Assessment and Action Pt. 1
“What Health Looks Like: Assessment and Action – Pt. 1”
Nehemiah 1:1-2:8 Pastor Bruce Dick - BEFC
Pt. 4 of 8 on Spiritual Health February 10, 2008
We have been talking for the last 3 weeks about our health and in particular, going to the doctor for his or her council or advice. We said that a doctor can size your condition up in a matter of seconds and we called that “unity” or consistency of the whole picture of health – what he sees should “fit” together. We looked at healthy communication with our doctor which usually begins with chit chat about our families before we ever get to our health issue that brought us there; it gives us confidence in our doctor because healthy communication speaks of a healthy relationship and vice versa. Then we talked about the need for balance. In our health there is a balance between what goes in and what gets burned off in work or exercise. If one of those gets out of balance, we suffer in our health and our doctor will help us define some healthy balances for us. We chose to talk about grace and truth, which might not be so much a matter of balancing each but maximizing both but without overdoing one or the other. We talked how most of us fall toward one side or the other and need to shore up our efforts in the area in which we are weak.
Today we get beyond initial conversation with our doctor to more of the nuts and bolts. But now we need to get to the real work. It is time for him to give his examination of us and not only give his assessment or diagnosis but a plan of action so that we can either maintain our health – if we are healthy – or begin to take steps if we are not. So he gets out that stethoscope and listens to our heart and our lungs. We breathe in and out and he just listens. He takes out that 2x4 and has us say “ah” as he tries not to make us gag but wanting to see inside our mouths and the top of the throat. He’ll touch and feel various touch points to see if there is tenderness or lumps. He’ll look at the charts from our blood work the nurse gave him and when he is done with his assessment, he’ll say, “Bruce, this is what I see…” and he begins to tell us what we are going to need to do.
But this little assessment actually began long before we went to his office that morning. We began to do it as soon as we thought something was wrong. When I was playing basketball a couple of weeks ago and jammed my thumb, there were two instantaneous “pops” that I heard. While it hurt, I kept playing; I had jammed lots of fingers and toes in my days and I hoped this was just another. Sure enough it swelled up that night and the next day it looked a little reddish green. I was doing assessment too. But I was hoping that it was just a sprain and not a break. Still I could not get that double “pop” out of my mind. But that Thursday morning – now 3.5 days later – I asked Trudy to see if I could get in for an appointment; I needed someone who could x-ray this and give me a better diagnosis, either to confirm my suspicions of a break or send me on my way with a diagnosis of a simple sprain.
Now consider the danger of what might have happened. Suppose that I assured myself that it was just a sprain and it would get better. I might have caused some long –term problems if I had not finally taken my personal assessment to a professional and taken the appropriate action.
Our spiritual health as individuals and the church is much the same. You might be here and quite content with your spiritual health and that of the church – great! Keep taking in healthy food and putting out in spiritual exercise and the practice of your faith! For others of you, there is this nagging feeling that the “sprain” you feel in your spiritual life personally or for the church might be a “break.” For you, you need the encouragement to go to the next level of doing something about it rather than just hoping it gets better.
Perhaps you have a question about faith itself and God has been very “unfair” in your opinion - you prayed for a friend whose health was failing and they died; where was God? Couldn’t he have healed her? - and you hold that against him. It might be a temporary sprain or it might speak of something deeper, a break. It’s time to check it out. Maybe your work is just bad and you get blamed for things you never did and you think they are starting to all look at you differently – it hurts – and you begin to wonder why God doesn’t answer your prayers b/c you have tried to live with integrity and God does nothing – is it a sprain or a break? Or how about this: something bad happens in your family; we’ll say your 17-year old son gets picked up for open container; and you come to church on Sunday and you hear this little group of Christians talking about your lack of parenting skills and didn’t see you quickly enough to close their mouths before you got there - sprain or break? Or let’s say you are in middle school and someone says something that really hurts you deeply. You come home and tell your mom or your dad and they say “uh huh, OK, well that’s life, now go and do your homework before supper.” And that wound goes deeper. All of those things hurt deeply and personally. And even worse, unless something is done, they just stay hurt and if it was a break, it heals awkwardly if it ever heals at all and the damage done is then very difficult to repair when it could have been fixed quickly and safely if addressed early on.
I want you to meet a man by the name of Nehemiah today. Nehemiah is hurt deeply by something that really wasn’t his concern if he didn’t want it to be. But what he does shouts across the centuries to Christians and the church as a wakeup call not only to get involved but to take the time to assess what’s wrong with us and begin to take steps to address it. If I were to say all of what we are about to say in 3 short sentences, I would say it this way: Assessment without action is worthless. Action without assessment is foolish. God-focused assessment with Gospel-motivated action is not only healthy, it is courageous and victorious. For those of us who love analysis but never do anything with our analysis, we waste our time. We talk about the church and what we like and what we want but we never put the rubber to the road and so we just begin to sound like whiners. Enough. Some of us love to leap before we think – let’s try this! Let’s try that! - and our foolishness gets a lot of others burnt out real fast. But when our assessment is God-focused (what does he want? What does he want me to be?) and gospel-motivated (How can I or we best bring others to Christ? How can I become more like him? How can our church make some impact on our community?) then we will be more than healthy, we will have this courage that can only be explained as from God and victories as we see our lives and others changed.
Nehemiah gives us a great picture of that this morning. I want to walk you through part of his story. I simply want you to see how Nehemiah doesn’t take the safe road; he chooses to get involved in a situation that God has prepared him for. And as I share nuggets of his story, I want you to see how similar God’s path and plan are for you as an individual and us as a church as we pursue spiritual health together. So please turn to the book called Nehemiah in your Bibles if you are not there already. Nehemiah chapter 1 verse 1. Don’t be embarrassed if you can’t find it right away. The simplest way to find it is to find Psalms, which is in the very middle of your Bible and go backwards. Before Psalms is Job and before Job is Esther and before Esther is Nehemiah. Nehemiah 1:1 which is page 398 in the pew Bibles.
The first piece of assessment and action is simply AWARENESS. Here’s what happens in verses 1-3: The words of Nehemiah the son of Hacaliah. Now it happened in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Susa the capital, 2 that Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.” OK, historical perspective here. The nations of Israel and Judah have both been defeated years and years earlier. Jerusalem is in ruins. The temple was utterly destroyed, the centerpiece of worship not only for Jerusalem but the nation. Stone after stone torn down until it was just rubble. The walls of the city were destroyed. Huge blocks of stone pulled down and fell into the valleys around the city. The city of Jerusalem was located on two hills that ran parallel to each other from north to south and that were steepest on the west, south and east. So when they destroyed the city they torn down the walls and just let these huge stones roll down the hill into the valleys below the city. It was a huge defeat and had been demoralizing for over 100 years.
But here is Nehemiah, in the city of Susa. He’s got a great job working as cupbearer for the king; he tastes the king’s wine to be sure it isn’t poison b/4 he gives it to the king, but he’s also a close adviser to the king with the king’s trust. He’s hundreds of miles from Jerusalem with a great job for anyone much less a Jew in the Persian Empire’s court, the most powerful nation in the world at that time. Why should he care? Does he?
Nehemiah 1:4 (ESV) 4 As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven. The news crushes him. For days he is devastated. Why? Why should he care? It’s not his problem! It wasn’t his fault.
We could do the same thing. It would be so easy to just block out the condition of our world, our community or even the overall health of our church – and many of us do. I can’t care for them all; I can’t do anything to help them all; so I’ll just sit back and wait for someone else to do something. Someone else with time or money or who isn’t so busy can help. You see, Nehemiah is not just becoming aware, he is allowing that awareness to affect him in a powerful way. Men, have we become so passive and our society so convinced us that we are the dolts we see on TV that we no longer feel we can make a difference in our own homes? Young ladies, has our culture so corrupted our thinking that the only way you can get attention is by attracting attention to the way we look? Parents, have we worked so hard to give our kids something better than what we had that we have lost control of our schedules? Church, have we become so convinced that church is nice but so irrelevant that we’ll just show up and put in our time?
Here’s what happened to Nehemiah when he got this news – it was like someone held up a mirror to his face and he not only saw himself but he saw himself as part of something much bigger and much more painful. And he began to cry and he stopped eating and he simply began to pray. My prayer is that this series on spiritual health is like a mirror for us as individuals but in which we see the condition of the entire church – things that will make us laugh out loud with joy and things that will make us weep because we identify with the church as a body and not just what’s in it for me.
But that takes him to his next piece of assessment and action: PRAYER. Many of us will pray when we hear bad news. The prayer chain activates and we pray, at least for a few seconds. He begins to pray the most incredible prayer. Many people today model their prayers after his. He doesn’t simply ask God to help those poor Jewish relatives at home with their problem. First he tells God how great he is – you are great and awesome; you keep your promises; you have hesed – faithful love. And then he does something even deeper; he begins to confess sins, the sins of his nation and INCLUDES HIMSELF in that confession. How many of you have prayed for our nation and wailed to God how wicked it is these days and how terrible things are getting? And how many of you have said, “And Lord, we Americans are all to blame. And especially we Christians who should know better are at fault. Our pride has kept us from doing the mission you called us to. On behalf of all of us, we are sorry.” What a prayer. Then he reminds God of some of his basic promises, which God loves to hear repeated back to him.
And then h e asks one specific thing in verse 11 at the very end: “and give success to your servant today (that’s Nehemiah), and grant him mercy (some of you have “favor” or compassion) in the sight of this man (his king).” That’s it. He doesn’t ask God to help those poor relatives of his back in Jerusalem. He doesn’t write a check and send it back. He doesn’t pray once and then get back to work. He has seen himself in his nation in the mirror and he totally lays himself out as a participant in a failed nation and asks God to grant him mercy before the king today. Why that? I think this is the reason. I think that with the mirror of honesty in front of his face, he asks this because he is willing and wants to be the answer to his own prayer. For whatever reason God is stirring something inside him and he has this sense that he - as wild a possibility as this will seem – can or will be the answer to his own prayer.
Do you remember last week when that was one of the “pictures” I left you with? I asked that as we pray we ask that we be allowed to be the answer to our own prayers. But that might mean we need to change the way we pray. In our high school class on Sundays which I teach with Trudy’s assistance, a couple of the guys mentioned that they had a new male student in school and he seemed pretty cool. They had kind of struck up a loose connection with him and they hoped to connect more. So as we shared prayer requests, as we do each week, they asked for prayer for him BUT ALSO that they could connect with him more. That was great! They were willing to be answers to their own prayers. How about you? Rather than simply praying for persons who are hurt or ill or in damaged relationships, ask God to somehow open a path so you can get involved and be his ambassador in their lives. Rather than complaining about what you don’t like about church, ask God, once you have glorified him in how great he is, confessed your sins as part of this church and reminded him of his great for the church, if you can be part of the solution to the problems you see. Fathers, we need to turn off our TV’s and click off the Internet in our evenings and confess to God the failure of the American Christian dad as a whole and ours as part of that and say, “God if you can still use me, I’m your man. Where can I begin?” Prayer isn’t just saying, “God, I can’t; can you?” but rather, “God you are awesome, and I’ve messed up; please allow me to be part of the solution and not just part of the problem.” That humble prayer needs to be our prayer in the days to come. We need to stop pointing fingers at whatever it is that makes us unhappy and ask God if we can cooperate with his plan.
Now here it gets even more interesting in chapter 2. The next piece of our spiritual health assessment and action is this: WAITING AND PLANNING. Look at verse 1 of chapter 2, the first few words: “in the month of Nisan, in the 20th year of Artaxerxes…” That means nothing to you; their calendar was different than ours. From the end of chapter 1 to the first verse of chapter 2, do you know how much time has gone by? Four months. It has been 4 months since the word came that broke Nehemiah’s heart and he began to pray that God allow him to be the answer to his own prayer. But here’s the incredible thing. Nehemiah didn’t just get up each morning, have his devotions and pray, “Lord, let me be the answer to my own prayer,” and go off to work. No, he was doing something else. As he waited and prayed and each day God granted him mercy before the king, he was also formulating a plan. So day after day he prays and two weeks go by and four, and then eight – he’s still doing his job, but he’s doing something else. After four months, something happens. Take a look at what verse one and following say: 1 In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. 2 And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. 3 I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Now understand this – his life is on the line as well as his job. If you look nervous the king is nervous. Nehemiah is terrified and begins to speak. “I have reason to be sad when my homeland and its capitol lie in ruin.” He could have said, “It’s your fault! 13 years ago they tried to rebuild the temple and the walls and they were doing fine until some neighbors of ours told you we’d rise up and be your enemies and you stopped it! It was your fault!” What kind of reaction would that get him? He’s dead! But here’s what he does – he tells the truth with respect and without blame. “My city and its walls are in ruin and my heart is burdened with this reality.” He simply says the truth without attacking the man.
What a great lesson for us. We get passionate about what we do and what we are involved in. That’s just fine. But when you talk to others who have different vantage points, how do you talk to them? At any rate, the king asks a profound question in verse 4: “What are you requesting?” Here is the moment of truth. If Nehemiah has just been praying for his family back home, “Lord, help them today,” then he has nothing to say. But he has been praying, waiting and planning. And inverse 5-8, he lays out his plan he has been working on for the past 4 months. It is very specific. #1 – I want to go home and rebuild the city. Question– “How long will you be gone?” We don’t know what he said, but he answered very specifically. What we know is that he was gone for 12 YEARS, whether he returned during that time or just 12 full years we do not know. But he answered. But he wasn’t done. #2 – May I have letters of permission to pass through some territories on the way home that won’t like my plan? Done. #3 – Would you write a letter to Asaph, keeper of the forest, to give us wood for the beams of the city gates we’ll rebuild and wood for the gates and for the temple and for my house? Done. Why? Do NOT miss this. Look at verse 8 at the very end: “And the king granted me what I asked, FOR THE GOOD HAND OF MY GOD WAS UPON ME.” That’s the key. When God has a willing servant willing to wait, to plan and to be dependent not only on what God can do but waiting for WHEN he wants to do it, then God does what only God can do.
How many of us have wanted to be healthy spiritually but never had the discipline and patience to both wait and plan for what and when God says, “Go”? How many of us have begged God to allow us to be the answers to our own prayers and then began to plan for the day when God might actually allow us to be that answer? How many of you have been waiting five or 10 or even 20 years for God to explode the work that he wants to do in and through this church and as you prayed you were laying out plans for what that might look like when he finally said, “GO?” And how many times have we prayed to a God like the apostle Paul did in his letter to the Ephesians: 20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)
Now we’re going to stop there for the bible story today and essentially we have just laid the groundwork for the action that lies ahead. So far we have seen awareness, prayer and then waiting and planning. What happens? When do we actually get to do something ? That’s coming – soon. But this is a great place to stop so we can think about what we will do with what we have so far.
We want to be healthy, right? We want for this church to be healthy in how we relate to each other and how we impact our community and world, right? So what would these first three things look like if we actually put them into action? What would this look like if we went to God in prayer saying, “I can’t do this, but I sure would like to be part of your answer. Can you help me so that I can work with you?”
So let’s consider these first three things and get a little more specific. First “awareness.” Let’s say awareness of my own spiritual health and that of my church. When was the last time we looked into the mirror spiritually to really see what is there? You say, “What mirror would that be?” That mirror is God’s word, the Bible. If you are ready to see the condition of your heart and that of this church, then this is where you will look. Here are some suggestions of places to look to see “under the hood” of your life and that of this church. Begin with this request of God in Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV) 23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! 24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! You are essentially giving God permission to show you and me what we are. If you are serious about giving God permission to do this, he will show you.
Second was prayer. We somehow have to get past the notion that prayer is just something we have to do before we eat or something we do when someone ends up in the hospital. Prayer is approaching the God who created the universe and keeps it going, who creates life at the sub-atomic level with detail so small that the largest electron microscopes can still only see part of it. Prayer is thanking him and praising him for all that he has done, is doing and yet will do, even when we do not understand it or even agree with it. Prayer is honestly admitting that we sin and telling him we accept responsibility for it as an individual, a church and as a nation. If you need help in learning how to pray, then you need look no further than your Bibles. The psalm I referred to a moment ago is a great psalm that can be made into a personal prayer – Psalm 139. It is full of amazement for who God is; it admits hostile feelings for our enemies, it is a mirror for reflection on who we really are. For confession, I have found no better psalm than Psalm 51, David’s song and prayer of confession after he was caught regarding his affair with Bathsheba. Men, any inappropriate thoughts? Psalm 51 is our prayer. Kids, any angry outbursts or bad actions? Psalm 51 is your prayer. Women, are there longings in your heart that you have found alternatives to have met than God allows? Psalm 51? Pride? Selfishness? Greedy? Envy? Lust? Stealing? Hatred? Psalm 51 is our prayer as individuals and as a church.
Finally, waiting and planning. What if God actually DID answer your prayer but he wanted you as an individual and us as a church to be the answer to our prayers? What would we have to plan as we pray and wait? I did a project recently for one of my classes that had me talking to people in our community. I asked them what needs they saw that need attention ASAP. It was fascinating to listen to people from as high as the mayor to businessmen to gas station attendants. Here are some things I heard – child care, after-school child care, training for single moms, jobs and job skills training. And I only scratched the surface. And then I asked them what they knew about our church. Do you know what the majority answer was? We don’t know anything about your church! One person, when I explained where we were said, “Oh yeah! I really like your sign! You have interesting things on your sign!” Now this was not a scientific survey by any means, but as a whole, the community doesn’t know we exist. What would a church look like whose mission was to make followers of Jesus Christ but did what Jesus did when Jesus said at the beginning of his ministry, Luke 4:18-19 (CEV) 18 “The Lord’s Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners, to give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers, 19 and to say, ‘This is the year the Lord has chosen.’ ” Now why not just pray and plan how that might look if we were to take opportunities in our communities as PART of our mission to live out what we say we believe as children, youth, adults – young and old, singles, married, widows, divorced – God can use each of us together to carry out his mission.
Next Sunday when we pick up with Nehemiah’s story, we’ll see what action all of this led to. But let’s not wait till next Sunday to get started will we? Get out those “mirrors,” God’s word, begin to pray for things that we can be the answers to our own prayers. Begin to think and plan as you wait and pray and ask God how he might increase the “ footprint” of Bethel and Bethany in the communities in which we live. Let’s pray.
“What Health Looks Like: Assessment and Action – Pt. 1”
Nehemiah 1:1-2:8 Pastor Bruce Dick - BEFC
Pt. 4 of 8 on Spiritual Health February 10, 2008
o Healthy Communication…
o Balance – “full of grace and truth”…
ü Today: Assessment and Action…
o Assessment without action is ________________.
o Action without assessment is ___________.
o God-__________ assessment with Gospel-________________ action is not only healthy, it is ____________ and _______________.
ü Nehemiah’s Assessment and Action…
o It begins with A___________________ (Neh. 1:1-4)
§ Its effect…
o It continues with P______________ (Neh. 1:5-9)
§ Prayer: Prayer isn’t just saying, “God, I can’t; can you?” but rather, “God you are _____________, and I’ve messed up; please allow me to be part of the ___________and not just part of the _______________.”
o It involves W____________ and P_______________ (Neh. 2:1-8)
§ Four months later… (vv. 1-8a)
§ Why it worked… (v. 8b)
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21
ü Putting it into Action:
o Assessment tools – the “Mirror”
§ Psalm 139:23-24…
§ Worship: Psalm 139…
§ Confession: Psalm 51…
o Planning while we wait…