At our recent First Friday monthly gathering, we took a look at a lesson that’s valuable to review on a pretty regular basis; the important and positive role that ACCOUNTABILITY plays in our Christian walk. Not judgmental condemnation; but the gift our heavenly Father provides of having His Holy Spirit and those people in our lives who come alongside us, encourage us, occasionally gently remind us and hold us accountable to the things we ought to be saying, thinking, and doing (…and the things we should not be saying, doing and thinking) as believers and followers of Jesus.
As believers, it’s important to not just talk the talk; but to walk the walk in every area of life; especially in living out our faith.
This particular study of accountability takes place in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah, where Israel learns the importance of living out their faith. Two key characters, Nehemiah and Ezra reconstitute the Spiritual Code of the Jewish people as they have come back to their homeland. They’ve begun to rebuild the walls to their city but, in the process, have allowed the integrity of their own walk with God to suffer. Nehemiah, in particular, has taken charge of the “renewal project” and endeavors to help the Israelites actually become accountable for their conduct.
Nehemiah helps to show them (and us) that this whole business of walking with the Lord and in His Holy Spirit is not some general ideology but a specific walk with specific and intentional conduct.
As some of you know, before being commissioned as Pastor of our Single Adult Ministries here at North Coast, I was employed in the Medical Device Business. And before that, in college, I studied and was granted a degree in Business Administration with a double major in Management and Marketing.
In the world of Marketing, when a business is seeking to introduce and promote a new product, one of the key questions that is asked about the product is, “What is this product’s ‘differential advantage.’” In other words, “What makes this product different or stand out from similar products from our competitors?” Or, “What does our product have that our competitor’s product doesn’t have that will give us a sales advantage?”
The success or the failure of a particular product in the marketplace is often the result of an organization’s adherence (or lack thereof) to the principle of differential advantage.
Marketing managers have long understood and agreed that the maintenance of a strong differential advantage is the most effective means for promoting a product.
And so, this principle in marketing of the importance of having a differential advantage can serve as a very valuable illustration of one of the principles God teaches us in His Word.
You’ve maybe heard in Scripture of the Jews being referred to as God’s chosen people. The Jews were, if you will, God’s marketing principle of differential advantage among all of creation. And they had and still have a covenant with God.
In Old Testament times, when they did what God told them to do, when they followed His plan, they were successful. They were successful in war; they were successful in commerce; they were successful as families and as a Nation. God had laid down the standards, the differential advantage that He wanted them to know and follow. These standards made them different from everybody else.
They were different from all of the nations and cultures around them. They were even considered unpopular and maybe even a little bit strange in comparison.
But as long as they looked to and understood that God was their source of strength; as long as they followed His instruction and leadership and were obedient to what He asked them to do, they were successful. They maintained their differential advantage and were number one in the world among all of His creations in terms of influence for the Lord.
About midway through the book, however (chapters 8-10) we learn that, as they returned from captivity in Babylonia to Jerusalem and began to try and rebuild the walls around their city, Nehemiah helped them to realize that they’d slipped. Today we might call it backsliding. They’d lost their differential advantage as God’s people in that, slowly but surely through the generations, they’d began to live like the rest of the world. They’d begun living outside of obedience to God’s direction and their ancestor’s covenant with Him. And the wall around Jerusalem and the temple there remained largely in rubble.
So, the second half of the book of Nehemiah is all about recovering the differential advantage that God gave the Israelites in the first place. And beginning in the 8th chapter of Nehemiah we begin to learn that there were a number of ways that the Israelites could begin to recover their unique position among God’s creation:
- Getting back to the book
- Getting serious about obedience
- Getting concerned about sin
- Getting caught up in Worship
- Becoming more accountable for their conduct
And by the time we get to the end of Chapter 9, we find that the people were so serious about getting back to being the people God had asked them to be, that they decided to, again make or renew their covenant with Him.
Chapter 9, beginning at verse 33 of the book of Nehemiah, we read:
33 In all that has happened to us, you have remained righteous; you have acted faithfully, while we acted wickedly. 34 Our kings, our leaders, our priests and our ancestors did not follow your law; they did not pay attention to your commands or the statutes you warned them to keep. 35 Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.
36 “But see, we are slaves today, slaves in the land you gave our ancestors so they could eat its fruit and the other good things it produces. 37 Because of our sins, its abundant harvest goes to the kings you have placed over us. They rule over our bodies and our cattle as they please. We are in great distress.
The Agreement of the People
38 “In view of all this, we are making a binding agreement, putting it in writing, and our leaders, our Levites, and our priests are affixing their seals to it.”
It’s a great story that points to some phenomenal principles and sets up all hope for a triumphant outcome. But have you ever been to a movie or read a book that just finishes, I don’t know, somehow different than you would have liked or at least expected?
Some of you who’ve read and maybe know the Israelites story well, recognize that in spite of this generation’s having seen the errors of the ways of their ancestors; even though they seemed extremely committed to doing better such that they wrote a new covenant, signed it and sealed it…sadly, they, too eventually broke each of these vows.
The stories of the Israelites seem to be a constant cycle of promises made, then broken. Then God redeems His people and the cycle begins all over again.
Really, quite similar to the way so many of us live today but with one, amazing difference. It’s no longer about our performance (or failure).
God knows. Oh, He knows now as He did then that mankind would continuously break our promises to Him. It’s the risk He took when He created us with free will.
But He also very much knows and wants a relationship with every person He ever created; and for us to have relationship with one another. It’s why He created us with a heart and a mind and a soul with which to connect.
And when He must have decided that the time had come; that the time was right, here’s the difference; He emerged from Heaven and came to us in the form of a man. A man, Jesus, who would grow up among others who are like us, teaches and became an example to those of us who will listen. A Christ who would ultimately suffer a violent torture and death on our behalf and in our place as the rightful punishment for all of the ways in which we would be disobedient and break our promises.
He would ultimately conquer death through His resurrection so that, each of us who believe in and claim Him as our Savior, will have eternal life with Him, forever, in the Heavenly realms.
God has remained ever faithful to his promises. I believe that He recognizes our propensity to break ours and to sin. Yet that He has chosen, out of His undying love for us, to take all of that upon Himself in order that He might develop and sustain relationship with all of His creation.
What He’s asked of us in return; really all that He’s asked is that we keep Him in first position in our Hearts, Minds and Souls; that we Worship no other god’s (little g) before Him. And that we go out into all the world and share the Good News of His Son, Jesus, The Christ.
We are, as has been said, His plan “A.” And He has no “plan B.”
In my office, on one of the shelves of my bookcase, is a mug, (not a stein, although that might be just as appreciated on certain days, but a coffee mug) and it’s pretty much right at sight level when I’m standing, so it’s hard for me to miss.
It was given to me when I was commissioned, by my predecessor, Pastor Jim. He shared with me that it was given to him by one of his predecessors, Pastor Mike Yearly.
On one side of it, there’s a logo that looks like this:
And on the other side, it says, “Single Purpose, The Company of the Committed,” and it lists seven things that our Single Adult Ministry members during those years made a covenant to:
- Pleasing Christ
- Sexual Purity
- Using Your Gifts
- Guarding the Group
- “Off-The-Top” Giving
- Regular Prayer Support and
- Responding to Leadership
I wonder how many of us today smile when we see this.
I wonder how many of us would say these are still the right 7.
I wonder if any look at it and maybe even kind of snicker, as if to say, “oh, man, that’s so out of touch or outdated.”
I hope not, but I wonder.
And I wonder how far some of us may have drifted, me included, from the purpose that was set forth for our ministry; from the promises that were committed before the Lord.
I also would love to have been able to show you something else that I had found. It was a 2’ x 3’ poster board that had the signatures of everyone from that time in our Singles’ Ministry who committed themselves to these 7 promises. Regrettably, it’s somehow now gone missing, but imagine that for a minute with me if you will.
I don’t know that I’ve yet built up the kind of trust and relationship that it might take for me to be able to ask you to sign with me a specific covenant like that for God – perhaps we’ll leave that for another time.
But here, as I close, I’m going to ask you to consider doing something similar. I’d just really like to get a sense of where we currently are as a community.
Psychologists the world over will tell us that we’ll be at our best and have a way better chance of reaching our goals or keeping our promises when we first commit ourselves to be accountable.
Allowing a trusted and trustworthy friend; someone with a proven track record of living wisdom and providing wise counsel to come alongside and let us know when we’ve slipped.
A willingness to place our complete trust in God and receive His gentle hand of correction.
This is not a prescription – not intended to be some type of magic list that if we’ll check all the boxes, we’ll live a perfect life; or even that we’ll be guaranteed a “blessed” life; but a description of what it really looks like to be in an unconditional, loving relationship with the Creator of the Universe.
When we know, respect and do our best to follow God’s commands and do what He says in His Word then, even if we mess up, and we will; owning up and claiming Jesus as our savior; then we grow ever stronger in keeping in step with the Holy Spirit.
It was true in Nehemiah’s time as it is today; when we do what God tells us to do and follow His plan, we generally experience success – even when it comes in a form different than we expect.
Intentionally working at maintaining our commitments and doing things like reading His Word, not just for knowledge but for our marching orders – what it is that He is asking us to do – every day. Surrounding and committing ourselves in our relationships only with others who are also interested in and willing to be held accountable to His standards. Committing to keeping His Day Holy and Wholly (with an H and a W). Giving back a portion of what He already owns to His people where needed and to the church for its ongoing service to His Glory.
We won’t always do it perfectly – especially in those areas that represent a paradigm shift.
Whatever is exercised, gets stronger.
At our First Friday gathering, the opportunity was provided for those who were moved in this way to write the word “accountable” at the bottom of the prayer/connection cards that we ask people to fill out and drop in the offering basket and many who were in attendance did.
Someone suggested that with the subscription base of our Single’s newsletter now up over 1,200, perhaps we should offer the same opportunity to our online participants.
It would be interesting to learn…
Alright, as you read this then, if you are so moved, I humbly ask that you take a moment in silent prayer, meditation, worship and personal discussion with God about this and consider replying to this e-mail with just one word; “ACCOUNTABLE.”
If you’re not comfortable replying in this way but you still feel as though this describes your current posture, maybe write it down on a piece of paper or note card and place it somewhere where you’ll see it on a regular basis. Consider praying about what it would mean to be more accountable to God’s leading in your daily life.
Now, please don’t do it just because I’ve asked you to. Only write the word “ACCOUNTABLE” on that card/paper or reply with it to this e-mail if you truly want to commit to living this way before God and asking Him to provide others to come alongside in your walk with Him.
For those who walk through this together as a community, I genuinely believe this relatively simple exercise as a starting point is going to make us stronger in our walk in the Lord and ever more aware of His abundant grace and mercy in each of our lives.
Praying and right here with you,