Ever wish you had paid more attention in seminary? Struggling with preparing a sermon? GuideStone President O.S. Hawkins wants to help pastors with useful resources to help them as they serve the Lord.
With more than a quarter century of pastoral leadership, Hawkins makes available some of his most popular sermon outlines for pastors, Sunday school teachers and other Bible study leaders. These free resources can help you as you prepare your sermon or lesson each week.
I enjoy playing golf. The most important shot in golf is the tee shot. Every hole is a new beginning. At each hole, you step up on the tee and hit your first shot, which generally determines how well you will do on the hole. If you drive the ball in the woods, you have to "scramble" with two or three other shots in order to get to the green. If you drive the ball out of bounds, you are penalized an additional shot. However, if you drive the ball straight down the fairway and position yourself for the second shot to the green, you are well on your way to finishing the hole strongly.
Many never score well in golf because they spend most of their time trying to make up yardage lost by poor tee shots. Getting started right is essential, whether we are playing golf or rebuilding.
There is a very real sense in which rebuilding something is far more difficult than building something from scratch. During my days in the pastorate, I was privileged to pastor two of the greatest churches in America, the First Baptist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, and the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. The challenge in Fort Lauderdale was to build a myriad of ministries without a lot of traditional history behind us. In Dallas, the task was to rebuild upon the great foundation of two pastors who led the church for 100 years.
When we are in the process of rebuilding, there are not just things that need to be done; there are also things that need to be undone. There are habits that need to be broken…sometimes there are hearts that need to be healed. Anyone who has ever rebuilt a marriage or a church knows this. This is why for some people it’s easier to start over than to pay the price of rebuilding. Whether we are rebuilding our lives, our marriage, our church, our business, or any number of other issues, the challenge for us all is to get started right in the process of rebuilding.
Are you in need of rebuilding something? Does it seem as though you simply cannot get started right? Nehemiah is here to show us in chapter one how to get started right. For almost a century, others had seen the need to rebuild those broken walls of Jerusalem. Some had even tried. Then, Nehemiah came on the scene and accomplished the task in less than two months. How did he do it? He outlines in chapter one of his book some principles that will enable us to get started right. He shows us that rebuilders make an honest evaluation. They identify with the need. They take personal responsibility. And, they move out of their comfort zones.
The most difficult and challenging part of any journey is the beginning…getting started right. This is true whether we are on a journey of dieting, or exercising, or attempting to rebuild a broken relationship. Nehemiah begins with the importance of getting started right and the rest of his book relates an unfolding of principles which, when applied, see us to the accomplishment of our task. Yes, rebuilders get started right, and when they do, they discover…it’s never too late for a new beginning!
I. Make an honest evaluation
Nehemiah opens his memoirs with the news of a report from distant Jerusalem. Someone had returned from a visit, and Nehemiah inquired concerning not only the Jews, but the condition of the Holy City itself. The report was, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire” (Neh. 1:3).
If Nehemiah was to get started right in being the agent of rebuilding, his first step now was to make an honest evaluation of the condition in Jerusalem. Although a remnant of the Jews had returned home and the temple was in place, there was only a semblance of normalcy. The walls of the city were broken down, and its gates were still burned with fire. The people who returned had become a reproach by their own lifestyles. They were “in distress.” They were “a reproach.” When we do not finish the job God gives us to do, it becomes a reproach and leads others to exclaim, “some God you must have!”
Nehemiah’s evaluation also saw that the walls were broken down. They were in dire need of being rebuilt in order to provide security and safety for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And as though that were not enough, the gates of the city were burned with fire; thus, they were vulnerable to the enemy.
Nehemiah saw his city for what it was. He made an honest evaluation. Many of us never rebuild because we don’t make an honest evaluation of our own circumstances and situations. We never admit our need. We never confess that some of our own walls are broken and some of our own gates are burned. The sensing of our pain, as agonizing as it may be, often begins the healing process. People have met premature deaths because they will not face the warning signs of pain. Some will not go to their personal physicians for an honest evaluation of physical needs. The same can be said of relationships or any other thing that is in need of rebuilding. To get started right, the first step is to pause and make an honest evaluation of our lives.
There are at least three ways to begin to rebuild that which is broken. One is the way of a superficial optimist. This is the cosmetic approach that deals only with surface issues and is in the constant process of trying to put a positive spin on a difficult situation. The superficial optimist usually resists making an honest evaluation, thinking if you just wait long enough, and hunker down far enough, everything will go away. The ancient prophet, Jeremiah, dealt with such leaders when he said, “Saying ‘Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace” (Jer. 8:11).
There are others who approach the rebuilding process as realists. That is, they admit the problem, but approach it by trying to get everyone around them as busy as they possibly can. They set up new organizations. They put together a new crew. They develop new courses. But new crews and new courses will not keep the ship afloat if there is a hole in the hull.
There are others who make honest evaluations and then have the courage to face the root problems honestly. They have the wisdom and understanding, as well as the strength and patience, to do something. And they have the faith to trust God to work through the circumstance and situation. Those who make honest evaluations are not afraid of losing friends or making enemies. They are not intimidated by threats, and they are not for sale. Such a man was Nehemiah. He got started right by making an honest evaluation.
There are many of us in need of rebuilding today. Perhaps some readers have taken the superficial optimist approach, simply dealing with surface issues and all the while crying, “Peace, peace,” when there really is no peace. Perhaps there are others who more closely identify with the realist approach; instead of rebuilding you simply move on to new people or new projects. But learn from Nehemiah. Look at him. He is making an honest evaluation. He inquires, and then admits that not only are the walls broken down and the gates burned, but also the people are in distress and have become a reproach.
Are there any unfinished projects in your life? Any walls that need rebuilding? Those who win in life always finish what they start, but before that ever happens, they get started right by making an honest evaluation. Rebuilders who go through the painful process of making honest evaluations are soon on the road to the realization that…it’s never too late for a new beginning.
II. Identify with the need
When Nehemiah heard the report from Jerusalem and made an honest evaluation, his passion index rose. His next impulse was to identify with the need. He continues, “So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven” (Neh. 1:4).
Nehemiah not only cared enough to make inquiry and an honest evaluation, he cared enough to identify with the need. He sat down. He put everything else aside and contemplated the matter. As he did so, he “sat down and wept.” He thought about the reproach and the distress, the broken walls and burned gates, and tears welled up in his eyes and ran down his cheeks. The more I have personally studied the process of rebuilding, the more I have become convinced that one never rebuilds until he or she weeps over the ruins. We have a contemporary culture that is losing its tears today. In a day when contemporary Christianity is filled with wealth and happiness, with cults whose primary motives are personal enjoyment, we do not hear very much about this kind of passion. When Nehemiah heard the report from Jerusalem, his passion index rose!
Nehemiah’s concern was not simply the welfare of the people, but also the glory of God. For him, prayer was warfare. He agonized; he wept; he mourned; he fasted for days. Is it any wonder God used him to rebuild the broken walls of Jerusalem? He not only made an honest evaluation, he truly identified with the need. He did what all leaders must do…he drew his strength from outside himself. He identified with those in need, and he lived with this burden for four months.
What about your passion index? Rate your passion index for rebuilding on a scale of one to ten, with ten being a burning desire, and one being simply a heap of ashes. If your passion for your own project is lower than a seven, you will probably never see the task of rebuilding accomplished. In fact, the whole process of rebuilding will simply become another burden to you, and you will find yourself in frustration and going through the motions. Those who rebuild begin to circle themselves with people who have a burning passion for what God has led them and called them to do. They identify with the needs around them.
Tragically, some of us are simply not very grieved or burdened about the walls around our lives that need to be rebuilt. How long has it been since those of us in need of rebuilding something have sat down? How long has it been since we have wept? Or mourned? Or fasted? Or prayed for days and months?
Rebuilders get started right, and the only way to do this is to make a proper evaluation, and identify with the needs around you. In so doing, Nehemiah brought his people to a sense of camaraderie. He was, by his own example of leadership, illustrating to them that…it’s never too late for a new beginning.
III. Take personal responsibility
Nehemiah could have faced his dilemma by blaming all his current problems on his past difficulties. That is, if Nebuchadnezzar had simply not besieged the city of Jerusalem and taken the Jews captive, the need of rebuilding would have never been known. Or, if they simply had not been taken into battle, they could have gotten on with the project much more quickly. Perhaps if Zerubbabel had been more zealous about the task of rebuilding at the very beginning of the return of the remnant, things would have been different. Yes, Nehemiah could have blamed all his current problems on past difficulties. He could have pointed fingers of accusation at Jehoiachin, Zedekiah, and the other kings of Judah. They betrayed their people. No wonder the walls were broken. There were plenty of people who could have been blamed, but those who play the “blame game” never get the rebuilding job done. We now see Nehemiah refusing to point fingers of accusation in other people’s directions, but instead taking personal responsibility for the dilemma himself. This is a characteristic that generally follows those who make honest evaluations and identify with the needs.
There are many churches that fall to the temptations of blaming all their present problems on past people. Falling into this trap keeps one from moving forward. Nehemiah could have blamed others, but he did not. His ultimate goal was getting those walls rebuilt, so he was focused on the importance of getting started right.
Listen to him as he prays and confesses the sins of the children of Israel, “…which we have sinned against You. Both my father’s house and I have sinned. We have acted very corruptly against You” (Neh. 1:6-7). Note the plural pronouns. He is saying “we,” not “they.” True rebuilders identify with the failures and fears of the people around them. They not only identify with the need, they take personal responsibility themselves. Nehemiah is team-building early on in the process. It is easy to see what he is doing. He is confessing other people’s sins as though they were his very own. Leaders identify with the need and take personal responsibility with their people. Note that he did not say “they made a mistake,” nor did he say “if” we have sinned. Nehemiah was crying out to God with plural pronouns “we,” and personal pronouns “I.”
Perhaps it is this very point more than anything else that keeps men and women from being rebuilders. Often we are too intent on blaming everyone else for our broken walls and burned gates. For many, it is always someone else’s fault. This is why many relationships are never rebuilt. This is why many homes are broken. This is the very reason some churches do not live together in love and unity. It never dawns upon some of us to take personal responsibility. Unfortunately, we are too busy trying to place blame on others, often seeking to justify our own innocence in the process. The task of rebuilding will never be accomplished until we take personal responsibility.
What is interesting to me is that it only takes one person to initiate the process of rebuilding. Nehemiah was one man, but what a difference he made when he got started right. He did what everyone of us who need to rebuild something around us should be doing. He made an honest evaluation of his circumstance and situation. There was no glossing over the circumstance. There was no covering over the issue. Next, he identified with the need. He felt it; it became the prayer burden of his heart. Then he took personal responsibility. He identified with his people.
It only takes one person to get the rebuilding process started, whether it is in the home, in the office, in the church, or in the social arena. One person can make a huge difference. Just look at Nehemiah…it’s never too late for a new beginning.
IV. Move out of your comfort zone
Nehemiah concludes the first chapter of his memoirs with a simple sentence: “For I was the king’s cupbearer” (Neh. 1:11). On the surface, this certainly does not sound too impressive. What was he? Dishwasher? Waiter? A type of bus boy? What is he saying in this simple statement that seems to be out of context and simply an addendum to the chapter? There is so much behind these words. Nehemiah is relating to us the truth; he was, in fact, the king’s trusted confidant. He was the king’s cupbearer. He tasted the king’s drink and food before the king. He was constantly by his side. He was a faithful counsel to the most important man in the land. His position gives us a bit of insight into Nehemiah’s character and reputation. The king of Persia, the world power of its day, would only select the wisest, most honest, loyal, and trustworthy person he could find to be his cupbearer. The point is simply this – Nehemiah had it made. He was fixed for life. He had a civil service job with incredible retirement benefits. He was a man who moved out of his comfort zone, and was paying the price to be the agent of rebuilding.
Many of us live in a culture not only out in the world, but within the church, that is asking, “What is in it for me?” When many young families are looking for churches today, their first question is, “What can you do for me?” In our contemporary culture, many look for a church home where they do not have to be inconvenienced. Very few people are ready to move out of their comfort zones, and consequently there is not enough rebuilding being done today.
I grew up in Texas. Most boys in Texas grow up living for football season in the fall. What is the one common characteristic of all the great professional football teams throughout the modern era? Every major football dynasty has one person who is extremely proficient in passing the ball. The Green Bay Packers had their Bart Starr. The Dallas Cowboys have their Don Meredith, Roger Staubach, and Troy Aikman. The Pittsburgh Steelers had Terry Bradshaw. The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana and Steve Young. Throwing the forward pass in football is risky business. It moves us out of our comfort zone. Darrell Royal, the legendary coach of the University of Texas, said there were four things that may happen when you throw a pass, and three of them are bad. The good thing that can happen is that you complete the pass. The bad things are that the quarterback can be sacked, the pass can be thrown incomplete and the down lost, or the other team could intercept the pass.
Years ago, there was a time when football teams had difficulty moving out of their comfort zone. The year was 1905. Most of the games played on the college gridiron were low-scoring games characterized by running and kicking. There were guys in leather helmets running in the flying wedge. There were three yards and a cloud of dust. It was a tough, dirty, gritty game that was “played between the tackles.” In 1906, the forward pass was legalized, making it possible to gain as much as forty yards with the flick of a wrist. However, during that first season, teams stayed within their comfort zones. They kept running. They kept doing what they had always done. They kept doing what was comfortable. Realizing a new day had come, St. Louis University moved out of its comfort zone. That first year they switched almost entirely to the forward pass, and that season outscored their opponents 402-11. The rest is history.
Today, the church of Jesus Christ, moving into the third millennium, faces changes as challenging as the introduction of the forward pass to football. We are called to reach a postmodern world in what is a post-Christian culture. Many are scrambling. Many are trying to win without any innovations. The result is they stay in their comfort zones and are defeated and left behind.
The world our churches need to reach today is not the world of “Ozzie and Harriet” or “The Beaver.” We are trying to reach a contemporary culture where everyone is not living in a tidy little home behind a white picket fence with nothing to do except attend religious services. We are called to reach men and women all around us with a tremendous need to rebuild lives.
Rebuilding means that we must move out of our comfort zones. This is exactly what our Lord Jesus Christ did when He walked the roads of this world. He was constantly engaged with moving us out of our comfort zones. If we are ever going to begin the process of rebuilding in our own personal experiences, we must follow His lead.
Nehemiah says, “I was the cupbearer to the King.” “So what?” you may ask. For Nehemiah, it meant leaving the comfort zone. It meant taking a risk. It meant returning to Jerusalem. It meant becoming vulnerable. But the result was wonderful. He became the agent of an incredible process of rebuilding which brought much good to others, and much glory to God.
Are there any walls in your life in need of repair? Are there any gates that once protected you that are now burned down? Are there walls that once were strong but now have cracks in the mortar? Perhaps a stone slipped loose here, and another there, and some parts of your wall began to weaken and cave in. The Lord Jesus Christ came to be the rebuilder of our own broken walls. He said to us through the prophet Isaiah, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; your walls are continually before Me” (Is. 49:15-16).
Our Lord saw each of our lives broken. What did he do? He came to be our rebuilder. He got started right. He made an honest evaluation. Then he identified with the need. He came and wept over the city of Jerusalem. Next, he took personal responsibility. He took our sin in His own body. He died our death so we could live His life. He took upon Himself the iniquities of us all. And, he moved out of His comfort zone. He laid aside His glory and clothed Himself in human flesh. Why? So you and I could have a new beginning.
Getting started right is the most important step in the rebuilding process. Some who plan on rebuilding have just never gotten started. Make an honest evaluation. Identify with the need. Take personal responsibility. And, move out of your comfort zone. When you do, you will get started right and you too will discover that…it's never too late for a new beginning.
- Rebuilding: Rebuilders finish strong - Part 6
- Rebuilding: Rebuilders never cut what they can untie - Part 5
- Rebuilding: Rebuilders understand "YAC" is what really matters - Part 4
- Rebuilding: Rebuilders let go without letting up - Part 3
- Rebuilding: Rebuilders build a team spirit - Part 2
- Rebuilding: Rebuilders get started right - Part 1