I want you to see how God views Church.  Ready – buckle up.

God raised him [Jesus] from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. MSG Ephesians 1:21-23

Try to wrap your mind around that.  God places Jesus on a throne in deep heaven.  Sounds like a Lord of the Rings movie – doesn’t it?  Jesus rules everything in this universe.  And at the center of Jesus’ rule, is the Church.  That makes church the most important thing on earth.  It makes what Jesus is up to relevant.  And notice, the world we live in, the place we think is so relevant, it’s not.  It’s not relevant at all.  In fact, it is peripheral to the Church.  What the world is up to, is secondary.

I want you to think about that last sentence.

The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.

Think about that.  The church IS God’s body.  How does God view church?  Let’s start with, it’s His body.  It’s who He is on earth.  It’s how He wants to fill this earth with His presence.  All through history, God has viewed Church as His only strategy to redeem the world.

What breaks my heart today is to hear people say, ‘I don’t have to go to Church to be a Christian’, or like some of my friends say, ‘I hate organized religion.’  That sentiment is growing in our culture and it’s destroying God’s body on this earth.  They are actively working against what God wants to see happen.

I want to stop right now and ask you; how do you view Church?  Do you view it like God does?  Here is a follow up question.  If everyone in church made the choices you make; what would your Church look like?  Would it be a generous Church or a stingy Church?  Would it be a loving Church or would it be a selfish greedy Church?  Would it be a Church filled with the power of the Holy Spirit or would it be filled with people with no real relationship with God looking for more, ‘me days’.

I want you to make the connection.  The Church IS God’s body, and your choices directly impact how strong your local Church becomes.

Let’s understand the big picture.  Ever since God freed Israel from Egypt, God has been building His church.  Why?  God wanted to be with His people and love them.  That means, God wanted to be physically in their presence.  In the desert, the Tabernacle was a place where they could worship God and find forgiveness.  They could have courage because God was in the center of camp.

Around 400 years later, Solomon takes seven years and builds the permanent structure called the Temple.  Like the Tabernacle. It was where God’s presence rested.  God could be with the people He loved.  It was where they were to worship God and find forgiveness.  That lasted for about 375 years until God allowed the Babylonians to destroy the temple because they didn’t put God in first place.

After about 70 years in captivity, God allows the Israelites to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple.  But they struggled.  They became so focused on rebuilding their own homes, they ignored the Temple.  In all their busyness, there was never a good time to focus on God’s Temple.  So, God became angry with them. Why?  Because the place where God wanted to be with them remained in ruins.

This is the message God sends through His prophet Haggai.

4 God said more and Haggai spoke it: “How is it that it’s the ‘right time’ for you to live in your fine new homes while the Home, God’s Temple, is in ruins?”  5-6 And then a little later, God-of-the-Angel-Armies spoke out again: “Take a good, hard look at your life. Think it over. You have spent a lot of money, but you haven’t much to show for it. You keep filling your plates, but you never get filled up. You keep drinking and drinking and drinking, but you’re always thirsty. You put on layer after layer of clothes, but you can’t get warm. And the people who work for you, what are they getting out of it? Not much – a leaky, rusted-out bucket, that’s what.” 7 That’s why God-of-the-Angel-Armies said: “Take a good, hard look at your life. Think it over.”

8-9 Then God said: “Here’s what I want you to do: Climb into the hills and cut some timber. Bring it down and rebuild the Temple. Do it just for me. Honor me. You’ve had great ambitions for yourselves, but nothing has come of it. The little you have brought to my Temple I’ve blown away – there was nothing to it.

9-11 “And why?” (This is a Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, remember.) “Because while you’ve run around, caught up with taking care of your own houses, my Home is in ruins. That’s why. Because of your stinginess. And so I’ve given you a dry summer and a meager crop. I’ve matched your tight-fisted stinginess by decreeing a season of drought, drying up fields and hills, withering gardens and orchards, stunting vegetables and fruit. Nothing – not man or woman, not animal or crop – is going to thrive.”  MSG Haggai 1:4-11

God was angry because He wanted to be with His people in the Temple, but they were too busy to rebuild it.  They ignored the importance of the Temple.  That means they ignored the core of their spiritual life.  They were so busy rebuilding their homes and their lives, they didn’t have time or the money to put into the Temple.  They lost their spiritual focus.  That’s why God said to them, ‘When is the right time to build my temple?’  God was so frustrated; God matched their giving.  He called their giving, ‘tight-fisted stinginess.’  God was saying, because you are stingy with me, I will be stingy with you.  That means you will work and work but you will have nothing to show for it.

When you first read that you think that’s awful, He sounds like the grinch, why would God do that?  Think about it.  All God wanted was a relationship with the people He loved.  He wanted to love them, forgive them, and bless them.  He wanted to be in their presence.  But after all that He did for them, they continued to ignore Him.  They didn’t take rebuilding the Temple seriously.  It was an afterthought.  Think about it, they didn’t view Church like God viewed Church.

Think about that for a second.  Would you want to date someone who always ignored you?  Would you want to make plans, make dinner, spend money, write love letters to someone who never has time for you?  That’s how God felt.

That was the Old Testament.  How does God view the Church in the New Testament?

The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence. MSG Ephesians 1:21-23

From the Tabernacle to the Temple to the Church.  Church has always been God’s only plan to redeem people.  Today, Jesus has all authority over the universe.  He sits on the throne in deep heaven.  And through the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus fills the local Church with His presence.

Scripture explains it like this.

25 The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church… 27 You are Christ’s body – that’s who you are! You must never forget this. Only as you accept your part of that body does your “part” mean anything. MSG 1 Corinthians 12:25, 27

What does this mean to me today?

Point 1: God sees the Church as His only strategy to redeem the local community.

Do you remember the 42-day discipleship we walked through?  Rick Warren said we were made for a mission, one the is to build God’s Church and someday, you will need to stand before God and explain your choices.

Point 2: Like the Old Testament, Church matters.

It’s where God wants to be with the people He loves.  Church matters.  If you don’t believe that, imagine your community or your world with no churches.  That means, there would be no place for you to enjoy God’s body.  That would be like no salt to push back the spiritual rot.

Point 3: Unlike the Old Testament, God lives in us as we walk into every day.

That means you matter.  We live with authority and courage as we live life.  And we then get to join together and be a place where all of us in sin, all of us feeling broken, all of us feeling addicted can experience God’s presence.  Think about it.  Would you want to go to a worship set of 2 people or 400?

Point 4: To really understand Church, you need to understand that church IS God’s body.

And your response to Church is your response to what God is up to, to redeem our community.  So yes, the Church IS God’s body, and your choices directly impact how strong your local Church becomes.

What are the practical choices we see in scripture that we make that will make God’s body stronger? First, we love God.  That means we are intentional about being in a real relationship with Jesus.  Second, we love others.  That means we intentionally go out of our way to put others first.  In Church that means we show up consistently and can be others focused.  We show up after praying and getting our hearts ready to be with God that morning.  Third, we love growing.  That means in Church I do things that stretch me and help me grow.  Fourth, we love serving.  That means we do something in Church, anything to help our local church be better.  Lastly, we love giving.  We have a goal of giving 10% back to God in our local Church because like the Temple of old, when people give, it allows the Church to grow.  And I might add, we don’t take the 10% and split it up with other causes.

So how do you view Church?  How do your friends view Church?  As you were growing up, what was modeled for you?  Was it understood that Church was God’s body?  Or was it the place where you completed a weird painful religious duty?  Was it the place you gave your best to?  Or was it a place you show up now and then to find relief from guilt?

I want to close with this fact and a question.

Here is the fact: the Church IS God’s body, and your choices directly impact how strong your local Church becomes.

Here is the question: If everyone in church made the choices you make; what would your Church look like?