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Nehemiah said, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.”

Nehemiah said, "I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down."The Book of Nehemiah is basically about two things:

  1. The Jews trying to rebuild the wall of Jerusalem.
  2. The Jews’ surrounding enemies trying to stop them.

In Nehemiah’s day, sometimes the opposition was obvious and other times it was subtle. At one point, the opposition Nehemiah faced looked like nothing more than an invitation to a meeting. Nehemiah 6:1-2:

When Sanballat, Tobiah, Geshem the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and that there were no breaks left in it (though at that time I had not hung the doors in the gates), that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, “Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.” But they thought to do me harm.

Then I love Nehemiah’s response in Nehemiah 6:3…

I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?”

I have a lot of favorite verses in Scripture. Many of them serve different purposes. This is my favorite verse to tell myself when facing opposition or discouragement in ministry.

The Book of Nehemiah is a great illustration of what ministry often looks like.

You’re trying to serve the Lord while enemies oppose you. To be fair, sometimes the enemies trying to oppose you don’t know they’re hindering God’s work. They might even think they’re doing God’s work, seeing you as the “enemy” that’s opposing what God wants them to do! Confusing Christians and turning them against each other is probably one of Satan’s strongest and most successful strategies when it comes to disrupting the work for God’s kingdom.

To be clear, there’s nothing going on in my ministry that motivated this post. I’m not feeling discouraged or opposed. In fact, I’m feeling quite the opposite. I’m excited about the direction Woodland Christian Church is going. I’m thankful for the new people God has added. I’m blessed by what God is doing in our church family.

So what motivated this post? Nothing more than the reality that there’s an Enemy out there that wants to oppose God’s people. We should understand that whenever we’re doing a work for the Lord we’re going to face opposition.

When we face discouragement – and it’s going to happen – this is what we should tell ourselves: “I’m doing a great work for the Lord and I can’t stop. Why should the work cease while I deal with you?”

If you’re serving the Lord, regardless of what you’re doing, it is a great work. It shouldn’t stop because someone is trying to distract you.

Discuss: Can you share about a time you faced discouragement in ministry? How did you handle it?

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A Special Weekend Away

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After Doug Connell received our associate pastor position, but before he and his family moved to Woodland, his wife Jessica had the idea for the four of us to meet for breakfast together each week to pray, discuss how things were going, keep our friendship strong, etc. That sounded like a great idea, so we committed to it. We’re approaching their one-year anniversary at WCC and we haven’t met like that…at all. It’s not that we haven’t wanted to or didn’t think it was important, it’s just that twelve children between our families (including two babies), home-schooling, the number of church activities, having others over, etc. it ended up taking a backseat to these other activities and obligations. But last weekend we finally made it a priority!

We (the four of us, plus our babies Chloe and Luke) left Sunday after church for a beach house in Gearhart, OR and we returned Tuesday afternoon. Some wonderful people watched our kids allowing us to accomplish the three purposes we had:

  1. Discuss the past year.
  2. Plan for the future.
  3. Strengthen our relationships with each other. Pastor Doug and I are able to spend quite a bit of time together, and Katie and Jess have been able to spend quite a bit of time together, but I haven’t spent that much time with Jess and Pastor Doug hasn’t spent that much time with Katie…say nothing about the four of us spending time together.

Overall the trip was really fantastic. To give you an idea how much we enjoyed just being able to talk together in the middle of the first night a skunk sprayed the house. The smell was so bad I couldn’t fall back asleep, and the next day every room was filled with the smell. We had to put up with the stench the entire following day AND WE STILL DIDN’T LEAVE THE HOUSE! I don’t want to brag, but THAT is commitment! If our congregation ever wonders about the love “the entire pastoral staff” and our wives have for them, they can picture us sitting in the living room together, continuing to talk and pray even though we could barely breathe! I’m kidding…sort of :).

During each meal we took turns “sharing our stories”, which was nothing more than explaining our lives in detail, especially those parts we thought the others should know to be best familiar with us. Other times we prayed, read articles we wanted to discuss, and just talked…and talked. There were some very, very emotional, vulnerable times. At different points each of us cried sharing some of our most intimate memories, fears and feelings. It was a truly special time that exceeded what I hoped or expected. Although I felt like we were already close prior to the trip, we left even closer with a much better understanding of each other, and most importantly we left better able to serve the Lord and serve our wonderful congregation.

2 scott & doug walking

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Toughen Up

Last week I wrote about my experiences coaching two wrestling classes during Friday School: one class consisted of older kids (mostly teenagers) and the other class consisted of younger kids (Davin Cooper, Brooks Ordway, my sons Ricky and Johnny, etc.). I had to accept the fact that coaching – and I’m using that term loosely – the younger boys mostly consisted of me watching them run at each other, run away from each other, jump in the air, kick each other, climb on the pews, climb on each other, yell, cry, roll around with no concern whatsoever for whether they’re on their backs, etc. Basically, it looked way more like WWF than wrestling, and please don’t tell me WWF is wrestling. It was bad enough this past week having to put up with Landon Cooper, Joe Garrett and Ruth Zumstein trying to convince me that fishing is a sport. Although considering sailing, trampoline and dressage (aka horse ballet) are Olympic sports maybe fishing will be added too giving their arguments credibility.

Anyway, if you listen to me coach the younger boys it sounds like, “Stop…don’t…watch out…be careful…no you can’t do that…let go of his hair…don’t put your finger in his eye…don’t jump off the pew on him…yes, I know Johnny bit you which is why I told you to stay away from him.” One week I had so many boys hurt and crying that I sat them all down and said, “I know wrestling hurts sometimes, but wrestling is like riding a bike: if you ride a bike, sometimes you’re going to fall and get hurt. The only way to make sure you don’t get hurt is to not get on a bike, and the only way to make sure you don’t get bit is to not wrestle Johnny.” I came home and told Katie all this and she said two words to me: “That’s ministry.” I said, “You’ve been bit in ministry?” Just kidding, but…

In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he prepared the young pastor for ministry by repeatedly telling him about the suffering he personally experienced while encouraging Timothy to expect the same (1:8, 12, 2:3, 9, 4:5). While Timothy was a pastor, the reality is if you’re going to serve the Lord in any capacity – not just in the church, but in your workplace, neighborhood, school, home, etc. – you’re going to be hurt sometimes. The only way to make sure you never get hurt is to never serve God. When the kids would get hurt in wrestling, I would offer them some encouragement that I preach to myself sometimes and would share with others as well: “This is actually good for you; it’s toughening you up!”

wrestling

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Pastors (shepherds) and how they equip (feed) their flocks…

Last Sunday evening we discussed church government with a focus on the interchangeable nature of the terms elder, bishop (also translated as overseer) and pastor, learning that all three refer to the same office, with each providing a different emphasis: elder emphasizes who the man is, his office or title; bishop/overseer emphasizes what he does in overseeing the affairs of the church, and pastor (literally: shepherd) refers to an elder who’s uniquely given a heart to tend to, care for, and feed God’s flock. Here’s the message if you’re interested.

The Greek word for pastor is poimen, occurring eighteen times in the New Testament: seventeen times it’s translated as shepherd, and only one time translated as pastor in Ephesians 4:11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors (NOTE: despite the attention pastors receive, this is the only place they’re mentioned in the New Testament) and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. The Greek construction of the words pastors and teachers indicates the two terms go together; in English they could be hyphenated as pastor-teacher emphasizing the pastor’s ministry of shepherding and teaching. John MacArthur said, “The phrase is best understood in context as a single office of leadership with the word translated ‘and’ meaning ‘in particular.’ Since pastor means shepherd, the terms go together defining the shepherding teacher.  It’s related to 1 Timothy 5:17 where Paul says, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.” The word especially shows not all elders labor in teaching, but some will have that ministry separate from the other elders and that’s the pastor-teacher.

What I kept thinking about this week is the relationship between Ephesians 4:12 and 2 Timothy 3:17: pastor-teachers equip the saints for the work of the ministry and 2 Timothy 3:17 says Scripture equips the man of God for every good work. If pastors have the responsibility of equipping the saints, and Scripture is what they’re equipped with to do every good work God wants done, then it only makes sense that pastors would shepherd or feed God’s flock by teaching them Scripture. This explains why the one time pastors are mentioned in Scripture, they’re tied to or united with the word teaching: that is how pastors or shepherds, best tend to and care for God’s flock: feeding them God’s Word.

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Supporting Those Serving

 

I really, REALLY appreciate the people who serve in the church. There’s VBS, choir, nursery, the Wednesday night children’s program, Friday School, retreats, camp, the 100-yr anniversary, conferences, workdays, church cleaning, and the list goes on. We want to remember the time and effort these people are investing and make a conscious effort to be a help and encouragement to them. So let’s discuss the right and wrong way to do that. Here’s what you don’t say…

  • Why are you doing it that way?
  • Let me tell you what we used to do…
  • You should do it this way instead…
  • Make sure you don’t have me…
  • Why did you choose this time?
  • Why did you choose this place?

This is what you should say instead…

  • Thank you so much for all you’re doing!
  • Put me where you want me!
  • Wow, you’re doing a lot of work. What can I do?
  • You sure are blessing a lot of people.
  • You’re doing a great job.

And here are a few other things you can do…

  • Be on time
  • Respond to e-mails
  • Sign up and/or pay on time
  • Do things without having to be reminded
  • Whatever you’re responsible for, do it well
  • Don’t complain
  • Be on time (I know I put that twice)

I had a really good mentor who told me (and this applies to marriage, parenting, etc) we should make a number of deposits for every withdrawal. There are some people in the church and when you see them coming you’re like, “Great. Time to listen to another complaint!” and there are other people you see coming and you’re like, “Wonderful. Some help.” When people have taken the time to serve sacrificially, let’s try to make sure we’re making more deposits than withdrawals. Let’s try to make sure we’re helping them with the loads they’re carrying.

Sunday’s sermon, Luke 3:10-14 Fruit Worthy of Repentance – Part II, can be found here.

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Frustration in Ministry

Frustration in ministryRhea recently got the training wheels off her bike. She loves to come over to my office and have me watch her ride around in the parking lot. When I was growing up we always looked for exciting places to ride like hills, valleys, puddles, etc. For a while the leadership has been discussing fixing the church parking lots, but I found a great benefit to its current condition: it provides great terrain for kids’ bike riding!

I was watching Rhea race around – because in her mind the faster she goes the more impressed I’ll be – and she wrecked and scraped her knee. The rest of the day she dramatically limped around and when she overheard us talking about Beach Camp over a month away she said, “I hope I’ll be okay by then.” To her it was a pretty serious accident! We told her the only way she’d be able to completely avoid getting hurt in the future would be to completely stop riding her bike.

My counsel to Rhea made me think the same could be said of ministry: the only way to make sure you never get hurt is to make sure you never serve. Sadly this is the approach some people have taken. Whenever you’re involved in ministry whether it’s VBS, camp, a Bible study, party, play, home fellowship, etc. there’s potential for frustration and hurt usually from…

  1. People letting you down: they don’t do what they say they’re going to do…or they don’t do what you ask them to do…or they don’t show up on time…or maybe they don’t show up at all…or they don’t pay on time…or they cancel last minute…or they do things their way instead of the way you want…and the list goes on…and on.
  2. People criticizing: they don’t like the time, place, music, length, schedule, activities, and if you’d done it the way they wanted others would be unhappy.

Here’s what we need to focus on to prevent frustration:

  1. For every person that lets you down or criticizes, there are a number of others serving and working hard to see the ministry go well, being blessed by your effort, appreciating what you’re doing, growing as a result of your service.
  2. Most importantly: Colossians 3:17 & 23 Whatever you do, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for man. If we’re honest, when we’re frustrated it comes from having taken our focus off the Lord and putting it on the people around us. The reality is if our service is done for the Lord, His approval, and the blessing of serving Him, that should be enough to turn any amount of frustration into encouragement.
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The Body of Christ working together

There are a number of things about being a pastor that I find very, very satisfying. I’ve realized one of those things is watching people in the congregation work together.

Much of the ministry we accomplish as a body requires a number of people working together, and whenever that happens there are always different ideas, personalities, thoughts on how things should be done, etc. It requires patience of everyone involved as well as an equal level of commitment. (As a note: if I had to name the one problem that seems to arise the most when people are working together it’s when one person is perceived as not being as committed or not putting forth as much effort as the others. I think people are willing to overlook a number of things if they believe someone is working hard, but if people feel like someone’s being lazy there usually isn’t much grace shown)

Anyway, this all came to mind recently watching our Friday School come together. It’s involved a handful of women in the church putting working together and putting forth a lot of effort. This isn’t much different than many of the other ministries in our church. Whether it’s the Christmas Program, VBS, Ladies’ Conference, church workdays, etc for any of these to be a success there’s a tremendous amount of teamwork involved.

I think this is what Paul was talking about in the well-known passage in 1 Cor 12:12-26 (and a little less directly in Rom 12:3-8) where the body of Christ is compared with a physical body. Two points are obvious:

  1. Everything has to work together. Individual parts of the body can’t accomplish anything by themselves. Sometimes people are quick to point out, “Well what about Paul? Look at how much he accomplished by himself!” I’d completely disagree with that, because Paul worked with a number of people and performed very little of his ministry alone.
  2. I think it becomes clear how important it is for everyone to contribute. Every part of the body is essential. When the body is counting on a part that doesn’t contribute, everyone suffers as a result.

Be praying about how God wants to use you to benefit the Body of Christ!