Someone recently asked me about some of my reminisces on the history of this ministry, in honor of our 40th year anniversary here in Tucson, AZ. Now it’s not always that anyone is able to talk about 40 years of ministry and the things that stand out. So, I guess I’ll “milk it” while I can! I wish I could be more specific about all the exact when, where, who, how’s. However, it seems that the last 40 years has morphed into one great bundle of God’s glorious grace and workings, for which I am deeply grateful. In the end, to quote (Ps.126:2,3)NLT, “We were filled with laughter, and we sang for joy. And the other nations said, ‘What amazing things the Lord has done for them. Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us!’ What joy!” Amen!
As a young disciple in the Prescott church, I can remember singing the chorus: “I’m working on a building, it has a firm foundation; and I’m holding up the blood-stained banner of my Lord. And I never get tired, tired, tired working on a building; and when I get to heaven, I’m going to receive my reward."
A couple of things you should know. First, you don’t want to put a hammer in my hand, because I could become dangerous. I am the furthest thing from a craftsman when it comes to construction work or finished carpentry. When I was much younger, one of my first jobs was as part of a construction crew erecting modular buildings. One facet of that job was standing on a ladder, driving 16-penny nails for the rafters. I easily hit and did more damage to the wood than I did hitting the nails!? Needless to say, I did not last long on that job at all!
I can relate though to working on God’s building, His house...which is the church of Jesus Christ. Like the apostle Paul, “Because of God's grace to me, I have laid the foundation like an expert builder. Now others are building on it. But whoever is building on this foundation must be very careful. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one we already have—Jesus Christ.” (1Cor.3:10,11) The building is God’s, so you and I must be careful how we build on it, and the only materials that will work are called “living stones.” (1Pet.2:5) The image of building or re-building is a decidedly Biblical one. The entire Book of Nehemiah recounts the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls, and is meant to be a picture of God’s greatest masterpiece: you & I. One of the “building chapters” that stands out to me is (Zech.4:1-10). It is dealing with the re-building of God’s house, the Temple. There are three things in this passage that stand out, and all three have helped me in co-laboring with God over these last 40 years.
THE SOURCE OF EVERYTHING!
It was sort of like “jet lag” sleep, where you wake up and it takes you a few moments to recollect where you are?! This is how Zechariah felt as the angel asked him, “Do you know what these are?” and he responded, “No, my Lord.” It reminds me of that night on the Sea of Galilee when Peter and six other apostles had spent it fishing. Far more than fish or “the catch of the day” were on their minds. They were trying to make some sense of all that had happened to them in the last couple of days. They wished for some kind of clarity for these events. It was there that Jesus inserted himself and asked them a question, "Fellows, have you caught any fish?" (Jn.21:5) They had to reply, “No.”
This is all so critical because the starting-point with God is the admission of our sense of inadequacy. Throughout the Bible, when God calls a man to do something great for Him, it is usually accompanied by the revelation that, in ourselves, we do not have what it takes. We’ve all felt this: that sense of inadequacy, the impotence, the lack of any kind when it comes with God’s calling and purposes. Think about Moses, when he was called to go against Pharaoh, the most powerful and influential man of his time! First, “they will not believe me or hear my voice” (won’t buy into this “God thing”). Then, “O my Lord, I am not eloquent” (persuasive words don’t come naturally to me). Then he crossed a line by presumptuously suggesting that God find someone else for the job!? In all of these cases, we’re not dealing with man’s rebellious nature, but people who happen to see things clearly: “God, if you don’t help me (us), then there’s no way forward!”
Zechariah knew all this; he was under no delusions. This is why the Lord spoke to him, vs.6, “This is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit says the Lord of hosts.” How this promise must have encouraged His worker, Zerubbabel! These words have crossed my lips countless times in prayer and in relation to the work of the ministry, working on that building! The witness the world needs to see can only be accompanied by the Holy Spirit’s power working in and through us! The Holy Spirit is not a “supporting role.” No, without His presence and power and working, we are at a total loss. The source of everything is “by My Spirit says the Lord.” The Great Commission (and the last words of the Gospel of Matthew) contains this promise that we must lock on to, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matt.28:20) It is on this basis that we can say yes to “Go ye...”
THE PLACE OF “SMALL THINGS”
Every young pastor-pioneer learns to love this verse. That’s because when he looks around him, at his congregation, “small things” stand out! There was a pastor of a mega-church in Brisbane, Australia who once told Pastor Mitchell, after listening to his vision, “If you were running 2000 people, then people will listen [pay attention] to what you have to say.” The Bible is certainly not afraid of numbers, but size does not automatically determine legitimacy! God’s word to Zerubbabel was clear, don’t despise or look down upon those small beginnings. It is usually here that God is fashioning something in us that will bless and benefit us years later. It is also a truth that communicates to people and workers, “Your value is related to who you are, not the size of your church.” I’ve told many workers down through the years that our investment was in them, not just their church size. Don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean I don’t want to see the church grow and reach its full potential, but their will always be “small beginnings.”
That’s one reason I love the Christmas story because we find that God broke all the rules, at least all the “marketing rules.” The central, pivotal prophecy emphasizes this, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” Bethlehem was not on the radar screen of “happening” places. Yet, when Herod inquired of the priests where the Messiah was to be born, they pointed to this feature of “small beginnings.”
There’s a truth here that we need to grasp and appreciate: God uses the few, the small, and the insignificant. When God was selecting a man after His own heart, He chose David, the “runt of the litter” to be anointed to one day become Israel’s “benchmark” king. When talking about Solomon’s wisdom (1Kings 4:33) says, “He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall.” God’s working included the majestic cedars of Lebanon as well as the lowly hyssop bush. God’s chose tiny Israel, not some great world power, to be the caretaker of His covenants and promises, to pave the way for our Redeemer Jesus Christ to come. Even today, when you look at a world atlas, there is small Israel as the “center of the earth.”
What is the “take away truth” in all of this? The reason we don’t need to despair is that the kingdom of God advances through “small things” and “small victories.” The overwhelming message of Jesus’s life from His birth, His teaching and discipleship, and His death and resurrection is small creates big! This is why in God’s economy some of the smallest things have the greatest impact! Skye Jethani captured this by saying, “Consider: God’s plan to redeem creation (big) is achieved through his incarnation as an impoverished baby (small). Jesus feeds thousands on a hillside (big) with just a few fish and loaves (small). Christ seeks to make disciples of all nations (big) but he starts with a handful of fishermen (small). Even Goliath (big) is defeated by Daviid with a few stones (small).”
This truth was illustrated by historian David Hackett Fisher, pointing out General George Washington’s crossing of the Delaware along with the men of the Continental Army and militia, on Christmas night 1776. From there, they marched to Trenton, NJ. This surprise attack and victory set the stage for the subsequent victories that would follow. Overall, it may not rank up there as one of the great or epic battles of history, but it proved to be a tipping point in the Revolutionary War and cause. Listen to how he described it: “From the time of the crossing of the Delaware River to within the next ten days, the fate of the colonies was changed. The army survived and grew stronger. The British and Hessians almost instantly saw their enemies, these ‘rebellious farmers’ turned into a formidable foe. And it all began here, by the McKonkey Ferry Inn, when a small band crossed a tempestuous river, because they could see, hear, and conceive a new future.” It became known as the Ten Crucial Days – a campaign that saved Washington’s army from defeat, allowing them to fight another day and achieve ultimate victory.
STRENGTH TO CARRY ON!
Every honest pastor and church pioneer has wrestled with thoughts and feelings “do I really have what it takes?” Strength to hang in there, strength to see it through until the end, strength to pick yourself up after a fall etc. Some of the greatest promises in the Bible focus on the reality of daily strength to meet daily needs. Since there is no shortage, begin by trying on (Ps.28:7)NLT “The Lord is my strength and shield. I trust him with all my heart. He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy. I burst out in songs of thanksgiving..” Hmm, what about this one which I frequently pray myself, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Eph.3:14-19)ESV
God gave Zerubbabel a word he could hold on to. vs.7, “Who are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring forth the capstone with shouting’s, crying, Grace, grace to it.”
We know from Jesus’s teaching that a “mountain” is a picture of an obstacle; in this case, an obstacle met and overcome by God’s grace. The purpose and promise is that you might know the Lord who will finish His work (i.e. “capstone” was the finishing aspect of the rebuilt Temple).
Hopefully, It is in the hard and difficult seasons of life that our perspective is made clear. (Psalms 73) is a masterpiece of honesty as the Psalmist reviewed the things that almost knocked him out of the race. The conclusion that all of this taught him was vs.28, “For me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” Simple, yes, but also practical and profound. It is good for me to stay near God so that He is my refuge and my strength. Staying near to God is the exact opposite of where sin will take you, and that is not a good place for you to be. One of the premier passages in this context is (Isa.40:30,31) “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; 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.” People all around us may be dropping out of the race, but if we wait on God, we discover “strength reserves” that keeps us going. What a blessing!
Zerubbabel is given this promise: a promise for strength to carry on, even in the face of real opposition. There is a quarry by the side of the I-10 freeway leading to and from Los Angeles, located in Colton, CA. It has been there for years and years, and is almost a kind of landmark in the area as you travel through. The striking thing about it is that it keeps getting smaller and smaller; minuscule compared to what it used to be. “Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain.” Just in case you need a little bit more then you can try on (Col.1:11,12) “We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people..” I’m not just trying to inundate you with Bible verses, but these promises, like sparkling jewels, are what have kept and empowered me for 40 years. It definitely is not about me, but it is about the reliability of God’s “exceedingly great and precious promises.”
Bottom-line? God will give you strength to do His will and to finish His work. The outcome of this promise is “You shall bring forth the capstone with shoutings of grace, grace to it!” It’s the finishing piece of this great endeavor. Strength to finish, oh yes indeed! Jesus said (Jn.4:34) "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.” This is success in God’s eyes: glorifying Him by completing the work He gives us to do! Like food, this will sustain your soul! No, we’re not “home” yet, and none of us have crossed the finish line; but, O glorious day, one day by God’s grace we will! Until then, keep working on that building! In the key of “whatever works”...“I’m working on a building, it has a firm foundation...and I never get tired, tired, tired, working on a building...and when I get to heaven, I’m going to receive my reward” (repeat if you’d like!)
T. Austin Sparks wrote: “Men of the world look upon Christians and, for the most part, do not think much of them. They measure them by the standards of the world and say: ‘Well, they are rather a poor lot; their caliber is not much!’ But men of the world are unable to measure spiritual and heavenly forces. They are unable to see what is happening when a few of those poor, weak, foolish, despised things get together and pray...and the powers of heaven are being brought into operation.”