Just five miles south of Jerusalem. Located in the Judean hills, lies a small town. At the time of Jesus’ birth, no more than 1,000 people called Bethlehem home. A place where shepherds watched their flocks and farmers tended their fields. Bethlehem was a humble city. One prophet called it a small village among all the people of Judah. (Micah 5:2b) Whether he meant to or not, the Episcopal Priest and poet cemented the phrase we sing every Christmas season, “O little town of Bethlehem.”
By today’s standards Bethlehem continues to remain small, not exceeding a population of 30,000. But its size means nothing compared to what happened there. Within the borders of this sleepy village God chose to do something great. Something that would change the world. This small village, this little town of Bethlehem, became the birthplace of the Son of God, the Savior of the world.
It’s not the things we do that make us great. It’s not the amount of money we make, the horses within our cars’ engines, the number of rooms in our houses, or how many friends we boast on our Facebook page. We can write books, sonnets, plays, and even a few songs that make the young girls cry. And while these can bring us fame and recognition, they can’t make us great.
In a world that values SUVs, big screen TVs and supersized meals, you may feel irrelevant, insignificant, even overlooked. But remember Bethlehem, a modest city tucked away in the hills of the Judean countryside. A place that would otherwise be unknown, not because anything the city did, but because of what God chose to do there. You too, can find value and significance. Because true greatness doesn’t come in the things we ourselves can do. I comes in allowing God to do for you what he did to Bethlehem; to place his Spirit within you, and have that greatness shine through.
Something to think about has you head into another week.
When I was a teenager Twisted Sister came out with the song, “We’re not Gonna Take It.” The video started off with an overly aggressive father yelling at his son, "What do you want to do with your life?” The boy’s answer, “I wanna rock!”
It was a just a video but that line haunted me… “What do you want to do with your life?” Well? Do you know?
In the Bible we read about a man named Nehemiah who knew exactly how to answer that question. He discovered that the wall around the city of Jerusalem was in disrepair. The moment he discovered that, he knew what he wanted to do with his life. He was going to lead the charge to rebuild the wall.
Today I want to share the first of four steps to discovering the plan that God has for you.
STEP ONE: BE PASSIONATELY PASSIONATE
When Nehemiah learned that the wall around Jerusalem needed repair he had a passionate response. He immediately sat down and wept. Then he mourned, fasted and prayed for weeks. People have strong reactions to the things they are passionate about.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU ARE PASSIONATE ABOUT?
You constantly think about it.
When you are passionate about something it is always on your mind. Whether it’s a car you want to buy, a job you hope to get or that girl you want to date.
You will sacrifice comfort
Nehemiah gave up the comforts of his lifestyle of serving a king to go and rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. Missionaries give up hot showers. People in the military sacrifice time with their families. Public school teachers give up higher pay and more respect they could earn in the private sector to pursue their passion of teaching.
You will give your money
Everyone says that money is tight. And for most of us it is. And yet, we seem to have most of those things we desire. Jesus said in Matthew, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21. You want to know where your heart is? Look at your bank statement and see where your money is going.
You will give your time
Money may be valuable. But time seems to be the most prized possession we have. As a pastor, I find it easier to get people to donate money over donating their time.
Nehemiah could have just written a check and asked someone else to build the wall. He could have done fundraisers, spaghetti dinners and written articles on the tax benefits of making donations. But until someone took the time to pick up the stones and start stacking them together, there wasn’t going to be a wall.
Same goes for us. Want an education? You can save up all the money it takes to go to the best college in the world and earn a degree. You can save enough money to get two degrees. But until you invest the time to study and take the tests, you’re not going to get that diploma. An education takes more than money, it takes time.
You are self motivated
Nobody told Nehemiah he needed to rebuild the wall. He just did it. Nobody needs to remind you to do the things you love. Those things come naturally. You just do them.
You know what you’re passionate about. You think about it. You sacrifice for it. You give your money for it. And no one needs to tell you to do it. So what in your life fits all those criteria? Think about it. Because the answer to that, may lead you to the plan God has for you!
A few years ago I went to the Catalyst conference in Atlanta. It was awesome. Thousands of people gathered together to worship God and hear from some of the best that the Christian world has to offer. I listened to messages from the likes of Andy Stanley and Dave Ramsey. I took copious notes and sang along with everyone to fabulous music. I loved it.
While I was there I had a cup of coffee from the folks at Land of a Thousand Hills. I came home inspired and reinvigorated to do even more for my congregation. I also came home with information on Land of a Thousand Hills to present to my board of Deacons who serve coffee every Sunday after our single serving of worship. (Silly me, I made a coffee reference.) My thought was serving coffee in and of itself could be an outreach. Plus it’s a darn good cup of joe.
I came home and brought my excitement with me. I proudly presented Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University to my board of elders and the new coffee to my deacons.
Financial Peace went pretty well. It was hard at first. Some people didn’t think they needed to get out of debt. One person told me paying $100 to get out of debt didn’t seem like a sound financial investment. I think this is the same person who won’t pay for a lottery ticket unless the pot is up to $30 million because anything less just isn’t worth his buck. But I pushed forward. Several people attended and it was, in my opinion, a success. Every person or couple who attended said their financial standing improved. One couple reported at the end of the course that their marriage was stronger as a result of attending. Praise God.
Meanwhile, the deacons worried about the new brand of coffee. It was more expensive than what they were currently serving. We were serving a “cost effective” brand of coffee. (By cost effective I mean cheap and bad tasting.) I encouraged them to trust God; to risk spending an extra $30 one month and see what happens. After discussing the coffee they gave it a shot. Oh, did I mention, the discussion lasted for about a year and a half? By the time we served our first cup of LOTH coffee, Catalyst had already met again and was gearing up for the next conference. We served the coffee and the money came in. We asked the members of the church to give to the coffee mission and about $300 came in. Then another gift of $400 came in for a grand total of $700 in coffee money! Still, there was concern that it wouldn’t work. sigh.
These two ministries have in many ways been successful and I continue to encourage. But, I have to admit, it wore me down.
When I go to a place like Catalyst, I have to confess that I’m afraid of feeling motivated. Because I know when I get back my new found inspiration will be challenged. Why do we have to do this? We’ve never done this before. You think we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t need to do this. Why do you want new people in the church? You want to get rid of us. You don’t like what we’re doing. sigh.
When I go to a place like Catalyst I feel like I’m looking at other people who won the ministry lottery. They’re successful. They have big churches and big ministries. People come from all over to hear them. The more I go to seminars like this, the more I feel disillusioned about my role in the church.
I didn’t go to Catalyst in Atlanta this year because I did not want to come home and place my inspiration on a shelf. I know that is wrong. I know that is sad. I know being “big” does not mean being successful and God has done great things where I’m at. And I would like to go back. But I couldn’t go this year.
When I was a kid I remember a poster in the fellowship hall at my church. It had a number of objects on it, all identical in shape and all the same color. Except one. One object was a different color. The caption on the bottom of the poster read, “I don’t’ want to change the world, I want to change the world for one person.”
Sometimes I think we pastors feel like we are the only ones that are being changed. Then again I am reminded of that couple who said their marriage was better as a result of attending the FPU class that I stood for. I felt as much a pastor in that moment than I do when I perform a baptism or a wedding. And if I am doing my math correctly, that is two people.
And, now that I think about it, I did stumble across FPU at Catalyst. And we are still serving that good coffee. I’ll have to clear my calendar for Catalyst next year.
Two girls college teams are playing softball against each other; Central Washington and Western Oregon. They are competing for the conference championship. So what do you do when a player for the other team injures herself? That was the dilemma these two teams faced.
Sarah Tucholski of Western Oregon hit her first home run of her career. In her excitement, she missed touching first base so she turned to go back. But her leg didn’t. She tore her acl. She crawled back and hugged that first base. Covering the distance all the way to home didn’t seem a possibility. If a teammate substituted, the hit over the fence would count as a two run single. If her teammates helped her she would have been called out. Great news for the other team.
But the girls of Central Washington were interested in more than just winning. They were focused on playing with integrity. Mallory Holtman from Central asked the umpire if she and another teammate, Liz Wallace, could carry her. The umpire said yes. So three girls rounded the bases together; Sarah, who hit the home run, and two of her opponents, Mallory and Liz, who lifted Sarah in their arms. Together they walked the diamond, stopping at the right time so Sarah could touch her left foot to each base.
Sarah hit her first home run and, because her opponents carried her, she was able to make it all the way around the bases.
Life is more about winning. It’s about playing the game with integrity. It’s about doing what is right even though it may cost you. Central lost the game by 2 runs. Who knows, if they hadn’t carried Sarah, they may have won the game. Call me mad, but losing this way is far better than winning by using the rules as an excuse to keep from doing the right thing. I don’t think the girls from either school would have wanted it any other way.
If you watched the Mets - Rockies game the other day you saw that it was rained out for a while. At one point while the rain was coming down, the grounds crew ran out to cover the field. If you watch close, you’ll see one of the men stumbles. As a result, he himself becomes covered by the tarp. Soon you see a small lump in the tarp working its way toward the light.
Have you ever stumbled while doing something? Perhaps you’ve missed paying a bill. Maybe you said something you regret to someone. Or you blew a project at work or school. When that happens it seems as if you’ve stumbled and before you can get up, more seems to pile up keeping you down. What do you do?
Life isn’t always about running fast. It’s not always about feeling good. Sometimes the weight of the world bears down on us. There’s nothing wrong with crawling. Crawling covers the distance. Crawling takes integrity, it takes courage. Crawling even gets you to the finish line.
Call me mad, but I would rather crawl across the finish line than stop moving all together and not finish the race. It may not seem glamorous, but it covers the distance. Click here for the video