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Pull the Cord—It Will Come Back to You

‬It’s my desire to share this message of hope and encouragement so that others may benefit from what I believe that God has shared with me‭. ‬

I heard a story some years ago about a pastor that was out walking in the community‭. ‬He came across three boys‭. ‬One of the boys‭ ‬asked the pastor if he was interested in purchasing a lawnmower‭, ‬and they showed him a little push mower that they had for sale‭.‬‭ ‬They explained that they needed money to purchase equipment that they needed to play baseball over the summer‭. ‬The pastor thought that he might start a relationship with these boys and win them to the Lord if he helped them out by purchasing the mower‭, ‬so he handed over the cash‭. ‬

He then took the mower and began to try to crank it‭. ‬He pulled on the cord and pulled on the cord to no avail‭. ‬The pastor said to the oldest boy‭, ‬“I can’t get this mower to start‭. ‬Does it work‭?‬”‭ ‬The boy responded‭, ‬“It works‭, ‬but you’ve got to cuss at it to get it started‭.‬”‭ ‬

The pastor was taken aback‭! ‬“I’m a minister‭! ‬I can’t cuss‭! ‬I’ve been saved so long that I don’t even think that I remember how to cuss‭.‬”‭ ‬The boy said‭, ‬“Just keep pulling on that cord‭, ‬preacher‭. ‬It’ll come back to you‭.‬”‭ ‬

Trying to grow a church during Covid has been a lot like pulling that cord‭! ‬It’s been enough to nearly make a preacher cuss‭! ‬We’ve buried some of our members and watched many others drop out of church altogether‭. ‬Some congregations have been cut in half or‭ ‬worse‭. ‬Some of our churches have even closed‭. ‬It’s been tough‭! ‬Discouraging‭! ‬Heartbreaking‭! ‬It’s likely been the toughest two years of serving our churches that we’ve ever had‭. ‬

I imagine that many of you have struggled just as I have‭. ‬You’ve thought and prayed‭, ‬“Lord‭, ‬what can I do‭? ‬What should I do‭? ‬How can I lead us through this‭? ‬Out of this‭? ‬Where do we go as a congregation from here‭?‬”

Recently‭, ‬as I prayed this way‭,‬‭ ‬I felt God led me to Zechariah chapter 3‭ ‬and the Jewish people returning from exile tasked with rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem‭. ‬While a pandemic is undoubtedly very‭ ‬different than returning from exile‭, ‬and while rebuilding the Temple is not the same as revitalizing or growing a local church‭, ‬I do think that we can draw some parallels from this wonderful chapter of God’s Word‭. ‬So there’s a message here for us‭.

And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord‭, ‬and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him‭.‬ And the Lord said unto Satan‭, ‬The Lord rebuke thee‭, ‬O Satan‭; ‬even the Lord that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee‭: ‬is not this a‭ ‬brand plucked out of the fire‭?‬‭ ‬Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments‭, ‬and stood before the angel‭.‬‭ ‬And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him‭, ‬saying‭, ‬Take away the filthy garments from him‭. ‬And unto him he said‭, ‬Behold‭, ‬I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee‭, ‬and I will clothe thee with change of raiment‭.‬‭ ‬And I said‭, ‬Let them set a fair mitre upon his head‭. ‬So they set a fair mitre upon his head‭, ‬and clothed him with garments‭. ‬And‭ ‬the angel of the Lord stood by‭. ‬And the angel of the Lord protested unto Joshua‭, ‬saying‭, ‬Thus saith the Lord of hosts‭; ‬If thou wilt walk in my ways‭, ‬and if thou wilt keep my charge‭, ‬then thou shalt also judge my house‭, ‬and shalt also keep my courts‭, ‬and I will give thee places to walk among these that stand by‭. ‬Hear now‭, ‬O Joshua the high priest‭, ‬thou‭, ‬and thy fellows that sit before thee‭: ‬for they are men wondered at‭: ‬for‭, ‬behold‭, ‬I will bring forth my servant the Branch‭. ‬For behold the stone that I have laid before Joshua‭; ‬upon one stone shall be seven eyes‭: ‬behold‭, ‬I will engrave the graving thereof‭, ‬saith the Lord of hosts‭, ‬and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day‭. ‬In that day‭, ‬saith the Lord of hosts‭, ‬shall ye call every man his neighbour under the vine and under the fig tree‭ (‬Zechariah 3‭:‬1–10‭)‬.

Just as Joshua‭, ‬the High Priest‭, ‬the spiritual leader of the people‭, ‬led God’s people to rebuild the Temple‭, ‬I believe that we‭, ‬the spiritual leaders of local churches‭, ‬can lead God’s people to revitalize and build/grow these local churches‭. ‬Our churches can prosper and grow‭, ‬but we must overcome what Joshua‭ ‬overcame‭. ‬

Joshua had Satan opposing him‭. ‬In this vision from chapter 3‭, ‬Zechariah sees the spiritual warfare taking place‭. ‬We get a glimpse of the spiritual battle that’s going on behind the scenes‭. ‬There’s a play on the Hebrew word in its noun‭, ‬and verb forms here translated‭ ‬“Satan”‭ ‬and‭ ‬“oppose”‭ ‬that emphasizes that Satan is accusing Joshua‭, ‬opposing the High Priest‭, ‬the spiritual leader of God’s people‭. ‬

The context suggests that Satan‭, ‬the accuser‭, ‬is accusing Joshua of being unclean‭, ‬fifthly‭, ‬sinful‭, ‬flawed‭, ‬and far from the perfect leader‭. ‬This may have been true in some ways‭. ‬We are all sinful people‭. ‬We all sin and fall short‭. ‬None of us are perfect leaders‭. ‬We’ve failed at times‭. ‬I know that I have failed many times‭. ‬We are sinful people that mess up‮…‬‭‬just like the folks that we pastor‭,‬‭ ‬and Satan loves to remind us of these things‭. ‬This sometimes leads us to feel inadequate to do the job that God has called us to do‭. ‬

However‭, ‬what we see in this passage is that God rebukes Satan‭! ‬He cleanses Joshua‭! ‬He forgives all his sins‭. ‬He makes Him righteous‭, ‬symbolized in the new clean clothes‭. ‬He gives him power and authority‭, ‬symbolized in the turban‭. ‬

What we must always remember is that God equips us‭. ‬God makes us righteous‭. ‬God gives us our authority‭; ‬however‭, ‬God also requires repentance on our part‭. ‬God demands holiness from His leaders‭. ‬Local churches cannot and will not be revitalized until the leaders of these churches‭, ‬the pastors‭, ‬are personally revitalized‭. ‬That’s what we see in Joshua‭. ‬Before the Temple could be rebuilt‭, ‬the man of God had to repent‭, ‬be cleansed‭, ‬change his thinking‭, ‬in‭ ‬a way‭, ‬be rebuilt himself‭. ‬

Satan is that doubt in your head that you can’t do it‭, ‬that you can’t lead your congregation to grow‭, ‬that you can’t lead your congregation to reach your community‭. ‬It’s just as with Joshua‭. ‬Satan tells us that we can’t do it‭, ‬but God calls us‭, ‬equips us‭, ‬and proclaims that we can‭! ‬We can—if we repent‭, ‬change our thinking‭, ‬and be personally revitalized‭! ‬

For me‭, ‬this meant getting away and spending some real alone time with God‭, ‬confessing my sins‭, ‬failures‭, ‬insecurities‭, ‬and more‭. ‬It meant me acknowledging my failures to lead as well as I could have led during COVID‭. ‬It meant me making sure my heart and my life were one hundred percent right with God‭. ‬Maybe it could mean the same for you‭? ‬

Then‭, ‬we come to the next part‭. ‬We must be faithful to God’s command‭. ‬For Joshua‭, ‬the command referenced in verse 7‭ ‬is the command to return home and rebuild the Temple in their homeland‭ ‬Jerusalem‭. ‬Maybe for us‭, ‬it’s the Great Commission‭? ‬Isn’t that the overarching command that we should be focusing on‭? ‬

Are we truly being obedient to Christ’s command to go and make disciples‭? ‬Is your church doing any actual going at all‭? ‬How about in your hometown‭? ‬Are you building at home in your own community‭? ‬

Even before COVID‭, ‬most folks in our communities were not coming to our churches‭. ‬COVID made it much worse‭. ‬The days are long gone when we can expect folks to go to the local church‭. ‬So‭, ‬what if we actually took the church to them‭? ‬

I thought about Acts 1:8‭, ‬where Jesus tells the disciples that they will be witnesses first in Jerusalem‭, ‬then in Judea‭, ‬then in‭ ‬Samaria‭, ‬and eventually on to the ends of the earth‭. ‬They were to start first in Jerusalem‭, ‬right where they were‭, ‬in their immediate community‭. ‬We‭, ‬too‭, ‬must start in our Jerusalem‭, ‬in our communities‭. ‬We will never be able to do much to reach other places if we do not first reach our communities‭. ‬Far too often‭, ‬we focus more on reaching foreign lands and neglect our backyards to‭ ‬the detriment and decline of the local church‭. ‬

I’m not saying that we forsake foreign missions‭. ‬Please do not stop supporting our foreign missions‭. ‬I’m saying that we must focus more on reaching our communities first and foremost‭. ‬If we can reach our communities‭, ‬we will have more resources to reach other places‭, ‬but if we continue to forsake outreach to our backyards‭, ‬there will one day cease to be any‭ ‬foreign missions‭. ‬

The key is that we must be obedient and faithful‭, ‬just as Joshua was obedient and faithful‭. ‬We must trust in the Lord as Joshua‭ ‬trusted in the Lord‭. ‬If we will‭, ‬what we see in this chapter is that Christ will give us the victory‮…‬‭‬just as he did Joshua‭. ‬That’s what we see in verses 8-10‭. ‬These verses are a prophetic word about Christ and His work that He will do when He comes‭. ‬Verse 10‭ ‬is a powerful verse that shows us the victory that Christ can and will give His faithful leaders‭. ‬It’s a picture of peace and prosperity‭. ‬The Temple was eventually rebuilt‭. ‬It didn’t happen overnight‭, ‬but it happened‭! ‬

Our churches can prosper and grow‭! ‬The OFWB Convention as a whole can prosper and grow‭, ‬but pastors—it must start with us‭. ‬It must begin with us first being personally revitalized and leading our churches to reach our communities‭. ‬Many of us remember well Dr‭. ‬Burkette Raper’s reminder‭, ‬“The church will only rise to the level of the pulpit‭.‬”‭ ‬Pastors‭, ‬will you lead your church to reach your community for Christ‭? ‬If you don’t‭, ‬no one will‭. ‬If you don’t start‭, ‬it won’t begin‭. ‬

In the next chapter‭, ‬in Zachariah 4:10‭, ‬we see that‭ ‬God rejoices to see the work begin‭, ‬even at small beginnings‭. ‬For us at Jackson Heights‭, ‬we are going to begin a pray-and-go ministry of going to ALL the homes in our immediate community and praying for each and every home‭, ‬and placing a door hanger on the door of these homes‭, ‬letting them know that we prayed for them‭. ‬We are going to include a handout that shares the gospel‭, ‬invites them to church‭, ‬and gives them some vital information about the church‭. ‬

We will also start back doing our community outreach events in a similar way to what we’ve done in the past‭. ‬We will set up various places in our community‭ (‬a Piggly Wiggly‭, ‬a local racetrack‭, ‬and a park‭) ‬and have gospel music‭, ‬preaching‭, ‬testimonies‭, ‬food‭, ‬bounce houses‭, ‬and more‭. ‬Again‭, ‬we are going to take the church to our community‭. ‬Until everyone in Jackson Heights has heard the gospel‭, ‬our work is not done‭, ‬our Jerusalem has not been reached‭. ‬

Pastors‭, ‬I want to encourage you to start something‭, ‬some outreach ministry to your community‭. ‬You don’t have to cuss at it to get it started‭; ‬only trust in the Lord and have the courage and initiative to‭ ‬“pull the cord”‭ ‬on a new ministry to your community‭. ‬Thom Rainer and his group Church Answers have some great resources‭, ‬and I’m sure that our Church Planting and Renewal ministry would love to assist any of our churches‭. ‬Pastors‭, ‬we can do it‭! ‬This is where we go from here‭. ‬Let’s get to work‭!‬

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