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Initiative is seeing what needs to be done and doing it.
Memory Verse: “Work at everything you do with all your heart. Work as if you were working for the Lord.” Colossians 3:23a, NIrV
Today we began with the first chapter of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was working for King Artaxerxes when his brother brought news from the exiles living in Judah. When he heard about the devastation in Jerusalem, Nehemiah was heartbroken. He recognized the huge need and before he did anything he prayed. He knew he needed God’s help.
Bottom Line: When you see something big to be done, ask God for help.
We’ll check out Nehemiah 2:1-9 and 11-18. Nehemiah took initiative and set out to fix the wall. When no one else would step, he went straight to King Artaxerxes and took action. And it’s that initiative that inspires the entire community to get involved.
Bottom Line: When you see what needs to be done, don’t wait for someone else to do it.
We will focus on a different part of Nehemiah’s story in Nehemiah 5:1-12. While everyone was building the wall, an issue arose. Some of the Israelites were severely mistreating each other. Even though Nehemiah was in charge of rebuilding the wall, even though he was the leader, and even though he was in charge, he stopped the building of the wall to confront the issue. He cared enough about the people to stay to help them figure out a solution.
Bottom Line: When you see people in need, don’t wait for someone else to help them.
We’ll look at several passages through Nehemiah and that throughout the whole process of building the wall, Nehemiah demonstrated some amazing truths about initiative. He demonstrated how to see what needs to be done and did it. He demonstrated how to care for others. He even demonstrated something that’s very important to recognize when talking about initiative—Nehemiah realized that the ability or strength to do what needs to be done comes from God. We cannot accomplish the task on our own. We have to lean on God to do His part as well. The most powerful part is seeing that when they did their part, God stepped in and did something that only God could do.
Bottom Line: You can trust God to help you do what needs to be done.
Week 5 we will wrap up our Life App on initiative. Together we will have a chance to show initiative and work together on a special project for our community. Colossians 3:23 tells us to work for the Lord with all our hearts and we are going to put God’s word into action!
Bottom Line: Work hard for the Lord.
Wisdom is finding out what you should do and doing it.
Memory Verse: “Choose my teaching instead of silver. Choose knowledge rather than fine gold.” Proverbs 8:10, NIrV
We will look at 1 Kings 3:4-15 and discover one of the wisest men who ever lived—Solomon. As Solomon got ready to take on the weight of leading a nation, he had an incredible dream. God came to him and asked: “What is it that I can give you, if I could give you anything, what is it that you would choose?” And Solomon picked wisdom.
Bottom Line: If you want to be wise, ask God for wisdom.
We will look at what happens when you listen to foolish people and take their advice. In 1 Kings 12:1-15, we’ll see what happened with one of Solomon’s sons, named Rehoboam. He was a young man who, once he got the advice of his elders, disregarded and ignored the advice and listened to his peers and friends—the consequences were devastating.
Bottom Line: If you want to be wise, hang out with wise people.
We will look at Proverbs 12:18 where Solomon wrote, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” Words can be powerful. With a word, we can cut people down or we can encourage them.
Bottom Line: If you want to be wise, think before you speak.
We will look at Proverbs 22:3. “Wise people see danger and go to a safe place. But childish people keep going and suffer for it.” We don’t want children to simply think about what’s right and wrong; rather, we want them to understand what is wise. And wisdom is connected to the words given to them by a loving God, who has their best interest in mind.
Bottom Line: If you want to be wise, look before you leap.
I’m deeply grateful to be a citizen of the United States of America. As one who has traveled outside of our borders, I’m often reminded at how blessed we are as a nation. I consider my citizenship to be one of my most prized possessions and something I must never take for granted. Yet as with anything in life, with great privilege comes great responsibility. As an American, I think most would agree that what makes being an American so special is freedom. But what is freedom? One definition states freedom is the privilege to experience life without constraint.
But freedom stands for something greater than just the right to act as I choose; it stands for securing to everyone an equal opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Meaning… freedom is more than ‘free to do as I want’ – it requires that I’m free to do as I need to for the sake of others.
The one thing you can’t have unless you are willing to give to others is liberty. William Allen White
As we gather this morning to worship and celebrate the nation in which we so proudly live – we do so in the wake of a landmark decision that stands juxtaposed to the beliefs we hold about God and the Bible as evangelical Christians.
The propitious smile of heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself hath ordained. George Washington
In a 5-to-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that states can no longer ban same-sex marriage. Disregarding whether as citizens we believe the court has overstepped her boundaries or not – whether we agree or disagree with the ruling of these justices – the moral, ethical, political, and religious landscape of our nation has been greatly affected – and to what end we do not know.
I must confess. On hearing the ruling, I was saddened and ashamed that the future of our nation once again took a monumental step away from God and that it has happened on my watch as I stood by with limited ability to prevent it.
I was too young to prevent the ruling of Roe vs Wade in 1973, but not this time. And while I certainly have shared my heart on the issue of same sex marriage – I fear, along with far too many people, that I did not do enough to uphold the biblical portrait of marriage. I’m reminded of the words of Carl F. H. Henry, “If the church fails to apply the central truth of Christianity to social problems correctly, someone else will do so incorrectly.”
With this said, let me state clearly that the words I am sharing today have come after much thought and prayer. There is no contempt or disgust for anyone in these words; nor am I embittered because of the celebration of a lifestyle that is both contrary and foreign to my convictions and sensitivities. Instead, there is concern for our nation and brokenness over our apparent national proclivity to ignore the Word and will of God for the sake of our own wants and desires. I am sorrowful for what we have brought on ourselves by allowing our penchant for our individual liberties to become the very battering ram used to destroy the sanctity of life, the sanctity of family, and the sanctity of faith. So no, I do not celebrate this ruling any more than I would celebrate any pattern of behavior I believe is contrary to the will of God and the health of our great nation. No, today as we celebrate our nation for who we have been, I believe a part of our celebration must include prayerful mourning and repentance as we look to the future and our responsibility to live as one nation under God.
At the same time, I also recognize that many good, even God-fearing people are caught in the cross-fire of this cultural decision. Even this week after the decision, a dear friend in the faith wrote to me over her concerns for my gentle, yet direct response to the Supreme Court ruling. As I wrote to my friend who finds the ruling a positive decision, I realized even more how challenging this issue is for our nation and for the church.
For while I do not discount that people genuinely love each other no matter their sexual orientation, I believe the Bible is crystal clear in Romans 1:24-27 that homosexuality, like adultery and formication, lying, stealing, or murder, is a deviation from God’s will and design. Yet, as with all people who desire a lifestyle contrary to Scripture, we find a way for our actions to be accepted by man while we attempt to cast the Creator God off into a corner so that we can do as we please without conscience. I agree with Dr. Billy Graham that, “Our society strives to avoid any possibility of offending anyone – except God.”
As such, while any sin might become social-ably acceptable, politically correct, and in this instance, now legally binding – it does not mean that God accepts or approves such activity – He does not! Be assured, while five justices might have given their approval, and while even some churches and church leaders have offered their assent, God has not and will never be accepting or approving of any sin. This does not make God any less loving, but if man’s ideology could change the Divine landscape, it would most certainly make Him not holy. Yet, because God is immutably holy, His love penetrates the darkness in our culture in a relentless pursuit to draw us into a saving relationship with Him. It is true, God loves everyone, but it is equally critical we understand that loving someone does not mean accepting or condoning their behavior when it is contrary to the heart of God. It is an incorrect idea that the Holy Creator would accept our sin and give us a pass for our unrighteous activity. God accepts no one in light of their sin – no matter the sin – this is the reason for the cross. His acceptance of us is based solely on His amazing grace and nothing else. Our sin can only usher in the wrath of God because He is holy, holy, holy. This means that our sin cost God everything to make it possible for any person to be reconciled back to God.
With this said, I must state that I am not a condemner in the area of same sex marriage, because while my sinfulness is not in this area, I am still a fellow sinner who has fortunately been rescued by God’s grace; but neither am I a condoner. I am a follower of Christ called to love people to the truth of the Gospel and to the love of Christ. So yes, I’m heart-broken over the depravity in our culture and the absolute disregard for God’s truth and will. And I’m concerned for the future ramifications this will have on our nation, the ministry of the Gospel, and religious freedom. But at the same time, I’m equally heart-broken over a young man walking into a church to execute a group of people because of their skin color. I’m burdened over the protection of the unborn child in his mother’s womb.
So where does this leave us? Where do we begin? By what standard do we seek and make our stand? The simple truth is depending on the standard one uses for truth – the Bible, the laws of the land, or their own conscience – it will determine where a person falls on all issue morality.
With regard to this recent ruling by the Supreme Court deciding in favor of what God calls sin doesn’t change God’s Word any more than if they had ruled that lying was no longer a sin. Sin is sin – no matter what you or I think. Thankfully, God so love all of us sinners so much that He gave His Son to die on a rugged cross to provide for us that what could not obtain for ourselves – grace (Romans 5:8). Grace is a gift we do not deserve and cannot earn for ourselves – it is an act of mercy generously imbued by a merciful God. As a result, it is never to be used as a license to sin and rebel from God (Romans 6), but an invitation to have a relationship with Him.
As it pertains to same sex marriage and the practice of homosexuality, let us all be aware and assured that the Bible is not silent about such decisions and that God’s grace is sufficient and available to rescue and restore any person given to such activity. And while I am concerned for such individuals, my greater concern in this decision is not solely for the individuals involved but for our nation as a whole. Because alongside the clearest explanation of the sin of homosexuality in Romans 1:24–27 stands the indictment of God not just of the action but also of the approval and institutionalization of homosexuality. Paul’s words express that while people know intuitively that homosexual acts (along with gossip, slander, insolence, haughtiness, boasting, faithlessness, heartlessness, ruthlessness) are sin, “they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:29–32). Sadly, this is what the Supreme Court determined this past week – knowing these deeds are wrong, by a 5 to 4 vote – they approved those who practice them, and in the process, influenced our nation in a direction contrary to God’s Word. I think John Piper spoke well to the concern of this decision.
My sense is that we do not realize what a calamity is happening around us. The new thing – new for America, and new for history – is not homosexuality. That brokenness has been here since we were all broken in the fall of man. (And there is a great distinction between the orientation and the act — just like there is a great difference between my orientation to pride and the act of boasting.) What’s new is not even the celebration and approval of homosexual sin. Homosexual behavior has been exploited, and reveled in, and celebrated in art, for millennia. What’s new is normalization and institutionalization. This is the new calamity.
As believers who understand the holy justice of a righteous God, we can never forget that all sin carries a price. All sin carries a tidal wave of pain known as the wages of sin. Meaning all sin, whether immediate or future carries its own misery no matter the defiance. In Colossians 3:5–6, the Apostle Paul wrote that on account of these sins God’s wrath is coming.
As Christians we must grasp this truth because we see it in the Scriptures, but also because we have tasted the bitterness of our own sins and the chastening of our loving Father. The simple reality is no one can escape the truth that we shall reap what we sow. Thus, instead of celebrating and institutionalizing our sins we should be weeping over them.
Yes, our society appears to have taken a seismic shift in the wrong direction this week. The decision of the Supreme Court has the potential to leave the church and our communities anxious and troubled. And certainly, while those of us who hold to traditional marriage have a right to be concerned, I am not so certain we have need to be in despair. Yes, the highest court has redefined marriage. And for those who cannot accept this redefinition of marriage as a matter of morality and ultimate truth, we are being forced to acknowledge that the laws of this nation concerning marriage will indeed be defined against our will. Furthermore, in spite of our objections, we have no choice but to acknowledge the authority of the Supreme Court in matters of law, while never forgetting there is a Law exceeding the laws of man and that is the Law of God. This requires we embrace our calling to be good citizens and neighbors as we contend for marriage as a gift from God.
Yet we are to do so under the God’s authority and with respect for all people never forgetting the Supreme Court can do many things as it pertains to the laws of our nation, but they have no jurisdiction over Christ.
So let us not… be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6,7
Likewise, let us never forget that God is still on the throne. He is still the sovereign Savior and His love endures forever – and to everyone. Just as the prophet Daniel reminds us:
He needs no counselor; seeks no advice. He is equally everywhere. He never wearies, sleeps or struggles. He has never been confused, thwarted or contested. He reigns supreme over every detail of the universe. “He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’ Daniel 4:35
As Max Lucado so eloquently stated, “God is still God and His word is still sure. His sovereign grace never changes. Everything else may change. But He doesn’t.”
So let us never forget that the more God-less and anti-Christian a culture might become the more imperative it is that God’s people live for the cause of Christ by exemplifying His love and grace to others to point them to the only One who can truly transform their lives. And make no mistake, this will require we respond to all people not out of our anger or frustration, but out of His grace and forgiveness. God has never intended that we treat what He calls sin with any other form of sin no matter how well intended this sin might be. As Christ-followers, we are called to be His hands, feet, and voice of love, grace, and truth. Furthermore, we can all be assured that God does not need for us to be His hand of wrath and justice. So instead of turning away from the challenges or turning away people whose ideas are indifferent to our own, let’s determine to live and model the life and teachings of Christ by loving them without compromising the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Or as my friend Marty Duren reminded us this week: We cannot forget that the church in the first century did not “turn the world upside down” by pointing out every single cultural flaw. It did so by bearing witness to Jesus and living counter to that culture. The early church has demonstrated for the modern church that the Way, God’s Way, is the better way.
French writer Alexis de Tocqueville, after visiting America in 1831, said, “I sought for the greatness of the USA in her commodious harbors, her ample rivers, her fertile fields, and boundless forests – and it was not there. I sought for it in her rich mines, her vast world commerce, her public school system, and in her institutions of higher learning – and it was not there. I looked for it in her democratic Congress and her matchless Constitution – and it wasn’t there. Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame w/ righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great b/c America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great!”
With this said, let me call all of us to take a renewed stand for Christ. Let us not lose heart or grow weary in doing and pursuing good. Instead – let us be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord knowing that our labor will not be in vain.
Psalm 9:1-20 (NIV)
1I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
2I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High.
3My enemies turn back;
they stumble and perish before you.
4For you have upheld my right and my cause,
sitting enthroned as the righteous judge.
5You have rebuked the nations and destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
6Endless ruin has overtaken my enemies,
you have uprooted their cities;
even the memory of them has perished.
7The Lord reigns forever;
he has established his throne for judgment.
8He rules the world in righteousness
and judges the peoples with equity.
9The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
10Those who know your name trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.
11Sing the praises of the Lord, enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations what he has done.
12For he who avenges blood remembers;
he does not ignore the cries of the afflicted.
13Lord, see how my enemies persecute me!
Have mercy and lift me up from the gates of death,
14that I may declare your praises
in the gates of Daughter Zion,
and there rejoice in your salvation.
15The nations have fallen into the pit they have dug;
their feet are caught in the net they have hidden.
16The Lord is known by his acts of justice;
the wicked are ensnared by the work of their hands.
17The wicked go down to the realm of the dead,
all the nations that forget God.
18But God will never forget the needy;
the hope of the afflicted will never perish.
19Arise, Lord, do not let mortals triumph;
let the nations be judged in your presence.
20Strike them with terror, Lord;
let the nations know they are only mortal.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NIV)
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Colossians 1:3-8 (NIV)
3We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, 4because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— 5the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel 6that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. 7You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, 8and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.
Isaiah 30:21 (NIV)
21 Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
Matthew 18:21-35 (NIV)
21Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” 22Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. 25Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. 26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. 28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. 29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ 30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened. 32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. 35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”
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