Written Sermons & Bible Studies

What is the Church? A Diverse Community

As many of you know, I was on vacation over New Year’s. I saw the service on the live stream and on the recorded video. I was blessed by Christy and Mark’s worship and Mike’s closing song. It was great to hear Javier give his first sermon at Place of Grace Fellowship.  Didn’t he do a great job?


These past few weeks, I have been asking, “Why Place of Grace?” Why would a person choose Place of Grace to worship? Our trip to Arizona and my continued seeking with God provided some insights. When people visit our church, they ask, “Why would I worship here?” Maybe some of you ask, “Why do I worship here?


Our trip provided insight into these two questions. During our trip, Jan and I got together with people who attended my Bible study and my small group at McDowell Mountain Community Church in Scottsdale. There were two gatherings, one on Sunday, January 1st and a 2nd one on Monday, January 2nd. I also visited members of C12 Group; a Christian business leaders group I led. Jan and I saw several friends and colleagues. What I noticed during these visits were healthy spiritual relationships. We know strong people of faith whose faith was supported and strengthened by their community over the past year.


As I spent time with my Arizona Christian community, I saw spiritually healthy people. Their relationships were strong. They were joyous. Their faith was solid. Their biblical knowledge gave them strength. The community helped support each other’s faith. The community supported people in times of trial, in restoring and nourishing relationships, and in their personal growth. People had endured health issues, some dire, for years. People shared how their family relationships had blossomed. People had begun to serve in significant ministries. It was a biblical community.


The similarities between Place of Grace Fellowship and my former Bible study and small group came to mind the more people shared their stories with us and we told them about our year in San Antonio. Place of Grace is a biblical community. Let me explain what I mean. In Hebrews, we read how the early Christian community functions.


Hebrews 10:22-25


Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.


As I drove across west Texas, I listened to an Audible book written by a mega-church, multi-site pastor. Beyond the huge difference in attendance and resources, the contrast between the mega-church approach and Place of Grace Fellowship became clear to me. Place of Grace Fellowship has a distinctively biblical character that I cherish.


I have been in and around mega-churches for many years now. Not as large as some, but not less than 1000 members either. In my experience, large churches tend towards homogeneity. The majority of members share some dominant attribute or demographic. Often that is income, race, political party, lifestyle, etc.


When I read about the communities of the early church, I do not find groups of believers that share a common characteristic. Early churches were not homogeneous. Early Christian communities were extremely diverse. The early communities were rich and poor, free persons and slaves. They held people of high status and people of low status. There were merchants, soldiers, bureaucrats, and former prostitutes. There were people of different ethnic backgrounds and races. Homogeneity did not describe the early church. The only membership hurdle in the early church was Baptism.


As I looked around at the gatherings organized for our visit to Arizona, I realized that without the Bible study and small group, I might never have met or formed a relationship with many of the people who attended. God placed me in diverse groups joined together by a desire to understand Scripture in more depth. Without those groups, I might have lived in the bubble I created for myself where people were just like me.


When we join groups, we join groups we want to join. The groups I was part of at McDowell I did not choose. The groups were not of my making, and that was their strength. I didn’t choose the people God placed me with. God made the group healthy because God selected the people who joined the group. Because God selected the group, it contributed to my life in profound ways. They sharpened my understanding of Scripture. They built and supported my faith as I awaited my call to become your pastor. They continue to do the same for each other. Without the Bible Study, many in that group would never interact and yet, now they will sit and talk for long stretches. They ask about each other’s lives and care about the welfare of each other. Even with some significant divides along worldly lines, their bond formed in Christ means that they seek the best for each other. They bolster and support each other in their faith through conversation, concern, prayer and time spent with each other. They have formed a church community in the best way. The way described in our passage today.


The groups “hold unswervingly to the hope they profess.” They “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” They “meet together” and “encourage one another.”


Okay, by now you are all sick of me talking about my community from a year ago. It is not the most exciting thing to hear about people you don’t know. But, as I saw them from the distance of time, God showed me why Place of Grace is so special. God also showed me why it is essential to share our special church with others.

Without being your pastor, It would have been easy for me to go to one of the many mega-churches around here. There I would have found people who resembled me. I’d like to think that I would look for a diversity of people that reflect Christ’s kingdom. Yet the odds are I would not have.  It’s not that I do not value biblical community. I do. It’s just easy to go to a mega-church where I feel comfortable and not have to go deep with people. It would have been my loss.


The fact is, it was not me who chose the people in the Bible study, it was God. Those relationships are providential. They changed my life because God placed them in my life. My relationships here at Place of Grace Fellowship have been God-given. You have changed my life for the better. God placed you in my life, and me in yours. 


Our relationships here are providential. God brought us together to build each other up in our faith and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” We are like the many-colored cord in the picture. Together we form a strong rope of faith.


We offer that same blessing to others who attend our church. They come to our church because God sent them to us. Let’s face it, our carpets are dirty. The front entrance to the church makes no sense. The sanctuary is in a weird place at the end of a long hall with no signage. We have a cluttered hallway that is dark. Until a visitor reaches all of you with your warm smiles and friendly personalities, our church is downright inhospitable. No one comes to Place of Grace Fellowship because of the wonderful environment that greets them.


We are not a well thought out glitzy mega-church with a glass foyer and legions of volunteers directing cars and greeting newcomers. People do not sit on stadium seats and listen to a perfectly choreographed performance complete with light show. I am not a world class presenter with a charismatic stage presence. My sermons have not been prepared by a team of great writers. We do not have a multi-million-dollar budget.


What I have described is what we do not have. But what do we have? We have a biblical church as described in Scripture. The first century churches were not pretty. However, the people were saints. Our church looks like a first century church. It is diverse in many aspects. We are united by our faith and not by our worldly affinity. We come together to worship God. We are not drawn to Place of Grace Fellowship because we run in the same circles, whatever those may be for us. We didn’t choose each other; we chose Christ. We are together because God put us together. Christ made us a family.


Like the church in our Hebrews passage, we hold unswervingly to our hope in Christ because we believe in the one whose promise is faithful. We recently lost a dear member of our congregation. We grieve and continue to grieve her loss. Yet, we did not despair or lose faith. We held to our faith and to God’s promise of eternal life and unimaginable well-being for our sister Tracy. In our community, we spurred each other on as we held onto each other, our Savior and our solid biblical worldview. Our challenges do not cause us to draw away from God. Our challenges draw us closer. Why? Because we are the church as God intended it to be.


We spur each other on in faith, and in good deeds and love. Our church loves well, and we do some amazing, good deeds. With meager resources, we accomplish great deeds.

Christ intended the church to look like Place of Grace Fellowship. Christ envisioned a community of diverse people put together by God and not the world. Christ creates authentic communities that support each other in faith and in life. Christ wants communities that seek the best for each other and those they serve. In these communities, people seek God’s will through devotion to Christ, the Holy Spirit and Scripture.


Place of Grace Fellowship does not look like a megachurch. We will never look like a megachurch. Yet here you will strengthen your faith and deepen your trust in God. We will help you hear the Holy Spirit better, rely on your Savior and develop a biblical world view. We do help you build a faith that sees you through all the challenges of life from childhood through old age.


Our building may be long in the tooth, but the people of our church are special. Our relationships are God-given relationships. We are a church where people are blessed and seek to bless others and our community.

I want us to cherish what is special and biblical about Place of Grace Fellowship, and I have a few challenges for you to take from the message today.


Cherish this – it’s in our name!

  • Place: Our diversity is an authentic expression of the biblical church community.
  • Grace: Your relationships here are God ordained and providential!
  • Fellowship: Gathering and sharing our lives will grow us and strengthen our faith.

Challenges:

  • Your relationships here are given by God. Beyond our walls are many people who need relationships like yours. Find them. Bring them to our church. Let them experience our community. Help us get to know them. But prepare them for what they will see. Tell them that the carpet is dirty, the entrance is weird, the long hallway is odd. Prepare them for what they will see and tell them why they must overlook it for now. Give them eyes to see the beauty of our authentic community.
  • Some here may struggle with acceptance. Do you feel like you do not quite fit? I assure you; you are a valuable part of our community and accepted. Perhaps tell the Deceiver to stop whispering in your ear. We cherish you. You are loved. Believe you are loved and cherished.
  • When possible, attend church. Livestream is great for people who cannot meet in person. I get circumstances. Scripture is clear on this point. “Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Church and life are meant to be shared in person. Christ calls the church to come together in person to gather and worship. Providential relationships do not take place over a screen. The Holy Spirit has relationships waiting for you that can only be experienced in person.


In closing, may God fill your life with relationships that enrich, encourage and fill your life with deeper faith and joy. Amen

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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