The Nehemiah Project
(Blog entry by Scott Underwood)
My last blog ended with a simple question, “So how do we go after lost or hurt sheep?” I think the simple answer is to make every effort. So you don’t think I am being overly simplistic, let’s look to scripture to confirm my approach.
- Romans 14:19 – “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
- Ephesians 4:3 – “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
- 2 Peter 1: 5, 7 – “ . . . make every effort to add to your faith goodness . . . and to mutual affection, love.”.
- Hebrews 12:14 – “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy . . .”
- 2 Peter 3:14 – “ . . . make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him.”
- 1 Thessalonians 2: 17 – “ . . . out of our intense longing we made every effort to see you.”
So what does the “every” in “every effort” mean? In my flesh, I am afraid it is similar to what the “seventy times seven” means in Matthew 18: 21-22, in relation to forgiveness. In other words, an immeasurable or innumerable number of times. I would much prefer the scripture to read “make an effort” or “make some effort”, but that’s not what it says. It says to make every effort, and it says it over and over enough times that it begins to sink in through my selfishness and self-preservation.
“What if they are at fault?”, I plead, in an attempt at self-justification.
I Corinthians 6: 7-8 gives an answer that stabs the very heart of my pride. “ . . . Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.” Now I know that the aforementioned scripture was written pertaining to lawsuits among believers, but aren’t lawsuits just the end result of two people not making every mutual effort to keep the unity of the Spirit? And if we are honest, don’t many of us have disputes with another believer that we have already taken to the court of our mind and have judged the other party guilty?
Jesus takes our proactive role in reconciling very seriously, as we see in Matthew 5: 23-24. “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them: then come and offer your gift.” If we think of our gifts as tithes, worship and other acts of service, Jesus tells us to first go to someone who has something against us and reconcile with them, then we can proceed. Something against us! We have to go to them? Scandalous. And true. How many Sundays have we wasted bringing gifts to the worship service knowing that we are not at peace with our brothers and sisters? The Lord delights in obedience over sacrifice, and we are blessed (and He is glorified) when we obey.
“What if they don’t want to come back or be reconciled?”, I say, hoping that will let me off the hook.
There are times when the lost sheep don’t want to cooperate. They are obstinate and fight, run farther away, or simply refuse to return home. What then? Let’s look at the Prodigal Father for our example –
“But while [the prodigal son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)
What lessons can we learn from the father? At least three . . .
- He was scanning the horizon, watching for the son in eager anticipation of his return. He had not closed off his heart to the possibility of reconciliation. In fact, he was hopeful that it would happen and waited for the opportunity to initiate it.
- When he saw his son, the father ran. The father made the first move when he saw an opening to do so. I read once that it was undignified in the culture of the day* for the father to run, but he ran anyway to meet his son. Are you willing to be undignified to be reconciled with people in your life?
- He hugged first and didn’t ask any questions. What had torn them apart was far less important than the fact that they were back together. Grace does that, when we let it.
So how do we move forward? My final encouragement for us is found in Colossians 3: 12-17.
Therefore, as Godʼs chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
*Check out this blog post to read more about the Running Father – http://proverbs31.org/devotions/devo/the-story-of-the-running-father
To read more about the Nehemiah Project, click HERE.
On October 16th Pastor Jerry Ingalls will be preaching on Nehemiah 5:1-13 “Care for the Hurting!”