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Exercise Personal Commitment, Part 1

From the series Holy Ambition

Chip explores the power of commitment and how you can harness that power to turn your life around by following some time-honored principles from the book of Nehemiah.

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Message Transcript

We’re going to talk about a personal commitment as the fifth step to turning God-shaped dreams into reality. And I want to talk about the awesome power of commitment, just the idea.

Think about, just right now, who’s the most committed person in any area that you know? And it could be the most committed Christian, the most committed parent, most committed athlete, most committed businessperson, most committed student. Who is the absolutely, over-the-top, most committed person you know in any area? Got it in your mind?

Here’s what I want you to know – on your notes – commitment inspires us to greatness. Second, commitment protects us from shortsightedness, and moments of weakness. And third, commitment provides stability, and focus, and results in blessing. Commitment inspires us to greatness.

The reason I brought this ball up is, in seventh grade I was, I think, four foot eight or nine. In eighth grade, I made it to four eleven, or about five foot. And then, in ninth grade, I just shot up to five feet four. And that’s when my basketball coach said, “Chip, you weigh just about a hundred and five pounds, and I think you’d be a great wrestler.” And I wanted to be a basketball player.

And so, I remember going to a dinner – it was between my eighth grade and ninth grade year. And back then, where I was from, ninth grade was a part of junior high. And it was a large junior high, a pretty large school system.

And I grew up, as a little boy, going to the Friday night high school games, and the entire town would come out, and it would be packed, and the greatest thing, in my mind, ever, would be to be a part of the Blue and Gold – Gahanna Lincoln Lions – and someday, when I grew up, be playing, on the high school basketball team. And then, my dream, after that, was to get a scholarship, and play somewhere in college. I didn’t care where. Just anywhere.

And so, you’re five foot, probably about two, between my eighth and ninth grade year, and they basically told me that I should try another sport. And I went to this sports banquet, and this coach from a little university that had a good basketball program, called Capital University, was the speaker. And if you’ve ever heard a really good coach, they’re awesome motivational speakers.

And he was talking about going to a team in their conference, Kenyon College, and, during the preseason, his school was playing their school in football. And the basketball season would open in about a month. And when he was there, he saw a young man named John Rinka – this would be about the mid-sixties. And John Rinka was five foot nine, and led the nation in scoring in small college.

And, now, there wasn’t a three-point line. He averaged forty-one points a game. And he was only five feet nine. And he told this story, and he tells this story, and he said that when he came in the gym – if that’s the basket there, John Rinka would be on this side, and he’d shoot, and then he would run, and he’d grab it. He’d go to the other end line, stop, shoot, run, go to the other end line. And then, he’d put a chair right here, and then he would fake, stop, plant, go. And he said he was drenched in sweat. He wasn’t shooting around. They were drills that he was doing.

He said they came in from the half time of the football game, and he was still doing it. He said the game was over, the whole football game, and John Rinka was still in the gym. And he made the point, “Greatness is not always or is it rarely a matter of ability. It’s a matter of commitment.”

And one little boy, who’s a big boy now, who is out of breath doing that. I remember a picture came into my mind, and I decided that I was going to be a basketball player. And, without exaggeration, I practiced six to ten hours a day. I would dribble in my room. I’d lie on the floor. I’d spin the ball on my finger. I saw an article about Pete Maravich that came out in Sports Illustrated right about that time, and he had all these drills he did behind his back, and I just – I just did them.

I tried to find guys three, four, or five years older, and get in the game. And I just played, and played, and played, and played, until I got to be one of those high school guys – Blue and Gold – for the Gahanna Lincoln Lions. And then, a very small school offered me a scholarship to play basketball at it. Commitment.

Now, because of that, I didn’t go to a junior/senior prom. Because of that, I never put alcohol or drugs in my body – not at all because I was religious. I was not a Christian. I’d never opened the Bible. But commitment gives you focus. It gives you stability. It inspires to greatness.

And the other thing it did is, when I got tired, when I got weak, when I wanted to quit, when bigger guys were beating me up, it sustained me, because I thought to myself – I had that picture of what I wanted to be, and I was committed to it. I wasn’t just emotionally committed to it. I wasn’t intellectually committed to it. I was volitionally and willfully saying, “Whatever it takes, whatever price, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Now, that’s a silly little illustration, to tell you the truth, because it’s just a sport. But that sport paid my way through college. It later opened the door for me to play basketball throughout all South America a couple summers. We played every Olympic team, and I shared Christ at half time, and that’s where God called me into ministry. On a much more serious note, the awesome power of commitment protects you from shortsighted moments of weakness.

Let me ask you, how personally are you committed to the people and the things that matter most? That’s what we’re going to talk about.

Notice, in your notes, I gave you a definition of commitment: It’s a pledge or a promise to do something. It’s dedication to a long-term course of action, relationship, project, or course.
And I just want to remind you that, when I’m talking about personal commitment, I don’t mean that you intellectually or emotionally feel like, I really ought to do that, or, I’ll try to do it when it’s convenient, or, I really want to do that, as long as…

I’m talking about the kind of commitment that says, “I will choose to do this, regardless of circumstances, regardless of how I feel, regardless of what comes up against me. This is what I’ll do.” It’s that kind of commitment that transforms you, and the people around you.

The dynamics, or the dilemma, of commitment is this, is that I admire it when I see it. Right? You know the Olympics? Don’t you just love the Olympics, when they do the little vignettes, and there’s a little five-foot-two gymnast, or they tell the story of someone who’s gotten up since four thirty in the morning, and they’re standing on the stage, and you just see the product of commitment?

I admire commitment, I want commitment in my life, but the fact of the matter is, it’s very hard to keep. For all of us. We’re living in a day where people have a hard time – forget keeping them. We’re living in a day where people have a hard time making them. We’re afraid to make commitments. We’re so afraid that we’ll fail, or we see so many other people who fail.

And so, if we admire it, we long for it, and we know the value, how do you make and sustain personal commitments? That’s what we want to talk about.

And the answer is going to be in Nehemiah chapter 3. We’re going to see that he modeled it convincingly. He stepped out; he left his comfort zone. He left the palace; he went to Jerusalem. We’re going to say he asked for it specifically. He said, “I need you to help me build this wall. It’s God’s will; it’s worth it.” And then, finally, we’re going to see he created an environment that sustained it.

So, open your notes, if you will, and this is one of those times when I actually put the entire text in your notes. And then, on the bottom of your notes, I put a picture – this is out of the Zondervan Pictorial Bible Dictionary. It’s a number of things, and it’s just a picture of the actual shape of the wall. And since it came from a little bit different era, you’ll notice, in the text here, there are about twelve different gates. And then, in this picture, there are about fourteen. So, over the years, they added a few more gates, or the authors are from different periods.

Now, when you just look at this – okay? – this is just a chapter out of the Bible, in front of you. I don’t know about you, but it just doesn’t ooze excitement, to me.

“Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and they rebuilt the Sheep Gate. And they dedicated it and they set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of Hundred, and then they dedicated it, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. And the men of Jericho, they built adjoining, and Zakkur the son of Imri, built next to them. And then the Fish Gate,” – at verse 5 and verse 6 – “Then the Jeshanah Gate.” And then, skip down. Then, you have the Valley Gate, and then – look down, verse 14 – the Dung Gate, and the Fountain Gate.

And what you see is, this is a very unusual chapter of the Bible that has a bunch of names, that’s geared around a bunch of gates, that talks about where people come from, that talks about lots of different groups of people, and basically summarizes who joined this rebuilding-the-wall project. And then, we learn, later, that in fifty-two days, they get it done.

And I hope that some of you are thinking, Now, you just said we’re going to learn how to make and sustain personal commitments. How are you going to get that out of this? Right? Do you just have to make up sermons when you come to chapters like this? No, not at all.

Let me walk through, with you, a couple of observations. The Scripture says that “all Scripture is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness.” And I just want to – I’ve put some circles and some boxes. I put boxes around the geographical areas; I put circles around the different people who were involved.

Let me just walk through some observations, and all I did was do some Bible study. And when I do Bible study, it’s really simple. I just make observations: What do I see? And then, you do interpretation: What does it mean? And then, application: What’s it mean to me?

So, let’s just walk through, quickly, some observations. When I look at this – and you just hold the notes open. Couldn’t we all agree, the gates are the central focus of this chapter? The paragraphs break, and there’s a line under them; they’re real bold. Whatever this chapter is about, the central focus is the gates.

Second, there are a variety of people involved in this work. There are personal names. Sometimes it’s their father, their grandfather, or where they come from. But I just listed some. There are merchants. There are priests, perfumers, goldsmiths, rulers, servants, temple servants, daughters, nobles, and officials. So, we’re making observations: a lot of different people here.

Notice, the project drew people and men from a variety of surrounding areas and towns. And, by the way, when you do a little historical background, you realize they were in the midst of the summer harvest.

Now, think about this, the implication: This guy comes from Susa, and he says, “Let’s rebuild this wall; this is the will of God.” And people are going, “But wait a second, I live in Jericho. That’s seventeen miles from Jerusalem.” Or, “I live in Mitzvah, that’s ten miles.” Or, “I live in Toccoa, that’s ten miles.” Or, “Gibeon is six miles,” or, “Beth-sur is twenty-six miles.”

And so, they’re leaving the summer harvest, their livelihood, to join this man who has a word from God, who God has put His hand upon him, and this is the clear, defined will of God. But notice the commitment it is: It’s a commitment of time. It’s a commitment of travel. It’s a commitment of their money and economics.

The fourth observation is, the work began on the gates. It was the most vulnerable place, defensively. It was usually the place where you would get water in a city. 2 Samuel 23:15 and 16 talks about, “And they went to the city gates to draw water.”

It was the public meeting place. It would be like our marketplace. It’s where business was done. It’s where the elders would meet – the big decisions. It’s where the Law was read. And so it’s the center of entry and exit.

So, when we think about making and keeping commitments, they started on the place that was the most strategic, the most vulnerable, and the most important. And, by the way, some of the application for your commitments is, what we tend to do is do the stuff that’s easy first. They tackled the most difficult job first, that was the most important.

The next observation is, notice that the approach was very systematic and organized. They began on the Sheep Gate – and go ahead and let your mind scan all the way to the end – and they went counterclockwise; they end on the Sheep Gate.

Each group had a specific responsibility. As you scan and read this a bit on your own, this group built according to this wall. This group built in front of their house. This group did this over here. So, each group had a very specific role and responsibility.

And then – I love this one – they always worked with someone either next to them, or after them. If you have time later – or you can even do it right now – just scan quickly, and every time the words next to him is there, put some sort of squiggly line under it. Or: after him, next to him, after him, next to him, after him. It occurs over twenty-five times in this one chapter. No one works alone.

Part of what we’ve learned about motivation, and sustaining commitments, is that when you get isolated, and feel like you’ve got to lose weight on your own, break an addiction on your own, keep a commitment to God on your own, take a new step of faith on your own – usually it will last two days to two weeks. But if there are people, if there’s accountability, if there’s encouragement, if you know you’re not alone, then you hang in there.

The next observation is, each group worked near their homes or at least whenever possible. It was in verse 10, verse 22, verse 26, 28, 29, and 30. And so, they didn’t have to travel. And the other is, there was the godly, vested interest. Can you imagine saying, “Okay, we’re going to rebuild this part of the wall right here.” And the walls were, don’t think of a little wall. These were huge walls. You could drive a chariot on top of these walls.

And then, inside the walls, the housing would be built. So, my living room might be here, and then the external wall would be here. I’m thinking, I’m going to do a pretty good job on this part of the wall if the catapults and the stones start coming, and the arrows and the spears. I think I’m going to make it pretty thick, and pretty good. I’m not going to do one of those, “Well, this is good enough for government work.” Right?

And so, he motivates them, not only by the great, intrinsic, “We’re doing this for God,” but he puts them in a place that highly motivates them to work in a way that has their best interest in mind.

Notice the context: It’s preceded by the apex of motivation, and then it’s followed by a big section of opposition. You need to remember that. At the end of chapter 2, it’s, “Let us arise and build! Nehemiah is here! We’re going to do it! Come on, gang! Let’s make a difference!” You’ve been in those moments, right? People stand on top of chairs, and, “This is what we’re going to do; let’s go for it!”

Well, now, this is how you sustain it. You can get fired up, but he has them with people. They have clear roles. They make a very specific commitment. They’re doing it with someone before them, someone next to them.

But then, in the context – chapters 4, 5, and 6 – will be about opposition. Any time you take a step – whether you decide to start really reading your Bible, or really praying, or working on your marriage, or saying, as a family, “We’re going to do something radical: We’re going to try and eat together, like, at a table, with nothing blaring, like, two or three times a week.” “I’m going to actually tuck my kids in, and read them a story.” “I’m going to get with a group of single people, and we’re going to make a covenant about making a difference in our workplaces, and we’re going to be sexually pure.” Every time you take any kind of step of faith like that, it’ll usually get worse before it gets better.

So, chapter 4 you get external opposition. In chapter 5, there is internal opposition. And then, chapter 6, he gets personal attack.

So, people who make these kinds of commitments – they change, they change people around them, and they change the world. But it usually starts with some very significant time of motivation, and it gets clear: This is what we’ve got to do. And then, they start this process, and usually it’s followed by some things that are very difficult.

Notice who started the work: It’s the high priest. Different people have responsibility. The high priest was the highest representative of God. And notice, the very first line, he models that.

The ragtag group finished it in fifty-two days. And I have a friend who is an engineer, who said, “This is an absolute engineering miracle. It’s an impossibility.”

And then, notice, they worked in affinity groups. If you could study it a little bit longer, the priests worked together; the merchants, the goldsmiths worked together. They worked in families, servants.

And then, they worked in geographical areas. So, they knew each other. And so, all those are, are observations.

What is it that I can learn about these groups, and the affinities, and building, and repairing, and after him, and next to him that would help me, personally, make commitments, and sustain them?

Because, at the end of the day, God didn’t put this in His Word just so that we could understand Nehemiah 3. He knew that we’d be sitting in this room, on this day, with the issues that you face, and I face.