I Am Doing a Great Work

 
 

Each time I preach on our theme for the coming year, I take a few minutes to reiterate the philosophy behind these pace-setting sermons. The one thing I emphasize is that this is not a gimmick or a mere rhyme. Rather, it is something I prayerfully consider along with others in order to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.

Clearly, this is not the only thing God is saying (in the broader sense of His logos), but it is definitely a timely Word from the Holy Spirit (a quickened Word, His rhema). Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word (rhema) that proceeds out of the mouth of God.”

Our theme is intended to be a treasure chest that is timely, insightful, and faith building; a word that we can carry with us as we walk throughout the entire year. Since we launched our building project last September, I consider that this year’s theme, I Am Doing a Great Work (Nehemiah 6:3), represents a timely convergence that we can hold onto as a spiritual reference point. The Book of Nehemiah is the Bible’s handbook on building, so I was especially drawn to this particular book as a kind of congregational blueprint.

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More specifically, the context both here and in our lives is one of rebuilding. Who among us is not in need of a new beginning as we journey through the different periods of life? In Nehemiah’s case, it was the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s broken down walls, which had left the city defenseless and had given their enemies open access.

Your own rebuilding project may be one of the heart or of relationships with others.

Your own rebuilding project may be one of the heart or of relationships with others. You may face the need to rebuild integrity after some misstep or to rebuild a new life following divorce or the loss of a loved one. Perhaps your self confidence has taken a hit and you are seeking to rebuild hope for a better future.

Listen: in one way or another, most of us will spend some or much of 2019 trying to rebuild something. This is a normal process throughout the ebb and flow of life. Coaches are continually rebuilding their sports teams. They recognize the great truth that we must discover: It’s never too late for a new beginning.

The truth of redemption and rebuilding is a major Bible theme. Isaiah 58:12 declares: “Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes.”

It is repeated as a refrain throughout the whole of Nehemiah’s journal. His declaration, “I am doing a great work” is not a statement of arrogance or superiority. It is a faith statement born of the reality in which he was engaged.

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The truth of redemption and rebuilding is a major Bible theme.

To his detractor, Ono, Nehemiah says: “Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?” Clearly, he understood that he was part of a work greater than himself – born of a compelling vision that demanded he leave behind his cushy job in the palace at Shushan. That same vision later moved the people of Jerusalem off center and into the flow of God’s work.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote:

“Every calling is great when greatly pursued.”

It stirs my soul to start a new year with this possibility. It serves as a powerful deterrent to the ever-present challenge of distractions and discouragement. Call it mission drift, if you will, or vision leaks, or plain old-fashioned burnout – but we all contend with it. “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard,” Hebrews 2:1 warns, “lest we drift away from it.”

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Notice, this is not a turbulent or tumultuous move. It can be as silent, quiet, and painless as...drifting. Another translation says: “With so many voices wooing us away, it’s not easy to cling to the essential task.”

Maintaining his focus as a single-minded leader, Nehemiah pulled it off.

An effective leader and an effective church is always a focused one. Nehemiah said O, No! to Ono. He was purposeful and unwavering, and this is the real need. Without a deliberate, serious, sustained effort to keep a biblical approach, we naturally gravitate toward a consumerist view of the Church. As a result, the mindset of today’s Christian is a far cry from the first question posed by the Westminister Catechism:

Q. What is the chief end of man?

A. Man’s chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

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The natural drift of the Church is to turn increasingly inward, and a leader’s role is to keep pointing it outward, over and over again; to keep the focus on the least and on the lost.

George Barna’s respected research found that 66% of church-going Christians say that enjoying yourself is the highest goal of life. Still a bit lower than the 84% of all Americans who feel that way – but lamentably high for those who pledge their lives to a Savior who said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” Last time I checked, that call has never been rescinded, modified, or upgraded.

The leader’s challenge is to inspire men and women to die to themselves for the sake of strangers – and this is particularly difficult when it means a call to sacrifice, inconvenience, and having their own needs go unmet.

The natural drift of the Church is to turn increasingly inward, and a leader’s role is to keep pointing it outward, over and over again; to keep the focus on the least and on the lost.

Let me repeat: It’s never too late for a new beginning. I Am Doing a Great Work is a theme that resonates in my heart, as it should in the heart of every spiritually-minded follower of Christ. It all comes down to this question: will we influence the world for Christ, or will the world influence us?

This same challenge was posed recently in Christianity Today:

The most important issue we face today is the same the church has faced in every century: Will we reach our world for Christ? In other words, will we give priority to Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel? Or will we turn increasingly inward, caught up in our own internal affairs or controversies, or simply becoming more and more comfortable with the status quo? Will we become inner-directed or outer-directed? The central issues of our times aren’t economic or political or social, important as these are. The central issues of our time are moral and spiritual in nature, and our calling is to declare Christ’s forgiveness and hope and transforming power to a world that does not know him or follow him. May we never forget this.

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The natural drift of the Church is to turn increasingly inward, and a leader’s role is to keep pointing it outward, over and over again; to keep the focus on the least and on the lost.

Let me repeat: It’s never too late for a new beginning. I Am Doing a Great Work is a theme that resonates in my heart, as it should in the heart of every spiritually-minded follower of Christ. It all comes down to this question: will we influence the world for Christ, or will the world influence us?

This same challenge was posed recently in Christianity Today:

The most important issue we face today is the same the church has faced in every century: Will we reach our world for Christ? In other words, will we give priority to Christ’s command to go into all the world and preach the gospel? Or will we turn increasingly inward, caught up in our own internal affairs or controversies, or simply becoming more and more comfortable with the status quo? Will we become inner-directed or outer-directed? The central issues of our times aren’t economic or political or social, important as these are. The central issues of our time are moral and spiritual in nature, and our calling is to declare Christ’s forgiveness and hope and transforming power to a world that does not know him or follow him. May we never forget this.

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...it was not just about showing up and checking off the attendance box. The people were committed to the work, fully engaged in what God was doing.

Here’s an important fact: rebuilding is a team sport. The coach must inspire the team to rise up and build together. Today’s prevalent culture of “radical individualism” lacks the needed glue that unites people to accomplish anything truly significant. Nehemiah knew that nothing short of a team effort could meet the challenges that they faced in rebuilding the wall. The people who had remained behind in Jerusalem had to buy into this project. “Come, let us build the wall,” was his rallying-call that moved people from their common pursuits. “Let us rise up and build!” was the people’s response.

Here was a winning combination that carried with it a distinctive “can do” mentality. Yes, it would be tested multiple times, but it held firm and steady because it was not just about showing up and checking off the attendance box. The people were committed to the work, fully engaged in what God was doing.

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As Rob Chagdes wrote,

“Engagement is all about taking next steps. To be engaged in something involves relationship. When you are engaged in something you make contributions toward it. In the Church, that could mean you devote your time by having a regular responsibility in the Church. It also means giving financially as you give back to God what He has first given to you. Perhaps, above all else, engagement means you immerse yourself in the mission of the Church while pursuing Jesus, who is the head of the Church. You join in what he is doing while taking steps of obedience toward him.”

Dear ones, if our testimony and perspective is “I am doing a great work,” then it will pay off in rich dividends.  J. Campbell White speaks to this when he says, “Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ’s purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure, and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ’s undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.”

Designer Vacation

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It’s not lost on me that halfway through the height of the vacation season, I’m finally writing on vacations. Posts of this nature should certainly appear when the summer begins. Nevertheless (to use a good King James Bible word)… how can we think biblically about this subject?

In the church world at large, you hear about the supposed “summertime slump” during which outreach and ministry are pretty much put on hold while giving plummets and pastors just hang on and wish for the fall because they can’t really do anything for God during the summer months. I’ve never subscribed to that thinking.  We just finished a revival meeting right smack in the middle the record breaking heat of a Tucson summer. 

And, you know what? As a church we don’t believe that Christians need time off from serving God’s purpose at any time of year. Seasons come and seasons go, but God is always first and God is always worth it. 

Seasons come and seasons go, but God is always first and God is always worth it.

This is not to say that vacations are not of God; it was God’s idea that man should have regular times of rest. This point is missed by those who accrue days and weeks of vacation that sit and languish, unused. “I haven’t taken a vacation in nearly six years,” they state with a detectable aroma of pride, as if such meritorious conduct deserves a medal.

Consider the fact that a Chicago resident may need to go bask in the Florida warmth to escape the bone-chilling cold. Families may realize they have just a few short years to create bonding memories together. Couples may need a bit of time to themselves, away from the kids and other responsibilities. How often do we say Man, I need a vacation! But we may also come home from a vacation more worn out than before we left, saying Man, I need a vacation from my vacation!

I’m certainly not a Conde Nast-type traveler, but I’m fairly certain that the anticipation and planning that goes into a vacation is something that most of us enjoy. So here is my suggestion: Vacations can be a genuine and needed time of refreshment. But beyond that, real spiritual goals can and should be part of a family’s vacation plans. To achieve both will require planning and forethought. It won’t happen by accident, but by design.

So, how should we bring our faith to bear upon what is for so many of us a yearly pilgrimage? How can we craft our designer vacation?

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AMERICA’S DEFICIT

On my first trip to Australia, I discovered a place whose countryside and people I thoroughly enjoy. But I remember my genuine surprise when I heard that most Australian workers get at least four paid weeks of vacation time each year plus ten days of public holiday. Along with this, they also receive personal days, family days, mental health days, maternity and paternity leave, and moving days. To an American, this seems like a staggering amount of time off. 

By way of comparison, let’s consider that after ten years of service on the job, the average German gets 35 days of paid vacation. The English get 28 days and the Finns get 30. A worker in France averages 37 days, and in Brazil the average is 34. In Japan, 25 days are set aside. If you happen to live and work in Italy, you can rack up 42 days. Among the developed countries, America comes in last, with the average worker accruing 13 vacation days per year.

The vigor of these economies may be another matter, but let’s drill down in this one area. It may be that many Americans suffer deprivation that they don’t even know about. The upside to all this work is a healthy growth in U.S. productivity, which potentially helps business increase profit and raise wages. But the downsides can’t be ignored, either.

Some vacationers flap off to pursue the fantasy of the ultimate getaway, but you won’t discover the “ultimate” this side of heaven, deep pockets notwithstanding.

What triggered my thoughts on this topic was Ruth Bell Graham’s philosophy regarding vacations. She noted that some people who race off to escape the pressure usually fly back exhausted. This kind of vacation is similar to the sentiment in Psalm 55:6-7: "Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest — I would flee far away and stay in the desert; I would hurry to my place of shelter, far from the tempest and storm." The strength of a dove’s wings doesn’t supply you with the rest you need or desire. Some vacationers flap off to pursue the fantasy of the ultimate getaway, but you won’t discover the “ultimate” this side of heaven, deep pockets notwithstanding. Now contrast that to the kind of break that includes rest and waiting on the Lord, as in Isaiah 40:31: “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Which is more refreshing, dove’s wings or eagle’s wings? You decide.

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Others equate time off with carnality. Vacation? Rest? What a selfish proposition! How could Christians (and most especially, pastors) think of taking a break when so many people are still lost without the Gospel? Not to mention the pressing needs inside the church! What kind of person would put their own relaxation before the need to labor for the salvation and sanctification of eternal souls? I’d rather burn out for Jesus than rust out.

But have you considered that there may be another alternative? How about being able to give out?

Of course, I’m not talking about running off and shirking your God-given responsibilities, but rather about a break that provides renewed energy for the task at hand. In some churches I’ve heard of, you must get the pastor’s permission before you can consider taking any time off. But if someone tells me they’re going on vacation, I tell them, “Have an excellent time; I’ll see you when you get back, refreshed and ready.” 

The ministry seems to attract two polar opposites: the lazy and the workaholic. One suffers from a lack of diligence; the other from a warped perspective. Workaholics can be found in the ministry because overwork is interpreted as a holy dedication. But burnout is real. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that in 16 of 22 studies, working overtime was associated with poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, and increased mortality. The June 2008 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine cited a recent study which sampled 10,000 people and found higher levels of anxiety and depression in those who put in the most overtime. As for the effects on those close to us, 52% of employees reported that their job demands interfered with their family or home responsibilities, according to a 2007 study by the American Psychological Association.

There must be another option that offers a little bit more wisdom about vacations than the various pop music songs. 

I remember the old tune, V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N, in the summertime... I won’t belabor you with other lyrics, but they generally advocate indulgence and vacations as partners. Then you have Thomas Rhett’s lyrics, Singing hey, let’s party like we on vacation. Hey, let’s party like we on vacation. I got my toes up in the sand, Cold one in my hand, Toes up in the sand, Cold one in my hand. Singing hey, let’s party like we on vacation… so I guess vacations are all about consuming copious amounts of alcohol. Hmm… There must be another option that offers a little bit more wisdom about vacations than the various pop music songs. 

One of the great blessings in my life is to see folks who use their vacation time to come to Bible conference. They enjoy a time of spiritual renewal, and many of them couple this with the opportunity to serve our guests who travel to Tucson from around the world. Either way, they’re making an important investment. One of my Australian friends wrote to me: “Just as an aside, and as an enormous endorsement to American Fellowship Christians, even with six weeks of paid vacation time per year, some Australians - even Potter’s House Christians - still find it hard to devote one week per year to Conference. That’s a huge accolade to you guys.”

DESIGNER VACATIONS

Ruth Bell Graham said that she tried to design vacations for herself and her husband that resulted in their returning spiritually and physically refreshed, ready for the next assignment.

The God who created the world in six days rested on the seventh. Thus, He established a rhythm from the beginning, modeled by God Himself: work followed by rest, production followed by restoration.

Whether you are caring for a compound bow or a violin bow, the string(s) need to be loosened regularly in order to preserve the instrument and have it function at optimal levels. How do we go about achieving this in our Christian lives? The best vacations are those where we plan for complete renewal: body, soul, mind, and spirit. Essential to this would be maintaining a rationale for rest; or, better: a theology for rest; one that includes God.  The God who created the world in six days rested on the seventh. Thus, He established a rhythm from the beginning, modeled by God Himself: work followed by rest, production followed by restoration. God blessed the Sabbath and called it holy. Jesus reminded us that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath.”  It’s that principle of rhythm that should heavily influence our planned vacation times.  

Even Jesus said to His disciples, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile because there were so many people coming and going that they didn't even have time to eat. So, Mark 6:31 tells us that they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone. On this particular occasion, their vacation plans were interrupted by the people who got wind of where they were headed and showed up there for more ministry.

It amazes me how often God speaks to me during those times that I manage to break away, showing me ruts in my life that need repair. The Holy Spirit inspires me about the church, giving me new strategies and directions – especially when I have time away from the normal routines. My mind and spirit seem more open to receive and to be revived.

Along with visiting places, sight-seeing, family visits, good restaurants… I would encourage you to take time for your soul renewal.

This is why you should carefully plan, pray, and anticipate these special times. Along with visiting places, sight-seeing, family visits, good restaurants… I would encourage you to take time for your soul renewal. Read a book.  Begin a devotional. Take time to meditate or start a journal about what God is saying to you or about improvements that can be made. Take walks with your wife or with each of your kids. Design it. I’ve always found that planning to come home two or three days early in order to debrief and then get ready to put your hand firmly back on the plow is always a good idea.

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The difference in a family vacation lies in the father’s attitude and leadership. C.J. Mahaney said: “Family vacations provide a unique opportunity each year for fathers to create memories their children will never forget. Memories that will last a lifetime. Memories that will be created by your children with your grandchildren. Memories that will outlive a father. But in order to create these memories, a father must be diligent to serve and lead during a vacation. How a father views his role on a vacation will make all the difference in that special time.” I fully believe that our Heavenly Father wants to pour out on us the riches on His grace as we’ll love and serve Him with all of our hearts, souls, mind, and strength. 

Everyone is different, I know. Everyone will make different plans. But the secret to an unforgettable vacation is not the location or the amusements or the attractions. It is in recognizing this privilege: I get to serve God’s purpose through my vacation time.

2018 TUCSON CONFERENCE ANNOUNCEMENTS

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NEW INTERNATIONAL WORKS

Brussels, Belgium (Tucson, Sierra Leone): Peter & Jennifer Dore
Taipei, Taiwan (Colton, CA): Duane & Barb Thompson
Mwanza, Tanzania (Tucson, Sierra Leone): Hindo & Kadi Wright
Joinville, Brazil (Athens, GA): Manuel & Elaine Delgado
Taipei, Taiwan (Tucson): George & Maria Meng
Pointe Noir, Congo (Tucson, Benin): Vincent & Raymonde Deo 

NEW CHURCH PLANTS IN THE USA

Riverside, CA (Colton, CA): Tony & Katrina Rodriguez
Bend-Redmond, OR (Tucson): Desi & Ranae Wheeler
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada (North York): Gelson & Shara-Dee Da Cunha
Saginaw, MI (Albuquerque, NM, Perez): Tim & Sonia MacMurray
Zona Cota Huma, La Paz, Bolivia (La Paz): Moises & Jenny Poma
Peka 10, Libreville Gabon (Libreville): Jude & Kadi Uzochukwu
North Tucson [Ina-Thornydale] (Tucson): John & Vera Scheidt
St. Paul, Minnesota (Tucson): Prince & Victoria Alie
Huntington, WV (W. Jordan, UT): Markell & Brandie Taylor 


RE-DIRECTION or SUCCESSFUL COMPLETION OF TASKING

Returning to Tucson (from Vallejo, CA): Stuart & Teresa Reblin
Returning to Tucson (from Modesto, CA): Alex & Iris Flores
Returning to San Antonio (from Joinville, Brazil): Richard & Linda Lantz
Returning to Tucson (from Bamenda, Cameroon): Philip & Kristin Kuti-George
Returning to Freetown, SL (from Lome, Togo): Victor & Isatu Nicholas
Returning to San Marcos, TX (from Seguin, TX): Steve & Tiffany Estrada
Returning to Las Vegas, NM (Pueblo,CO): Jonah & Gwen Cruz 

CHURCH CHANGES

Bamenda, Cameroon (Indigenous): Eric & Olivia Douané 
Monrovia, Liberia (Indigenous): John and Olive Jurgar
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso (Indigenous): Affi & Rose Mambe
Modesto, CA (Tucson): Frank & Roxie Romero
Lome, Togo (Indigenous): Mathieu & Deborah Adoussi
Seguin, TX (San Marcos, TX): Jason & Angie Garcia
Magna, UT (W. Jordan, UT): Steve & Justine Anderson
Uniting together to form North Bay, CA Church: Vallejo & Fairfield


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