Bigger Than Both of Us

Colossians 1:3-6

When we think about family, we used to think of the folks that fit inside a mini-van. Mom, Dad, three kids, a dog. For the most part we were pretty self-sufficient and capable of handling whatever came our way. These days, our family has expanded – we’re three families with three grandkids, two dogs and a cat – and we’re spread out over three states. We’re still kind of compact, but it takes at least three vehicles to get us around when we’re all together.

Some of you define family in much larger terms – grandparents, aunts and uncles, lots and lots of cousins, nieces and nephews 3 and 4 times removed. When you have a family reunion you have to rent a convention center.

I’ve been thinking about what it means to walk closer to God by traveling together with family. Not just the folks who fit in a minivan, and not just the folks we can stuff into this auditorium on a Sunday morning. I’m talking about the BIG picture of God’s family – that here at the Glenwood church, we are always growing in our understanding of what God is doing and has done and will yet do in his family – among his people. One of my favorite verses – Col. 1:3-6 “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints – the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you. All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God's grace in all its truth.”

In Rich Mullins’ song Step By Step, there are more verses than we sing, and in one of them, he writes, “Sometimes I think of Abraham, how one star he saw had been lit for me.” God told Abraham to look up in the sky and told him that his descendants would number more than the stars in heaven. Even then, God knew you would be a part of that family. God’s family stretches backward centuries and millennia. Those stories about Moses and Joshua and David and Nehemiah – those are your family stories. Those aren’t obscure characters in a dusty old history book, those are members of a family that has been passing on a heritage of faith through the generations so that you might get to be a member of God’s family.

Some of us were talking the other day about planting trees that we would never see full grown – and we joked that some of us are getting old enough that we’re even afraid to plant perennials. Faith is like that – we’re planting seeds that will bear fruit for generations to come. We may never see the grandchildren and great-grandchildren that our faith affects – but their lives will be touched by the choices and decisions we are making today. We are a part of a family that stretches on for generations to come.

Even here at the Glenwood church, I listen to you talk about some of the great men and women of faith who poured their lives out in starting and building this church. People in whose footsteps we are walking, on whose shoulders we can see the future. People like Olyn and Virginia Parker, Jim and June Hauptli, Ed and Nom Neimann, and Walt and Eleanor Bostick. And also Bill and Francis Hamilton, and Ken and Emmie Landrum, women like Nettie Fender and Janice Key, and folks like Jack and Linda Hicks. And we need to realize that we wouldn’t be here if brothers and sisters from the West Berry CofC in Ft. Worth hadn’t given sacrificially to help establish this church. In 1951 they began financially supporting our first preacher, Walt Bostick. A few years later, they were the ones who raised the money to build our first building down on 9th and Bennett. We need to see the faith – living and active – lived out in real life by people we know and admire. We need to know that we are the beneficiaries of the love and generosity of people who had a vision for the Lord’s work here in Glenwood. We need to hear about faith that is passed down from generation to generation. We need to hear about the struggles that go into leading a church through victories and valleys. We are walking with the same God they walked with, traveling a path that they have left for us to follow.

And when I talk about walking closer with God, that isn’t my private little domain whose success or failure affects only me. My family and the people around me are watching and taking their cue from me and the things I do. And in a very real way, I am walking side by side with my family and with each of you – some of you are walking on ahead, others are following up behind – but we are walking together.

My family didn’t start the day I was born and it won’t end the day of my funeral. And God’s family is bigger than me, it’s bigger than all of us put together. And part of walking closer to God is seeing the big picture and realizing that we’re part of something that’s been going on long before we got here and will continue long after we’re gone – the Hebrews writer calls it the “great cloud of witnesses.”

It’s not just on a time continuum that that is true. God’s family stretches beyond the perimeter of this church building. We know that, of course, but it’s easy to lose sight of. God’s family isn’t limited to the people I can look across the aisle and smile at. I have brothers and sisters – the dearest of friends – who will be gathering around the Lord’s table this morning from Texas to Tennessee, from Rio do Janiero, Brazil to Cape Town, S.A., to Mbarara, Uganda to Tijuana, Mexico. I appreciate Marjorie Strawthers and her late husband Bill so much – I don’t think anyone has had a more global vision of the church than they do. They know and are involved in kingdom work on every continent on the face of the earth.

We have brothers and sisters who worship in bamboo huts with chickens running down the aisles, and there are brothers and sisters who meet secretly in basements with somebody watching the door for the police. God’s family includes people we will never meet, in places we will never go, with names we couldn’t begin to pronounce, but whom we call brother and sister in Christ, because of a common bond that we share that stretches across cities and continents, across languages and lifestyles. God’s family is bigger than me and you sitting in our building here on Soccer Field Road. And part of being God’s family is realizing that God’s family is spread all over this globe, and looks different and sounds different and lives differently than we do. We might sit in their worship service and think, this is the strangest thing I have ever experienced – they might sit in ours and wonder why in the world do they do it this way? God’s family is bigger than the both of us.

I think of God’s family that bridges time and eternity. Even as we sit here and worship, there is worship going on in God’s family that is connected with neither time nor place.

Listen to the words of the Hebrews writer: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Heb. 12:22-23).

Let’s look in on the scene of worship in Revelation 5: “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: ‘Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!’ Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’ The four living creatures said, ‘Amen,’ and the elders fell down and worshiped” (Rev. 5:11-14).

God’s family is bigger than all of us put together. And that’s a good thing because the job God has given us is bigger than all of us put together. And our walk with God is side by side with people who are traveling the same path as we are. And we need to recognize that and encourage each other and share the journey together.

You remember I said that for the most part we’re pretty self-sufficient as a family. That’s partly because we never try anything bigger than we think we can accomplish. We reach for goals that are within our grasp – we attempt tasks that can be accomplished with the resources we have available. That’s how you keep from failing – never think big, never overshoot your abilities. As long as you keep things small and manageable, you’ll never have people complaining – folks won’t be upset about change.

The wonderful thing about the church is that God set it up for failure right from the very beginning. He built it with fallible people, he gave it an impossible task, he set it against an enormous foe. So before we ever stepped up to the starting line, we should expect that the church will be running behind. Don’t get upset with me – that’s God’s plan. If I’d been in charge, I would have stacked the deck a little better, but you know God.

The job he has set for us is to win the world for Christ. That’s all? We might as well try to paddle a cardboard boat down the Colorado River – it might have just as much chance for success.

Except for one thing – God’s family is bigger than us. His resources and manpower aren’t limited by what we can scrape together and motivate. He’s busy right now, working in areas and in ways that we could never imagine.

God never intended for the job to be accomplished by one person – even a man as great as the apostle Paul didn’t work alone – his letters are filled with the acknowledgement that he was dependent on a number of churches and individuals to spread the gospel as far as he had spread it.

And one congregation was never the plan for getting the job done. The best thing that ever happened to the church in Jerusalem was for it to be scattered by persecution and spread to the far corners of the earth. With these refugees went the gospel, and it was preached everywhere they went.

And when a missionary would come into a town and preach the gospel and establish the church, that church would immediately begin preparing people to go out to preach the gospel and establish more churches.

The Glenwood church can’t win the world for Christ – by itself. But we have a part of it that we have been uniquely situated and commissioned to reach. Within a forty-mile radius of our building there are probably 50,000 people who need to hear the gospel. And that’s growing every day, as new homes are being built and people are moving into our valley.

And it isn’t going to be one or two or a dozen or a hundred of us who get the job done, but when every last one of us commits our lives and resources to be used by God in accomplishing that goal.

God’s vocabulary doesn’t include the phrase, “That can’t be done.” Instead, it is filled with words like, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” and “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

Walking together with God’s family means we start seeing without the limits we place upon ourselves by our small thinking and short-sightedness. Walking together with God means that we learn that family isn’t limited by human boundaries of race and economics and education and national borders.

Paul says in Gal. 3:26-29 “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

If you are a child of God, you are a member of a family. And in a family, we enjoy privileges and we live up to our responsibilities. We look out for one another and we open our arms to welcome those who are looking for a family. We commit ourselves to sharing our walk with God with each other.

I’ve said a couple of times that what we want our visitors to experience when they come among us is a feeling that they have finally arrived at home. And the only way we can do that is if we first feel that way about being together – that this is where our heart is – where we are family walking together as we walk closer to God.