Why do churches pour so much attention into brick and mortar temples?
“But will God really dwell on earth with men? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!”
~2 Chronicles 6:18
Like Solomon, thinking minds are forced to stop and ask, “Does God really dwell in temples built by human hands?” I doubt any sincere and intelligent mind will answer yes to that question. Why, then, do churches pour so much and resources into brick and mortar temples?
Ponder on that for a while as I move on to another thought.
What are you celebrating?
Look at this:
The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven”.”
Just back from an obviously very successful gospel campaign, the disciples were understandably beside themselves with joy that demons bowed to them in the name of Jesus Christ. Jesus, however, though He understood and shared their joy, had to cut them short and directed their excitement elsewhere. “Do not rejoice,” He said to them, “that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
If you would take time to reflect on Jesus’ response here, you would agree that there are things to be excited about; and there are things not to be excited about. The disciples were filled with joy that the demons were subject to them in the name of Jesus Christ. Their excitement was over their gospel outreach experiences; and thus, spiritual – at least, so I would judge it. Yet, Jesus discouraged the focus of their excitement. So, I ask: If Jesus stopped the disciples from celebrating the results of their evangelism efforts, what would He say to Nigerian Christians in 2012? If you live here, you would understand my point.
How I wish that Christians in this country – and most other so called ‘Christian nations’ – would even get excited for the same things as Jesus disciples did. Instead, what do we dance around for? Buildings, money, cars, husband, wives, and even cell phones! Those are the kind of things we get excited about these days. Just listen to the average ‘testimony’ in a church, and you will understand what I’m trying to say.
If Jesus discouraged His disciples from dancing over the fact that demons bowed to them during evangelism, what would he say to the 21st Century church that is dancing because they just completed a brick and mortar edifice?
More pointedly and personally: What kind of things do you celebrate? What things cause your heart to leap with excitement? Think carefully on your answers, because they say a lot about you.
What do you want?
Certain things matter; others don’t.
There are things to rejoice about; and there are things not to rejoice about.
Then, there are things that matter, things worth seeking. God told Solomon to ask for anything. It was a blank check. Yet, He commended him for not asking for some things.
5 At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” 10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.
~ 1 Kings 3:4 – 15
Your prayer requests and testimonies reveal your real values to God. You can easily detect what really matters to a person by writing them a blank check. You see, whenever God gives you a blank check, it is a test! He wants to know where your heart lies. He wants to know who your real god is. That you’ve been told to ask and you will receive does not mean you ask for just anything. Some things matter to God; others don’t. Discern what’s important to God; then pursue them.
13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” 14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight.
Beyond the church auditorium…
During one of my mission trips to the USA, we drove past a huge dilapidated building that was sitting on an abandoned farmland, overgrown by bushes and surrounded by tall grasses. As we drove by, one of my team members told me that, decades ago, hundreds of people gathered weekly in that building to worship. It used to be a church. That was decades ago; but, then it became a beer parlour; and currently, it is serving as a haunt for deers and racoons.
That really got me thinking: Somewhere along the way, certain people in that church must have forgotten that a church is much more than a physical building. They had probably lost sight of that reality long before the first bottle of beer was ever sold there; long before the first ear of grass pushed its way up through those floors.
A church is much more than a physical building.
Furthermore, and I want you to really pay attention to this, a church is much more than the people assembled in the building.
Beyond the building, and beyond the human occupants, lies the heart of the Church: God Himself.
“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them”.
What is the difference between a social gathering and a church, if not for the name of the Lord and His active presence? Once He leaves, neither the people, nor the building matter anymore. Similarly, if He is there, nothing else matters as well; not the building, not the location, and definitely not the social status of the worshippers.
An undivided heart
Solomon ultimately understood this. He discerned that while God can never be contained in brick and mortar buildings, He can let Himself be identified with people whose hearts are perfect towards Him; people who desire Him more than anything else. (2 Chronicles 6:18-21)
“For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him. ”
~2 Chronicles 16:9
As we thank God today for His mercies in providing the various places of worship for the church (some of which are currently being targeted and bombed by terrorists), may we look beyond the building, and beyond ourselves, and fix our gaze instead on the Lord our God. Only then can we ensure that our places of worship neither degenerate into mere warehouses where books are sold, lies told from the pulpit, and people are abused and exploited in the name of God.
The true dedication today must be the dedication of our hearts to God; an ongoing resolve to pursue Him with undivided hearts.
“Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”
Yes, no church building or temple will ever be able to contain the Almighty God. However, when we pursue Him with unrivalled devotion, as Solomon found out, His fire can come down from heaven, and our lives, as well as our places of worship, would be filled with His glory.
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple.
~2 Chronicles 7:1