The Beauty of the Church
In this message Matt looks at the beauty of the church, particularly Blue Oaks Church, and why it matters.
It’s so good to see so many of you here at our first Sunday in our new facility.
And I have to say — I’m very excited about what we get to talk about today.
When I was in college, I had a professor who I really admired.
He had a Phd in clinical psychology. So I thought I was going to follow in his footsteps and study psychology and become a psychologist.
But when I started to do counseling, I did not enjoy it very much and I was not very good at it.
Which doesn’t make for a promising career in counseling.
Then I started working part-time as a pastor, and I felt this strange tug to devote myself to the life, and well-being, and flourishing of the local church.
When I talked to people in the field of psychology, none of them said, “Yeah, if you want to change lives, go work at a church,” but I found myself compelled and captivated and often inspired by the mission of the church.
And here’s the deal — if you follow Jesus, he wants you to be as well.
There’s a writer I love, who died just last year, named Frederick Buechner.
He grew up in an unchurched, very non-religious family. His dad committed suicide when he was just a young boy.
Buechner became a brilliant writer. He lived in quite a sophisticated, very non-religious, East Coast community.
And against all odds — one day in a large church in New York, he met Jesus.
And he ended up going to seminary, and becoming a Presbyterian pastor.
This was very puzzling — very disorienting to his family and to the people in his little world.
He was at a dinner party one day when a very well-educated, well-meaning woman said to him — “I hear you’re entering the ministry. Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised?”
Then he writes this:
And the answer that she could not have heard even if I had given it was that it was not an idea at all, neither my own nor anyone else’s. It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching in the feet. It was a stirring in the blood… It was a name which, when I wrote it out in a dream, I knew was a name worth dying for even if I was not brave enough to do the dying myself and could not even name the name for sure. Come unto me, [Jesus said] all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you a high and driving peace. [I will give you a purpose worth living for and a hope worth dying for.]
That’s all expressed in the church.
The church is God’s idea. It’s his legacy, his family, somehow his presence on earth.
Think about this — where else can people go to learn…
the value of every single human life made in the image of God
the offer of the forgiveness of sin
the promise of a resurrection
the demands of God’s holy justice
and the triumph of God’s ultimate purpose?
I want to talk today about the beauty of the church, our church in particular, and why it matters.
And I want to start by taking you back to the very first conversation in history about the church. A lot of people don’t know where the idea of the church came from.
Well, one day Jesus asked his disciples who they think he is, and Peter said to him, “You’re the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
And Jesus blessed Peter.
Now, this would not be unusual. Rabbis in that day would often bless their student for getting the right answer.
But what Jesus goes on to say would have come as a great surprise.
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, [the rock] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. [my church] (Matthew 16:17-18)
One scholar said this last statement is the most discussed verse in the most discussed paragraph in the entire gospel of Matthew — “I will build my church.”
And of course the disciples’ response would have been, “What’s a church?”
It’s the first time we ever see this word, not just in the Bible but in human history.
No religious leader ever said anything like this.
Moses never said, “I’m going to build my synagogue.”
The Buddha didn’t say, “I’m going to build my temple.”
Muhammad didn’t say, “I’m going to build my mosque.”
In the ancient world, there were tribal religions, there were philosophical schools, there were wisdom traditions. This, the church, was different.
Jesus was saying he was going to build an all-inclusive community of love that would not just tolerate but embrace every gender, every nationality, every culture, every ethnicity, every language, every status…
A community that would make a family out of enemies — like slave versus free, or Jew versus Gentile, or Roman versus barbarian…
A community that would have as its mission not the enriching of its own members but their sacrificing of themselves for the enrichment of people on the outside — to bring the knowledge of God to every person, and the justice of God to every oppressive situation, and the generosity of God to every need, and the forgiveness of God even to those who would persecute the church.
They would do this with a humility that would bow to honor the most demeaned and humiliated slave, and the courage that would defy the threat of the emperor Nero, while continuing to pray for him.
Do you understand — not only had nothing like this ever been in existence before, but nothing like this had ever been thought of before.
Jesus is the one who thought this up.
We often think we kind of invented innovation in the Bay Area.
So let me give you a challenge.
Let’s say you were a penniless carpenter over 2,000 years ago and your task was to create a movement that would live for thousands of years — that would launch more hospitals, more research universities, more relief organizations, and inspire more art than anything in human history…
That would spread to every continent, every culture, attract billions of followers, and not only still exist but be growing over 2,000 years later.
What would you do? What would your first step be?
Jesus, the carpenter, whatever you think of him, as a matter of history, did just that.
He loved and he taught and he healed and he died unforgettably on a cross, and he was resurrected as a matter of historical fact.
And this passage is the first time the disciples get a glimpse of how big Jesus is, his identity. — “Truly, you’re the Messiah. You’re the Son of the living God.”
And now they’re ready for their first glimpse of how big his project is going to be on earth.
This is his project. His project is the church. That’s it. That’s the whole thing.
Jesus is putting all of his eggs in the church basket.
And the miracle of it all is — he’s going to do that through them.
Their heads had to be ready to explode.
They did not sign up for the church-building business; they signed up for the rabbi-following business.
A lot of guys signed up for that —
You learn Torah.
You follow the rules.
You attract a nice wife.
You raise a nice family.
You live a nice life.
But build something no one had ever heard of? Sacrifice time, money, energy? Have people laugh at you, take great risks, get persecuted, have to go all around the world, go to jail, and end up being martyred?
“Hey, Peter, was this your idea or were you badly advised?”
Only here’s the thing — this is the chance of a lifetime. This is worth living for. This is worth dying for.
This made catching fish, or collecting taxes, or living to make money, or gain security, or make a name for yourself, or build a résumé look awfully small.
There are a couple of key items for us to notice.
Who’s the church going to belong to?
Jesus said, “I will build my church.”
He didn’t say, “I will build some churches — Peter’s church, and Andrew’s church, and Thomas’ church for doubting people, and Zacchaeus’ church for small people.”
We are Jesus’ church.
We love him.
We study him.
We follow him.
We point other people to him.
We have one purpose — to lead everyone into Christ-centered living. That is to help our neighbors and coworkers, and friends and family, follow this man Jesus, and live the kind of life he designed for them to live, because there has never been anyone in the world like him.
Who’s going to build Jesus’ church?
Jesus says, “I will build my church.” Jesus claims he will be the one doing it.
I was thinking, if you’ve been around churches much, have you ever noticed how messed up churches can get?
Not just attenders; church leaders can be some of the most messed-up, dysfunctional, emotionally unhealthy, needy, maladapted people in the world, and I know. My wife has been married to one of them for years. Ask her. She can tell you some stories.
How does the church keep going?
Jesus is building it.
Often, he’s building it in secret, unseen places, at the margins — through the poor in spirit, through those who mourn, through the uneducated, through an unpaid volunteer who no one but Jesus thinks is important at all, through a little group of people who are selflessly praying, through a widow whose tiny offering is in reality, in God’s eyes, the biggest gift of all.
Through people like you — Jesus is building his church.
How powerful is the church going to be?
The expression the gates of hades is how ancient people would talk about ultimate human enemies — death and hell itself.
Jesus is remarkably confident.
He doesn’t say, “When the forces of hell are unleashed, the gates of the church will be strong enough to keep hell out.”
He says, “When the forces of the church are unleashed, the gates of hell will not be strong enough to keep the church out.”
He’s saying, “The church is on the move now with forces the likes of which the world has not seen.
“Love, mercy, grace, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, justice, truth, and humility have been unleashed — and the gates of hades will crumble before them. The darkness is going down. It doesn’t look like it, but it is.”
I wonder if there was a moment when the disciples of Jesus responded one by one, now that they knew what this project, the church, was about —
I’ve got to be a part of this.
I’ve got to be in on this.
What would this church be like — this church thing that no one had ever heard of, that no one had ever thought of?
Well, Jesus begins to teach and model three great truths about humanity that would launch the church, his church, into a worldwide movement.
And that’s what we’re going to look at for the rest of our time together.
What did Jesus do to bring the church, the people of God, from that little incubator in Israel, that one culture, into a movement that would change the world?
Well, the first great truth Jesus modeled and taught was now, through Jesus —
Anyone and everyone can be a part of his church.
In Jesus’ day, it was commonly thought that only certain people were able to come into the temple, come before God, and others — not so much.
If there is one characteristic about Jesus that was his signature — that scandalized everyone — it was how he, this great rabbi, would love, embrace, include, talk with, and touch anyone who would come to him — Jews, Gentiles, Samaritans, lepers, the unclean, beggars, slaves, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, paralytics, prostitutes, the demon-possessed.
He’s so famous for this, even his opponents acknowledged it.
One man trying to trap him said,
Teacher, we know that you speak and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth, [Jesus was known for this] and that you do not show partiality. (Luke 20:21)
You accept anyone and everyone who comes to you.
He was so famous for this, he was heavily criticized for it.
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” (Luke 15:2)
That’s basically what got him killed.
In fact, in the gospel of Luke, his last recorded conversation before he died was not with a saint, not a follower his.
It was with a criminal — a thief who was hanging on the cross next to him, who said to him in his dying moment, “Remember me.”
And Jesus said, “Okay. You too. You’re in. You’re with me.” It’s like he couldn’t help himself.
You see, this is his community. The church is his community. Blue Oaks Church — you are his.
I know it’s not often thought of that way in our day, but this is what he was starting.
After he died, the strangest thing happened to his community.
Again, whatever you may think about it —
The ancient world generally had no regard for slaves. Slavery was ubiquitous, in virtually every society.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle said all non-Greeks were slaves by birth.
Slaves generally could be tortured, degraded, used for sex, killed for growing old or growing useless.
But this odd little community called the church remembered how their founder Jesus one day took a basin of water and washed his disciples’ feet as though he were a slave and said, “Now you do to others what I’ve done for you.”
They actually cherished slaves.
They actually called themselves slaves for Jesus.
They were so well known for this that Christianity was sometimes called by its opponents — a slave religion.
You understand that was not intended as a compliment, but they wore it like it was a badge of honor — “Yep, that’s us. Slaves are us.”
One observer wrote about this — “Any slaves among them were persuade to become Christians because of their love toward them. They become brothers and sisters without discrimination.”
The ancient world had little use, generally, for the poor, but this strange little community called the church remembered what Jesus said in Luke 6 — “Blessed are the poor.”
They remembered Jesus told a rich young ruler to sell everything and give it to the poor.
They welcomed the poor so much that a Roman emperor, who was opposed to Christianity, said this about why the church kept spreading:
I think when the poor were overlooked by the pagan priests, the impious Galileans [they were Christians because they were not pious toward all of the Roman gods] noticed this and devoted themselves to generosity. They support not only their poor but ours as well, as everyone can see that our people lack aid from us.
Do you understand?
Once there was a day when a group of people loved God and people and his world so much that a miracle happened.
This new community that was unprecedented formed.
And one of their leaders said:
There is now neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, [no barriers, no hostility] for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
So Blue Oaks — who can be a part of this church?
Anyone and everyone —
poor and rich
black and white
young and old
Democrat and Republican
atheist, agnostic, skeptic
Buddhist, Muslim, Christian
straight, gay, trans
depressed, happy, addict
married, single, divorced
got it together, falling apart
If you came today because you love Jesus
If you came here under protest because someone else loves Jesus and you couldn’t get out of it
If you came because you’re desperate for help and not sure where else to look
It is not an accident that you are here. It was Jesus’ plan, because he said he was going to build his church, and his church is a place where anyone and everyone can come — and that means you.
If you’re a follower of Jesus and this is your church, that means, like Jesus, you have a heart that says, “Anyone and everyone who comes into my life any moment in any day will be accepted and loved,” because that’s the movement he started.
Anyone and everyone in your neighborhood, at your work, in line to get coffee — attractive people, people who you don’t think are attractive, likable people, unlikable people.
Jesus’ plan was that his family would grow…
one expression of caring and love
one invitation at a time
There was a coffee shop I would visit frequently a number of years ago.
A woman who worked there attended our church off and on. So she knew who I was. She knew I was a pastor.
When I would see her, the first thing she would tell me was whether or not she was at church the previous Sunday.
If she didn’t go, she would say, “God sent you to me today. I know I need God. I need to be at worship. I need to be learning.”
She made the order line a little confessional, and she would let me know about a few other sins since the last time she came to church.
She would be taking my coffee order.
And I would be taking her sin order.
They were holy little moments.
Sometimes she would say to the person behind me or to one of her coworkers, “What about you? Where were you in church last Sunday?”
It’s sobering to think how sometimes, especially when I think I need to be busy or I think about how hurried I need to be, I can be in line at a coffee shop or at a grocery store and not even notice this is a human being whom God loves right in front of me.
Jesus always noticed, not because he was trying to make a sale or something, but because anyone and everyone was invited to be part of his community.
From the beginning, Jesus’ church has grown one person, one relationship, one conversation, one expression of care at a time. That’s how he builds it.
And his plan is for everyone who’s part of his church to be little agents of love where you work, where you live and where you shop.
You never know who God is sending into your life.
You never know where someone is waiting, aching for one spiritual conversation, one prayer, one invitation from you.
So this is a great truth now with Jesus — Anyone and everyone can be part of his church. No one is supposed to be on the outside.
The second great truth that Jesus clarified in his day is — in God’s eyes:
No one in his church has it all together.
This is important, because religious communities, including Christian communities, have a way of dividing people up into good guys and bad guys — insiders and outsiders.
Jesus was famous for insisting that true goodness is not a matter of outward behavior, not appearance. It’s about a transformed heart — a stream of thoughts, feelings, desires, perceptions and intentions. And that only God can do this.
He once put it like this —
No one is good — except God alone. (Luke 18:19)
No one has it all together.
He insisted, actually, religious leaders (this is kind of sobering for people like me) who pride themselves on correct belief and behavior — they’re the ones who are, in fact, most at risk… and need God the most.
On the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:28)
So, in the church, this new community Jesus was creating — in this community — there should be no hiding, no pretending, no impressing anyone, no reputation building.
When you go to work, you may have to look strong.
When you go to school, you may have to look smart.
We you come to church, the only requirement is that you come as you are, brokenness and all… because no one has it all together.
This is where we celebrate the recognition and public confession of spiritual and moral inadequacy.
You do not clean yourself up to come here.
My mom is about the cleanest person I‘ve ever known.
When I was a kid, I remember my mom would clean the kitchen and bathroom floors in our house every day, even when they didn’t need to be cleaned.
Now… I have this compulsion to clean our house even when it does not need to be cleaned.
My kids would say I’m a lot like my mother — sins of a mother are passed down from generation to generation.
Several years ago, I tried to rid myself of this compulsion by hiring a cleaning person to clean the house for me.
Guess what I did to the house before the cleaning person came?
Yeah, I would clean the house. — I don’t want the cleaning person to think I have a dirty house.
Here’s the deal — you don’t clean you up, you can’t clean you up. Jesus will clean you up. That’s his job.
We come to church not because we don’t need him but because we do.
It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been following him. We always need him.
Alright, so who’s messed up?
Who has ego problems, relational problems, emotional problems, financial problems, pride problems, sin problems, moral problems?
Who needs God?
Everyone. We all do.
Who has arrived? Who has no struggles? Who has no secrets?
Who here is normal, healthy, strong, secure, and spiritually self-sufficient? Who has it all together?
Spiritually and morally, we are all in the same boat — “All we like sheep have gone astray.”
That humanity’s fate apart from the grace of God expressed supremely through Jesus.
This is the consistent testimony of the writers of Scripture, although I know it is countercultural in our day.
Humanity’s fate apart from the grace and power of God is — brokenness, fallenness, inadequacy, sin, guilt, judgment, death, and hell. We’re just lost.
Next week, we’re starting a series called, “I Have a Question.”
We’re going to look at some of the common questions people wrestle with when it comes to faith. I’m really excited about this series.
The purpose is to wrestle through these questions in community, in the church, where no one has it all together. No one has all the answers.
And I’m hoping we will have our minds transformed by engaging in these discussions and seeking answers together in community.
I’m praying God will open our minds and hearts to explore some tough questions about our faith that will draw us together as a community.
And I’m hoping every one of you will make a commitment to be part of this series.
We have sermon based small groups that will be discussing the question each week. Join a group and engage in the discussion.
Or start a group if there are a few people you would like to meet with throughout this series. The discussion guide is available online. All you need is a group of willing participants who have open minds and hearts… see what God does.
Alright, the third great truth Jesus modeled and proclaimed, especially with the coming of the Holy Spirit after he ascended into heaven, is:
All things are possible.
Again, this truth comes right from Jesus.
He was talking with his disciples about how hard it is for the rich to be saved, and they were stunned, because they thought, as people tend to do, of course, being rich means you’re blessed by God.
So they asked, “Well, if rich people can’t be saved, who can?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
We see this when he starts the church.
Remember, he said he’s going to build it on the rock — that’s Simon.
The other disciples were thinking, “Seriously?”
Peter, who stepped out of the boat and sank in the water because he didn’t have enough faith.
Peter, to whom Jesus was just about to say, “Get behind me, Satan,” because he couldn’t keep his mouth shut.
Peter, who couldn’t even stay awake to pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane before the crucifixion.
Peter, who bragged, “Jesus, even if everyone else denies you, I will not,” and then denied him three times before the sun came up.
Peter, who tried to jump to Jesus’ defense and grabbed a soldier’s sword, but he was so clumsy all he could do was cut off the soldier’s ear. And Jesus had to put it back on the guy and apologize for Peter.
Peter is going to be the rock?
Yeah, that’s right, because all things are possible.
Then the Holy Spirit comes, and Peter stands up and preaches, and thousands of people follow Jesus.
A greedy tax collector, Zacchaeus, will become a poster boy for generosity. That’s a miracle.
A woman who was married five times and was living with a man she wasn’t married to, a Samaritan woman at that, will become Jesus’ first designated preacher. That’s a miracle.
The church’s greatest enemy, Saul, will become its greatest champion, Paul, and change the course of human thought and history.
And we could go on and on about those God has used in the church for over 2,000 years.
In 2012, 20-30 people in this community got together and said, “Hey, what if we start another one of Jesus’ churches right here in Pleasanton?”
And they did.
They prayed and they gave and they served and they loved.
And they had no idea that because of their faithfulness, now we have a permanent church home in Pleasanton, where God is going to take us to the next level of loving and serving this community.
But now it’s your turn.
You might be exploring faith. You might be just checking our church out. That’s great. Take your time. I hope you do that.
But if you follow Jesus and if this is your church home, I want to ask you to pray.
I want to ask you to get into a community, get into real relationship. Don’t just be a chronic visitor. Get into a small group.
I want to ask you roll up your sleeves and serve in some volunteer capacity, because God has gifted you.
People need what it is you can serve them with, and you have a need to be useful to others.
I want to ask you to trust God enough to be generous with your finances. He says to test him by tithing 10 percent of your income right off the top. Because you need to know — you can not out-give God.
Do all of this in this “all things are possible” spirit of Jesus, because the thing is — he is still building his church.
Do you realize what Jesus talked about over 2,000 years ago — he is still doing today? And he’s doing it through you and me.
So, what if we prayed and served and dreamed and gave and loved — and God just kept building his church?
Anything is possible.
What if we kept hearing from God about partnering with organizations in the Bay Area that are making a significant difference for the kingdom of God. And we put our resources to work in new ways for God where we live.
What if we started ministries in this church that served people in this community in new ways as God calls us to.
What if we really started to understand and believe — we are a group of people who Jesus has called to transform and heal our community.
What if we could be involved with the church that God is building in the Bay Area that is so much bigger than us.
What if the number of people being the Church in our neighborhoods, places of business, schools, coffee shops and communities seven days a week outnumbered the number of casual Christians just going to church.
What if every follower of Jesus has a “God-given mission” within them, and we help everyone in this church discover and activate their mission to make a difference in our world.
What if we equip Christ-followers to leverage their leadership and expertise in every domain of society (justice, education, healthcare, government, religion, business and the arts).
What is we transform elementary, middle school and high school ministries into a holistic family ministry, partnering with parents to disciple their children for 936 weeks — from the time a child is born until they turn eighteen.
What if our building is a demonstration of God’s love to our community. And we’re known and respected for how we use our facility and resources to serve our community.
What if those who don’t attend Blue Oaks are drawn in to this church because of our love, and service, and witness.
What if everyone in this church not only knows how, but is having everyday conversations about Jesus.
What if, what if, what if someday, by God’s grace, everyone in Pleasanton was touched in some way because of the ministry of this church?
What if all of you who are leaders are growing in intimacy with God, and your influence in this community wasn’t just about career advancement, but advancing the kingdom of God.
What if you, as a church, cheered and loved and cared for young staff members, our young pastors, so well that in an era when we live right now — Barna did a study on this recently. Over the last 20 years, the average age of a pastor has gotten 10 years older.
We live in a day when, increasingly, young people are not seized, not gripped by the beauty of the church.
What if you all loved our young pastors so much that this became a church that was like a magnet — where gifted young adults would say, “I don’t care so much about money; I don’t care so much about building a résumé; I don’t care so much about security, but I’d give my right arm to be part of building this church.”
What if we build spiritually healthy homes by helping families build solid foundations for their marriages and children. What if we were known in our community for building healthy families.
What if the Bay Area, which is the one part of our country that has never experienced a revival, could experience one?
Not a one-time, emotion-led, temporary wave but a long-term, biblically grounded, chronic, lasting movement of Jesus that will turn back the tides of consumerism and materialism and secularism and bring vibrant spiritual health and the transforming power of the gospel to every city in the Bay Area.
The thing is — Jesus is still building his church. It’s his church.
He thought it up.
He created it.
He authorized it.
He resourced it when it had nothing.
He launched it when there was no idea of it.
He continues to superintend it no matter how badly we mess it up.
And he has no intention of letting it go until it fulfills the purpose for which he created it.
And no matter what problems it faces, the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
That’s the ministry you have been called to devote your life to.
Others have come before us. Others will come after us. This is our day. This is our moment.
Let’s be all in, and see how God builds his church through us.
Alright, let me pray for us.
God, thank you for the church. There has never been anything like it. Thank you for this church. Thank you for Blue Oaks.
Thank you for the dream — of all of humanity gathered together — no barriers, no separation, no one left out; with love reigning… the suffering love, the compassion, generosity, and servanthood of Jesus at the core of this place.
Thank you, God, for the church.
Help every one of us who follows Jesus to be a part of it and do something great. We’re in, God. As best we can be, we’re in.
We pray this in Jesus’ name. And everyone who agrees with this prayer said, “Amen.”
Blue Oaks Church