Scripture Reading Challenge (#14)

God does not point out our sin to laugh at us or scorn.  Instead, he reveals our issues so that we can deal with them appropriately.  That is, to be cleansed and forgiven.  In the story of Genesis, the brothers need to make a second trip to Egypt.  They will face their sin one way or another.  Joseph is building with excitement to reveal his unfeigned love for his brethren.

Read Genesis 43:1-44:34

Something that should be jumping off the pages of the Bible to us about this story is Joseph is dropping hints to his brothers all the time.  In Genesis 42:18, he says, “for I fear God.”  The word used for God is Elohim, which can be a generic term to identify any God. However, the writer of Genesis uses it to signify the One True God of Israel.  It’s possible that Joseph is letting his brothers know that he fears their God.  We also see in our text today that He knows that his brother’s and father’s God blesses (Genesis 43:23).  This Egyptian is very well acquainted with the Hebrew God.  Egyptians probably had cultic practices and perspectives against Hebrews.  Finally, the individual interest he took in his full brother, Benjamin, and the extra food he gave him (Genesis 43:34).  All I can say is Joseph may have disguised himself from his brothers, but at the same time, he is trying his best to get them to recognize him.

God is doing the same thing.  First Timothy 1:17 and Colossians 1:5 reminds us that God is invisible.  He has dropped hints all the way through the Old Testament about his character in that is it claimed, “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Psalm 14:1)  The Psalms also teach, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1).  God is fully revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:5).  The Father has made himself known fully in the Son and witnesses in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  Even more, Christ has left us the Church, His literal body on earth.  First John 4:20 says, “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  It is difficult for me to believe someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in

It is difficult for me to understand that someone has faith in God but does not live in faithfulness with the Church (by participating in fellowship with a local congregation).  We have faith in the invisible head of the Church but no faithfulness to the visible body.  God has revealed Himself fully in time past through His Son.  Today, God continually reveals Himself through His people.  Our bodies are the temple His spirit dwells in now (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).  Not something made with human hands but fashioned by God.  So, again, how are you living out the faith you claim to have?  God has given us the Church as the community where we are to live out our faith.

Christian Planning

The default Christian mixture of planning minimizes the role of people and lifts up our dependence on the leading of God.  The problem is when those that are carnal find themselves in positions of leadership and espouse a spirituality that is a cover up for a laissez-faire attitude toward any type of preparation and planning.   There are those who actually feel unspiritual if any kind of planning takes place in regards to worship or programs that would require planning.  Too much planning is believed to cut God out of the picture and elevates man’s locus of control.  On the opposite side of the spectrum, we see those that plan all the activities of the church in a way that could easily ease God out of the life of the church.

God wants us to search for His will

In First Chronicles 15:1-14 there is a record of David’s preparation for the ark of God to be brought to Jerusalem according to God’s Word.  David lived in a time where the past King (Saul) did what he wanted and had forsaken the counsel of God.  Alfred Edersheim wrote, “It was surely time to restore the ancient worship which had been so sadly disturbed” (Vol. 4, p. 170).  This was a massive undertaking for the new king and ended up being a failure on his first attempt.  This was mainly due to a lack of consulting the written law of God and relying solely on human effort.  David made a second and fruitful effort after seeking God’s will for handling the ark.

In the New Testament the same understanding of seeking God’s, will first before planning and doing.  However, it would also seem that there is still a significant focus upon human involvement in the planning of the life of the church.  As such, much of the New Testament shows that people from different cultures had different understandings of how to planning would take place in the early church.  Such as who should take leadership in the church and who should be taken care of (Acts 6 for example).  Ken Schenk shared, “It makes perfect sense that the concepts of order and peace would play themselves out differently in different cultures, as well as in various groups and denominations today” (p. 201).  Those approaches considered decent in one culture may not have been the case in another.  Culture seems to be an inevitable part of the human side in organizing the life of the church.

Led by the Spirit

Primarily concerning worship, John 4:23-24, transitions our understanding of the mixture of planning in the church by the Divine and human elements.  This passage sets up a strong implication that worship has a high degree of freedom in the Spirit.  Joseph Dongell pointed out that, “Only through divine assistance – through the Holy Spirit – may a person worship God appropriately” (p.80).  If we understand that all of life is worship to God, then the Spirit must also lead any time spent in organizing the life of the church.

What would this mean for an individual such as Charles Grandison Finney, who has made such an impact on the revivalist movement (he popularized the use camp meetings, revivals, choirs, and the altar call)?  Finney pointed out, “That a revival is the result of the right use of the appropriate means. The means which God has enjoined for the production of a revival, doubtless have a natural tendency to produce a revival” (part 1, paragraph 4).   He was intent on the human side of the mixture, maybe so much that it betrays His understanding that God was the instigator of movements whether they are a revival or other projects the church concerns itself with.

It would be interesting to have seen such an individual of Finney and his method of bringing revival and Anne Hutchinson, a puritan, that led a movement engrossed with the idea of simply being led by the Spirit alone.  Hutchinson wrote, “a believer possessing the Holy Spirit was not bound by laws of conduct but was moved by inner spiritual compulsions” (Noll).  Finney promoted a certain way of doing things and actions that had to complete to prepare the way for the Spirit to take control.  Hutchinson taught that actions flowed from being led by the Spirit.

Balance is the key

It would seem that a balanced understanding of the leading of the Spirit and the importance of human involvement is the necessary approach.  John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, “It was cold and lifeless to represent God as a momentary Creator, who completed his work once for all and then left it” (paragraph 1).  To leave God entirely out of the equation would be dangerous and foolish.  Therefore the organization of the life of the church has to be founded upon Him.  James 4:13-17 shares God’s frustration with those who plan and leave Him out of the process.  As it is written, “For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (James 4:15).

Yet, it would seem fair to surmise from scripture that the human element of planning is entirely done away.  Our plans and preparations should be made but also allow for the spontaneous change of plans by the Spirit.  Such is the case of the Apostle Paul in Acts 16:6-10.  Paul had a desire to go one direction, but the leading of the Spirit pointed him toward another direction.   It would be essential for any Church leader is that planning is part of the calling but that it is subject to change by the leading of the Spirit.  The leading of the Spirit takes precedence over all organizing.

Conclusion

Saint Augustine wrote that we are to “Pray as though everything depended on God.  Work as though everything depended on you.”  The balance that should be sought in having the right mixture of divine and human elements is one hundred percent on both ends.  God is the author and finisher of everything that we do.  We ought to seek His will on all matters of life, especially as it concerns organizing and making decisions regarding the church.  We also understand that it is impossible to remove the human element of decision-making and even such things as the cultural context on the person.  It is also the will of God to use people to accomplish His divine plan for their life and the local congregational context.

Decisions making, planning and organizing rest upon the leading of the Spirit.  It is up to us as leaders to seek God’s will.  In times where He allows us to have a greater say in the matter, we still pray, “God this is how we see you leading us in the matter.  But, if you desire to change this, we pray that you change it up and lead us by your Spirit.”  There needs to be a confidence that God’s will is being accomplished, even when it seems that human minds and hearts have seemingly done a majority of the planning.  There must also be a surety that God’s ability to bless or change the agreed upon plans by people may come.

References

Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.iii.xvii.html

Edersheim, A. Bible History: Old Testament (Vol. 4, p. 170). Oak Harbor: Logos Bible Software. 1997

Finney, Charles, Lectures on Revival.  Accessed March 27, 2014, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/finney/revivals.iii.i.html

Noll, M. A. Hutchinson, Anne. In (J. D. Douglas & P. W. Comfort, Eds.) Who’s Who in Christian History? Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House. (1992).

Schenck, Kenneth. 1 & 2 Corinthians: A Commentary for Bible Students. Indianapolis, IN, Wesleyan Publishing House. 2006

Preach the Word

In 2011, the deacon of the church I pastor, Jack Roberts, received his eternal reward. He was a praying man, and he loved to pray for his pastor. Many times throughout a sermon, you could hear him praying for souls to be saved, believers to be strengthened, and for the sermon Holy Spirit to continue working through the minister as they preached. In many ways, he was a great encouragement to me in my early years.

When he finished his race, I had a great sense of loss. He was a partner in ministry that regularly lifted me up in prayer, and it made such a difference. I came to a place where a felt burnt out.  It seemed that no matter how much I studied, prayed, and preached, there was a barrier that could not be overcome. That continued for several months, and the Lord reminded me of Who called me to ministry and why. In a dark hour of the night, God illuminated His Word through a book I came across in seminary written by Peter Adams, “Speaking God’s Word.”  Now, I would like like to share my thoughts from Scripture and the theology of preaching with you.

First, God spoke (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Verse 21 is especially enlightening, “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Second Timothy 3:16 is also important to keep in mind, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Inspiration in the Greek literally means, “God-breathed.” We serve a God who speaks. Along with several of the Old Testament prophets, the Psalmist pointed out that a difference between the Christian God and the idols of the world is that our God speaks (cf. Psalm 115:3-8; Isaiah 41:21-23, 25-28).

Yes, we serve a God who speaks, and when He speaks, things happen.  This is important for preachers to remember.  The Apostle Paul worded it in 1 Corinthians 2:4, “And my speech and preaching were not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of Spirit and of power.” It is important for the minister to study and prepare their sermon, as to preach clearly and with authority.   Do not forget that “the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of the soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).

As the Word of God is proclaimed, work is being done in the hearts and lives of people. The minister is to be faithful to perform their God-given task. God will do the rest. Even as we preach to a congregation that seems unmoved, God is at work. When people are confronted by the Word of God, it penetrates deep into their soul. It brings them into the presence of God, and they will either rejoice, repent, or reject His Word. When God spoke, the world was created.  When Jesus spoke people were healed, and sins were forgiven. Today, God’s Word is still potent.  

It was written down (Jeremiah 30:2).

We do not preach our opinions and make religious speeches.  Preaching is the proclamation of what God has revealed to holy men of old. Paul wrote in Romans 15:4 that, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” The Bible is our preachment. God has given His Word authority over our lives.  Any sense of authoritative preaching comes from the power invested in the Word of God from on high. It is because God has spoken it and because it is still alive and active today.

God spoke and revealed Himself to specific people, in specific places, at specific times, for specific reasons. His revelation was written down to be preserved for future generations.

Scripture is full of God’s commands to write His Word down (cf. Exodus 24:4-7; Joshua 1:7-8; Isaiah 30:8; Jeremiah 36:2; Habakkuk 2:2; Revelation 1:11). When we preach, we may use our Words to interpret, contextualize, and teach, but it is God’s own Word that convicts and comforts the hearer. Though it was written down thousands of years ago, Scripture remains incredibly relevant.

Moses, the first writing prophet, and many other may have had their focus on their current situation, but God’s instructions to write down His Word was also intended for future generations. In other words, when the writing prophets and apostles received revelation from God, they may have thought they were receiving mail intended solely for them. Instead, the Word they received from God was our mail too. God spoke to their situation, and because that Word was written down, we know that it is for our time as well.  

The Bible is God’s very own Word. It is trustworthy as God has preserved it throughout the ages.  We can know beyond doubt that the Bibles that we hold in our hands and preach from is the Word of God. Jesus taught, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).  First Peter 1:2-4 and 25 states, “For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass.  The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.”  

As ministers, we are to submit to the authority of God’s Word.  We this because it is right but also as an example to our congregations. Many times the meaning of a passage of Scripture is plain and straightforward. Yet, preacher after preacher will undermine the simple teaching to change what was said.  The problem with a pure and simple meaning is that it often goes against our current lifestyle. Instead of submitting to the authority of God’s clear instruction, we change the Word by inserting wrong opinions and interpretations until Scripture agrees with us. Imagine that if this is taking place in the pulpit, what it does in the pew.  

Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

Paul’s charge to Timothy is something many ministers are familiar with from study and their own charge at ordination. Those three words, “Preach the word” are emblazoned on my pulpit as a reminder to the minister of the task before them. God has spoken, and it is written down forms the foundation for us to Preach the word.  The Gospel of Christ’s kingdom has been given, and we are the Kings heralds.  

We have discussed the theological foundations for preaching, but there is one thing to still add.  Preaching is a calling from God.  In my own experience, I had to remember that God is the one that called me to preach the Gospel. It was not the denomination that ordained me to preach, and neither was it the local church.  Our calling is not the result of a nightmare and should not be the result of selfish ambition. God calls us into the ministry and enables us to carry the Gospel, His spoken Word that was written down.  We are charged before God and man to bring God’s Word. Ministry is a high calling because it deals with eternal matters: the Word of God and the souls of men and women.

To preach the Word, once again, we must personally submit to its authority and power.  The Bible lays claim to us, and we are held accountable to it.  Whether we agree with that or not speaks volumes to how we will interpret the Bible. If we are prone to feel that the Bible has a divine authority over our lives, then we are more likely to live by its standards whereas if we feel that the Bible has no teaching rather than living accordingly to our fleshly desires.  

There are typically three views on the Bible as the Word of God.  There is the view that the Bible is the Word of God, another states that the Bible becomes the Word of God. The last says the Bible merely contains the Word of God. While Most Christians would agree that the Bible plays a unique role in connection with the relationship between God and man. They question what kind of role it is, and what the precise nature of the Bible’s consequent authority is. Depending on a person’s presuppositions will determine how they interpret and apply the Bible to their personal life, regardless of being a minister or laymen.

The view that the Bible just becomes the Word of God as we believe it or contains parts of God’s Word to us argues that the text is nothing more than another human writing. Another way of understanding this particular viewpoint is that the preacher or student of God’s Word takes it upon themselves to determine what passages are Scripture and what pieces are not. This view can only lead a person to wrongly dividing the Word (cf. 2 Timothy 2:15).

To view that the Bible is the Word of God gives the scripture great authority over our lives. If we think for a moment what we are actually saying when we use the phrase authority of scripture, we must surely acknowledge that this is a shorthand way of saying that power belongs to God and God has invested that power in scripture. The scripture has authority because God claims it as His Word.

So, what does this mean for me?

As we preach the Word as God’s Word, the authority has over our life is passed on to those who hear us. God’s authority lays claim to them, and they are responsible for their reaction to Him.  If we are not faithful to preach the fullness of God’s counsel from Scripture, the blood of people is on our hands. If we are faithful to preach the fullness of Scripture, the consequences of their response are upon themselves. This is a strong message from the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel (3:17-21, 33:1-9).

This responsibility upon the hearer is also recorded in the New Testament as Jesus concludes His sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:24-27). The story of the wise and foolish builders relay to us the importance of what we do with God’s Word. Those who do God’s Word are like a wise man that builds on the rock, “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock” (vs. 25). Those individuals who hear the Word of God but do not obey are likened to the foolish man who builds his house on the sand, “And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (vs. 27). As far as we know, the two men used the same blueprints for their homes and were identical in every way except one, their response to God’s word (the foundation) was different. In the judgment, we will give an account to our response to God’s revelation of Himself through the written Word.  We will stand if we build on God’s Word, but we will fall if we do not.

Preacher, remember the Words of Paul to Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). We can trust that God’s Word is His Word.  We can rest that as it was transmitted through the years that the Holy Spirit preserved it for us today. Hence, now to every preacher I say with the apostle Paul, “I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine” (2:1-2).

Related Posts

The Preacher’s Library

Studying Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit

Reference

Adams, Peter (2004) Speaking God’s Words: A Practical Theology of Preaching. InterVarsity Press.  Downers Grove, IL

Studying Scripture and the role of the Holy Spirit

Check out yesterday’s blog post on the preacher’s library.

The questions, “What is the place of Scripture in interpretation” and “What about the leading of the Holy Spirit leading the pastor” arise when talking about using preaching resources. To put it simply, the preacher must hold the Holy Spirit as the great teacher of the Holy Spirit.  Without either our preaching is nothing more than religious and moral talks.

The old saying in bible study is to “let Scripture interpret Scripture.” There are a couple of different things this statement implies.  First, each verse and passage find itself in the context of all scripture. When we read a verse, we must also pay attention to the verses immediately before and after.  Moving from there we look at the entire passage that is connected and later on the whole chapter.  Neighboring sections and the remainder of the book that the scripture finds itself in also play a significant role in interpreting scripture.

This leads to the second implication, that what ever interpretation we raise on a particular scripture must be in harmony with the larger teaching of scripture.  Scripture will validate itself and never contradict itself. So, when we begin to interpret what scripture is teaching it will not oppose instruction in another portion of scripture.  What will happen is that we will find the lessons of the scripture only become fuller in meaning and application as Scripture is “rightfully divided” (2 Tim. 2:15) and harmonized.

The last implication for the high place of scripture interpreting scripture is that while viewing context, we can learn the meaning of words and what their particular use is. While it is a valuable tool to know the original languages, we must also trust that God was heavily involved in the translation process. We must believe that God oversaw the process where we received the Scriptures in our own language and that it is possible in knowing what is meant by a plain reading of Scripture.

This is due to giving a high place to leading of the Holy Spirit when it comes to the Word of God.  Second Peter 1:21-22 reads, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.  For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”  The Holy Scriptures did not come by man but by the leading of the Spirit.  Moses could not have written about creation unless the Spirit showed it to Him.  John could not write about future events in such detail without the Holy Spirit leading him.  If the Scriptures could not be written down without the leading of the Holy Spirit, then it is impossible to think that interpretation of them can come without Him.

In so many passages of Scripture, the Word of God is united with Spirit and His work in making Scripture alive. It is the Holy Spirit that truly teaches the minister and any student of the Scripture its real meaning.  The Holy Spirit reveals the truth and illuminates it in our mind.  It is the Holy Spirit that drives those truths into our heart, convicting us and setting us free by God’s truth. It is the Holy Spirit that likens our own personal experiences to the truths found in God’s Word, and it is the Holy Spirit that makes preaching fruitful and full.

I believe that it is important for preachers to use every tool available in presenting the Gospel.  We must strive to preach with integrity, clarity, and conviction.  We can accomplish that only by utilizing all that God has given.

The Preacher’s Library

A common expression is that “leaders are readers.”  No outside reading satisfies the need for Scripture, but we must make an effort to read other valuable works.   The pastor does not escape this necessity.  Even the Apostle Paul had his own reading literature.  Second Timothy expresses Paul’s desire for it in a request, “The cloak that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books, but especially the parchments” (4:13).   It may be trivial to argue what documents Paul was reading but it certainly an important thing for pastors to consider of themselves.   Especially since not all writings are equal.  What are you reading and more specifically, what are you reading during your sermon preparations?

A preacher needs a robust library.  Even Paul asked for books and writings that were important to him (2 Tim. 4:13).  Scripture teaches the minister, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).  Reading newspapers and articles can keep us up to date on current events, but biblical commentaries are a central concern of pastors.  Still, the truth of the matter is that help from resources such as commentaries, articles, maps, and the such should be utilized to refine, not define our sermon preparation.

The first step in examining our reading and study material is to identify the value of a resource.  Not every book available is valuable to the pastor.  With the continual uprising of self-publishing and print on demand availability to everyone and anyone, we will also see the rise of material available to the pastor marketed as valuable for biblical study.  In keeping with Paul’s teaching we ought to, “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).  We must learn to identify those materials available to us and whether or not they are worth purchasing or taking up limited shelf space.

Once we have gained a sense of valuable content, we then need to understand how to pull that value out to its greatest potential.  This requires our understanding of its purpose, especially biblical commentaries.  I divide my commentaries into three different categories.  These categories are exegetical, hermeneutical, and homiletical resources.

Exegetical Resources.

     Exegesis is the process where a person looks for the truth to arise out of the passage of scripture.  The opposite of this is eisegesis which is when a person projects their own meaning onto the text.  Therefore, when we say we need good, exegetical resources, we are implying that we need those sources that help us come to the plainest meaning of the text.

These resources do not concern themselves as much with interpretation as they do with grammatical and historical foundations of the book.  Understanding the original languages and the historical settings surrounding Biblical passages is incredibly beneficial to the preacher.  It is an aid to know what the text meant the initial receiving audience before attempting to interpret for the present audience of the scripture.

To help understand the original languages the preacher can tap into resources such as Vines Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words(1996) or Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible (2010). For a resource with the deeper grammatical depth, you can look for scholars such as William Mounce and their writings.

When looking for resources that provide a historical context for Biblical text look at resources like Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Manners and Customs (1999). A Bible atlas is also a good place to look, and some provide historical context like The IVP Atlas of Bible History (2006).

Hermeneutical Resources.

Most school’s for ministers will offer an entire course (or two) that focus on the subject of hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation.  In dealing with the Bible, it is the center of how one studies the Bible and interprets it along theological principles. In other words, hermeneutics is the lens through which people view the scriptures. There is nothing wrong with this as long as the theological principals and presuppositions they hold are biblical.

In this section of resources, we find those that are most readily available to and used by preachers. Commentaries by such writers as Matthew Henry and John Wesley are some of the most noted hermeneutical resources. While they may not be entirely focused on exegetical correctness, they do place greater emphasis on interpretation of the scripture text in a theological spectrum. Such commentaries like the Pulpit Commentary set (over 20 volumes) provide resources for both exegetical and hermeneutical purposes.

Homiletical Resources.

The final section of available resources can be categorized as homiletical resources. Homiletics is the area that focuses on the different styles of preaching delivery. While there are various publications available that deal with writing sermons, that is not the purpose of this section.  Homiletical resources for preaching will not deal with the detailed part of a particular Biblical text but rather provide a clear, powerful rendering of those truths in relevant and practical ways.

Max Lucado provides excellent resources that take these truths while at the same time helping understand how these truths can be applied to our present day situations. Other various devotional books provide homiletical lessons for the preacher, such as My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers.

Other Available Resources.

While it is possible to place most published resources into one of these three categories, it is also important to briefly acknowledge other places where valuable resources can be found to aid the preacher. The internet has provides a treasure trove of resources at the preacher’s finger tips.  Websites such as blueletterbible.org provide many of the resources mentioned above can be found on any web browser.  Computer programs such as Logos (expensive) or E-sword (free) are also excellent to use. It is also great to listen to other preachers and websites such as sermonaudio.com are good resources to do just that.

It is important at this time to warn against plagiarism, the use of someone else’ material, especially when focusing on internet resources.  It is a sad reality that some preachers would just copy a sermon from another preacher without acknowledgment or personal study.  The temptation to cut corners is real for the pastor that is rushed or has not developed proper sermon preparation routines.

 

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Ch. 3)

Projects are sometimes complicated and slow.  However, the organization of a group can prove to be a useful companion in accomplishing tasks.  Chapter three shares in a detailed log how the people were divided into groups (primarily by families) and the particular area that they rebuilt and repaired.  It is the first of four lists of names found in the book (3, 7, 10, and 11-12).  Skipping over these lists is tempting.  However, in our approach toward leadership and change, we find two critical lessons from this chapter: appreciation and strategic change.

Appreciation

I usually consider it dangerous to recognizing people during a church service as either guest or for appreciation because often someone is left out unintentionally.  Still, people like to feel appreciated.  The reward for faithfulness is great for strengthening people’s loyalty, the direction they are going, and for their personal encouragement.  This can take place with sending a letter, an uplifting word, public recognition, a gift or something else befitting the work and person receiving the appreciation.  For these people, Nehemiah is giving them an enduring legacy in God’s Word.

Strategic Change

We have already talked about burden, vision, and mission but we now change direction toward putting things to work.  For leaders to create movement from the present reality toward the future vision, the intentional creation of a strategic plan for change is needed.  And, there are plenty of good, solid theories about how change takes place.  However, when it comes to Churches, they have a unique and spiritual design.  This happens because of the focus of the church is on worshipping God and making disciples.  The goals of the church are different than that of other non-profit or profit organizations.

How should Churches proceed?  Well, the first step forward has been created in the previous two chapters.  Prayer, carrying a burden, speaking with other leaders and creating a shared vision, understanding the resources available, and the size of the task have all been important pieces of change.  First, let’s look at Scripture and its encouragement to planning as a wise endeavor if we seek to keep God first.

  • “Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfill all thy counsel.” (Psalm 20:4)
  • “Good understanding giveth favor: but the way of transgressors is hard.” (Proverbs 13:15)
  • “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way: but the folly of fools is deceit.” (Proverbs 14:8)
  • “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” (Proverbs 14:15)
  • “Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.” (Proverbs 16:3)
  • “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness, but of every one that is hasty only to want.” (Proverbs 21:5)
  • “For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?” (Luke 14:28)
  • “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” (Ephesians 5:15-18)
  • “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.” (James 4:14-15)

So, what is a strategic plan?  Basically, it is a tool for keeping an organization focused on whatever is considers to be its vision and mission.  For churches, this is making disciples. Helping individuals and families follow Jesus is our great commission.  It is easy to become distracted, and the main thing is no longer the main thing.  It helps a group become aligned in their particular gift sets, personalities, and the resources accessible to them.  It is the road map between the present reality of the organization to the preferred future.

Developing a Strategy

What does the strategic plan include?  Well, that will be different depending on the congregation.  It’s not that the goals are different (each church should be trying to fulfill the great commission) and it is certainly not that God is different anywhere else.  He is always the same.  What is different is the people, who have each been created with their own gifting.  The resources available to that group is also different.  However, each congregation has equal access to the Holy Spirit, and none should be paralyzed by the thought of the impossible.

The strategy begins with an understanding of where the organization is currently.  SWOT is a useful tool to analyze with, and surveys can help leaders gauge where the organization stands.  Some of my personal favorite surveys have focused on church health.  Church health surveys, in my opinion, are more geared toward the dynamics of ministry rather than church growth perspectives.  The ABC’s of church growth (Attendance, buildings, and cash flow) have their place in helping a church understand what it available to it but can mislead leaders and volunteers to lose their way.  A church health focus helps a church stay centered on impacting lives for eternity.

From this point, leaders can then create the actions steps as they feel the Spirit leading.  With the end in mind, the leaders will typically plan for where they envision and desire for the organization to be in ten years.  At this point, return to thinking about one year out.  What action steps will you need to be taking in one year to aim towards the ten-year goal?  You can either go year by year or even look at every couple of months.  However, I will look at just another year for example.  You can put new goals for that year, but there is another perspective that needs to thought of in each subsequent year.  That is the progression of the previous year’s actions.  If your organization keeps practicing the previous benchmarks behaviors, what will be the results?  It is important to keep evaluating and realigning along the way.  We will see this in the next chapter of Nehemiah.

 

Nehemiah – God’s Change Agent (Mission & Vision)

One thing that I notice about leaders of organizations is that there is a significant amount of confusion between vision and mission.  Especially when it comes to the small church.  These guiding principles are essential for keeping the members aligned to God’s will for a congregation’s ministry and areas of focus.  The short way of understanding the distinctiveness of vision is a robust, long-term view of what an organization wants to take place in the future.  The same approach to mission is a shorter and narrower perspective of what the organization is presently doing to achieve the larger vision.

In light of Nehemiah, we can see a clear vision and mission resting upon him.  What follows is a demonstration of what vision and mission would look like in light of Nehemiah’s behavior and actions.  These are my musings of what was happening in Nehemiah’s mind.  Possibly, or maybe not.  The present reality of Jerusalem was dire, and the Jewish population was devastated.  Nehemiah was given four facts about his people and Jerusalem (Neh. 1:3).  The people were in great affliction, meaning oppressed by poverty and other people groups.  They were also in great reproach.  To be under reproach is to be disapproved by others, to receive derogatory remarks, and to be mistreated because of a perceived low status.  The city gates were continually burned like trash heaps, and the protective walls were broken down.

So, what was Nehemiah’s long-term vision?  No doubt, when he looked forward in time, Nehemiah saw from a far distance, a city built on a hill that could not be hidden.  Merchants and travelers walking with excitement toward Jerusalem.  He didn’t see smoke rising from a destroyed city, but perhaps he could see smoke rising from a restored temple as sacrifices were offered.  As he walks closer to Jerusalem in the vision, he can see the walls standing firm and providing protection to all the inhabitants inside.  The gates were bustling with life when open and formidable obstacles invaders could not pass through when closed.  As he walks through the city as he pictured it in the future, businesses are thriving.  Families are healthy and happy.  The order is maintained.  The people are devout in their faith.  The leadership is strong.  The buzz in the kingdom is that Jerusalem and God’s people are respected among the other nations.

Sounds like a beautiful vision, but there needs to be a bridge built between the present reality and the preferred future.  This is where the mission comes in for Nehemiah.  If the vision is where he envisions Jerusalem to end up, the mission is what is happening in the present that positions them toward achieving the vision.   It’s simple but it is more than a few words, or it becomes a motto.  Nehemiah 2:17 finishes with a great mission statement, “Let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.”  It is succinct and clear.  We don’t have any questions about where their focus, resources, and energy are going.  The people react to this clear mission with excitement by creating a good short motto, “Let us rise up and build” (2:18).

I pray and hope that this little journey through mission and vision help you to understand the benefits for your organization.  We see the results that Nehemiah achieved as a faithful steward of God’s vision and the resources God put in his hands.  Perhaps this will be a tool for you to move forward where you serve.