Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday sermon: "Taking Responsibility"

The Bible teaches us that all Christians are gifted by the Holy Spirit and called to serve the Lord. If this is true, why does it seem so many churches are not effective in their ministry? I believe that many Christians (and many churches) miss an important step in ministry: taking responsibility for using their gift for Christ's glory.

Our American culture does not seem to place much value on responsibility. We seek to deflect responsibility for our actions; witness the vast amounts of money spent on psychiatrists and psychologists, and the overwhelming number of lawsuits filed in this country. Each of these certainly has value in the right circumstances, but too often they are used to blame someone else for what has happened to us.

Nehemiah certainly faced the challenge of getting the people of Israel to take responsibility for rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. He had his own plan, developed in Susa from the report he was given, but he knew more effort would be needed to carry out the task than he alone could give. In Nehemiah 2:10-20 we see the steps he took to bring the people together to carry out this  mission.

He began by assessing the situation. Although he had heard the reports brought to him, Nehemiah wanted to see for himself the extent of the project. He quickly discovered there would be opposition, so even this step was done secretly. He inspected the walls, discovering that the damage was severe. With the information he gathered, he prepared to begin the job.

Calling the leaders and people together, Nehemiah presented the situation to them. His words are hard: "You see the trouble we are in." He later describes the situation as a "disgrace." The Israelites faced danger with their protective walls in ruins. Not only that, but by allowing this to continue they brought disgrace on themselves and on God. Nehemiah encouraged the people to take on this task by telling them what God had done for him and how the king had given his approval.

While churches in our culture are no generally at risk of destruction of their property (although that risk is real in many parts of the world, and is not entirely absent here), I think the the greater risk we have as God's people is that of disgracing the name of Jesus. When we refuse to use our gifts to honor the Lord, the world around us can look at us and say, "Their God must not matter much if they don't think it's worth their effort to serve Him." When we take up our responsibility, we cannot guarantee that the world will like or appreciate it, but we can be sure they will take notice.

The Israelites responded enthusiastically to Nehemiah's call to rebuild. Immediately their enemies sought to discourage them, but Nehemiah reminded everyone involved of one additional factor: God was in charge of this project. While Nehemiah had been called to lead and the people called to labor on this building project, it was ultimately God who would give them success. Nehemiah had faith that the Lord would see to it that they succeeded in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and bringing honor to his name.

As we work for the Lord, seeking to build up the church and expand the kingdom of Jesus Christ, we need to remember that it is God who is in charge. We are called to use the gifts He has given us to do the work of His kingdom, but our success is in His hands. As we serve the Lord faithfully, and take on the responsibility He has entrusted to us, I believe we will see the results that God wants for us, and that will be the success that we show the world to honor Jesus Christ.

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