Category Archives: Leadership

1 Timothy 3.8-13

Title: The Two Offices of the Church: Deacons are like Elders, mostly

Text: 1 Timothy 3.8-13

Deacons: A different group of people.

I want to talk to you today about the greatest need at Calvary Baptist Church, Tyler, TX. I’m talking desperation, here. This is a great day to take notes, and if you’re taking notes write this down: for the ministry and mission of Calvary, right now, our greatest need is for deacons. We have some deacons, but they’ve been working on a very limited basis. There is too much work for too few men. Some have gotten older and can’t handle the load that they used to carry. And so much then falls through the cracks.

Now I wonder, if some of you might be asking at this point: “Really Fred? That’s our greatest need?” Yeah, it probably is. Ministry opportunities are currently uncovered and not happening because we just don’t have the men and women in place to keep up with the need.

And it really shouldn’t be that way. We have enough people. Why is that?

  • My guess is that people just don’t know.
  • Maybe there is a stigma attached to the word deacon – like, someone feels they’re too young.

We as a body need to remedy this. So, today I’m going to talk to you about deacons and ministry in the church; and, just what we as a church need to be doing about it.

Our text is 1 Tim 3.8-13. I’ve divided this message into two parts with one excursus.

  1. Their Character (8-10)
  2. Their Competence (12-13)
  3. Excursus: Women in ministry (11). And we’ll talk about this when we get to verse 11.

So let’s take a moment and look at our biggest need right now. We need men and women to step up and fill in the missing gaps.

Some of you might be asking yourself if you’re deacon material. That’s a great question. Let’s talk about that. 1st, Paul tells us of…

  1. Their Upstanding Character

Exp.: It’s really a very short list; basically, a review of what’s already been said; rd v8a; Deacons likewise must be dignified. In the Gk there are three words; there is no verb here in the Gk, but it is supplied by the reader because the reader has it from above (cf.v2); must be, needs to be, it is necessary; Honorable, dignified. It’s not any different than the elders, with the exception of being able to teach. You might even sum it up by saying: these guys are elder-like. They have an upstanding character. That’s what the ‘likewise’ is for; it means in a similar manner or in like manner. To clarify, deacons aren’t to be…; rd 8b not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain.

  • Not double-tongued could mean one of two things, and I think both apply.
    • 1st, not to say one thing and do another.
    • 2nd, not to say one thing to one person and something else to another.
  • Not addicted to much wine. This coincides with the elders. There isn’t anything wrong with a glass of wine, it’s when there is no self-control and wine takes control.
  • Not greedy for dishonest gain. I love the KJV: not greedy of filthy lucre. Again, there is control over passion and pursuits when it comes to money.

To say one thing and do another isn’t honorable. To say something to someone and something else to someone else is not honorable or dignified. Getting drunk is not dignified. Being selfish and greedy and doing what you do in the pursuit of money isn’t honorable or dignified.

A simple way to see this is to see them living out what they believe. rd v 9-10; They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. – 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. I note two parts to this:

  • An informed faith: deacons are not required to teach like elders are, but they do hold to the mystery of the faith. Mystery simply means that at one time it was hidden, but now it has been revealed. That’s the gospel. Many didn’t see it coming the way it did, but now they see. Now they know. And they not only hold to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience, but they’ve been tested in it.
  • An incessant faith: it remains through all of the tough times. Many problems in life and in the church have come and gone, but they remain. They are a constant – like a lighthouse in the bay – their light continues to shine and guide others in spite of what storms rage around them.

Transition: these guys have been tested and tried and have come out on the other side blameless. Now, rd v 11 with me; – 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.

  1. Aside: Women who serve

Exp.: I want to be careful, but clear. The Gk reads literally: women likewise dignified. Grammatically, I want you to note:

  1. There is no pronoun their in the Gk. Some scholars argue that it is That means that previously, it was supplied and so you would supply it here, too. The argument is that the woman in chapter two is Eve and she is the wife of Adam and so, here it is the wife.
  2. The verb is to be supplied. So, women likewise must be dignified. This is the same exact wording as v 8, only in the feminine form. What does this mean? Well, it isn’t clear.

4 possible solutions:

  1. Women are deacons, too.
  2. Women who are not deacons, but rather deaconesses and a different group altogether.
  3. Women are married to the deacons and a part of their ministry. Now there is a 4th option and it is very close and similar to #3…
  4. Women are servants and assistants to the deacons in their ministry.

Of these 4 possible solutions: I don’t think it is #1. #2 – I like # 2, but really need to explain why I like it. I think one of the last two of these is a real possibility.

  1. Women are deacons, too. I don’t think that is Paul’s presentation. Strike it.
  2. Women who are not deacons, but rather deaconesses and a different group altogether. Possible, but I don’t think this is Paul’s presentation either. You would have an argument with the usage of ‘likewise’ but, Paul returns to the deacons in the next verse. So that probably isn’t the case. He isn’t leaving this issue of being deacons. I guess the reason I don’t like it is that it just doesn’t stand on its own. So strike it too.
  3. Women are married to the deacons and a part of their ministry. Highly possible; but I doubt this one. Many women who are married to deacons willingly volunteer their time and help their husbands. But not all do. If that is the case, then should a man not be a deacon if his wife doesn’t help him? Then it would need to be a requirement to become a deacon. Now there is a 4th option and it is very close and similar to #3…
  4. Women are servants and assistants to the deacons in their ministry. Highly possible; Women who serve; We find one such lady listed in Romans 16.1-2; Phoebe; “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.” I think the term ‘Likewise’ gives them a classification, like their different from the men, but still an important and vital part of the church’s ministry;

So, this is how we understand it at Calvary: The deacon body consists of men appointed to this task by the church. There are women and men who serve under the responsibility of the deacons and administrate certain ministries. This is what our constitution says Deacon: Subject to the will of the congregation, the deacons shall care for the temporal needs of the members, attend to the accommodations for public worship, and encourage and support those able to help others and those with gifts of administration.

Question: Why is it that Baptists are against women deacons? My theory is that a typical Baptist church has its deacons serving in elder-type positions and making elder-type decisions. These deacons give oversight and rule. To be brutally honest, many Baptist churches function on their traditions and ignore the Scriptures. They go back to chapter two and see that a woman shouldn’t have authority over a man, therefore, a woman shouldn’t be a deacon. But, Scripture is very clear that Deacons are simply servants. They were created to serve in Acts 6.1-8. Their job was to ‘wait on tables’.

The job of the deacons is to put on an apron and serve. In John 12.2 – Martha served; Luke 17.7-10 – unworthy servant; Luke 22.26-27; 24 A dispute also arose among them, as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest. 25 And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. 26 But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. 27 For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves.

That’s the job of a deacon: to serve. Mark Dever: “Deacons should not act as a separate power bloc or second house of the legislature through which bills need to be passed. If the elders say, ‘Let’s drive to Pittsburgh,’ it’s not up to the deacons to come back and say, ‘No, let’s drive to Philadelphia instead.’ They can legitimately come back and say, ‘Our engine won’t get us to Pittsburgh. Perhaps we should reconsider.’ That’s very helpful. But in general, their job is to support the destination set by the elders.”

When you consider that deacons have no power, except as servants of the body… can women serve like that, too? The answer is yes. And they should…

Finally, Let’s get back to the passage…

  1. Their Outstanding Competence

Exp.: rd v 12; 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.

Their competence is seen in the way they manage their families:

  • Wife: same as the elder; a man of one woman; he is elder like in his faithfulness to his wife.
  • Children: again, just like last week: this doesn’t mean that his children are perfect.

Their family is a priority. As I think about this in my life, I’m reminded of something Mark Dever once said: the church can get another pastor, but my children cannot get another father. My wife cannot simply get another husband. And so it is with the deacon: his family is his priority.

The life of a deacon displays a servant’s heart. Being a servant means managing: managing funds, schedules, supplies, etc. There is a lot to administer and care for when someone serves. – I think this means you recognize these men because they’re serving already. They have a servant’s heart and that just comes out in what they do.

We are in need of people to serve. Let me rephrase that: we have a desperate need for people to serve.

So, here is my challenge to you:

  • Church, will you pray for the men in our congregation and ask God to show you men who should be serving as deacons?
  • Men, will you seriously pray about saying yes to serve if you’re asked? That’s a big thing for the church to say to you: I see Christ in you, I see your leadership capabilities and we’d be so blessed to have you serve. Will you serve?
  • Women, will you step up and help these men accomplish their duties. Will you be willing to say I’m here and will help in whatever capacity the Lord might want to use me?
    • Will you go visit the shut-ins?
    • Will you help care for the Widows?

*not just on your own, but under the care and guidance of the deacon body?

 

Some of you (men and women alike) are like: I can do that on my own? I don’t have to be a deacon to do that? No, you don’t have to be a deacon to serve. But can I offer a couple of pointers here?

  1. 1st, organization. The ministry needs to be organized. I’m reminded of the book of Judges where each person did what was right in his own eyes. And, it led to chaos, and rebellion and sin, etc. We’re grateful for when people cover areas of ministry where there is a need. But, can I encourage you to work with the deacons on this – help them keep things organized.
  2. 2nd, accountability. There is accountability when you surrender your personal passions to the leadership of the collective whole. That takes great humility and is most Christ-like. Submitting to the leadership of the deacons can keep you accountable to accomplish what you feel God has led you to do.
  3. 3rd, testimony. It is a great testimony against the lie of Satan when you submit to the leadership of the church. The lie of Satan says that authority can never be trusted because it is always tyrannical and oppressive. But there are wonderful, godly men who need your help. And that help starts by submitting to that leadership. And, it is also a testimony to the world when we function as a body the way God designed us to function.

God created two offices in this body: elders and deacons. The elders he has given responsibility to spiritual matters. To the deacons, he has given the responsibility for the physical, temporal matters. What a great testimony we would be if we functioned as we were designed to function.

I’m so grateful for the godly men who have served faithfully as deacons. They’ve blessed me. One such man, you would think, might never have made it back to church. You see, as a little boy, he was very poor. I don’t really remember his name – we called him Woody. Woody wanted to go to church. Somebody had invited him and so each Sunday morning as a little kid, he just walked to church. He went where they told him to go and he loved it. Until one day… one day a man pulled him aside. The man told Woody that we don’t go to church in these kinds of clothes. Those holes in his pant legs were unsuitable for church. He needed his momma to clean him up and fix his hair. He told him to head home and come back when he had nicer things to wear.

Woody didn’t return. He wouldn’t for years. He was an adult when he came to know Christ. What a change! Woody vowed that he would be a different kind of a man. He was loving and kind. He was generous. He was passionate about Christ. Woody was a servant. He was a real deacon who gave me great respect for deacons.

I have no idea what God has been doing in your life – how he has been molding you and shaping you to be the person you are today. But, maybe, just maybe, God has made you who you are today so that you’ll be fit for his service – just the way he wants you.

Let’s bow our heads for just a moment.

It is time for us to observe one of the ordinances of the church: the Lord’s Supper. Deacons, will you come and prepare the Lord’s Supper Table for this moment.

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Filed under 1 Timothy, Christian Living, Leadership, Scripture, Sermon

1 Tim 3.1-7

Title: The Two Offices of the Church (Part 1)

Text: 1 Timothy 3.1-7

CIT: There are standards by which elders should live.

CIS: The work of an Elder is noble and should not be entered into lightly. The church should recognize these men and appoint them very carefully.

 

Aside: Kudos to Jason for a job well done this past week! I’d like to continue in 1st Timothy where Jason left off. Turn to chapter 3. We’ll pick up in v1. Page 932, bottom rt corner and the top of p. 933;

Intro: In the context of our passage, Paul is writing to Timothy, but for the benefit of the church. So, this is how I’m seeing this. I want to approach this from the perspective of a letter to the church and your responsibility toward your leadership and your potential leadership. Consider this: the men who are serving as your elders today will not always be the same combination of men. You’ve had two other elders who are no longer serving as your elders. Even if the three of us remain for years to come, the dynamic will change as other men join us and it is important for you to select the right men for the job.

Ill.: I joined my first band as a front man for Fallen Angel in 1979. I never performed with them because we just could never get it together. Over the past 40 years, I have sung with and/or played the bass and/or played acoustic in many bands with many people – and this is what I’ve learned: having the right people in the right place is the key.

I played with many singers and instrumentalists who were very good at their job; however, their personalities caused so many problems in the band that we couldn’t function properly. And it only takes one person to disrupt your group.

App.: the application remains the same for any team or committee or board. One wrong person can create havoc on you and your work. So, you as a body can select a really good man – who fits the requirements in every way and still fracture your body.

Transition: you have a great responsibility – maybe that is why Paul goes into such great detail about who should and who should not serve as an overseer.

Let’s go back to the beginning and identify the steps that got us to where we are in 1 Timothy:

  • A charge to confront false teachers and their false teaching (chap. 1)
  • The role of men and women in the public arena concerning prayer and worship (chap. 2)
  • Leadership in the church… the role of the church to put the right men in the right spot… all within the context of false teaching and false teachers.

From this text we find that there are two offices in the church:

  1. Overseers (interchangeable terms: Pastors [shepherds], Elders, Bishops, Overseers) – v1-7
  2. Deacons v8-15

Ill.: The opening of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is one great example of this: Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

BTW: this is clarified in our Statement of Faith (BF&M 2000) in Article 6: VI. The Church

A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons. While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.

The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation.

This morning, I’d like to focus on just the first of these two offices: the elder or overseer. We note first in v.1 that Paul declares this a noble task. Rd v 1; The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. This someone aspires to something good. It is a “good work”. Overseer is ἐπισκοπή (episcope, i.e.: Episcopalian): epi: over and scope: to see. He desires a noble task. Lit.: a good work; We saw this phrase a good work up in the previous chapter, as a characteristic of a godly woman. ἀγαθός and καλός, both are synonymous and are used in Scripture attributes of God.

So, the first step in becoming an elder is: you want to be one.

I.     If someone aspires to be an overseer… he desires a good work. So, because this is a “good work”, a noble task, the church should not enter lightly into selecting men to serve here. That’s why Paul says in the next verse: Therefore… rd v 2-3;

Transition: So, if someone aspires to be an overseer,

II.    If someone aspires to be an overseer, you will see it displayed in his upstanding character.

Exp.: We’re talking Behavior/Actions; rd v 2-3; Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

I agree with DA Carson who said that there really isn’t anything special in these – except for one – being able to teach. I mean really, shouldn’t this be characteristic of any man?

  1. He must be above reproach: in Titus, he uses the synonym It isn’t that he’s perfect and sinless, but rather that he exemplifies Christ in his manner and deportment. Thabiti Anyabwile: Being above reproach means that an elder is to be the kind of man whom no one suspects of wrong-doing or immorality. People would be shocked to hear this kind of man charged with such acts. Above reproach; blameless.
  2. He must be ‘a man of one woman’: that’s the literal translation; most translation read: the husband of one wife. It’s hard to know exactly what is meant here. It could mean that he’s never been divorced. There are a lot of scholars I respect deeply who hold to that opinion. I think there is a principle being taught here, though, that is really important. I’m not absolutely positive that Paul is laying down the letter of the law here, but rather presenting a principle. No matter your view on divorced or even single men serving as elders, I think Paul is communicating that this man has a high view of marriage as between a man and a woman and that marriage is sacred. His marriage is a display of this belief.
  3. He must be sober-minded: the literal translation means temperate in his use of alcohol. He is sober. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t drink any alcohol, but rather that he never drinks alcoholic beverages to a point that he is out of control. Baptists like to use this part of Scripture to declare alcohol is bad. You should never do it. But that’s just legalism, too. This man, though, he never lets what he consumes get out of control.
  4. Self-controlled. The negatives in v 3 below outline a man who is out of control. He can’t control his drinking (must not be a drunkard). He can’t control his anger (he must not be violent). He can’t control himself in conversation (he is quarrelsome; he always has to be right!). And he can’t control his appetite for more and more money. Maybe he gambles, hoping for a big windfall. He works too long and too hard to make more money, not observing the Sabbath, but trying to get the extra cash. No, our man is self-controlled.
  5. He must be respectable: these are noted by his family (his wife and children) and the community. We’ll look more at this when we get to those verses in 4-7.
  6. He must be hospitable: this Gk word is a compound word translated a lover of strangers. He is a lover of strangers and not a lover of money. The man who loves his money holds his purse strings tight. The man who loves strangers opens up his moneybag and pours out his money for them. He uses his money to love people instead of using people to satisfy his love of money.
  7. He must be able to teach: this is our first and only requirement that isn’t really universal of all believers. Basically, all of the traits we’ve listed simply outline who and how we should be as Christians.

Now Paul turns toward the negatives, which we already listed with the out of control man.

  1. He must not be a drunkard
  2. He must not be violent but gentle
  3. He must not be quarrelsome
  4. He must not be a lover of money.

So, the only requirement listed here that wouldn’t be an expectation of any man in your congregation is that he be able to teach. I believe the reason for this is his responsibility to communicate sound, healthy doctrine.

Conclusion: If… Someone – aspires to be an overseer – he must display upstanding character. You will have already seen it in his behavior.

III.   If someone aspires to be an overseer, then he has set an example of leadership with his family.

If… Someone – aspires to be an overseer – his example has already been set in his family.

Exp.: rd v 4-5; He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

This doesn’t mean that his family is perfect any more than it means that the church is perfect. There are problems; there are struggles. You will find it anywhere you find relationships. The issue isn’t that he has the perfect family. Because he won’t and he can’t! It has to do with his management skills in caring for his family. Here is a good question to ask: Does his wife respect him? Do his children hold him with high regard and have that same respect? You can witness this respect through the submissive nature of their relationship. They hold him in high regard. They know him better than anyone else. Their respect speaks volumes.

Conclusion: If… Someone – aspires to be an overseer – his example has already been set in his family. Not that they are perfect, mind you, but that they see him that same way.

IV.    If someone aspires to be an overseer, then the church must determine his fitness based upon his spiritual maturity and positive public perception.

Exp.: If… Someone – aspires to be an overseer – the church must be careful in its appointment of this someone to the position of overseer. Rd v 6; He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Spiritual maturity will help a man avoid those pitfalls and snares of the devil. Oh Man, if there is anything the devil can do to bring down your elders, he will. So be careful in your appointments. Don’t appoint a man before his time.

So to review:

  1. If someone aspires to be an overseer… he desires a good work.
  2. If someone aspires to be an overseer, you will see this desire displayed in his upstanding character.
  3. If someone aspires to be an overseer, then he has set an example of leadership with his family.
  4. If someone aspires to be an overseer, then the church must determine his fitness based upon his spiritual maturity and positive public perception.

Application: As we consider sound doctrine…

  • Church, your theology drives your methodology. It impacts everything you do.
    • Bad theology corrupts a church body. Remember, it was Paul’s purpose in placing Timothy in Ephesus – to protect them.

Ill.: I sometimes think of Eve and the serpent. I remember her statement of how she told the serpent that not only was she not allowed to eat of the fruit, but she wasn’t even allowed to touch it. Now, God told this to Adam before she came along. rd 2.17 and then 2.18ff. Why did she say this? She must have gotten it from Adam. Did he add to God’s Word or did she add to what Adam told her? Either way, doctrine is important. It is vital to not add or take away from it.

  • Good theology informs the decisions a church body has to make. Therefore, your leadership should have a solid foundation when it comes to what they believe about God and His Word.
  • These leaders must live that good theology out. They must teach it. They must exhibit it in their lives (personal, familial, work).
  • Church, when you appoint men to serve as elders (and deacons for that matter), you are making a doctrinal statement. Too often, the church wants to pick popular, pretty people. Standards set in the Word of God are cast aside for comfort and popularity.

Ill.: Mark Dever writes: I had made a statement in a doctoral seminar about God. Bill responded politely but firmly that he liked to think of God rather differently. For several minutes, Bill painted a picture for us of a friendly deity. He liked to think of God as being wise, but not meddling; compassionate, but never overpowering; ever so resourceful, but never interrupting. “This,” said Bill in conclusion, “is how I like to think of God.”

My reply was perhaps somewhat sharper than it should have been. “Thank you, Bill,” I said, “for telling us so much about yourself, but we are concerned to know what God is really liked, not simply about our own desires.”

And all of God’s children said, “Ouch”. Dever has a great point: what someone likes to think about God isn’t so as important as what God says about himself. Our theology is important and it must be grounded in God’s Word. The God of Christmas in Luke is also the God of Judgment in Revelation. So, when you appoint men to serve, you’re making a doctrinal statement about what you believe. Finally,

  • Men, if you aspire to the office of elder, I’d like to close with two thoughts:

Conclusion:

First, as a pastor and elder, there are certain texts of Scripture that float around in my head on a regular basis. Scriptures like James 3.1: Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. And Heb 13.17: 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Professor John Brown was sought out by a former divinity student, who had graduated and moved to the country to become the pastor a very small church. This young man wrote his former professor declaring his impatience in serving the 16 souls in the country church. He stated that he could not wait until he was finally asked to pastor a much larger congregation with greater prestige and publicity. The kindly professor responded to this eager young preacher:

I know the vanity of your heart, and that you will feel mortified that your congregation is very small, in comparison with those of your brethren around you; but assure yourself on the word of an old man, that when you come to give an account of them to the Lord Christ, at his judgment-seat, you will think you have had enough.

Oh, what a mighty leadership team we would be if we entered each day with this thought in our minds.

Second, 1 Peter charges the elders to serve the people under their care: So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And then he finishes with this: And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

Brother, great is your reward for your faithful service. I can think of no higher calling than to do just what I’m doing.

Let’s pray.

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Filed under 1 Timothy, Leadership, Scripture, Sermon

Affirming the Call of God

Title: Affirming the Call of God

Text: 2 Corinthians 8.16-24

Introduction: We’re in 2 Corinthians 8.16-24 this morning. Turn there.

Answering the Call of God upon one’s life can be the most exhilarating and adrenalin pumping adventures for any man. It is scary and exciting all at the same time. The journey begins with humble commitment and unrealistic expectations. I suppose the same goes for missionaries and other types of call.

But it gets hard through the years because the church often times feels it must keep a tight budget. Pay raises are passed over and excused as budget cuts. Church members try to run a faith budget like their home or business. Added to this, no one keeps track of the minister’s days off (except for maybe his wife, who feels defenseless in speaking up about either the finances or the workload) and so he works too many days without taking the break he needs. Many men of God feel overworked and underpaid.

Church members feel that the call of God weighs heavily on the person’s life and that they’re called to serve – they’ve been called to ministry, not to money. The pastor and his family are made to feel out of place and awkward if they even talk about money.

Isn’t it odd how the church wants men who’ve been to school – who have a Master’s Degree or even a Doctorate, but they want to pay those men like they’re high school dropouts?

Anybody getting uncomfortable? Are the A/C’s working ok? Is it getting warm in here?

There are hard issues in calling someone to commit to this ministry. Aren’t there? You’re getting something very special here in calling this family. What will you give in return?

How Special, you might ask: The elders and the search team feel like we’ve found you the very best man for the job. That’s not hyperbole. That’s not exaggeration. We’re so excited to present this young man to you. WE believe we’ve done due diligence in ferreting out this man from the crowd of applicants. Furthermore, we believe Duffey to be an answer to the prayers we’ve offered. We believe this is God’s man for this position.

I’m not slamming any of the other applicants. There were some quality applicants. And I’m sure God has great plans for those people; however, we believe God’s plan for Calvary is this man. It began for us as elders a couple of years ago and has grown to this point. We done our best to follow God’s leading in this area. Nearly 2 years later, we’re standing here in front of you guys with a confident assurance that God has brought us to this place.

Transition: So, what do you do as a church with this information? How do you behave and act toward someone being called as Pastor of Worship and Students?

A Brief look at the Reformation:

Historically, the Pope and his Bishops did all that. The Pope basically issued orders ex cathedra and the people followed. Martin Luther and John Calvin rose up against that very thing in a little movement called the Reformation. Luther taught that Christians should gather, not at the call of a particular man (pope or priest), but that they should gather around their shared convictions. That was huge! Unheard of!

Ill.: Ignaz Semmelwiess had a revolutionary idea for doctors. As a physician himself, it was something he began to do in his practice – and his patients faired well because of it. He, however, was opposed and ostracized. His views were seen as unscientific. The mistreatment he experienced from his fellow physicians was so great and so overwhelming that he was forced from his practice. Decades later, as doctors began to see the wisdom in what he had done, they began to adopt this new practice of his. But he wouldn’t live to see it. He died in an insane asylum years before.

What was his crazy idea? Simply this: wash your hands before visiting each patient. That’s it. Wash your hands in between patients.

App.: many of you would be grossed out if your doctor didn’t wash his or her hands when they came into see you. But that’s because it is accepted today.

And it is that way as you vote today. It should feel natural. Christians in the 1500’s would be aghast!

Luther believed that Christians should organize themselves as their own final authority in religious matters. Next month will mark 500 years since this radical new teaching. You practice it today, but it was born out of the Reformation and established under much persecution. Luther believed firmly that the Bible teaches what we call ‘congregationalism’. We are governed as a Congregation. Luther and many of the Reformers believed that the sheep know the Shepherd and identify his voice. John 10.4-8

When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them.

Jesus warns the believers about false teachers and the fact that they have the ability to do something about it.

Cf.; Mt 7.15: A Tree and Its Fruit 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

We see this set out plainly for us in the pattern for selecting deacons. Acts 6.3-4: Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

I love this: YOU pick. We’ll put them to work. When Luther wrote about these new ideas and practices in 1523, he entitled his tract, A Christian Assembly or Congregation Has the Right and Power to Judge All Teaching and to Call, Appoint, and Dismiss Teachers, Established and Proven by Scripture.

You must understand how radical this was in 1523. The Reformation had been gaining ground over the past 100 or so years to be sure, but to pick and choose your leaders? That was a radical reformation. And just how did Luther accomplish such a feat? He translated the New Testament for the people to study these very doctrinal issues in their own language.

This doctrine of Congregationalism began gaining momentum through the 1600’s as John Cotton, John Owen, and Thomas Goodwin advocated for “the Congregational way.” By the time of the American Revolution, a full 40% of Christians in the American Colonies was in a congregational church.

So what do we do with this gift of self-governing? We choose. You chose your deacons. You chose your elders. Sure, it all begins with a sub-committee of sorts doing the hard labor of research and organization. But in the end, you listen to the voice of the Lord and affirm God’s will in this matter.

There was something going on in the life of the Church that we find is very similar to what we’re doing here today. 2 Corinthians 8.16-24 is about a collection taking place throughout Asia Minor and is being carried to the brothers in Jerusalem and Judea who are in need. That is the context. But here is the application:

God is at Work in Duffey’s life and in the life of our church. This is evident when you…

  1. You Affirm him through your vote.
  2. You Appoint him to his service.
  3. You Support him in accomplishing the ministry

Transition: let me show you where this is in the passage…

I. Your Affirmation of Him with your vote (16-18)

exp.: rd v 16; God was at work in the life of Titus, placing deep within him, a care and a concern for the people. God has been at work in the life of the Henderson family. At sometime in the past, he put a deep desire for ministry in Duffey’s heart. God called him to this service. Furthermore, God is calling him to serve here. That is being demonstrated through a passion for leading in Worship and ministering to our Students. Your vote today affirms the Call of God to this place.

rd v 17-18; It is so hard to explain the passion in one’s heart when God calls. It moves men to service and surrender. The passion for ministry is something that burns deep within. It is a felted thing, but evident in one’s actions. By your vote, you affirm

  1. His Call to this ministry
  2. His Passion for this ministry

t.s.: 2ndly,

II. Your Appointment of Him to this Ministry (19-22)

exp.: rd v 19; As your leadership, we’ve done what we believe is God’s will for Calvary. We have not entered this lightly. We have bathed this in prayer over the past two years. We’ve cast vision and dreamed dreams. We made PowerPoint presentations of how to realign staff and reorganize our ministry to accommodate the needs of the church. We’ve evaluated our situation and found it lacking. Stability has been the answer we’ve come up with and Stability is what we’re trying to bring about. We believe God has brought us to this place. Not just over the past 2 years, as this began for us in October of 2015, but even over the past 10 years. We believe and understand that God has been at work in the life of our church all along, bringing us to this point.

And so we present Duffey to you. But, like the Church at Corinth who had to appoint men to do the work that they couldn’t do, you must appoint Duffey to this ministry in our congregation. We present him to you for this appointment because we’ve found him to be of sound character and high moral value.

Note what Paul says of Titus and Epaphras; rd v 20;

  • Blameless; rd v 21
  • Honorable; rd v 22a
  • Trustworthy: Tried and Tested; rd v 22b
  • Full of Faith – con: with; fidere – faith.

app.: His presence here today with his wife demonstrates his confidence in you. He loves the ministry and mission you’ve displayed and have been active in. He and his wife have spoken highly of what you’ve been doing. We as a team have heard them. They are so excited about the opportunities to serve with us – helping us accomplish the ministry God has called us to.

t.s.:  Which brings me to my last point this morning. God is at Work in Duffey’s life and in the life of our church. This is evident when you…

  1. You Affirm him through your vote.
  2. You Appoint him to his service.
  3. You Support him in accomplishing the ministry

III. You Support Him in Accomplishing the Ministry (23)

exp.:rd v 23-24;  It excites me to think of this young man coming alongside me in ministry… to be my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. Which makes me think of a few cautionary points.

Benefit here doesn’t mean that your work is done. He is not here to do your work – the ministry God has called you to accomplish. He is here to benefit you, not take your place. His presence and ministry should augment what we’re doing here at Calvary. I’ve experienced this first hand when I accepted a call some years ago. The team that brought me in just disappeared. They felt their work was done.

I know you have worked hard, but now is not the time to disappear. Now is the time to rise up!

2nd, We (the elders) don’t believe that because God has brought Duffey, Calvary will now grow to a thousand. Our baptistery will not overflow because Duffey Henderson is leading our Students. Our coffers will not overflow with money because Duffey Henderson is leading our Worship. That’d be nice, but your elders don’t have some “if you build it they will come” mentality. We don’t think Duffey is the Savior of the World. No, that position has already been filled and will never be vacated!

Conclusion: Howard Hendricks, Living By the Book (as quoted by Chuck Swindoll)

A scientist was using the inductive method to observe the characteristics of a flea. Plucking a leg off the flea, he ordered, “jump!”

The flea promptly jumped.

Taking another leg off, the scientist again commended, “jump!”

The flea jumped again.

The scientist continued this process until he came to the sixth and final leg. By now the fleet was having a little more difficulty jumping, but it was still trying.

The scientist pulled the final leg off and again order the flea to jump. But the flea didn’t respond. The scientist raised his voice and demanded, “jump!” Again, the flea failed to respond.

For third time the scientist shouted at the top of his lungs, “jump!” But the hapless flea lay motionless.

The scientist then made the following observation in his notebook: When you remove the legs from a flea, it loses its sense of hearing.

app.: Funny how the scientist didn’t connect the dots correctly… we’re worried that you might think like that scientist. Baptisms, Financial blessings may come and they may not, but don’t connect the one with the other. God’s blessings are God’s blessings.

Still, Your support of Duffey is vital to the accomplishment of this ministry. You call him, you appoint him, you support him. You support him with your words, your presence, and your money. You support him by loving his wife and their children. Pay him well and make sure he is keeping the Sabbath.

Duffey’s success is dependent upon you.

We’re going to move to a time of business now. We’ll take a few moments for folks to leave if they’d like. If you’re a guest, you’re welcomed to stay if you’d like, but please feel free to slip out if you’d like. As for our membership: we’ll take a couple of minutes to break (go to the bathroom or get a drink) and then we’ll regroup for our special called Business Meeting.

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Filed under 2 Corinthians, Calling, Commissioning Service, Faithfulness, Leadership, Sermon

Mark 6.1-7

Title: An Abbreviated History Lesson on Church Structure

Text: Acts 6; 1 Timothy 3

Introduction: Thank you Larry, for reading Scripture today.

I’ll be floating between two passages: Acts 6 and 1 Timothy. So bookmark those two passages. Actually, I’ll start in Acts 6… show some history throughout Acts, Make my way to 1 Timothy and back again.

What a blessing this is! We get to talk politics this morning! I don’t mean the politics of our national government, Great Britain’s exit from the European Union, or anything like that. I mean church politics! Politics is normally a dirty word, but it doesn’t have to be. Google says: Politics are the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, especially the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power. If that is the definition, no wonder people hate politics. If that is the definition, then there is no place for politics in the church. People hoping to achieve power have no plac in church leadership. Indeed, Christ says that we’re to be like him and he came as one who serves and is the servant of all. Mark Dever says: Politics is the science of organizing life together. That’s pretty straightforward: The science of organizing life together. That works for families, teams, committees and yes, churches.

Church polity is something we should address regularly. You should know how your church functions: what are the rules that govern our assembly and what keeps us unified? What protects our unity and works against schisms and divisions? So, let’s bow our hearts before the Lord and ask for his protection of this body and his blessing over the preaching of His Word. Pray

I want you to know that this isn’t something I dreamed up. This has been a real concern for the church for nearly 2000 years. As a young pastor, I did what the churches and pastors before me did. I saw inconsistencies, and because of my nature, I questioned many of these inconsistencies that I saw. It has only been since coming to Calvary 11 years ago and never – never being a part of a healthy church, that led me on a journey, a quest to discover what makes a healthy church, well – healthy.

The following is some of what I discovered. Some of you may be hearing this for the 1st time. For others, this will be a review. Let’s begin with a brief history lesson from Scripture on church polity.

I.      A History of the Need for Structure (Acts 6)

exp.: Our first experience is found in Acts 6. The Apostles are the leaders. The Lord has put them in place. He commissioned them. But soon, all of these believers begin experiencing problems: problems that threaten their unity. It could be racial, ethnic, social… who knows? But, it threatens their unity. Furthermore, the Apostles are not able to do their work – to accomplish their task. So we learn #1 – that problems expose the need for structure. So, they come up with a solution. Let’s observe the process in Acts 6.1ff; rd 1a; Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number… Let me pause there and ask a question: Does this sound bad or good? Man, I want this problem! Jah hear? Calvary’s having problems! uh-huh, turns out they’re increasing in number, pretty dramatic I hear. So many baptisms the city is threatening to cut off their water. Well, numbers do create problems in that they expose areas of weakness and a need for structure. Rd 6b; a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. That’s complaint #1; there seems to be a problem with languages. Those who speak Hebrew are getting 1st dibs and the Greek-speaking widows are being overlooked. Here’s complaint #2, and it comes from the leaders. But, notice this, they want to make sure everyone knows their complaint. So… rd v 2a: summoned the full # of disciples! When everyone gets there, well then… look what they have to say: It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Let me just say that it’s not right is very similar to the phrase it’s not fair. Now, obviously you are getting my tongue in cheek presentation of this situation.

Here’s our first application of the day: Problems aren’t bad. It’s how you handle the problems you face that can be bad. And these guys handle the problem right. And from the way we observe these guys tackling their problem, we gain some insight into how we should handle our problems. Again, problems are bad, just the way we handle them can be. So, what do we learn from them:

  1. Church polity should be handled in a congregational way. They involve the Congregation. Church, you select 7 men from among you and we’ll appoint them to this duty. The Church selects 7 men and the apostles put them to work. From this we learn that we are congregational. Yes, we have a pastor, but he isn’t the pope. You can amen that if you want, it won’t hurt my feelings. No one man or woman should ever run the church. Ever! Congregational means that we vote on what we do. The church always has the last say. Always. The church votes on a budget in December. That is your approval for teams, committees, and ministries to do what they do. You, the church, also approve those teams. The deacons form ministry teams, the elders pick teachers and you, the church, give your approval of them all. It all launches from the church. We are congregational. As the year progresses, we find ministry opportunities, we find problems that arise and if it isn’t in the budget or the church hasn’t given the assignment to a team or group of people, then we come back to the church and seek your approval. That is how it is supposed to work.
  2. Relationships are vitally important. One group isn’t more important than the others. Listen, Ladies & Gentlemen, This isn’t about the food – it’s about the relationships. In our text, it might just be that those who were doing the work didn’t speak Greek or weren’t as fluent. More than likely, the Greek-speaking widows being overlooked was a symptom of a deeper problem. Who knows? But from this, we learn that nothing is more important than relationships. So, whatever you’re working on as a team – if there is a breakdown – check your relationships – my guess is somebody’s feelings got hurt. Mend the relationship!

Now, there is something important about church history here that I need you to see: Before this moment in Acts 6, the only leaders were the Apostles. One office in the church: Apostles. Now, there is a 2nd office in the church: Deacons.

Rd v 3-4; The offices are getting some structure now. The Apostles say: Here is our job and this is yourn. And, in order to do this job, you should be qualified. So, don’t pick just anyone! The men who are handling this situation are so overwhelmed they can’t do both. They’re qualified, but they need more men. These men don’t need to do their job of preaching and teaching, but they should be godly men nonetheless. So… qualifications must be set. We need qualified men to complete this task.

  1. Men of good reputation
  2. Men full of the Holy Spirit
  3. Men of Wisdom

ill.: I read this week that The Mission of the Church is the Ministry of the Word. I wondered, is this true? Let me repeat it: The Mission of the Church is the Ministry of the Word. That isn’t the purpose. My guess is the purpose of the church is the glory of God. Edmund Clowney says the mission of the church… He then continues with an explanation.

  1. Worship: We sing the Word, We pray the Word, and We preach the Word.
  2. Discipleship – teaching the Word.
  3. Evangelism – reaching the world with the Word.

These Apostles are saying that their mission is being compromised. They are unable to do their work in the Ministry of the Word because they’ve been caught up in ‘waiting tables’. That work, which isn’t being done very well, is making their task of preaching and teaching to suffer. Nothing is getting done very well.

Once a church begins to practice the ministry of the Word, it experiences growth. Growth creates problems. The more people you have, the more problems you have. So, they have to get organized. They need to get some structure here.

Rd v 5-7; please note v 7; what continued to increase? The Word of God! With that, there is an increase in conversions, which of course means they’ll have more problems and they’ll have to work those problems. But they’re good problems, No?

Well, the church grows and more problems occur. We’re not told of all the details, but we learn of the solutions by what we read. Turn to Acts 11.19-30; the church grows and determines to help with a problem down in Jerusalem. V 30 tells us that the church has now added another office: Elders. We can only make assumptions now as to what has happened. We don’t really know. They’ve not appeared before now. But, now, what we have in the early church, at least at this very early stage, is three offices: Apostles, Elders, and Deacons.

Let me quickly give you a time reference. Acts 12 – with the death of Herod and the work of Josephus – allows us to date Acts 12 at about 44 AD. If you take a later date for the crucifixion, we have these offices being used in the church within about 10 years. If you take an earlier date (which I do), then you see the infrastructure of the church being established no later than 13 years of Christ’s Great Commission. I think it would be fair to say that the structure for the church was set within the 1st decade of the Church’s (Capital C) existence.

You’re in 11.30; look at Acts 14.23; rd 15.1-6; Apostles and Elders are taking care of the doctrinal issues of the church. They’re handling the problems that are arising. Together. What we will see as the 1st century moves on and closes out, the apostles will fade from the scene. They will die and they will not be replaced. And, as the apostles fade from the scene, we see three offices narrowed down to two: elders and deacons.

app.: I want to take a moment to say that many Baptists are uncomfortable with elders. I understand this, but this saddens me. Did you know that many Baptist churches in the world had elders until the mid-1800’s. Our 1st two confessions or statement of faith’s had elders and deacons listed as the two main offices. So, historically, Baptist have had two main offices in the church: elders and deacons. What caused the change? My educated guess would be Manifest Destiny and the need for circuit preachers.

Many Baptist churches struggle today because they have an unhealthy church polity. They have become comfortable with tradition, and so, they neglect the Scriptures. In their defense, let me say that many Baptist churches function without elders. These churches have dynamic leaders serving as pastors who use some of the deacons as elders. And truthfully, I’m ok with that. It isn’t what I would choose, but that works for them. However, with that being said, I think many Baptist churches have a system of government that is wicked and evil. It is self-serving. Men are placed in leadership positions that should never be there. Men are made deacons and deacons then begin to run the church in the absence of a pastor or elders. That method, that form of government continues and it becomes cyclical. Pastors rotate in and out as the deacons then rule the church with an iron hand. And these congregations slowly die because these deacons can’t see that they were never intended to lead the church in this fashion.

t.s.: Let me show you the structure as we find it later on – some 20 years or more later. And this is point #2…

II.    The Structure of the Church (1 Tim 3.1-13)

exp.: 1 Timothy is a manual for churches and pastors on structure and polity. Paul’s main concern is the Ministry of the Word. He’s concerned about unhealthy doctrine being taught in the church at Ephesus. Look at chapter 1.3; don’t let certain individuals teach a different doctrine. Rd v 5; our aim here is love. And it pours forth from this beautiful triad: a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. There are those who don’t have a pure heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith. These people are rd v 6-7; now hones in on his purpose: rd v 8-11; Sound Doctrine = The Gospel. A Healthy church has sound, healthy doctrine, which is the Gospel of Christ. The Church then is a picture of the Gospel to the world. If you really think about this, this is what Paul is saying to Timothy – and to the believers at Ephesus: The Church is the Gospel made visible. Therefore, protect it. That is why Sound Doctrine is vital.

Paul then presents the Gospel in a short testimony: v 15 is the thesis statement here: 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…

In Chapter two Paul discusses they way believers should act, but look at chapter three. Here, Paul presents the structure that has been established over the next 20-25 years from Acts 12 on… You can see the same thing in Titus.

Chapter three establishes two offices for the church:

  • Elders – Let me introduce them to you, especially for the guests. (Active & Inactive)
  • Deacons – Deacons – (Active and Inactive)

In comparing the two, not just here, but throughout the New Testament, we find one main difference between the two offices. You ready for this? A deacon is to be held to the same basic qualifications as an elder, with the exception of one trait: the elder must be able to teach. Let that sink in for a moment. A deacon is to be held to the same qualifications as an elder, with the exception of one trait: the elder must be able to teach. Why this one difference? Answer: Because of their responsibility. Elders are given charge of Sound Doctrine. They are responsible for the spiritual aspects of the church. They must give great care to their teaching and to those they place in positions of teaching.

Deacons on the other hand are concerned with the physical aspects of the church. Their leadership is to care for the physical. In Acts we see them caring for the widows. They are to be no less godly than the elders. They are to be no less holy. The standard of character is just as high.

In Acts 6 the qualifications are simple:

  1. Men – I mention this because this is the only place I find this; later, we’ll see deacons and deaconesses. I know we don’t have them in the Baptist church, but I suspect that is more from culture than God’s word. Let me say, I’m not advocating for deaconesses today, I’m just saying in Scripture we find deaconesses. Let’s set that aside for a moment and focus on Acts 6. They were to be Men.
  2. A good reputation: which by the way, is with those inside the church and outside the church.
  3. Full of the Holy Spirit – don’t pick lost men. Don’t pick ungodly men.
  4. Wise – men full of wisdom. This means they use their knowledge well.

Already, you’ve limited the amount of men who can serve. But 1 Timothy 3 gives us more. Rd v 8

  1. Dignified: that is, they are worthy men, honored men, respected in the church and in the community.
  2. Not double-tongued: picture a forked tongue, like that of a snake. A tongue that offers curses and blessings. Not like that.
  3. Not addicted to much wine: I think this means not an alcoholic. They are not controlled by alcohol. It isn’t that they won’t have a glass of wine with dinner or a beer after mowing the lawn. It is that alcohol doesn’t consume them.
  4. Not greedy – for dishonest gain. That’s important. Our deacons serve as counters of the offering. They rotate regularly each week. But it is more than that. Your deacons will be responsible for contracts, hiring out work to be completed. You don’t want to pick men that are out to get a kick back.
  5. Solid Believers. They hold to this faith – this mysterious faith of ours with a clear conscience. And that faith is evident in their daily lives.
  6. They’ve been tested. Don’t put an unproven man into this position. The men you pick should be men who’ve proven themselves in these areas already. They have been faithful over time.
  7. Their wives must be qualified. Don’t pick men whose wives are gossips or busy bodies. I have known men who couldn’t serve as deacons because of their wives. Their wives must be like them – dignified, honorable, not diabolos, and faithful in all things.
  8. The deacons should have a stable marriage and home life. Some people take this to mean ‘having been married one time’. They say a divorced man shouldn’t be a deacon. I don’t think that is the definition here. Let me explain. The Gk simply says: a one-woman man. μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρες; That doesn’t help us. No, I don’t think this means one woman at a time. I think there is a principle here – not a letter of the law. The principle is finding men who are faithful and trustworthy. They prove that over time. For a man to be married to the same woman for 20 years can be a sign that he is faithful. That may not be the case, but it is a sign. So, you take all of these character traits, these qualities and you establish a pattern of faithfulness, honesty and integrity.

app.: Please hear me: I’m not saying every man who has been married longer than 20 years is deacon material. I’m saying that is one sign. Their wives must also serve as a sign. Their testing over the years is another sign. Their faithfulness as solid believers is another sign. The fact that they’re not greedy or alcoholics are more signs…and the list goes on.

t.s.: You take all of these quality characteristics and size the man up. And you pick from there.

III.    An Appeal: The Church must pick some men to serve as deacons.

exp.: It is time. In the coming weeks, the deacons will present you with a list of names. They’re going to ask you to:

  • Pray over these men. The list will not be exhaustive. You can pray over each man and his family.
  • Use this passage as a checklist. Mark off men who don’t size up. See which men rise to the top.
  • The deacons are going to ask you to select a number of men to serve with them. I don’t know how many. It could be three. It could be seven. But based on your prayers and your evaluation, select men to serve. The deacons will then assess the men you’ve chosen. They’ll find out who is willing to serve, because you may select some who will say no. They will bring back a final list of those you’ve selected, that they’ve interviewed and determined fit and ready to serve. You’ll then have the final say with a vote.

One final word: don’t assume that men who’ve served before will automatically serve again. If you don’t select them, then they won’t be asked to serve. That is vital. Deacons serve only at the pleasure of the church. Deacons don’t go get deacons. They don’t ask their buddies. They don’t even ask men who’ve served before. They will follow your directions. So, pray, evaluate, and choose – men from among yourselves and we will appoint them to this duty of service.

Conclusion: I mentioned earlier that the church is the gospel made visible. That message is that Christ died for sinners. Paul claims to be the worst of all sinners and even he found forgiveness – his testimony is to the goodness and grace of God. I want to offer you that grace and forgiveness.

 

 

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Filed under 1 Timothy, Acts, Church Polity, Leadership, Mission Statement, Scripture, Sermon

Mark 3.7-35

Title: Two Families

Text: Mark 3.7-35

Introduction:             With the Religious leaders plotting his death, Jesus flees to the sea (of Galilee). Undeterred, the crowds from everywhere follow him there. So great are these crowds, that Jesus has a boat ready so that he can get away from them lest they crush him. As David fled Saul, many followed him out into the desolate places. So, also many more will follow Jesus (7-12).

 Jesus leaves the seaside and goes up on a mountainside where he picks his 12 disciples. He calls those he desires and appoints 12 to the service of following him closely, preaching and having authority to cast out demons (13-19). In this listing, we meet Judas who is identified as the one who would betray Jesus. This is a reminder of the conspiracy the Pharisees and the Herodians are hatching.

Jesus will leave there and make his way home with his new family. We see them in stark contrast to his birth family who comes to ‘seize’ him. He is evidently an embarrassment to them, for they think he has lost his mind. (20-21)

In this last section we will see the opposition to Christ become public. Mark began with an introduction of Christ and citing multiple witnesses to who Christ is – The Messiah, the Promised Son of God. The 1st chapter continued with the beginning of Christ’s ministry. He picks his 1st 4 disciples and begins doing the work he was sent here to accomplish: preaching, teaching, and healing. And, His popularity explodes. People come from all over to see and hear him. Chapter two transitions to confrontation. The Religious leaders question Christ and all that he is doing. He is doing good works, but he is breaking their rules and this infuriates them. The 2nd chapter reaches it’s climax in the beginning of chapter 3 where the Pharisees conspire with the Herodians to kill Christ.

In our passage today, Mark will draw a firm line in the text to identify those who belong to Christ and those who are against him. First, his family claims he is out of his mind. Then, the scribes claim he is demon possessed – a man with an unclean spirit. His family then makes another attempt to get him; standing outside, they call for him. But Jesus clarifies for us in the final verse who his family really is. (22-35)

This story can be broken down into three movements:

  1. He withdraws to the Sea of Galilee (7) where he continues to have great success in ministry.
  2. He takes his disciples up on a mountain (13) where he selects his 12 disciples to walk with him, preach his message and have authority to cast out demons.
  3. He returns home (20) I suppose to Capernaum, where his family and the religious leaders will confront him. This last section is in the form of what we’d call a Markan Sandwich – family/leaders/family.

Chapter three will establish two groups for us:

  1. The Insiders, those who accept Christ’s authority.
  2. The Outsiders, those who reject Christ’s authority. (3.31-32, 4.11)

For the sake of simplicity, we’ll follow the following outline:

  1. His Success in Ministry
  2. His Successors to his Ministry
  3. Public Opposition to his Ministry

Transition: Let’s take a closer look at…

I.     His Success (7-12)

exp.: I think it is easy to miss where Mark is taking us when we get bogged down in a story; rd v 7; withdrew; Matthew 2.14; Joseph taking his family and fleeing Herod; 1 Samuel 19.10; David fleeing Saul’s missed throw of his spear. Joshua 8.15; a fleeing army; It sounds like Jesus is escaping danger. He goes to the sea; People from everywhere follow him there; So great are the crowds it describes him as possibly being crushed; the messianic secret

ill.: David flees Saul and many go out to him – the riff raff; 1 Samuel 22.2: And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him. And he became commander over them. And there were with him about four hundred men.

app.: I’m not sure we would catch this, but those of his readers, familiar with the OT stories of David and Saul might catch this. Many more go out to Christ; many more who are in distress and debt and bitter in soul.

t.s.: So, we see his tremendous success in spite of the fact that he is out and away from the towns and villages; next, we see his successors.

II.    His Successors (13-19)

exp.: rd v 13; He goes up a mountain; They are called to him; I understand this to be a much larger number than just the 12; from this group, he will select the 12; The 12 then, are appointed to three functions:

  1. They might be with him – this is discipleship, pure and simple. We must get younger believers to walk with us to learn what it means to be a Christian. They ate with him, watched him pray, read the Scriptures and explain them; they observed his life.
  2. They might preach his message – κηρύσσω; Proclaimed, announced, made known; We see John the Baptist doing this in chapter one and Jesus, also. 1.14-15; 14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
  3. Have authority to cast out demons – I equate this w/ healing and restoration. They’re going to do what he has been doing through these first couple of chapters.

app.: these men will go out in 6.7ff and so just as they’ve been taught.

t.s.: In this 1st section we’ve seen his followers, both the larger group and the smaller group (the 12); in this next section, we’ll see the opposition publicly malign Christ.

III.   His Accusers and Their Accusations (20-34)

exp.: This is where those opposed to him speak out against him publically; rd v 20; He goes home; lit.: a house; must be Capernaum; This is the home base, as we’ve seen, of his early ministry. **The crowd gathers so thick, that Jesus and his disciples can’t even eat – they can’t break bread together. This is due to his popularity and the great need of the people. But this is a reminder to me of all the negative information we get in this section. Check it out:

  • A Conspiracy to destroy Jesus (6)
  • Jesus flees to the desolate places in (7);
  • So thick is the crowd and so desperate for Jesus are they that he orders a boat to be nearby lest he ‘crushed’ (9)
  • Judas is identified as the betrayer in (19), I’m guessing this means the readers this book was intended for know what that means. Judas will join this conspiracy and play a major part in the death of Christ.
  • His family claims he is out of his mind (21)
  • The Pharisees accuse him of being demon possessed (22, 30)

Now in v. 22-34, we see a famous Markan Sandwich; of accusations:

  • His Family rejects his authority; rd v 21; Lunatic
  • The Pharisees reject his authority; rd v 22; Demon possession; possessed by Beelzebul; I think of the father of lies; Liar; I read in one commentary that this is where C.S. Lewis gets his argument for Liar, Lunatic, Lord. I could find no evidence of that.

Jesus then teaches in parables; rd 23a. He calls the Pharisees to himself and tells them parables, explaining the Kingdom of God and those who are outside and those who are inside. He warns them of blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

  • His Family comes to retrieve their member, but are publicly rejected by Jesus;

t.s.: this raises another question; there are a few concerning these troublesome passages.

Conclusion: Troublesome passages:

  • The question of the Messianic Secret – Why did Jesus command demons and people to keep quiet about who he was? Things were moving way too fast. His time had not yet come and his hour to be revealed was still in the future. But there is probably more here:
    • Jesus demonstrates his authority over demons and unclean spirits by silencing them. Yes, he casts them out, but they must be obedient to his authority as well.
    • Jesus for some reason has not chosen to use the dark world to reveal who he is. He reserves the right to disclose that. There are times when that is done 1.15, 8.29;
  • What is Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit? And, Can it be evidenced or experienced today
    • The passage I’m referring to is: 28 “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, 29 but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— 30 for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.” Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit I think is pretty simple: The Holy Spirit is the agent by which someone is drawn to God. The H.S. draws us through presenting evidence of God’s Work in our lives. He reveals truth – and the rejection of that truth and worse, attributing it to darkness is blasphemy. Therefore, blasphemy of the Holy Spirit can be defined as defiant, willful rejection of the Spirit’s work in a person’s life. It is unforgiveable. Here, the religious leaders are warned of what they’re doing.

As we draw to a conclusion in the book of Mark, the religious leaders clearly demonstrate their understanding of who Christ claims to be. They say in 15.32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” That is blasphemy. He will demonstrate further for them, but it would never be enough.

  • The 2nd part of this question deals with today. Can this still happen? Yes, I believe the Holy Spirit is still wooing, drawing people to Christ. The evidence is there; however, people still turn away. One day, he will stop this work and that person will stand before God condemned, because they did not believe in the Son of God.
  • One more word: for those who wrestle with this question (have I blasphemed the Holy Spirit?) I have a word of encouragement. The fact that your conscience bothers you is evidence that the Holy Spirit is still at work. Don’t turn him away. Repent and believe. His family here in chapter 3 is a perfect illustration of those who rejected Jesus at first, but later repented.
  • Let me address how Jesus rejects his family and how awkward that feels. Some folks have a tough time with what Jesus does here. It just seems too disrespectful. Some would quote the 5th commandment (honor parents); Others would say Mary should have known better considering her experience with the birth of the Savior. But, to be fair, Mark hasn’t shared any of that with his readers. I think it is fair to say that his family was deeply concerned for him. In keeping all of this within the context and the framework of Mark’s narrative, his theological purpose is twofold:
  1. To show that even Jesus’ own people did not understand him or his mission (a prelude to his rejection by Israel, i.e., the conspiracy of v6).
  2. To reveal the ultimate priority of spiritual relationships over physical ones (a prelude to the Gentile mission that will follow his resurrection).

App.: I’ve said before and place great emphasis on this once again today: I’m not sure there is anything more important in the church than our relationships. Nothing. We’re family. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ. 1 Tim 5 Paul encouraged: Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

Application:

  1. It is important to connect yourself to Christ and his spiritual family.

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Filed under Leadership, Mark, Scripture, Sermon

Mark 2.1-12

Title: An Empty Shell

Text: Mark 2.1-12

Introduction: Henry, thank you for reading Scripture this morning; Our story this morning is the 1st in a string of stories that reflect the religious leaders’ animosity toward Christ and his growing popularity. Let me show you how we got to chapter two.

  1. The opening section (1.1-15) gives us the witnesses to who Jesus really is:
    1. Mark
    2. Malachi
    3. Isaiah
    4. John
    5. God – The Holy Spirit, the Father: here we see the Trinity
    6. Satan, Angels
  2. Last week we looked at the 2nd set of stories which emphasizes the start of his ministry – and his popularity growing so quickly that he is forced out to the desolate places away from people. The people then go out looking for him to meet their needs. It appears to me that Mark’s aim in this 2nd section is to present Christ’s growing popularity and the authority he demonstrates through preaching, teaching, and healing – something not seen in the religious leaders.
  3. In chapter 2 and into chapter 3, we’ll see the religious leaders begin to question him about what he’s doing and by what authority he preaches and teaches and even heals. This angst within the religious leaders climaxes with their plot to destroy him in 3.6: The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

So, this story is the first of a few stories that involve the religious leaders and their growing resentment and animosity toward Jesus. Here’s how I’ll break it down today:

  1. The Setting: Jesus is back ‘at home’ preaching the Word (1-2)
  2. The Conflict:
    1. The Men w/ the Crowd: a paralyzed man and his four friends of faith tear through the roof to get their friend into the presence of Jesus. (3-4)
    2. The Scribes w/ their theology: Jesus rewards the faith of the man’s friends by forgiving the man his sins. The religious authorities couldn’t believe their ears and in their hearts, they accuse Jesus of blasphemy. (5-7)
  3. The Climax: Jesus, in order to demonstrate his authority to forgive sins, heals the man of his paralysis. (8-11)
  4. The Resolution: the man is healed and demonstrates it by getting up, taking up his mat and walking out the door. The people are truly amazed and God is glorified. (12)

Transition: Let’s look at each of these steps in order:

The Setting (1-2)

exp.: Jesus is back ‘at home’ preaching the Word (1-2); Capernaum: City of Nahum; the 1st HQ of the Christians; Capernaum was the nearest village to the river Jordan on the NW shores of the Sea of Galilee; Word gets out – ἀκούω; it was heard NASB; lit.: it was heard that he is in the house. Rd v 2; so they come; Boy, do they come; So thick are they, no one can get in the house. And what do we find Jesus doing? lit.: he was speaking to them the word. He’s preaching, he’s teaching.

app.: if you go back to 1.38, you’ll see that Jesus is doing exactly what he came to do: 38 And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” 39 And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

t.s.: this lays a foundation – it gives us the setting for the storyline. And we see this in…

The Conflict (3-7)

exp.: actually, there are two; rd v 3; And they came – this is great story telling; who came? 4 men, carrying a paralytic. And here is the 1st conflict: rd v 4a;

  1. They couldn’t get in the door! 4 men who’ve come to bring their friend to see Jesus in hopes that he would do what they’ve been hearing about – that he would heal their friend – but they can’t get in the door; the Gk is more colorful – lit.: and not being able to offer to him; same word in Mt 2.11 where the wise men offered their gifts to the child; and in 23 where Jesus says 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. See what I mean by more colorful?

exp: they need to get their friend to Jesus – Mark could have used a different word to describe being carried. They’re not just carrying their friend around – they’re bringing him to Jesus. And look what Mark says to explain their thinking; rd 4; And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, – and when they couldn’t offer him to Jesus because of the crowd… they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.

ill.: can you imagine the conversation of these guys with their buddy? Do you know of someone who needs Jesus this bad? Maybe he or she isn’t suffering this kind of paralysis, but maybe a different kind of illness, need, and struggle? What lengths would you go to get them to him? Response: Man, you can’t just go and tear open the man’s roof. Oh, yeah, just watch me!

ill.: Have you seen Miracles from Heaven with Jennifer Gardner? There is a scene where she is in the hospital ER for like the 4th time and the doctor says she has acid reflux. Jennifer, this little girl’s momma just looses it! the Dr. starts walking away and She grabs him by the collar, as if to say: don’t you walk away from me. We aren’t done here! Either find what’s wrong with my little girl or go get another doctor, but the status quo isn’t going to cut it. Something is wrong with my daughter and I want answers!

Show the trailer…

App.: that is these friends! I don’t care if there’s a crowd… I don’t care if there is a roof… I’ve got to get my friend Jesus and the crowd isn’t letting us in! So off with the roof it is!

Exp.: so they lower their friend down through the roof to the feet of Jesus. Mission accomplished! Rd v 5; And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” I don’t know about you, but that wasn’t the response from Jesus I was expecting. But nonetheless, that is the healing Jesus offers. My guess is that is what the man’s needs the most. So that is what Jesus gives.

But that brings us to the 2nd conflict:

  1. The Scribes hear something that doesn’t sound quite right to them. I was going to say their conflict is with Jesus. But something just doesn’t feel right about that. If you have a problem with Jesus, then the problem is yours! So let me say that these religious leaders have a problem with their theology. Rd v 6-7; basically, they’re saying: who does this man think he is? God?

exp.: I’ve got a problem with this, too. Not the same one they do. I know he’s God. That’s Mark’s point. Look closely at v 5; he forgives this man’s sins, because of their faith. Ok – so, what is happening here is that I’m in conflict with this theology. I’m like the religious leaders here. I’m on their side.

app.: if you’re on the side of the religious leaders – your on the wrong side! Here’s another app.: Jesus ain’t never wrong! Bad English – good theology. If you’re like me, on the wrong side of the argument, then we gotta make this right. Here are a few principles I’ve learned about what Jesus says in Scripture:

  1. Jesus says what that person (or people) needs to hear. That’s important. He knows their heart. We don’t He knows their struggles, their weaknesses. We think we know what is going on – but not really. He knows what to say to hit them where they live. He says what that person needs to hear.
  2. What I think needs to happen isn’t necessarily what is best. Jesus knows what needs to happen. He sees a much larger picture than I take in. Time and again, we’re faced with what seems to be good answers and good solutions to our problems and the problems of others. God is probably up to something a lot bigger than the minor, insignificant thing in front of us.
  3. God isn’t interested in my glory as much as he is his own glory. Isaiah 48 is a beautiful passage where God tells his people that he is doing things he said he would do long ago, so that no one could say my idol did this for me. Furthermore, he says there are things going to happen soon that will blow you away. Also, so you know that it only could have come from God. Then he says this: 11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. God isn’t interested in my glory as much as he is his own glory. We’ll see this when we finish up today.

t.s.: So here are these two conflicts: the men and their friend not being able to get to Jesus because of the crowd and, the religious leaders not getting their theology to align w/ what Jesus is doing. Now, we reach the climax of the story.

The Climax (8-11)

exp.: v 8 tells us that Jesus perceived their thoughts and then questioned them. This is an easy one for me.

ill.: my mother-in-law has this problem with letting others know how she feels without saying a word. It’s her eye brows. I’ve learned to read her thoughts of displeasure with me by noting the height her eyebrows reach. Let me show you what I mean. (raise my eyebrows in displeasure).

ill.: Now, my wife does this with me. I don’t know how, but she does this almost daily. She perceives my thoughts – without using my eyebrows. There is this intuitive nature about her.

app.: Can I just say that, this is not what Mark is telling us; Jn 2.25; 23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

app.: So, the problem is with them – not Jesus. Remember: He knows what that person needs to hear; He knows the whole story; and he’s most interested in glorifying his father, not them.

t.s.: So, he asks them a question – … – knowing just what they need to hear;

exp.: rd v 9; let me ask you – which is easier to say? My guess is that these guys couldn’t say either! Oh, they could say rise up. But, that doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen any quicker than them forgiving a man his sins and making him pure. So, to be clear, Jesus tells them; rd v 10; 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”; Something incredible is happening here!

You and I know that the Son of Man is a reference to Christ. But, these guys – they see it quit differently. This would be a fun discussion question for your small groups. These scribes know that this is a reference to the Messiah – the one sent from God. As far as they’re concerned, they only see a unique, really smart fellow in front of them. But when he calls himself the Son of Man – images from the O.T. must pop up in their minds. They’re scribes, remember?

They know Psalm 80 – of course they see themselves as the Son of man in that passage. They are also familiar with Daniel 7 – The one who comes to the Ancient of Days (God, the Father) is the son of man – and he has the dominion – the authority to rule and reign and pass judgment. These guys get it. That’s why they say in v 7 – He is blaspheming. They don’t see him as having the authority to forgive sins. So, Jesus tells them like it is. V 10 again – 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” Not only am I going to show you that I have the authority to forgive sins – which no man can do. I’m also going to show you that I have the authority to heal – like no one else can do. The Climax: rd v 10b-11;

I’m sure everyone held their breath as Christ demonstrates his power over all things. Here is the result…

The Resolution (12)

exp.: the man is healed, the people are amazed and God is glorified!

t.s.: remember I told you earlier that God is interested in his glory. Christ accomplished just that.

Conclusion: Did you see this article, this past week in the National Review? Professor says: if you’re reading to your kids, you’re ‘unfairly disadvantaging’ others. That’s right. Parents, you’re being unfair and putting other kids at a disadvantage if you read to your children. Kathyrn Timpf writes in her article: At one point, Professor Adam Swift even flirted with the idea of “simply abolishing the family” as a way of “solving the social justice problem” because “there would be a more level playing field” if we did…

Um, I am continually amazed at the asinine and obtuse reactions by the left-winged nuts out there. I think well, that’s about as foolish as a person could ever be – and then someone tops it…again!

app.: I wonder if the religious leaders have the same problem this professor has… what I mean by this is: For this professor, he should see that the best way to give a kid a chance is to provide him a home, a family and nurture him, but instead, this professor wants to lower the playing field for all. Get rid of the family. Why not instead, try to find a home for every child.

I wonder if the Scribes have a similar logic. They’ve got their theology in a box. It is nice and neat. They have pre-conceived ideas about sin and its effect on people. This professor, he wants ‘what is fair’ and he has his own ideas about what that means. The Scribes, they’re not thinking from the perspective that God brings, but rather they start with themselves and move out from there. They’re not approaching the problem from the right angle.

Application: What about you…from where you sit this morning? Sure, you’re probably conservative and think the professor is nuts, but, what about the Scribes in our story? Or, are you more like the 4 men who bring their friend to Christ and are willing to think outside the box to accomplish that feat?

Can I give you an easy question to answer that might give you perspective? Do you struggle with some of the things Jesus says? Like when he says to the Canaanite woman, it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and feed it to the dogs. Do you find yourself not liking certain passages because they make you uncomfortable?

I think we all do this at some level: Peter when he told Jesus not to be so negative and talk about dying. Get behind me Satan.

Here is my take-away today:

  1. When you come to Christ – come empty handed. What I mean by this is not to come with your theology in a box. Come empty, ready to be filled. Come ready to learn. Know it alls need not apply.

Poem by Thomas Edward Brown: He was walking along the shore and found a shell. The story goes that he picked it up and put it to his ear to listen to the sound of the sea. But something frightening happened… a crab came out of the shell. This poem was born out of that experience.

“If thou could’st empty all thyself of self,

Like to a shell dishabited,

Then might He find thee on the ocean shelf,

And say “This is not dead,”

And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou art all replete with very thou

And hast such shrewd activity,

That when He comes He says, “This is enow

Unto itself-’twere better let it be,

It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.”

When you come to Jesus – come empty, ready to be filled…

Oh, Christ – empty us of all that hinders you from filling us. And, fill us up with you. May you find us empty of ‘self’ and ready to be filled with all things considered ‘you’…

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Filed under Leadership, Mark, Purpose, Sermon

Nehemiah 6-7

Title: The Call to Perseverance

Text: Nehemiah 6.1-7.73

CIT: The author wants the people to be encouraged in the promises of God, in spite of the strong opposition our enemy brings, and to remember that God is the one true promise keeper.

CIS: We are called to persevere through the attacks of the enemy because there is something grander beyond this moment.

Introduction: Fear doesn’t always cause Fight or Flight responses. Sometimes it just causes a breakdown. It can be crippling. Paralyzing, even. Fear isolates people and causes them to go into hiding. It can arrest a community, a people – stop them dead in their tracks. And, it can come from anywhere…at anytime…from anyone – even from those you would not expect.

Today we’re going to study a man who was attacked again and again. The tactic was to strike fear in this man and halt his work. The goal was to intimidate him to the point that he would stop the work of God and give in to their demands. The enemies of God and His people wanted to bring an end to this rebuilding of their wall and the strengthening of their community.

But, Nehemiah was prepared. He had set it in his heart to accomplish this work because God had called him to this work. Besides, he had faith that the One who had called him to this work, would see it through to completion. He would bring it to completion because Nehemiah knew the bigger picture. Nehemiah was called to persevere through the attacks of the enemy because he was certain that there was something much grander beyond this moment in which he was serving and living.

Let me ask you this morning to think about fear. What do you fear? Of what are you afraid? Do you ever get scared? What scares you? I ain’t scairt!

I’ve outlined the passage like this:

The Call is to Perseverance when the enemy attacks:

  1. Privately
  2. Publicly
  3. Persistently
  4. Because God is at work – there is a bigger picture.

Transition: let’s begin in the 1st section of chapter 6, The Call is to Perseverance when the enemy attacks:

I.     Privately (6.1-4)

exp.: for Nehemiah, it was with letters of invitation: come, let us meet together. Where? Hakkephirim; we don’t honestly know where this is, but he gives us a little more detail: in the plain of Ono.” I don’t know about you but I don’t think that sounds too encouraging: Oh, No! In Neh.11.35, it is called the valley of craftsmen – but that doesn’t help us much either. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter where this place was. What matters for us is what Nehemiah knew. He knew where it was and he knew it was only a ploy to make him stop working. Here’s a great place to make our first application of the morning.

app.: Don’t go there! Too often we’re invited into danger or trouble that will stop the work of God. Don’t go there. Lisa says: Don’t borrow trouble! Leave it where it is. You keep working on the task at hand. Do you need some help with this? Look at how Nehemiah handles it (Nehemiah’s response): Rd v 3: And I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”

t.s.: the enemy attacks privately, but when that doesn’t work – he’ll up the ante and attack you

II.    Publicly (6.5-9)

exp.: in our passage, they do it with accusations of embarrassment; rd v 6-7 In it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel; that is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king. And you have also set up prophets to proclaim concerning you in Jerusalem, ‘There is a king in Judah.’ And now the king will hear of these reports. So now come and let us take counsel together.” “Look, we’re just trying to save you from yourselves.” The request to fix this looks simple enough. It is for all intents and purposes the same request as before. You see it there in v 7: let us take counsel together. There is a pattern here is found in v4:

  • The Request from the enemies
  • The Response from Nehemiah, and it is after this 2nd rotation, that Nehemiah tells us of his insight into this matter. You see the request in v 7; the response in v 8; and the purpose of the enemy revealed in v 9;
  • The Reason: They wanted to frighten us into quitting! The purpose is to instill fear.

ill.: why fear? Listen to this – Why do the enemies of God want you to be afraid? Why scare tactics? You ready for this? Because it is really all they’ve got. In our story: Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem and the people who follow them have no physical power to stop the work. They’ve taunted them, laughed at them, said that if a fox climbed up on the wall it would simply topple over. They’ve made fun of them and threatened them. But when it all came down to it – they were just a bunch of noise.

app.: Consider your work now – your calling to complete the work God has called you to do. Is God limited in accomplishing his work through you? He is where you focus should be. Scare tactics are used to divert your attention away from your Master and His Work. Scare tactics are meant to get you to look away from God and see the enemy.

t.s.: We will see this pattern again in the next set of verses, 15-19 as the enemy ups the ante and doesn’t relent of its attacks – they are private, they are public and they are, 3rd, persistent.

III.   Persistently (6.10-19)

exp.: The enemy has been straight forward and that didn’t work. So, they change things up a little: they then attack through his passion for the things of God – the temple, and prophets. In v 10 it tells us he is invited to the house of Shemaiah. Let us meet together in the house of God. Sounds harmless. Rd v 10;

ill.: There are two possibilities here on what this means:

First, This ‘man of God’ is warning Nehemiah of a death threat and that he can run into the rebuilt Temple and find sanctuary. There, he’ll be safe. He can run to the altar and hold on to the horn of the altar and be safe.

2ndly, he could be telling him to go into the deepest part of the Temple, the holy of holies or the holiest place. The enemies of God can’t follow him in there.

Answer: Nehemiah’s response is appropriate in either case. He says: “Should such a man as I run away? And what man such as I could go into the temple and live?

Either one, Nehemiah knows that if he runs into the holy of holies he’ll die.

Or two, he is saying: I’m not that kind of man – I’m not the kind of man who would abandon his people. Sure, for anyone who is threatened with death, he can flee those seeking his life and find asylum in the Temple. But, that also means the work on the wall will stop. And, his people will be left out there without their leader.

app.: Nehemiah knows the full counsel of God. He knows this person is perverting the Word of God. Either way, Nehemiah is fully aware of the result that either of these two options would bring – the work on the wall would stop. And that – as far as he is concerned – is no option. He knows what they’re really trying to do is scare him.

So the enemies are persistent by attacking him in using the things of God. Next, the enemies will use the people of God.

  1. The Things of God.
  2. The People of God.

Look at v 14; We expect this from Sanballet and Tobiah. But from the prophets of God? Skip down to v 17: rd 17-19; Man, These guys are relentless. You’d think that Nehemiah would become paranoid! Now, he’ll use his own people against him;

App.: Well, in spite of all this we read in v 15; the wall is done – it is finished; in just over 7 weeks. Their goal was to intimidate and strike fear into the hearts of God’s people – so that they would abandon their work. But look at what really happens. Rd v 16; Look what God has done! Do you see the irony in this – they’ve been hoping to strike fear in Nehemiah and Israel; But it backfires!

t.s.: Why does Nehemiah keep up the fight? Why does he keep going? I propose to you that his persistence is born out of a knowledge of greater things. That is: he sees the bigger picture. And that’s our last section this morning: The Call is to Perseverance when the enemy attacks:

IV.    Because God is at work. There is a bigger picture. (7.1-73)

exp.: rd 1-4; he posts an even larger guard within the city. Rd v 5; God puts it in his heart to put the people of God in the City of God. This is genius at work. The goal was never just the wall. The goal was never just the Temple. There is a bigger picture that Nehemiah understood. He assembles the people of God through their genealogy. Rd v 66-67; rd v 73-8.1.

app.: At this point in Salvation History – God has been true to his people. He had promised to return a remnant – and here they are. The story of God has come full circle. But, you know there is more to come: there is a Messiah who has been promised – and all of this is just one small part of the Bigger picture.

t.s.: So, how does this apply to you?

Application:

  1. The author wants the people of God to be encouraged in the promises of God, in spite of the strong opposition our enemy brings, and to remember that God is the one true promise keeper.
  2. You can read this and see how attacks come and know how to recognize them. Basically, attacks come in the form of fear tactics and the purpose is to get you to stop the work of the ministry.
  3. The promises of God are still with us this morning.
    1. Lo, I am with you always – even to the end of the age.
    2. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.
    3. I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
    4. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
    5. 27 For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.
    6. Three times in Revelation 22 Jesus says: I am coming soon. That’s a promise.
  4. In v 17 of Revelation 22 it says: 17 The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Why? Because the price has already been paid.

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Nehemiah 5.1-19

Title: Leaders Who Care

Text: Nehemiah 5.1-19

Introduction: I want to talk to you today about Leaders Who Care. In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey isn’t able to go to war on account of his ear – he’s deaf in his left ear. He had fallen into an icy pond saving his brother and never heard from that ear again (except for a short period of time where he gets to experience what life would have been like if he’d never been born. During the war, there are some scenes of George working in the community. He prays during D-Day and VJ-Day; He wept and prayed. He participates in the rubber drive. At one point he hollers out at the people: Don’t you know there’s a war going on.

The point was that there were can drives, rubber drives, rations, keeping the lights off at night. People in times past were expected to live at a certain level during the war. We’ve not experienced that in our lifetimes – those of us 50 and under. But our seniors, when they were little – did without during the war.

App.: Ladies & Gentlemen, Don’t you know there’s a war going on? It’s a spiritual war and we can’t be living like we’re at peace with the devil.

This morning we’re in Nehemiah ch. 5; As we began Nehemiah, we looked at his calling and his leadership. Today, we’ll look at how he cares for his people. Ch. 5 is a chapter that feels like it doesn’t fit. Here these folks are working away on the wall, facing opposition and then this…interruption. Suddenly, without rhyme or reason, the following takes place.

  1. The Setting: (1-6) The Outcry of the People – against interest/taxes/famine
  2. The Conflict: (7-10) Nehemiah confronts his brothers (and himself)
  3. The Climax: (11) Return these to your brothers
  4. The Resolution: (12-13) commitment & Oath; imagery;
  5. Post-Script: (14-19) as Governor, Nehemiah chose not to be a burden to his brothers, but rather took care of his own needs and the needs of his people at his own expense.

This is how I’ve outlined it:

  1. Nehemiah Hears A Great Outcry from his Brothers (1-6)
  2. Nehemiah Confronts his Brothers (7-13)
  3. Nehemiah Sets the Example for his Brothers (14-19)

Transition: So, let’s begin ch. 5 w/

  1. Nehemiah Hears A Great Outcry from his Brothers (1-6)

exp.: rd v 1; Now, over the next 3 verses we see the groups and their struggles: rd v 2;

  1. We’ve not enough grain. Maybe they worked on the wall and left their fields untended. We don’t know, we’ll read about a famine in a moment – maybe the drought has hit their crops, too. Rd v 3;
  2. We’ve mortgaged our fields, vineyards and homes to buy grain. Another group has entered into debt to cover the costs brought about by the famine. They need food to eat. Rd v 4
  3. We’ve borrowed money to pay our taxes. And what’s more – these actions, these predicaments have hurt us; rd v 5-6

The Result: (v 5-6): This debt has forced their children into slavery; it seems a particularly desperate situation for their girls. The power these Jewish brothers have over their own kin is destructive and putting them in a powerless, helpless position. It is an endless vicious cycle.

app.: I believe this is a principle that Christians often forget. Preying upon the poor is something God detests. We’ll see that more in a moment. For now, we apply this portion of Scripture to our lives by recognizing the error of preying upon the poor. And we can do that in so many ways – pushing the poor into deeper poverty and into greater dependence upon the government or the church.

t.s.: Nehemiah recognizes what has happened and becomes angry at the situation. And so he…

  1. Nehemiah Confronts His Brothers (7-13)

exp.: rd v 7a; note how Nehemiah levels 1st a charge against them and then 2nd, he offers a solution to the problem. He said: I took counsel w/ myself and I brought charges.

  • Nehemiah’s Charge: rd v 7b-8a
    1. In this great assembly he says:
      1. We’ve brought back our brothers from slavery, only to enslave them ourselves. Note 8b – silence; rd 9;
      2. He says: This isn’t Biblical and it’s a poor witness to the Nations! And he add to that in v 10; Where is he getting this from? Why does he think this is wrong?

Q.: How is it that we can ever say anything is wrong? Who sets the standard for right and wrong?

Ill.: I’ve been quizzing our girls at home: How do you know something is wrong and something is right? A.: God’s Word, the Bible. Well, that’s where Nehemiah gets this bit of information, that what they’re doing is wrong – namely,

  • Leviticus 25.35-38; 35 “If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. 36 Take no interest from him or profit, but fear your God, that your brother may live beside you. 37 You shall not lend him your money at interest, nor give him your food for profit. 38 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, and to be your God.

It’s here in the last part of v 10 that Nehemiah offers a solution; rd 10b-11:

  • Nehemiah’s Solution:
  1. Let’s abandon this practice. App.: When you’re doing something wrong – abandon the practice!
  2. Let’s return their stuff to them. i.e.: their fields, their vineyards, their olive orchards, and their houses, and the percentage of money, grain, wine, and oil that you have been exacting from them.

The Brother’s Respond in v 12; rd v 12; note their points of action:

  1. We will Restore these
  2. We will Require nothing (except to payback what is borrowed)
  3. We will do as you say
  4. A verbal commitment – he made them swear…raise your right hand. There is something interesting that takes place here – something like a covenant. Rd v 13;

ill.: Their Commitment Demonstrated: the shaking out of the garment. So may he be shaken out and emptied.

app.: And all the congregation said: Amen.

t.s.: Now, really, that is the end of that story, but Nehemiah gives us a sort of post script. Why? I’m not sure of his purpose. Some people might think it’s narcissistic. Woo-who! Look at me. Not me.

  1. Nehemiah’s Sets the Example for his Brothers (14-19)

exp.: rd v 14; Governor for 12 years; I wonder if this is the amount of time he asked the King for back in chapter 2; During his 12 year tenure, he:

  • Did not burden the people; as was the practice of his predecessors.
  • He finished the work on the wall;
  • He provided for his servants and workers; out of his own pocket…
  • Remember me, O God – 6x’s; 5.19; 6.14; 13.14, 22, 29, 31;

app.: Nehemiah changes his lifestyle and begins to live like his country is at war. And he’s telling his wealthy brothers who’ve enslaved their own people: Don’t you know there’s a war going on? This implies sacrifice, it implies service, and it implies giving. Nehemiah demonstrated his understanding of this with his life.

Here’s what we’ve seen today:

  1. Leaders who care see the injustice being done to their people.
  2. Leaders who care confront the injustice of their people.
  3. Leaders who care set the example by living a godly life toward their brothers.

t.s.: so, how does this apply to us?

Observations & Implications:

  1. We should be cognizant of the way we treat the poor. Are we hurting them with our policies? Are we enslaving them to a life under the burden of debt? Are we cashing in on their desperate situations? Are we exploiting their despair for our betterment.

Nehemiah is the govt. He sees what they are doing to the poor. Ladies and Gentlemen, as the time comes for us to vote – vote for someone who is going to stop exploiting the poor.

  1. How do you use the money God has blessed you with? Are you faithful to tithe? Are you faithful to give to ministry needs as they arise? Do you live with a wartime mentality when it comes to your finances?
  2. If God is your God – and not money, if you’re a good steward of the resources He has blessed you with, if you’re looking out for the poor and those in need – then enjoy the blessings of God. There is no need to feel guilty for being rich. God has made you that way because you have shown yourself faithful. Continue in that blessing…
    1. Listen to James Hamilton: Tall people who trust in Christ should not feel guilty about being tall. People who trust in Christ and have great marriages should not feel guilty for having a believing, faithful spouse. Those who trust in Christ and whom God has made rich should not feel guilty because God did not make someone else rich also. God is God. We will give an account to him for the way that we stewarded what he gave us. Refusing to enjoy the way that he has blessed our bank accounts is along the lines of refusing to enjoy the blessing of a sunset or a spouse, a flower or a forest. If he has lavished largesse upon you, praise him.

Let’s pray

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Nehemiah 2.9-4.23

Title: Why do the Nations Rage?

Text: Nehemiah 2.11-4.23

Introduction: We began this portion of our sermon series in Nehemiah with a look at his call. He heart was broken by the news from his homeland. He fasted and prayed, as God put a plan into his heart. When the time was right, he took action. He petitioned the king with a well thought out plan. And God blessed.

With this thought in mind, that is, Nehemiah’s obedience to the call in his life. I’d like to continue looking at this man, called to a task, called to lead.

Today, we’ll cover a lot of information in a short period of time. My purpose in doing so is two-fold:

  1. I don’t want to be in Nehemiah through the summer and into the fall. And in order for that to happen, I’ve got to keep moving.
  2. I feel I can cover a lot of information without going into deeper detail. You can have your own time of study if you feel led to dig deeper. My purpose isn’t to conduct that here. I’ve got this message on my heart and to preach it, I’ve got to cover a lot of ground.

Today, we’ll cover 2½ chapters. So, let us begin. The outline is as follows:

  1. Before the work begins: Nehemiah gets organized. (2.9-20)
  2. The Work begins: Beams, Bolts & Bars (3.1-32)
  3. The Work progresses with Shovels & Spears (4.1-23)
    1. The Nations Rage (1-4)
    2. The Peoples Plot (5-14)
    3. The Lord Laughs (15-23)

Transition: so let’s begin quickly now, with point # 1…

I.     Before the Work Begins: Getting Organized (Tell this in my own words quickly)

  1. Assessment of the Ruins (2.9-16) possibly over two nights?
  2. Appeal to Rebuild (2.16-18) A call for unity; community;
  3. Antagonists Rise up to Oppose the Work of God (2.19-20)

 

II.    The Work Begins: Beams, Bolts and Bars (3.1-32) – a basic description of the work; not just a rebuilding, some areas are totally wiped out.

  1. The Sheep Gate (1)
  2. The Fish Gate (3)
  3. The Old City Gate (6)
  4. The Valley Gate (13)
  5. The Dung Gate (14)
  6. The Fountain Gate (15)
  7. The Water Gate (26)
  8. The Horse Gate (28)
  9. The East Gate (29)
  10. The Muster Gate (31)

Transition: as we move into chapter 4, we begin to see what happens when God’s people do God’s work – following His leading – being obedient to the call. Let’s pick up in chapter 4 where the work progresses.

III.   The Work Progresses

  1. The Nations Rage (1-5)

exp.: rd v 1; enraged; Why do the nations rage? A question asked by the Psalmist that was read earlier in the service. A common theme in Scripture: People, who are not God’s people, always stand against Him. They stand against Him as if it were possible – and I believe they think so – that they could persevere against Him. They say he isn’t real but their words don’t match their actions. Perhaps it is no more poignantly presented than in the words Christ heard while hanging on the Cross, Matt 27.42ff: 42 “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44 And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.

Rd v 2-3; now for me, what’s surprising in this story is the way Nehemiah responds: rd v 4-5; wow! He’s praying a “King David, before he was king” kind of prayer (e.g., Pss 35, 58.6, 59, 69, 109, and 137)!

ill.: Can I pause and expound on this? I want to be careful to not be misunderstood. You ready for this? I’m ok with this kind of praying: (e.g., Pss 35.1-8)

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me;

fight against those who fight against me!

        Take hold of shield and buckler

and rise for my help!

        Draw the spear and javelin

against my pursuers!

Say to my soul,

“I am your salvation!”

        Let them be put to shame and dishonor

who seek after my life!

Let them be turned back and disappointed

who devise evil against me!

        Let them be like chaff before the wind,

with the angel of the Lord driving them away!

        Let their way be dark and slippery,

with the angel of the Lord pursuing them!

        For without cause they hid their net for me;

without cause they dug a pit for my life.

        Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it!

And let the net that he hid ensnare him;

let him fall into it—to his destruction!

58.6-9

        O God, break the teeth in their mouths;

tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!

        Let them vanish like water that runs away;

when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.

        Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,

like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.

        Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,

whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

59.1-10

        Deliver me from my enemies, O my God;

protect me from those who rise up against me;

        deliver me from those who work evil,

and save me from bloodthirsty men.

        For behold, they lie in wait for my life;

fierce men stir up strife against me.

For no transgression or sin of mine, O Lord,

        for no fault of mine, they run and make ready.

Awake, come to meet me, and see!

        You, Lord God of hosts, are God of Israel.

Rouse yourself to punish all the nations;

spare none of those who treacherously plot evil. Selah

        Each evening they come back,

howling like dogs

and prowling about the city.

        There they are, bellowing with their mouths

with swords in their lips—

for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”

        But you, O Lord, laugh at them;

you hold all the nations in derision.

        O my Strength, I will watch for you,

for you, O God, are my fortress.

10         My God in his steadfast love will meet me;

God will let me look in triumph on my enemies.

Cf.: 69, 109, and 137

app.: Here is where I think it is ok: when the attack is against the LORD and not you. Just because someone doesn’t like you or what you’re doing doesn’t give cause for such prayers. However, when it comes to the work of God, I believe such prayers are warranted.

  1. 1st, the prayers here are directed to God, not their enemies.
  2. 2nd, such prayers are the response to threats – not retaliation. It is not wrong prayer when your heart’s greatest passion is the glory of God. Such prayers for retaliation that are delivered from an insecure heart and a damaged ego should be condemned. But when your heart’s cry is God’s glory – well, you know you’re praying according to God’s will because that is His will. He has said in 48.11 11For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another. Where prayers from insecurity draw condemnation, such prayers from a sincere and upright heart should be commended.

t.s.: The Nations Rage and

  1. The Peoples Plot in vain (6-14)

exp.: rd v 6; oh, they rage and they plot, but it is all in vain. Why? Because God will accomplish his heart’s desire. Rd v 7; he was very angry; in v 1 he was just angry; rd v 8; heh, the people plot; rd v 9; Note actions on the part of Nehemiah:

  • He Trusts God – and makes this evident in his prayers.
  • He Takes Action – he posts guards in strategic places.

Nehemiah does this in spite of the mocking coming from the peoples. Rd v 10-12; Here is the reality of this sort of persecution, this opposition: It brings discouragement to the ranks. The wall is half high, meaning they’re about half way through, maybe a little further (because the doors and gates are hung). Now, it’s one thing to be hit by those outside your own walls, but it is altogether a greater sense of defeat when the discouragement comes from within. We learn a great principle from Nehemiah at this lowest of lows for the people. Rd v 13; Nehemiah puts people as guards over their own people. And he tells them, rd v 14;

app.: And here is the principle: we protect and serve best – the people we love.

t.s.: the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain, but…

  1. He who sits in the heavens laughs; The Lord holds them in derision. (15-23)

exp.: rd v 15-23; Here we find another principle for the one who has been called to serve and to lead: Nehemiah leads by example. He was there in the midst of the people. He kept the trumpeter near, while he kept a watch over his people and on the enemy in the distance. And this charge was not his alone, but also the other leaders.

app.: this is a wonderful lesson for us here as a church: The Nations Rage and the People Plot in Vain. They have as far back as time goes. But God is not moved. As we read about Sanballet and Tobiah’s mocking, jeering it says back in v 1, we find that this is the same word used to describe the Lord’s actions in Psalm 2. And again in Ps 59.8: But you, O Lord, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision.

t.s.: Galatians 6 – Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

Let me close with some questions for you to Ponder:

  1. Do you exist for a cause greater than yourself? Think about this: Purpose comes from meaning. There is then direction, action, and movement. No meaning or purpose leads to simple existence.
  2. Does your purpose lead you to lay down your life for others? I’m not talking about dying – I’m talking about taking your selfish ‘ness’ and laying it down – on the altar of life. I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
  3. Nehemiah is prepared to interrupt the building of the wall to address concerns. Some of the people trade a spade for a spear. Others trade a shovel for a sword. Others continue the work. To pursue the completion of the wall without addressing concerns would have meant certain failure. It is quite possible that people might have put down their spades and shovels and walked away. Which by the way, is what the enemy was hoping for! What would you do – how would you respond if your leadership approached you and asked you to change positions? What if they moved you to a different section of the wall? What if they took your tool away and gave you a trumpet? What would your response be?
    1. This is MY ministry! I started it!
    2. This is MY committee – MY team – I created it!
    3. This is MY… you fill in the blank.
  4. Nehemiah set a guard in place both day and night. In today’s context, what should God’s people be on guard against both day and night? How might you live in such a way that you work with one hand and hold your weapon with the other?
  5. In 4.12, God’s people were discouraging God’s people. How might your actions or your words be a discouragement to God’s people today?

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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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