Monthly Archives: January 2016

Nehemiah 1.1-2.9

Title: When God Calls You

Text: Nehemiah 1.1-2.9

Introduction: Recording? We’re in Nehemiah 2. We began last week with a message in Nehemiah 1 and stopped at chapter 2.11. I don’t think that has ever happened before in 28 years of ministry. There have for sure been interruptions and unintended bumps, but never have I had to just stop.

Let me let you in on my personality: when something like that happens I ask God what He is doing. I’m really good at missing a moment and I didn’t want to miss what God was doing. So I got scared. Responding to moments like that is crucial and critical. You guys made me proud.

Last week I began with a question: What do you do when you’re in a wonderful job, life is good and begin to feel the call of God on your life to do something else? Maybe it is a one time thing or for the rest of your life, but its God’s call nonetheless? Maybe the call begins with information. There has been a tug on your heart. There has been something inside – you’re not sure what to call it – but something inside that has drawn you to this. Then, it hits! There is the unmistakable reality that God has been working in your life for this moment.

You can pull away. You can choose to ignore it and hope that someone else might go. Or, you can face it.

We than began a look at a man who was in a grand place. His life would seem to indicate that he has arrived. He has position. He has power. He has Prestige. He has access to the king himself. But something happens to shake his world. Let’s meet him in Nehemiah 1.1-4a…rd 1.1-4a; As we meet Nehemiah, he is in the service of the King. V11 tells us he was cupbearer to the King. Nehemiah inquires of his homeland of a brother who has just returned from there. And something happens to Nehemiah. He is moved. He is pained when he…

  1. He Hears of the plight of his homeland

exp.: he hears in v 3 that the walls are torn down and the gates are burned ; this news just destroys him! It knocks him off balance. This is not what he had expected. It had been that way for 50 years, why was he so hit by this news? He must have thought his people would have made the repairs by now. Note how it affects him in v 4: I sat, I wept, I mourned for days!

ill.: Pause for a moment: When was the last time you were moved to tears over the matters of God? Maybe this morning God is tugging on your heartstrings concerning the matters of God. Maybe it is his house – the church. Maybe it is over his people – church. Maybe you’re struggling with his name and his fame among the people?

app.: Are you being called to preach, teach, to go into the world? Has God put into your heart a people, a place, a plan? What will you do about it?

t.s.: Well, let’s look at what Nehemiah does…rd v4b;

  1. He Prays to God according to God’s Word 4-9

exp.: fasting & prayer; these two have a way of humbling God’s servant. There is nothing in this life as wonderful as an extended fast and time of prayer before the Master. Nothing. Fasting and Praying takes you into the presence of God in a powerful way. It cannot really be explained. It can only be experienced. The joy – the pure joy of experiencing this closeness to God is something that must be felt – enjoyed. Look at how he prayers:

  • His Praise: rd v 5; The Great and Awesome God, who is faithful! He keeps his covenant; he keeps his promises; He remains steadfast! Would you like a simple way to learn to praise God? Learn a lesson from Nehemiah – list God’s characteristics. Next,
  • His Petition: rd v 6; Please hear my prayer! Please give me your full attention – open your eyes and see me in my desperate state; open your ears and hear my desperate plea; Hear my confession of sin! 3rd,
  • His Confession; rd v 7; We have; When I was a teenage, I heard a sermon on confession; I wrote in my bible and it has stuck with me all these years. Confession is the acknowledgement that He is right and I am wrong. Note the acknowledgement of Nehemiah:
    • Acknowledgement: we have not kept the commandments, the statutes, and the rules. “Lord, your commandments are right. We haven’t kept them. We’ve acted corruptly toward you.” Now, how does he know this? How can he identify his failures and that of his people? Easy, you ready? God’s Word; rd v 8;
    • God’s Word – The Source of his knowledge: What we have here in v 8-10 is a summation of Leviticus 26. In Lev. 26. He offers blessings for obedience and following him; however, in v 14 he gives them fair warning about not following them – he says he will discipline them – And if they still won’t obey: 27 “But if in spite of this you will not listen to me, but walk contrary to me, 28 then I will walk contrary to you in fury, and I myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins. 29 You shall eat the flesh of your sons, and you shall eat the flesh of your daughters. 30 And I will destroy your high places and cut down your incense altars and cast your dead bodies upon the dead bodies of your idols, and my soul will abhor you. 31 And I will lay your cities waste and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your pleasing aromas. 32 And I myself will devastate the land, so that your enemies who settle in it shall be appalled at it. 33 And I will scatter you among the nations, and I will unsheathe the sword after you, and your land shall be a desolation, and your cities shall be a waste. He is basically quoting God’s Word in v 8; compare v 8 w/ 26.33; rd v 9-10 he’s paraphrasing the rest of 26 in Leviticus. You’ll find it again in Deuteronomy 4; “we’re talking about your servants and your people – whom you have redeemed by your great power and your strong hand; rd v 11a;

app.: he sounds like he’s repeating v 6; hear my prayer, O Lord.

t.s.: Now there comes a time when you get up off your knees – note, I didn’t say stop praying. You get up off your knees, you leave your prayer room and you take action; So far we’ve seen his pain, his prayers and now his plans…

  1. He Plans in faith, according to the promises of God.1-8

exp.: rd v 1.11b; Now I was cupbearer to the king. This was a very important position; He was in a place to protect the king, but he may very well have been one of his counselors, too. Williamson in the Word Biblical Commentary writes: Royal cupbearers in antiquity, in addition to their skill in selecting and serving wine and their duty in tasting it as proof against poison, were also expected to be convivial and tactful companions to the king. Being much in his confidence, they could thus wield considerable influence by way of informal counsel and discussion.

This brings us to a very important part of your calling after fasting and praying:

  1. Start where you are.
    1. God has brought you to where you are for a reason. I have no idea why he has you where he has you. Maybe it’s growth. Maybe it was because of your disobedience. Maybe the way to get to where He is calling you to go is through your current position. Whatever the reason, God has you right where he wants you – so start there. Which brings me to a question concerning the fact that God has brought you to where you are for a reason.
    2. How can you be faithful to where God is calling you to go, if you’re not faithful where he has you right now?

ill.: There is a couple that you are all familiar with. They are our missionaries to our unreached people group. They had felt the call to missions for years. And, even when they got here, they both still felt called to missions. We met her before we knew anything about him. Both of these two, served where they were. And the greatest example is when they were here. For just over a year, both knew that God’s call was on their lives. But they didn’t sit around waiting for a miracle to beam them overseas. No, they got involved in ministry where they were.

Here is something many of you may not know. CUB was not their first choice of ministry. There were other ideas that were shot down. Good ideas! Doors were closed, but that didn’t stop them. They looked for other areas to serve. Eventually came up with joining CUB.

app.: Listen, this couple isn’t perfect. They’re just normal people doing their best to serve God. But there example leads me back to this question: How can you be faithful to where God is calling you to go, if you’re not faithful where he has you now? I’m talking about in the smallest of matters. Is there something God has revealed to you but you’re just not doing anything about it. Luke 16.10-13 says:

10 “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.”

Faithfulness is obedience. We’re afraid of this word obedience. In this day and age we long to focus on Grace. We don’t use words like obedience, but rather call that legalism – and it can be. But, it is a very important word and a very important act on our part because obedience is the display of our faith and trust. Your faithfulness to service in little things will open doors for your service in bigger things.

t.s.: So, start where you are: Bloom where you’re planted. I heard a testimony from the pastor who coined that term. He was struggling with his call and didn’t want to be serving where he was. He longed to be in the place he felt God had called him to go. He was in an alley way, just crying out to the Lord. He got out of his car and started to walk to the place he was going and there in the crack of the asphalt, a flower had grown and blossomed. He said he felt the Lord saying to him: Bloom where you are planted. A sermon was born out of the experience.

Be faithful right where you are. 2ndly,

  1. In your season of prayer and service where God has you, take action.

exp.: rd 2.1a; Here we see Nehemiah has waited 4 months to approach the King. (1.1 – Chislev; 2.1 – Nisan) Surely this isn’t the 1st time he’s seen him or been in his presence. No, he’s fasted and he’s prayed, all the while working for the king. Now, he’s ready to act. rd 2.1-2; Ah, yeah! Of course he’s afraid. You’re not supposed to be sad in front of the king! But the moment presents itself and Nehemiah takes action.

I wonder if Nehemiah was filled with fear because he hadn’t expected to speak to the King at that moment. This is important for us to see because when God calls you and God prepares you, he then opens up the doors. My guess is that it won’t be in a way you expect. Nehemiah is expecting to pour a glass of wine for the King. Instead, God opens the door to share. This leads me to an application:

If you take action before you’ve prepared, you’re sure to fail. Too many people are just waiting around for the opportunity without the proper prior planning. They’re hoping to get lucky when the opportunity presents itself.

Steve Kerr, the current head coach of the Golden State Warriors played on 5 NBA championship teams. Three with Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and two with Timmy Duncan’s San Antonio Spurs and one as head coach with Golden State. I remember well the last year of his time with the Spurs. He sat the bench most of the season. What we didn’t know was that he was working his tail off for the moment he would get to play. Game after game he sat the bench. Night after night, day after day he worked on his three-point shots. Then, his opportunity came. The year was 2003. It was game five against the Dallas Mavericks. Steve Kerr hadn’t played a single minute of the playoffs. But for some reason Coach Popovich put him in. And he went on a terror! Hitting threes from every area of the floor and sparking a comeback for the ages. The spurs went on to outscore the Mavericks 34-9. Steve Kerr went on to collect his 5th NBA Championship.

Later, when he was interviewed about that moment he said that he didn’t know if he would get the chance to ever play again – but if he did, he wanted to be ready. So he practiced and prepared for that moment. Success is when preparation meets opportunity.

If God is calling you, then he is preparing you. Don’t shun it. Soak it up! Take advantage of every moment where you are. Get education; get experience. Be observant if you can’t serve. Practice, Pray and prepare.

Look at what Nehemiah has done. We’ll see it as we read through this next few verses; rd v 3-4; Boom! Opportunity presented! He swallows, throws up a prayer (in keeping with his prayers over the past few months), and presents his requests to the King: rd v 5

  • Let me go to Jerusalem and rebuild the wall. Rd v 6
    • He planned it out in such a way that he knew how long he’d be gone and when he could return. Rd v 7
    • He knew what travel plans were needed. He needed papers, he needed protection (you see that in v 9); rd v 8
    • He knew he needed supplies. Wood for beams, for the gates, for the walls and for his house where he would live. That’s planning. That’s preparation. Rd 8b: And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.

app.: Can I encourage you to make plans to fulfill the calling of God on your life? You may be asking: how can I know?

Application:

  1. Is there a burden on your heart? Is there something that has grieved you, something you see needing to be done? Where has God been active in your life? I believe God gives you a passion for where he is leading you. Some of you are set up perfectly: you’re retired or near there. Some of you have nothing holding you back except your sentimentality to this place. You think your momma needs you or your daddy needs you or your children need you. It makes me sad to think of the blessings missed out on because of fear or sentiment.
  2. Pray about it. Set aside time to fast & pray. And when you’re done – pray some more! Create a prayer journal to help. Make notes. Be observant in your prayers. Watch for where God is working in preparing you. If you think about it, Nehemiah’s position in Persia prepared him for the work he would do in Jerusalem.
  3. Take Action: start where you are and go from there. Outline the steps: do you need schooling? Do you need training? Do you need finances? Do you need backing? Do you need accountability? Do you need resources? Do you need to be discipled? Make a list; start checking off the items on your list; and finally,
  4. Be ready! Success is when preparation meets opportunity. The day will come when God will call your name to come in off the bench.

Do I have any Cowboys fans in here? We’re all gonna go home today and not watch our favorite team in the playoffs. That wasn’t the picture last August. Most everyone had picked the Cowboys to be in the super bowl! The best offensive line in football! Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray. What happened? Jerry Jones wasn’t prepared for what happened. Tony Romo went down and we went through three QB’s 11 loses and 1 win. One win. The opportunity came and the Cowboys weren’t ready.

My hope, My prayer for you is that you’ll be ready… let’s pray.

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Ezra 9-10

Title: The Greatest Threat to the Church

Text: Ezra 9-10

Introduction: Ezra 9-10; We come to the conclusion of Ezra – but it isn’t really a conclusion. Originally, Ezra and Nehemiah was seen as one book. For us today, we’ll be closing this book and beginning another focus next week. Interestingly, this book stands alone in its teaching. And, this message is a message that can stand alone in its preaching.

Let me offer a quick review, since it was before the Holiday break we left off…

Ezra and Nehemiah are about the rebuilding of the Temple and the Rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem – respectively. Ezra, the book about the rebuilding of the Temple, is two divided into two parts – two accounts, if you will, of the rebuilding of the Temple: 1-6 and 7-10. In both sections, Israel faces opposition. The main difference between the two sections is that 1-6 is about external opposition from the people of the land. In Chapters 7-10, the opposition comes from within.

I propose to you this morning, taking from the Title of my message, that the Greatest Threat for the Church comes not from opposition outside this community of believers, but from inside the church itself.

Transition: As believers, we will face opposition. Jesus clearly warned us of this. However, as the body of Christ, we must be ever aware and always on heightened alert to the internal opposition – to the sin that destroys the body of Christ from within. Today’s passage does just that – it sets off a warning to our faithlessness and yet, encourages us to hold on to God’s Faithfulness. I’ve outlined these two chapters this way:

  1. The Acknowledgement of Rebellion – 9.1-15
  2. The Repentance of the People – 10.1-17
  3. A list of those who publicly repented – 10.18-45

Transition: Let’s begin with…

  1. The Acknowledgement of Rebellion (9.1-15)

exp.: rd v 1; the 1st step to healing and restitution is to admit you have a problem; The leadership does that here:

  1. Israel’s Sin is Recognized – note their words: they have not separated; God had made this clear ffrom their beginning and for centuries afterward. The slippery slope into rebellion begins when one doesn’t acknowledge that there is sin against God. Those commands aren’t really commands. That applied to them or that doesn’t apply in the 21st Century or etc. Is there any one reason to the weakening of the church greater than the church’s acceptance of sin? Note it is the Leadership: I recognize this begins with the pastor and the pastoral leadership (elders).

ill.: something I see from time to time is a picture of ‘pastors’ who are standing together in a display of solidarity for something the Bible clearly condemns. The most recent is of the Wheaton College Professor. But I’ve seen them surround others concerning their stance on Gay Marriage and other politically motivated agendas that conflict with Scripture. I started looking for some online, but started feeling queasy and uneasy.

app.: Their acknowledgement gets pretty specific here:

  • We have not separated ourselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations; special note here: it isn’t so much the peoples of the land as it is with their abominations – it’s not their ethnicity! Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites.
  • Rd v 2; For they have taken some of their daughters to be wives for themselves and for their sons, so that the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands; race is seed or offspring; reminds me of Gen 3.15; I think that plays a part here. Hey are the holy seed, descended from Eve – through whom the promise One would come.

app.: if you want to stop the fall down that slippery slope into rebellion, acknowledge your sin. And that’s just what Ezra does.

  1. The Response of Ezra to that Faithlessness – rd v 3; Torn garments, pulled hair/beard, sat appalled. But it’s not just him, rd v 4; There were others; Why did Ezra respond this way? Were the others moved by his response? No, not the very specific words in v 4; which brings me to sub-point #3;
  2. The Source that sets the Standard – God’s Word; rd v 4: Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, How do they know they’ve sinned? How do they know their actions are rebellion? How do they know they’ve been faithless? God’s Words. It is God’s Word that informs us.

ill.: Russell Moore wrote in his blog this past week What I’ve Learned in 20 years of Ministry. # 2 is: 2) At my ordination, an elderly deacon referenced the Bible and my wife, saying, “Son, don’t ever get in the pulpit with any other book than that one, and don’t ever get into bed with any other woman but her.” Wise counsel. Another way of putting it: “I keep a close watch on this heart of mine; I keep my eyes wide open all the time. I keep the ends out for the tie that binds; Because you’re mine, I walk the line.”

app.: that is wise counsel – Preach God’s word in the pulpit. Only God’s Word. This is the source that taught the Israelites that they were in violation of God’s Word. Back in 7.10 we read: 10 For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. He must have done a good job for the people to speak up.

  1. Ezra’s Prayer of Repentance –rd v 6; we’re drowning in our sins; rd v 7-8; but you O’ God are merciful! We don’t deserve to be here but you have preserved us. Rd v 9: you’ve been merciful but we’ve been unfaithful in spite of your great mercy! Rd v 10-13; So great is your mercy, you’ve not punished us to the extent that we deserve! You’ve blessed us and allowed us to return and build this great temple. You’ve protected and preserved us! Rd v 14-15; We are utterly defenseless! We are guilty! We deserve the punishment you dole out.

ill.: Wow! This is powerful! Ezra totally understands what has happened. He comprehends his position and the position of the people before a holy and righteous God. Do you?

app.: Do you comprehend God’s perfection? He is blameless. No one can accuse Him…of anything. He has never done anything wrong and there is no wrong in him. He is right. As God, he not only sets the standard, He is the standard – In every way.

We are the antithesis of God. He is light; we are darkness. He is the standard of what is right, we are epitome of what is wrong. He is perfect in his actions. We are imperfection… in every way. With him there is no spot or wrinkle or blemish. We are, at our very best, filthy rags piled in a heap of trash. We need sacrifices of pleasing aroma to cover our stench. The wages of our sin is death. If we got what we truly deserved, not one of us would finish the breath in our lungs. On our own we are lost. We can’t find our way out of a wet paper bag without his grace. We haven’t the ability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. We are utterly destitute, lost, helpless and hopeless with out Him. And what’s worse? We don’t even deserve His Grace. He would be right and just to impose on us the penalty due our sins.

And that is what Ezra is saying. And that’s what repentance is – it’s acknowledging that God is right and we are wrong. And then, saying I don’t want to do it wrong anymore. I don’t want to do things my way anymore. Right here, Right now, I’m changing my ways to do things your way. That’s not my nature, but it’s my desire. God, come into my life and change me. Cleanse me. Make me new. Make me like you.

t.s.: Rebellion is a slippery slope. It starts when we fail to acknowledge the sin in our lives. It steepens as we walk in that rebellion. But look at what the people do…

  1. The Repentance of the People

exp.: rd 10.1; Have you ever been moved to tears over your sin? Not because you got caught, but because God’s Word told you that you were a sinner? Rd 10.2 – here we see a 1st step in returning to God.

  1. Confession your Sin – rd v 3; 2ndly,
  2. Turn from your sin – producing deeds in keeping with repentance. Your heart convicts you to rectify the situation as you can. Sometimes you can’t! Often times you can’t. But here they can – and they want to do right according to:
    1. The Counsel of Ezra
    2. The Counsel of others who understand God’s Word
  • God’s Word – His Law
  1. Take Action – rd 4; Be strong and do it! They told Ezra that they wanted to make things right. Lead us! We’re behind you. Sometimes you can’t make things right. But if you can, would you?
    1. Pornography – seal off your computer from that stuff. Get help. For yourself. For your family. Stop hurting your wife with that stuff. Don’t think she doesn’t know. You’re destroying her self image – her confidence.
    2. Tithes and offerings – God has commanded you to not love money more than him. I’m not asking for your money and I’m not telling you where or when to give. But God does. That’s something you can make right. You can begin to be obedient in this matter. You can stop using money to fill selfish longings and start using money as God designed.
  • What about your time? Do you find yourself wasting too much time in sloth and laziness and not being productive with the time God has given you? Do you make excuses for not getting things done and keeping your schedule because of this problem? Repent. Stop. Get organized. Get accountability – “open your books” to someone who can help.

We see some great steps right here in Ezra.

  1. Start with your words – rd v 5; I’d encourage you to do that today. Start with your words. In a moment I’m going to give you that opportunity. We have elders and staff members and their wives available to pray with you. You start with your words. Acknowledging you have a problem is the very 1st
  2. Own up to it. The trash in your backyard is your trash. Rd v 2…“We have broken faith with our God… we have married foreign women… You say: Dear God, I am a sinner. I have sinned against you! You said in your word not to… or to… and I have failed. This is my sin.
  3. Make the necessary changes – in v 6-17 the people take the steps to correct the rebellion and faithlessness.

Note: I’m supposing that the people did not put away wives who worshipped Yahweh. I’m supposing the people put away idols and idolatry and the evil and wickedness brought into their lives.

app.: The list of those who confessed and made corrections are listed in v 18-44: the priests in v 18, the Levites in v 23; and of Israel in v 25.

t.s.:

Conclusion: the Title of the message today is The Greatest Threat to the Church. The Greatest Threat to the Church isn’t the oppression that comes from outside the Church. No, it’s the threat of what is inside the church. The greatest threat to the church is allowing sin into the fold. That is what will destroy us.

We can be thrown in prison and some of us could even be put to death – but that won’t stop God from getting the glory in all of that! But if we allow sin to flourish within these walls and we allow the church to be destroyed from within.

Questions for Consideration:

  1. Do you look at what God calls sin and not let it bother you? Do you change words so as not to offend?
  2. Do you think you could ever be so repulsed by sin that you would pull out your hair and sit in shock and outrage? Not because you got your feelings hurt…but because it offends God!
  3. Do you ever feel entitled, like God owes you something? Do you comprehend the greatness of your sin and that God has been gracious by not punishing you as your sin deserves?
  4. Did you recognize that Ezra and Israel moved from Conviction to Confession and a commitment to take action because they saw…but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. (10.2) Or, is your tendency to break down and sully in your wretchedness and despair? Do you see the hope in Jesus?
  5. What steps can you outline to alienate yourself from the sin that is destroying you and maybe those around you? Can you see them as action points?

Invitation

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Filed under Ezra, Ezra-Nehemiah, Faithfulness, Scripture, Sermon, Uncategorized

What’s in a Word?

Title: What’s in a Word

Text: Luke 1.37-38

Introduction: The year came to an end. The holiday season is over. New Year’s resolutions have been set. Or, not! Maybe, you’re thinking this through still, wondering if you even need a New Year’s resolution. Each year or two I find a verse that moves me and I make it a focal verse for that season of my life. Hardly ever does it happen on January 1st! My most recent verse was Jn 4.34: 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. It started with a fast, but became a point of focus for me in ministry. Lisa shared something with me last week that got me to thinking about my focus and what God is doing in my life.

I’ve shared with you before that my greatest spiritual gift is hindsight! Well, Lisa shared with me an article by John McGee entitled: Two Guiding Words for Pastors. His two words come from reflecting on his past – hindsight. I’d like to share it with you this morning.            John writes:

I’ve always been intrigued by people who say they have a word for the year. You know the people I’m talking about – every year they have some big action word like “excellence” or “expansion” to guide their year. When I hear someone talk like this, I always feel left out because I don’t have a word for the year, and worse, I’m not even sure where to go if I wanted one. I’ve wondered if there’s a book of power words that I don’t know about, an unlisted blog they’re reading that I can’t find, or a Twitter account that spits out these words so people can pretend they came up with them to impress the rest of us.

Unfortunately, I’m still on the outside looking in when it comes to this phenomenon, but over the last year I’ve felt impressed to try and be two things: faithful and helpful. When I think about being faithful I think about Luke 16:10 and being faithful in little things first. Being helpful is along the lines of 1 Peter 4:10 where I’m supposed to use whatever gifts I have to help others.

Faithful and helpful don’t seem nearly as powerful as some of the other words I’ve seen others order their lives around, but it’s been an incredible benefit to keep both in the forefront of my mind.

Now this got me to thinking about my verses – that often keep me grounded, focused. One year, I found a manta that I would repeat over and over and over again. It was during one of the most difficult years of my ministry: Relentless Forward Progress. I don’t remember the verse that went with it, but I remember the phrase. I got it from my running experiences. Don’t stop. Walk if you have to do so, but don’t stop. Relentless forward progress. I cannot tell you how much this mantra helped me through that very tough year.

Now, for John, in his article, he makes it clear that he didn’t come upon these words first and then try to mold his life around them. But, after noticing them, began to focus upon them – using them for direction and guidance.

Listen to how these words offered him some guidance:

Here are few things I’ve noticed as I’ve pursued faithfulness and helpfulness:

  • When I’m simply trying to be faithful, I find I don’t worry about “How many were there?” I find I sleep better, regardless of numbers.
  • I’m more creative. I find as I pursue faithfulness that I don’t worry about numbers and success. This gives me more brain space, and new thoughts, illustrations, and ideas seem to flow.
  • It has helped me slow down. When I don’t have to generate endless activity in an attempt to prove my significance, I can simply give myself fully to the things that God seems to have given me to do rather than always asking, “What’s next?”
  • It has freed me from trying to be significant. When I’m trying to be helpful, I don’t have to impress people; I can simply look for ways to serve them.
  • I’m present with others. When I’m trying to be helpful to someone, I can be fully engaged. I don’t have to worry about impacting them, and I’m free to simply help them.

Trying to be faithful and helpful is freeing me from striving for significance. If I’m striving for significance, I ride the emotional roll coaster when I think I have it and when I think I don’t. Not only does the nauseating ride impact me, it negatively impacts my ability to simply be with people without agendas or needs for outcomes.

Now this has me thinking about my seasonal verse. Where is God leading me? How does He want me to serve? Live? Give?

I love John McGee’s words and the direction and guidance it gave him. I’m a pastor – I need that same guidance and direction. I need to be more focused on people and not on numbers. I desire to:

  • Not worry
  • Be more creative
  • Slow down – focus on productivity and not endless activity to validate my significance
  • To be present…

But those are His… I want my own!

Transition: Is this even important? Is it Biblical? I want to be very careful and not just be a motivational speaker today! Turn to Luke 1.36-38: 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

In the last couple of years, I was translating this verse from the Gk to the Eng when Shawn Cook stopped by for a visit. Shawn’s visit has nothing to do with this verse, except that He was taking Greek and it was a point of conversation with us. The literal translation of verse 37 was what moved me: because every word of God shall not be impossible. The Subj. of the sentence is “Word” – Every word of God. The verb is the word impossible. It is in the future tense – shall be impossible. But, it has a negative particle – shall not be impossible. Put it all together and you have because every word of God shall not be impossible. That’s what makes Mary’s statement so beautiful in the next verse, she takes and uses what the Angel has just said: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” – ῥῆμα – she uses the same word.

I don’t know about you, but this moves me. To see this young girl surrender to the will of God. Wow! Listen, I’ve simplified this explanation. I’m not implying our translations are wrong. Or that I’m smarter than all of the translators of every Bible translation. I’m wanting to dig deeper into a sentence, into the very words themselves and find out what’s being communicated. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God means that every word God speaks will be established.

So, what’s in a word? Well, if it’s God’s word – nothing is impossible. If God says you’re forgiven – then you’re forgiven! If God says you’re loved – then you are loved! If God says you are healed: then you’re healed! If God says Peace, be still! Then the wind and the waves obey. So, what is God speaking into your life?

Ill.: He spoke and the world came into being. He spoke light and there was light, ground, trees, plants, moons, planets, stars, etc.!

Transition: That’s why I think it is so good to have a verse for a season – something that speaks possibility into our lives. Now, I’m very careful to say that – speaks possibility into our lives. I’m not saying pick a word or a verse and that God’s gonna make it happen! No! This isn’t a possibility message of get what you want from God now…No, this is a message to say that God can accomplish anything through a surrendered life. Anything He desires.

I’m guessing Mary’s word would have been Faithful. God would be faithful to fulfill his word. Maybe she would use that word to describe her life in the face of her circumstances: No matter what comes my way, I will be faithful.

Pause…

I want to share my word with you today. But, I’m cautious. I hesitate, because I don’t want to just throw it out there and devalue it somehow.

I want to share my word with you today. I think in so doing, there is accountability, but there is also grace. My word is my word. Your word should be something that matches where you are. My word is meant for me. I don’t share it so that you’ll throw it back at me should I struggle or fall. I share it because I hope you’ll encourage me. My word is…

Stability.

I like that word. It makes me think of steadfastness in the midst of struggle. Keeping the ship aright, when the storms toss it about. I think of someone who doesn’t get too emotional in times of uncertainty. I think of consistency…continuity…perseverance…solid…steady…strong…immovable. All of these are words that pop up in the synonyms category. Yeah, it’s a good word for me. As Peter closed his 2nd letter to the Christians he was encouraging, he wrote:

14 Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace. 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

In Proverbs, Solomon wrote: 2When a land transgresses, it has many rulers, but with a man of understanding and knowledge, its stability will long continue.

Understanding and knowledge – yeah, two traits I need. What’s more, in Isaiah stability is what God brings: 5The Lord is exalted, for he dwells on high; he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness, 6and he will be the stability of your times, abundance of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is Zion’s treasure.

Stability: It’s something I need in my life and something I greatly desire for Calvary.

John McGee finishes his article: So what about you? Where is your focus today? If your goal is significance, you’ll probably end up using people and feeling empty because you aren’t significant enough. You also won’t be able to present and enjoy your pastoral work because you’re worried about how you can be more important.

You don’t have to be a pastor to struggle with significance. That can happen to anyone in the church at any mark on the spectrum.

Here’s what I want to challenge you to do:

  1. Over the next few days, even weeks, reflect upon 2015 and see where you were at your best. See if there is a word that sums up that activity – or that activity of God in your life. Consider whether that word might just be a good word to adopt for the next year. Maybe you’ll see too many down times – too many failures. Think of a word that best fits what you need. Find your word.
  2. 2nd, search the Scriptures for a verse that will strengthen the use of that word in your life.

Consider: Faithful, Helpful, Available, Giving, Serving, Patient, Hidden, Loving, Forgiving, Forgiven, Contemplative,

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