But the church is to be a growing place. God wants His church to grow to try to reach as many lost souls as possible.
II. THE CHURCH IS TO BE A SAVING PLACE. (Luke 13:23-38)
Secondly, the church is to be a saving place.
In verse 23, someone asked Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Now that’s a question we hear asked a lot—Who is going to be saved? Who’s going to go to heaven?
According to World magazine the second best-selling author in the world right now, behind John Grisham, is Paulo Coelho. His books have sold 18 million copies worldwide and he’s becoming more popular here in America—selling about a million and a half copies here. Among his fans are Julia Roberts, Madonna, and former President Clinton. But Coelho proposes an amalgamation of world religions. He wrote: “I believe that each and every religion, when chosen with sincerity, leads to the same god.”
Now this syncretism—some good in all religions, so let’s combine them all—is becoming increasingly popular in this age of tolerance. The Dalhi Lama encourages, “Accept all religions. There is some good in all, so respect and explore the ideas of all of them.” And many people today will say, “I just believe that there are many roads that go to heaven, like many roads up a mountain.” According to a George Barna poll 44% say that all people experience the same outcome after they die, regardless of their religions beliefs. Forty-four percent!
But I want you, in Luke 13, to read with me what Jesus said about who will be saved. Now before I get in to that I want to use a little example. Let’s say that that you were on the Titanic and you feel the encounter with the iceberg, you go up on deck to see what has happened, and there are four guys talking. And the first guy says, “We have hit an iceberg. There’s a gaping hole, we’re taking in water, and we’re going to go down in 2 hours, so we’ve got to get everybody, or as many as we can, into lifeboats. Only, there aren’t enough lifeboats for all.”
The second guy says, “No, that’s a negative message. You’re just spreading gloom and doom. This ship is large and it will not sink.”
The third guy says, “I think there will be other ships that will come to save us. I mean, it’s dangerous to get people into lifeboats in the middle of this sea, so let’s wait until the other ships come. There are other ways to be saved.”
And the fourth guy says, “Let’s get a crew together and let’s go down and patch the hole. Let’s save the ship ourselves.”
Which of those four people are you going to listen to? The one you listen to will determine your salvation, and probably the salvation of your family, because the early lifeboats were half empty.
And by the way, I forgot to tell you something. The first guy who talked was the captain of the ship. He knows its design, he’s examined the damage, and he says, “We’ve got to get people into the lifeboats.” If you’re wise you would listen to his counsel. Even though it was a frightening counsel, it would be the way to be saved.
So I want you to listen to what Jesus Christ said about salvation and I want you to keep in mind that He’s the one who designed the world; He’s the only one who went into the grave and came back; He’s the only one who is Lord of all. Everybody else you’re listening to is a human being—everybody else is mortal. And here’s what Jesus said.
He said there’s only one way to be saved. He said to them in verse 24, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Jesus said there aren’t a multitude of ways to be saved, there’s only one. And it’s not by living a good life, it’s not just by believing in a supreme being. If that were true, Jesus Christ would never have had to die for us, would he? It’s believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and trusting His death on the cross to save you. Elsewhere, Jesus said, “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. No one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6). And you can say, “Well that’s narrow; that’s negative,” but that’s what Jesus said and He’s the Lord of life. He said, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
He also said in this passage that more people are going to be lost than saved. “…many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (v. 24). It’s not just going to be the Hitler’s, and the Manson’s, and the Judases, and the Jezebel’s who are going to be lost. According to Jesus the majority of people are not going to make it to heaven. In another passage, on the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13, 14).
Jesus also says here that once the opportunity to be saved is over there will be no second chance. Verse 25: “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’” Just as God shut the door on Noah’s ark once the rain came and no one could enter, once you die, once Christ returns, there’s no second chance. There is no reincarnation. Now the door of opportunity is wide open right now, but one day the door will be closed. The Bible says, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
Another thing that Jesus says about salvation is: Those who have only a surface acquaintance with Him will be lost. Verses 26 and 27: “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you (had communion), and you taught in our streets.’ (We’re in a Christian nation!) But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’” Not everyone who calls himself or herself a Christian, or who goes to church, will be saved. Jesus said salvation is promised to those who trust Him and seek to follow His commands. Matthew 7:21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
And there’s something else He says here about who will be saved: An eternity separated from God in hell will be an agonizing experience. He says in verse 28, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth…”. You say, “Oh, I don’t want to hear about hell!” A lot of people don’t believe in hell. But for any law to make a difference there’s got to be a penalty for breaking the law. If there are no consequences, the law is just an ineffective suggestion.
I read about a motorist who unknowingly got caught in an automated speed trap that measured his speed using radar and just photographed his car. He later received in the mail a ticket for $50 dollars and a photograph of his car speeding. But instead of sending a payment, he sent the police department a photograph of a fifty dollar bill. Several days later he received a letter from the police department that contained a picture of handcuffs, and the man immediately paid the fine! And a law with no penalty becomes completely ineffective.
Max Lucado writes: “To say that there is no hell is to say that God condones the rebellious heart. To say there is no hell is to say that God doesn’t care that people are beaten and massacred, and that women are raped and families wrecked. To say that there is no hell is to say that God has no justice, no sense of right and wrong, and eventually to say that God has no love. For true love hates what’s evil. Hell is the ultimate expression of a just Creator.”
So Jesus, when asked “Who will be saved?,” talked about hell. And He talked a lot about hell, calling it outer darkness and eternal fire. And here says, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out” (v. 28). And later, in Luke 16, we’ll read about a rich man who died and was in hell. And he looked and he saw the poor man, Lazarus, in Abraham’s bosom, and he said, “Would you send Lazarus that he may just dip the tip of his finger in water to cool my tongue, because I’m tormented in this fire” (v. 24). But he could not.
Now my point is this: If the church really cares about people, it will be a place where we tell the truth about salvation—as surely as the captain of the Titanic tells the truth about its destiny. John writes in 1 John 2:17: “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” One survey revealed that 46% of seminary students felt that preaching about hell to unbelievers was in poor taste. But Jesus told the truth.
And though I don’t ever like to talk about hell, I do so, to be honest with you, not just for your sake, but for my sake. Because there’s a passage in Ezekiel chapter 3 that really sobers me. Let me read it to you: “When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you, [David Hall], do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself” (vv. 18, 19). As much as I respect you, I respect God more. And this church is going to be a place where you will hear the truth about salvation. And hopefully it will be a saving place.
III. THE CHURCH IS TO BE AN INCLUSIVE PLACE. (Luke 13:29, 30).
Thirdly, the church is to be an inclusive place.
Verse 29: “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.” The church is to be a place where all races, all people are welcome and included. Last year, Tony Evans, while conducting a reconciliation crusade, speculated that we will not lose our racial distinctions in heaven because the Bible says that there will be people from all nations, from all tribes, from all languages there. And he said if it’s true that we’ll have our racial distinctions in heaven, wouldn’t it be a good idea, then, for us to learn to get along here on the earth. You see, the world is struggling with racial differences. But the kingdom of God on earth should reflect what the kingdom of heaven is going to be. And while we’re making progress in that area, I think this is an area where the church can do a lot better. The church should be a place that welcomes people from the east and the west, and the north and the south.
And the church should be a place that welcomes people that the world normally overlooks. The church is to be a place where the “little” people are loved. Little children, the elderly, the disabled all treated with respect. The church should be a place where the poor are given the same attention as the rich. It’s a place where the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. This should be a place where it doesn’t matter whether you come from the east end or the west end, whether you drive a Geo Metro or a Jaguar. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re young or old, black or white, rich or poor, very thin or pleasingly plump (like some of us), you are welcome here. This is a place where the humble are exalted, and the exalted in the world willingly humble themselves that others may be exalted. It’s an inclusive place.
IV. THE CHURCH IS TO BE A PERSEVERING PLACE. (Luke 13:31-33)
And fourthly, the church is to be a persevering place.
Verse 31: “At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
Now notice that Jesus had opposition from two different sources—from both the government and the religious leaders. First, the Pharisees, the religious leaders, tried to intimidate Him to leave the region. “Herod is on the hunt. He wants to kill you, so you had better run for your life, Jesus!” And then King Herod, a politician, also opposed Him because he saw Jesus as a companion of John the Baptist, who had challenged his moral standards.
But Jesus refused to yield to the religious or political pressures of His day. Look at what He said in verse 32: “He replied, ‘[You] go tell that fox….’” Now a fox was a crafty sneaky animal, but not as powerful as a lion. “[You] go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ [And] in any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!” (vv. 32, 33). In other words, Jesus was saying that God had a predetermined plan that Jesus was going to die in Jerusalem, and no harm was going to befall Him until that goal was accomplished. And nothing was going to deter Him from accomplishing His mission. He persevered.
Now if the church ministers to people in the name of Jesus Christ, it will receive opposition. In fact, Jesus said in John 15, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. …You do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you” (vv. 18, 19).
Have you seen those billboards from God? “Let’s talk. –God” “What part of ‘thou shalt not’ didn’t you understand? -God” “Do you think I planted that stuff down there for you to smoke?! -God” Well the Creator of those ads, called “God Speaks”, decided that he would try to get those ads on MTV. I mean, what better avenue to reach young people? But MTV wanted no part of those ads. According to the agencies creative director, Shirley Isaacs, the network wanted them to put out a disclaimer making it clear that the note wasn’t actually from God. Right! You see, the world says, “Jesus, we don’t want you in or territory. Get out of here!”
An Associated Press article reported that the Ohio State Motto, “With God all things are possible,” was recently declared unconstitutional by an Ohio Supreme Court, which said, “That phrase amounts to a government endorsement of Christianity.” The suit against the motto was brought by a liberal Presbyterian minister in connection with the ACLU.
You see, today’s opposition comes from the government, from religious leaders, from hedonistic entertainers. “Jesus, we don’t want you in our region!”
The Southern Baptist Convention has taken all kinds of abuse for its stand that women in the Bible were not called to be pastors. The Baptist Children’s Home of Tennessee has taken all kinds of heat for dismissing a lesbian worker. And the letters and the editorials condemning their supposed intolerance are so vitriolic and scathing and intolerant themselves.
Likewise, a church that is a growing church will generally take all kinds of heat. It will be called a cult if it grows rapidly. Some are called a country club because of their location. A growing church will be labeled as sheep stealers, hate mongers, fundamentalists. The church is certainly not immune to opposition.
You know, in the last several years I’ve gained a deeper admiration for Jesus Christ. He was constantly scrutinized, second-guessed, criticized, falsely accused, and hated, and yet He never buckled. How did He stand it? He’s incredible. But I have so little of that, that when it comes I get so irritated, so defensive. “Send that guy a copy of this sermon!” “That’s not true!” But Jesus said, “You’ve got to expect that. You’ve got to persevere. Don’t get uptight about it.” Remember in Luke 6 He said, “Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that…and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. …For that is how their fathers treated the prophets” (vv. 22, 23).
And folks, let me tell you something. As this church begins to grow, and as the world gets progressively worse, the attacks are going to be intensified. So be ready. And rather than being discouraged by them, we should be encouraged. Jesus said it’s an indication that you’re doing something right. “[So] don’t grow weary in doing good, in due season you will reap a harvest if you don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9). And the church has got to be a place where we persevere.
The church is to be a growing place, a saving place, an inclusive place, a persevering place.
V. THE CHURCH IS TO BE A PASSIONATE PLACE. (Luke 13:34-35)
And finally, the church is to be a passionate place.
Verses 34 and 35: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Jesus was so passionate about His mission to win the lost. Here were these people rejecting Him, and rather than shunning them, He said, “Oh, I long to gather you like a mother chicken would gather her little ones. I want to save you from the calamity that lies ahead.” But they were not willing. They had a reputation for resisting every prophet that had been sent, and they were even going to kill Jesus. And He said, “You’re going to be left desolate. When the Roman armies come in in 70 A.D., they’re going to wipe this city clean. And you’re not going to see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’”—the second coming when every knee would bow and every tongue would confess, and say, “Oh Lord, we’re glad to see you!” But then, He said, it would be too late.
Now let me ask you a question. What makes you passionate? What gets you excited? What stirs your emotions? What captures your imagination? I watched Wheel of Fortune the other night and in the bonus round a woman won a car. And when she realized that she was a winner she went berserk. She screamed, she ran around the stage with both hands over her head, she hugged Pat Sajack, she was passionate about winning this $35,000.00 car. And I wondered to myself, “Does she know there’s going to be about a $6,000.00 winners tax on that thing?!”
But what excites you? Winning a car? Winning the lottery? Sports? Romance? Shopping? Patriotism? The church, if this stuff is true, ought to be our consuming passion. The apostle Paul said the love of Christ compels us to share the message (2 Corinthians 5:14). One of the dangers of being involved in a growing church is that you begin to take it for granted. I’ve been in churches that were made up 100% of God’s “chosen frozen,” and it’s so easy for us to take for granted the warmth and love we share here. Let’s never lose the wonder. The Bible says, “Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (Romans 12:11).
When you see lost people saved, little children learning the Bible so they can cope with the pressures of this world, love-starved people finding fellowship, the sick ministered to, the lonely cared for, unstable marriages reinforced, the skeptics finding faith, the aimless finding a purpose, the dying finding hope for eternal life, and the needy finding assistance, that ought to quicken your spirit every day. Let’s never lose the wonder. And when people walk in here, may they sense, “This is a place where the Holy Spirit /has quickened these people and they’re alive, and they’re passionate about what they’re doing.”
Fred Craddock tells of his first ministry in a southern Tennessee town. He said:
I discovered my first Easter Sunday that they had an unusual tradition. Everybody from church went out in the afternoon to a lake where they baptized the people who had been giving their lives to Christ. Two little tents were set up where the people could change clothes and dry off. Then they would come back out after the baptism and a fire had been built, and they would warm themselves and they would sing around the fire. And then everybody in the church would gather in a circle, but the new Christians were put in the center. And the people would go around the circle an introduce themselves one by one to the new people. They would say, “Hi. My name is… And if you ever need any ironing or washing done, I’d be glad to help you!” “My name is… If you ever need anybody to drive you to the grocery or the doctor, you can call on me.” “My name is… If you ever need anybody to baby sit, I’d sure be glad to help you.” “My name is…, and I can work on cars a little. So if you’re ever having any trouble with your car, I’ll do a little mechanical work for you.” “I’m a plumber. If you ever have any trouble in that way, feel free to call on me.”
And it went that way all around the circle. And he said they would sing some more, and then they would eat. Then they kind of had a square dance. And finally, after it was dark one of the deacons would say, “Well, folks, it’s time to go home.”
And Fred Craddock said, “My first year I hung around and there was a deacon over at the fire pit kicking out the fire with his size 13’s. And I went over to him, and he said, ‘Well, preacher, it doesn’t get any better than this! People don’t get much closer than this!’” And Fred Craddock said, “You know, I got to thinking, they’ve got a name for that in these parts. In fact, they’ve got a name for that in just about every town. It’s called the church—the church of Jesus Christ, where people count.”
DATE PLACE PREACHED
11/9/2003 Town & Country Christian Church – Bartlesville, OK
4/24/2005 Oakwood Park Christian Church – Sioux Falls, SD
6/10/2007 Oakwood Park Christian Church – Sioux Falls, SD