During our recent memorial service where we honored those who passed away in the last 2-year period, I was reminded of many past events that took place here at Choctaw as pictures of these brethren were put up on the screen. Seeing Dave Roberts reminded me of the 18 months we spent remodeling this building in 1998. And I remember taking encouragement for that long and difficult project by reading about a similar task that the Jews undertook in the building of the Tabernacle in the desert.
As I read this story in the book of Exodus, I noticed that there were many lessons that could be taken from this story about building things for the Lord, whatever they may be. In this sermon, I would like to share several of these with you because sooner or later the Lord eventually calls on His people to build, or as the case with us - to rebuild.
First of all, let me give you a little info on what is gong on before we read the passages for our lesson. We know that after the Jewish people were freed from slavery in Egypt that they lived in the desert for 40 years. While they were there, God provided food and water and protection for them each day. God also gave them laws customs, as well as an organized religion and a way to worship Him that was different than the pagans around them. For their religious practice He gave them instructions and the exact plans to build a special tent or "tabernacle" where the Jewish priests could offer prayers and sacrifices on behalf of the people.
The Tabernacle was a rectangular shaped box about 150 feet long and about 75 feet wide. It had an interior room about 15 feet by 45 feet which was itself divided into two smaller spaces called the "Holy Place" - where they kept a candlestick / table with bread / an alter to offer incense, and this was separated by a curtain from a smaller space called the "Holy of Holies." In this area was the arc of the covenant which was a small box that contained the tablets that had the 10 commandments / a jar with Manna / and Aaron's rod. It was into this inner room that the high priest could come once per year only and offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people.
Now the tabernacle (100' x 75') had a frame of wood and was covered with materials spun with gold and animal skins. The wood was covered with silver and gold. The alter, and furnishings were all covered with precious stones, silver and gold. God gave the people the exact blueprint for the construction and also qualified what kinds of materials He wanted used. He also commanded that the people build this one of a kind structure themselves! So the few passages we're going to read briefly describe this particular story about the construction of the tabernacle.
20Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel departed from Moses' presence. 21Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the Lord's contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments.
- Exodus 35:20-21
30Then Moses said to the sons of Israel, "See, the Lord has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. 31And He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding and in knowledge and in all craftsmanship; 32to make designs for working in gold and in silver and in bronze, 33and in the cutting of stones for settings and in the carving of wood, so as to perform in every inventive work.
- Exodus 35:30-33
4And all the skillful men who were performing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work which he was performing, 5and they said to Moses, "The people are bringing much more than enough for the construction work which the Lord commanded us to perform." 6So Moses issued a command, and a proclamation was circulated throughout the camp, saying, "Let no man or woman any longer perform work for the contributions of the sanctuary." Thus the people were restrained from bringing any more. 7For the material they had was sufficient and more than enough for all the work, to perform it.
- Exodus 36:4-7
If you read all the chapters in Exodus about this episode you learn that the people contributed more than enough material and money needed, and the workmen and tradesmen finished the job exactly according to God's original plan.
It is estimated that to build the same tabernacle today would cost hundreds of millions of dollars so there's no comparison with their project and the one we've just completed as far as expenses and money are concerned -- but there are some lessons here that we can all use today in our service to God.
Lesson #1 - God Wants Everyone To Participate
In the Bible we see that everyone brought something for the construction of the tabernacle. The poor brought thread for the curtains or their gold earrings. The rich gave money and precious stones. Others offered their services to sew curtains or transport supplies.
The tabernacle was designed to serve the spiritual needs of everyone in the camp so everyone had a duty to contribute in some way. We saw this some spirit during the construction as different people volunteered their time to clean-up and transport items around the building after the construction was over. And during the Coco and Friends project, dozens of people were involved in so many ways to create the great success we had.
Jesus died to save the soul of every member in this church. No one is more saved, more blessed, will receive more heavenly rewards than another in the end. It's only fitting then that each person feel equally responsible when it comes to helping the church that Christ died to save.
Lesson #2 - God Wants Your Best
Note that people didn't bring their leftovers; they were asked to bring the very best of their materials, jewels, wood etc. God took the best tradesmen and gave them a measure of His spirit so they could work at the highest level possible in this project. God's tabernacle was to be made of the very best materials, very best design, very best workmanship - no junk!
Why would we ever think any differently today? It's the same God we worship! Of course this church building is not the tabernacle or tent or house of the Lord - we are the house of the Lord; the Spirit now lives inside of our bodies. But why would we think that when we do something in God's name - whether it's building a building or teaching a class, or leading a prayer - that we shouldn't offer God our very best? God gave His best for us - Jesus Christ who died on the cross to save us. We should always be ready to offer Him our best when we serve Him.
Lesson #3 - One Project Prepares us for the Next
The Jews built the tabernacle well and later were given the task of building the magnificent temple in Jerusalem - many times more beautiful and complex than this first structure. God is always preparing us for the future, and it's not always for building things.
Going through a serious illness prepares us to cope with other challenges in the future. Doing well with a small project at church prepares us to take on a more challenging ministry or project to make the church grow later on. Dealing with family crisis helps us learn to deal with crisis and challenges in our career or at school.
When you feel challenged and the road seems uphill, realize that usually God is preparing you for something greater, something even more rewarding to come. When we are committed to faith in Christ and service to God, He prepares us one step at a time for greater service and responsibility in the kingdom of God. Increased responsibility is a reward from God, not burden!
The Jews finished what seemed an impossible project while they were in the desert but they succeeded and left many lessons to help us in our lives and service to God and our families. Hopefully, in the things we have done recently, as well as things we want to do in the future like:
- Expand our building to have a larger auditorium and classes.
- Plant new congregations.
- Set up a training center for missionaries and preachers.
Perhaps when we try to do these things we'll remember that:
- God will expect everyone to participate if we're going to succeed.
- That God expects us to do our best.
- The best and most beautiful building possible.
- The most dynamic congregation will be the ones we plant.
- The missionaries we support will be the most dynamic and productive.
- And that God will use what we do, what we try, in order to prepare us for whatever service He has for us in the future.
And one more thing to remember when we consider our service and our future as a church:
Lesson #4 - God Will Always Provide What We Need
Notice in Exodus that the workers came back to Moses in order to stop the people from giving because they had more than enough to do the job. God had made the people so generous that they gave beyond the need at hand. When we are serving God's purpose, God's plan, God's people, then we can be assured that He will provide for the work. We don't always know where it will come from or when; we don't always have all we need to finish at the start but God will always provide what we need to do His will. Our task is to make sure we're doing His will and not our own; and that we actually start to build or serve in faith.
When we take the first step by faith, God will always provide what we need to finish. So I encourage all of us here to not be afraid to take a first step of faith in obeying and serving God and be assured that if you do He will reward you by being with you Himself for every other step you will take in serving Him with your best. God bless.