Getting Ready To Act

Nehemiah  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  52:17
0 ratings
Do you remember the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob? He was the first son of Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel. Jacob treated him the way a first son was expected to be treated. He gave him a robe that was made specifically to signify his importance and he intended to give him a double portion of the inheritance that would one day pass to his sons, of whom he had 12. Needless to say, this made his brothers jealous. You see, Joseph was not the first born son. He was the eleventh son born to Jacob.
Not only was Joseph the favorite, and treated like he was the firstborn even though he was almost the last born, and it seemed that Joseph a little too sure of himself, too. One time, he tattled on his brothers to Jacob when they were out tending the sheep. The special coat and extra wealth were bad enough, but this put them over the edge. His brothers hated him.
Now Joseph was a prophet, and God spoke to him through dreams. He had a dream that he told his brothers about where they were all binding sheaves of grain and his sheaf rose us while their sheaves all bowed down to his. Something tells me that didn’t improve his relationship with them. He later had a dream about the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to him. He didn’t have the humility or wisdom to keep that dream to himself, and even his doting father got upset.
But you know what? Joseph was right. He ended up being the most powerful man in all of Egypt, save for the Pharoah, and his entire family was under his leadership and authority. He didn’t know the specifics yet, but he knew what he was destined to do in life. The only problem? He didn’t know how to get there. And not knowing, he offended people along the way.
Last week, you were all invited to reflect on what your calling is in life. What is it that God made you to do? We acknowledged that God calls all of us to the some of the same things, like follow Jesus, love the Lord with all our heart; soul; mind; and strength, love our neighbors as ourselves, and make disciples. This list applied to every person in the room or watching this right now.
I guess we could add a few more to the list. We’re all called to be kind to one another, to take care of our families, and even to pay our taxes. But there is something that you were made to do that’s different from everyone else. There is a people, place, and purpose that are yours alone. I hope you’re getting closer to understanding what that is.
If not, don’t worry. We’re going to offer a few workshops this summer to help you figure those things out. And besides, it’s often a process that unfolds over a lifetime to know what God wants you to do in this season and this place.
But what if you do know what you’re called to do? What if you have the proverbial dream of everyone bowing down to you? What next? Well, now you need to get ready to act.

Determine the Scope of the Mission

For Joseph, it was pretty hard for him to imagine what his calling might actually look like in the future. He was a shepherd living out in the wilderness of Canaan, hundreds of miles from Egypt. That might as well have been thousands of miles for Joseph, who probably never dreamed of leaving his native Canaan. Not to mention that Egypt was the most powerful nation in the region, and his family was a nomadic troupe without land or title.
Joseph had no way of knowing what was in store for him. Neither did Nehemiah. Just months before he travelled to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls around the city, Nehemiah was a servant in the court of king Artaxerxes, about twice as far as Joseph was from Egypt. Nehemiah had never been to Jerusalem. He had no sense that the restoration of his homeland was at hand. He simply got sad one day, and had a conversation about with the king 4 months later.
But you know, that’s how it goes sometime. You have a day with unexpected news, and a few months later you’re uprooting your life and dramatically changing your plans, stepping into an unknown future. It isn’t always a geographic move. It could be a job change. Or a new relationship, romantic or otherwise. It might just be a mental shift. Either way, you’re aware of some new purpose, but at this point it’s just a general understanding and you need to move from the abstract to the practical.
When Nehemiah was entering into his new calling, the first thing he did was get the lay of the land and see what actually needed to be done. He had to determine what the scope of his new mission was. Let’s turn together to Nehemiah chapter 2 to see what he did to figure out how to actually fulfill his calling.
11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.
13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate.
Nehemiah knew better than to just jump in with both feet before he had a better understanding of what needed to be done. In his case, with the mission of building the walls around Jerusalem, he needed to do some homework. He needed to know which walls and gates were broken.
In some ways, we have a similar need here. We are a church in New England, and specifically in the Boston area. There is a long history of the Church here. The only states to have churches before Massachusetts are Virginia (1610) and before that, Florida (1565, built by the Spanish). In Massachusetts, the presence of the Church was robust, and the dominant form, Congregationalism, even helped to shape American democracy. But, as we all know, the Church has struggled in the New England in the last 240 years or so. First, the trinity-denying Unitarians began to draw churches away from the belief in deity of Christ, then the miraculous work of God, and finally today deny virtually any exclusive religious truth claims. Among those churches which did not abandon the biblical affirmations of faith, many began to reinterpret them.
In liberal theology (no relation to liberal politics), which rose in influence in the 18 and 1900s, rationalism began to take over as the guiding principle for studying the Bible. Of course, rationalism specifically meant seeing Darwinian evolution as a refutation of the Genesis account of creation, reading biblical texts with an eye for historical error, and seeing the gospel as primarily a call to do good works (the Social Gospel) rather than a call to repent of one’s sins by trusting in Jesus’ resurrection (which is now seen as more of a metaphor for rebirth rather than a historical event).
Out of this liberal theology grew progressive theology (again, not the same as progressive politics). This post-modern reevaluation of Christianity is an attempt to understand the faith by going beyond the history and fact claims of the Bible. These, according to progressive theology, are just stories used as tools to coerce people into a desired way of living and being. So they are largely rejected in favor of distilled truths that can be found in the stories of the Bible, even of those events never happened. Progressive churches do tend to focus on justice, care for the poor, and environmental stewardship, which has led to the unfortunate rejection of many of these concerns by Christians who accept the Bible and fear the influence of the progressive Christians.
In fact, the same things happened in the 1900s with liberal theology and the Social Gospel. Calls to serve society became suspect, seen as a sneaky attempt to replace the biblical gospel with activism. This is a tragedy, since the earliest Christians saw the biblical gospel as a motivation for serving their community and its needs. But this is where things are.
At the same time this was happening, the strong Catholic presence in New England has begun to fade, in part a result of population shifts but also as a result of the scandals that have rocked the Catholic church in recent years, with Boston at the epicenter due to the reporting of the Boston Globe.
Also, this region has become increasingly secular, meaning that the average person does not so much reject religion as not even think about religion. The average New Englander may not even know what the gospel, but they know they don’t want it and don’t need it. The result? Christianity has been in decline in New England for over 200 years and currently is in a state of disrepair, much like Nehemiah’s walls.
But also like Nehemiah’s wall, there are places where the Church is still strong. If we’re to be a faithful church in New England, it helps to know where the strengths are, where the weaknesses are, and were we have both an opportunity and an obligation to step into the gap and begin the work of rebuilding.
Now, you may be thinking, what does this have to do with me fulfilling my calling? I have two simple answers. Number 1: this is the environment you are working, living, and called to minister in. It benefits you to understand it. Number 2: this is an example of the the kinds of things you will want to understand about your own calling before you assume you know how to fulfill it. And since I can’t give everyone here an example from their own, individual calling, I’ll continue to focus on the calling we have as a church community.
One of the first sermons I ever preached in this church was on Nehemiah 2. I suggested then, and continue to suggest now, that we are in need of rebuilding and restoring Fellowship Church. We’re not where we were 12 years ago, but we’re not yet finished with our restoration project, either. We still need a call to action.
Consider this. Where this church was once full on Sundays, and actively involved in many areas of the community, we can see today that our space outpaces our attendance. This, in itself, is not a bad thing. But what is a bad thing is that there are souls outside these walls who need Jesus but don’t know it. Furthermore, there are needs in this community that the Church is better equipped to meet than anyone else. There are hurting families, broken homes, failing students, and confused teenagers and young adults. We have the healing balm and the eternal truth here in our hands, and yet we fail to effectively share that with this community.
We’re not yet the vibrant source of light and hope that Jesus calls us to be. Still, I suggest to you that a strong Fellowship Church is something this community desperately needs. When we survey the damage done to the church in New England, we’re one of the broken gates. It’s okay to say that. It’s okay to just call it like it is. Saying that we’re one of the broken gates is not about shaming ourselves. It’s not about feeling bad or feeling guilty. It’s about being honest.
You might feel I’m being too harsh on us, but I’m not trying to be. I’m not saying we’re useless. I’m not saying we’re worthless. I’m just saying we have more work to do before we can say with our heads held high, the job here is complete. And complete, in my mind, is to say that we’re living a life worthy of our calling, as we discussed last week. It means that we all feel equipped to do the work of the ministry, that we have unity of faith, and that we’re mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
It also means that we’re larger, with more people resources, financial resources, and surface area. When a community is small, there is a tendency to overwhelm the people serving the community. The internal needs, when carried by a small group of people, can preoccupy them so that they are unable to look beyond their own concerns to the concerns of others. And that is right. We would all agree that a mother needs to keep herself healthy if she’s to see to the health of her children, right? Like on a airplane, when we’re told to put our oxygen mask on first in an emergency, so that we can then help others to do the same.
A small church needs to maintain its health before it can help others. We have limitations based on our size. And not only that, we have not taken on a true team mentality yet, which speaks to our next step in fulfilling our calling.

Build a Team

When you have done some research and you have a better idea of what it is you’re actually supposed to be doing, then it’s time to build a team. This is what Nehemiah did as soon as he completed his midnight ride to survey the damage that was in need of repair. Here’s how it happened.
16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.
17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.
They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work.
Nehemiah did a few things here to help his calling turn into a completed mission. The first is that he knew he needed a team. The reality is, we’re not supposed to live the Christian life as a Lone Ranger. For those who don’t know who the Lone Ranger is, he was a popular radio show, the book, and finally television cowboy. He was a Texas Ranger who road a white horse, named Silver, and wore a black face mask. He was the Lone Ranger because the 5 other Texas Rangers in his division were killed by the outlaw, Butch Cavendish. The idea was that he would bring Cavendish to justice all by himself.
The one problem with this emblematic hero who does everything alone? He’s never alone. He always has help from his sidekick, Tonto, the Comanche Indian who found him after the ambush and nursed him back to life. As you can see, every facet of the Lone Ranger story, including how he survived the original ambush, requires a partner.
Jesus thought we needed partners, too. Whenever Jesus sends out his disciples to do ministry, he always sends them in pairs. Moreover, whenever Jesus did ministry, he had 12 guys with him, or more. Peter and John did ministry together. Paul had Barnabas, and John Mark, and Silas, and Timothy. The reason for the Church is that we need a community to fulfill our calling. We generally can’t even keep the basics of our faith intact without a community. And that’s as it should be. God is a community. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in perfect unity and union. If God works in community, how much more must we? And Nehemiah knew that.
But he didn’t get the team together first. He waited until he was sure of what he was called to do. When you get a sense of your purpose and calling, then it’s time to start finding other people who have the same purpose and calling. It doesn’t matter if they’re further along than you are or if they are not as far along. It doesn’t matter if you join something they’re doing or if they join something you’re doing. Those things don’t matter. What matters is that you know what God wants you to do, that they know what God wants them to do, and that its the same basic thing.
One area where we know that we have a similar calling is as a church. Our church is where it is (Dedham, and close enough to Hyde Park, Roslindale, West Roxbury, Needham, Norwood, Westwood, Canton, and Milton). That’s our place. We have a people we’re called to, which to my mind is predominately to those in need of healing. We’ve seen that this church has been a healing place for people who have been hurt by the church or hurt by life. We’re a safe haven for the dispossessed, those without a home. We’ve seen god work in us to encourage faith in those who might have been ready to give it up. That speaks to our purpose, which is to be a place of healing and restoration for the hurting. Not only so, we have a call to help believers step into greater maturity and faithfulness in their walk with the Lord. And if you’re here, you need to be part of that team.
I say, you need to be part of that team because I believe that regardless of your individual calling, when God calls you to a local church he intends to use you for the calling of that church. If you stay in the sidelines, if you hold back for truly joining in with the team, you will not experience all that the Lord has for you. Jesus designed it where the only way to grow in faith and in life is to join the local church team. And, its the best way to complete your mission, no matter what it is.
Besides, if the church is a family, which God says it is, then we need to act like one. In our family, every person has their tasks that they’re responsible for. Everyone chips in. Some of those tasks are for ourselves (keep your room clean, put your dishes away) while others are for the family (clean the bathroom, sweep the floors). If we didn’t do it that way, then one or two people would have to do all the work for the family. Some moms and dads live that way, doing everything for their kids. But that is not the way God wants us to work. He doesn’t intend for a few spiritual moms and dads to do all the work.
If you recall, last week we looked at Ephesians 4. You don’t have to turn there, but it says that God gave the church Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers. These are the spiritual moms and dads in the church. They are mature, capable, and able to lead. But the job God gave them was to equip the rest of the church for the ministry. That means that God expects for each person connected to this church to do the work of the ministry. That’s what it looks like when you build a team.
So what is the work of the ministry? Let’s get really practical and talk about that.
As we discussed moments ago, the church does need to take care of the internal needs if we’re ever to address the external needs. Those internal needs include the care of our space (including inside and out…did I mention we have a work day this Saturday?). These property and grounds are a resource God has gifted us with, but also one he expects us to steward with care. That takes time, attention, and money to do right.
The internal needs also includes the way we serve one another when we gather and when we’re scattered. That’s everything from ushers and camera operators (my daughters do a huge portion of that work, but almost anyone in this room who uses a computer or points things can learn it) to those who check in on folks in need, provide meals on occasion, and take our weekly prayer email to heart.
When Nehemiah gathered a team, one thing he did was tell the truth about the nature of the situation as he saw it. He said, for example, “Jerusalam lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire.”
Well here’s how I see it. There are a few people who do most of the work in the congregation. There are a few people who give most of the money for the congregation. There are some who give more time and money than they probably should, meaning more than God expects from them. I don’t know how many know this, but in the leanest times of this church, Beth and Astra volunteered their time to do what they used to get paid for. The way we should see that is that Beth and Astra tithed 100% of the money they earned for their work. If you ask them about it, they’d probably tell you they don’t see it that way, which is a good for them. But we should see it that way. Thankfully, that’s no longer the case, but they still make less than they should.
That’s just one example of how some people are giving more than God would require. They gave it joyfully, but sometimes people give that way only because others don’t give at all, or don’t give to the level God is asking them to. If you are part of this team, God is asking you to give to the team. An old phrase related to this is that God wants our time, our talent, and our treasure.
Some of the needs just require that you show up. Show up on Sunday morning. Show up to help. Once we’re able to meet together more fully, it means offering to clean up after a meal or set up chairs for an event. Other needs require some special skill. We need audio/visual volunteers to lift the burden from the few who show up here every Sunday and go to work. We’re also going to need to rebuild a our children programs, and we’ll need your help. We’ll teach you how to do it, so you won’t be alone. But it will take preparation and effort to do it well. And some of the need is simply financial. I don’t have time to go into it now, but God tells us to give sacrificially to the work of the ministry. I believe, from Scripture, that calls us to give a minimum of 10% of our income to the local church. There are a million reasons why you may feel you can’t do this, but I’ve seen in my own life and in the lives of countless people from the richest to the poorest - I’ve never seen someone fail financially because they were tithing. I just haven’t seen it. I’ve seen people grow wealthier as they tithe. I’ve seen people make financial sacrifices in order to tithe, but assure me that they are being met in other ways they didn’t anticipate. But I’ve never seen a person fall into financial ruin from tithing. And God says that when we hold back out tithe, we’re taking from him. You can check it out in Malachi 3:8.
Time, talent, and treasure. This is what our team requires. When we’re doing this, not only will we be able to meet those internal needs, you’re going to see that God enables us to increasingly meet the needs of our community. Again, we’ll be able to do that in time, talent, and treasure. I believe God wants our church to be tithing to things outside these walls. But not by putting more on the people who already have an outsized load to bear. It must be done by all of us working together.
The reality is that some of us (just a few) need to pull back a bit, because we’re doing more than we’re called to do. When people do more than they’re called to do, it hurts the community - and it does so in two ways. The first is that when people do too much, they wear out. They lose their joy. In the worst cases, they get bitter towards their team, or in the case of the church, towards God. This isn’t good. But they not only hurt themselves, they also hurt the team. By doing too much, they’re allowing others to do less than they’re called to do without experiencing the natural consequences that God creates to show us our error.
Think of it this way. As a parent, what happens if you always do you child’s school projects for them? Well, they never learn how to do the projects themselves. They miss out on the learning. They fail to become resilient. They lack confidence in their abilities (“mom and dad must not think I can do this”). And they never know the satisfaction of a job well done. If they refused to do the work and you refused to do it for them, they would experience the natural consequences of getting a bad grade. They would feel the healthy shame of showing up to school without their project in front of their friends. All sorts of internal and external mechanisms would kick in to press them to do things differently next time, which would mean learning how to do the project, learn the material related to the project, become resilient, and gain confidence and satisfaction.
It’s the same way in the church and on mission you’re trying to accomplish for God. The team needs to be a real team. They need to work together. Each person needs to do their part.

Create a Game Plan

If we’re going to work together, we’re going to need a plan. And that’s what we’ve been doing here. Now, if I’m being honest (which I am), we haven’t always had a good plan for accomplishing our mission here. When I graduated, I had the misconception that what I really needed to do to be a good pastor was to preach faithfully and work hard. While those things are necessary, there is more to the process of becoming a fully restored church. We also need a pathway for people to find the healing and restoration they need and to grow in maturity as disciples of Jesus.
That why, almost three years ago when we came back from our 3 month sabbatical, Sonia and I shared about a new pathway forward for our church. We came back committed to a new way of living and being together. To greater and lesser degrees, you have all been on that journey with us. It hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been a straight line. But it has been fruitful, as many of you can attest.
We started leading the Church 101 courses, which taught us about engaging our hearts in our faith - not just our heads. We’ve been learning to listen to Jesus and truly put him in the first place in our church. Not perfectly, but much more than we did in practice before. We’ve been learning how do a better job speaking to each other about our identity.
As we looked at earlier today, we’re insisting that we be a people who fix our eyes on Jesus, which is a phrase taken directly from Hebrews 12. We insist that we be a community of practice. Not people who read the Bible but don’t do what it says. That can’t be us, because that’s a form of spiritual amnesia, which we do not accept. We insist that we lean joyfully into transformation, which means that we're not just trudging along and we refuse to stay where we are. Instead, we will push on to become more like Jesus, day by day. We insist on using what God has given us, meaning that we’re not going to bury our talents in the sand. We will, instead, put them to use. Our time, talent, and treasure will be fair game for God. And finally, we insist on using it for God’s mission and God’s glory. Not for us, not for our preferences. Not for our comfort. But for our calling, the things that God wants us to do so that his ultimate mission, to reconcile all things to himself, will be manifest through us.
Now, admittedly, all of that is not exactly a strategic plan. But it is the basis of a strategic plan. It’s the foundation that we have been making decisions off us. It’s what led us to the Other Half Of Church. It led us to this Nehemiah study. It’s what helped me feel confident that the Corona virus and the lock down would not decimate us. I believe that God is doing a work among us. I believe he is offering us something new, something powerful, and something that will not leave us the same way we are now. We’ll be more passionate, with greater opportunities to influence this area for the Kingdom of God, and we’ll see an overabundance of resources that will change our lives and the lives of the people around us. And if that includes money, the money will be the least exciting part of it.
Really, all that’s left for us to do is what the people in Jerusalem did. They answered, “Let us start rebuilding!” Come on Church. Let’s continue together this good work.
“A plan is just a hope.” Sarah McKenzie
Related Media
See more
Related Sermons
See more