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.”