God expects his tasks to take top priority


By Woody Woodrick

May 4
The Temple Rebuilt
Purpose: To affirm the importance of setting appropriate priorities.
Bible Lesson: Haggai 1:1-4, 7-10, 12-15
Key Verse: "Go up to the hills and bring wood and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored, says the Lord." -- Haggai 1:8

As I write, the metro-Jackson area and other parts of Central Mississippi are starting to get back on their feet after storms tore through the area April 4. Most roads are passable now, but electric power remains off for many folks.

Entergy crews have been working around the clock to restore power, but some folks have been impatient. It reached the point that state troopers were assigned to go out with work crews. The troopers acted as a buffer between frustrated, heart-sick and angry customers who wanted their electricity back.

Power companies, however, have learned they must set priorities when dealing with mass outages. Hospitals and emergency facilities must have power restored first. Certain types of power lines must be repaired next so they can carry electricity to individual homes. As frustrating as it may be, homes are farther down the list than any of us would like. Yet, when we think about it, we understand that priorities must be set.

When the Jews returned from exile, they set about rebuilding their lives. Unfortunately, they weren't too concerned with the state of the temple. They set about rebuilding their own homes and lives before rebuilding the temple to God. They struggled to re-establish themselves. They finally turned their attention to rebuilding the temple, and God showed them favor.

Why was the temple so important to Haggai, but few others?

Have you ever failed to accomplish tasks for God because of personal distractions?

Have you allowed the opinion of others to prevent you doing what God wants you to do?

How can God direct us in setting priorities?


May 11
Rebuilding the Wall
Purpose: To validate the importance of visionary leaders who are committed to the kingdom of God.
Bible Lesson: Nehemiah 2:1-8, 11, 17-18
Key Verse: "I told them that the hand of my God had been gracious upon me, and also the words that the king had spoken to me. Then they said, ‘Let us start building.' So they committed themselves to their common good." -- Nehemiah 2:18 

Sports provide us with some great life lessons and examples. One that I think appropriate for this lesson is the movie Hoosiers. It tells the story of a hard-luck basketball coach coming to a small high school in Indiana in the 1950s. He discovers talented players but only a few, and those players woefully lacking in fundamentals.

As the coach began rebuilding his team, he was derided by the townspeople. He stuck to his guns, to the point of even finishing a game with only four players to punish a player who was disobedient.

Slowly he won over the players and even more slowly he won over the town. Eventually, the school won the state championship. The movie is based on a true story; the only time in Indiana history a small school won the title.

Coach Norman Dale had a vision for his team. He was committed to that vision and knew how to execute the plan. He never let naysayers sway his commitment, even when his job was threatened.

In our lesson, the first thing Nehemiah does when confronted with the condition of the wall around Jerusalem is pray. He then began making plans for rebuilding the wall. I think it's noteworthy that as he sought and waited for God's guidance, he didn't sit still. He worked on a plan, and God eventually provide him the opportunity to carry it out.

What do we usually do when facing a difficult situation?

Groups of people often start out strong, but waver as the task continues. However, a good leader guides them through and completes the task. Can you think of a leader who has held a wavering group together to accomplish the task?

Where do Christians get their vision?

Is there a relationship between Nehemiah giving credit to God and his success?


May 18
Up Against the Wall
Purpose: To emphasize that being faithful to God's covenant requires persistence and commitment.
Bible Lesson: Nehemiah 4:1-3, 7-9, 13-15
Key Verse: "So we rebuilt the wall, and the wall was joined together to half its height; for the people had a mind to work."  -- Nehemiah 4:6

Public ridicule and sarcasm are powerful tools. Few people can continue working hard, even for God, when those around us are making fun. It hurts.

Nehemiah was a great leader. He knew that the ridicule was turning to true anger as the project to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem continued. He again showed faith and practicality.

First, he prayed and reminded his workers for whom they were working. Then he posted guards at the work site. He reminded the guards that they were doing work for God, but also protecting their families. It was just the right thing to say.

How often do we encounter someone trying to discourage us from doing God's work? How does that discouragement manifest itself?

Sometimes when doing what God calls us to do, the task seems too great. We accomplish a certain amount, but the remaining work is more than we think we can handle. How do we respond? Have you ever stopped short of God's goal?

How can work together as a church to do what God has called us to do?

Are you a doer?


May 25
Call to Renew the Covenant
Purpose: To express the joy of covenant renewal.
Bible Lesson: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 13-14, 17-18
Key Verse: "He (Ezra) read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law." -- Nehemiah 8:3 

Why are our churches shrinking? Why has church membership steadily declined?

Our lesson tells us about the Jewish people relearning the Law of Moses and renewing their spiritual foundation.

As Ezra read the law, many were convicted. Yet, the leaders told them not to mourn for the day was a holiday, a day for celebration. This concept immediately brings to mind the great day when we come face-to-face with God.

I believe each saint is welcomed into heaven with a celebration; that God and the angels and those who've gone before us celebrate our arrival.

We might initially feel shame for our turning from God and failure to be his church, but we're told no, don't fret, today is a day to celebrate.

Back to the original question. Most of the research points to sociological reasons for the decline in church membership. My personal observation is that churches that grow -- or at least hold their own -- are those that stay true to their calling. They are committed to loving and serving God by loving and serving their communities. Not all are the same in how the go about doing God's work.

I think of one United Methodist church in inner-city Jackson that I consider very successful. Its members, as a whole, would probably be more politically and theologically liberal than another successful church closer to the suburbs. Yet, based on what I've heard from both pastors, they preach the Gospel. They are led by people of vision who inspire their congregations to stay true to their callings.

What is God calling your church to do? What happens at your church when it follows God's lead and accomplishes what he wants? What about when you don't?

We all need times of spiritual renewal. Describe one of your times of renewal.