More Than One
The other day a few of the preschoolers were playing in the block center together. They had taken down the blocks, settled onto the carpet, and built a foundation, when they began discussing design plans.
“I want to build a castle for Elsa!”
“No, I think we should build an ice cream shop for the Transformers.”
And without a clear focus in designs – the building got difficult.
“That block is for Elsa to sing on!”
“No, it’s for the Transformers to eat ice cream on.”
And each one grabbed a hold of the block. They pulled. They tugged. Someone fell over. And there was lots of crying.
And no one built anything.
It’s hard to work together with others in a building project. People are so different. We have different ideas. Different likes. Different dislikes.
If it’s hard on a small project, how will it work on a big project? (Like a Preschool Expansion? Or sharing the Gospel in all of North Raleigh?)
Today we’re continuing our series called Building Project and see how Nehemiah was able to get an even greater group of people work together on the even bigger Building Project of Rebuilding Jerusalem. As we learn about how they worked together, we can grab a few tips for working together as a church here. Before we study, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Nehemiah’s Crew
The section describing Nehemiah’s crew is found in Nehemiah 3. If you get a chance to read the whole thing, it’s one of the chapters that can be kind of difficult to read. There are names that are hard to pronounce. There are place names that are hard to pronounce. It’s kind of repetitive.
Which teaches us one important thing right away: This is not fiction. If it were, it would be terrible fiction. Dr. Seuss would never include such mundane details. If J.K. Rowling wrote like this, Harry Potter would never have been that popular.
But beyond the historical, true vibe that we get from this detailed information is an incredible portrait of Nehemiah’s work crew.
Nehemiah exits his house at the first hint of sunlight. He’s got a tall cup of coffee in his hands that he sips as he picks up his morning bagel. Then, he heads to the Northwest corner of the city.
Good morning Eliashib!
Nehemiah watched as a large, jovial man made his way over to him. God’s blessings, Nehemiah! We’re hoping to get the second layer of brick set today.
Nehemiah smiled. Eliashib (3:1) was a hard worker. Still, it was strange to see him working like this. He was high priest. In fact, all of the people working with Eliashib were priests. There were men who usually were in the temple. They wore fancy robes. They wore fancy jewels. They worked with incense and prayer books.
Now? They were wearing cut off sleeves. They had traded in their quills for hammers. They smelled less like incense and more like they had been working outside.
A few blocks down Nehemiah met up with Uzziel and Hananiah. (v.8) This was an interesting pairing indeed. Uzziel was a goldsmith. Hananiah was a perfumer. The two of them were rivals. In the marketplace, they were each vying for the attention of the consumer.
“Buy a new golden bracelet for your girl?”
“Don’t spend your money there, his gold is fake. Get some perfume for her.”
“Perfume? Ha! Only if you’re trying to attract skunks.”
The desolation of Jerusalem had made money scarce and the marketplace difficult.
But these two weren’t fighting. They weren’t even running the business. They were building the wall together.
Hand me a hammer!
Nehemiah turned at the sound of a heavy accent. There were some of the men from Gibeah and Mizpah – cities over 30 miles away from Jerusalem. Country folk. They had heard of the project from some traveling merchants and came into town with a leather tent on their back. They had promised Nehemiah that they would help and they certainly were helping. Even though they didn’t live in Jerusalem, they knew how important this project was to restoring glory to Israel and to God.
As far as those men had come to help with the project – a few steps later, Nehemiah came across a group that came a much shorter distance.
Benjamin! Grab my tool belt while you’re in there.
Nehemiah shook the hand of Hasshub. He was repairing the wall that was literally a few 50 feet away from his house. Apparently, he had been running back and forth to his home all morning to grab forgotten tools and shove an extra Jewish Pop Tart into his mouth.
Still, Nehemiah admired his desire. When Nehemiah mentioned the project, Hasshub and Benjamin were some of the first men to sign up. They knew the destruction. They knew the need. They knew the importance of returning Jerusalem to its former glory.
Those are only a few of the names. We don’t have the time to talk of Rerum and the Levites, Binui the ruler, or Baruch, the zealous and hardworking.
Still – one thing is certain. As Nehemiah looked around that morning, he saw something beautiful.
Not the project. It was far from done. It was still in progress. In fact, the city was dustier, dirtier and as a result – uglier than ever, but that was only the materials. As he looked around and saw people coming together – different people with different cultures and different ideas, all working together on the project – Nehemiah saw something beautiful.
He saw people working together for God.
II. Lessons for Our Crew
It’s the same thing that’s going on here at Gethsemane. We’ve got something beautiful going on here. I’ve been here five years and when you stop and look around, it’s beautiful!!!
But we’ve got a big Building Project going on. That’s a test of our ability to work together. How can we work together in the same wonderful way that Nehemiah’s crew did? Remember a few lessons:
(1) The Building Project Needs You
Did you notice this phrase: “they laid the doors and bolts and bars in place”? (v. 3, 6, 13, 14, 15) It appears 5 times in Nehemiah 3.
How many times do you pass doors and stop and think, “Man, I am thankful for whoever put the hinges on that door in the right space. It opened so easily. I’m so thankful. I should find out and write a letter.”
Probably, you don’t. We take it for granted. And I’m sure that the people in charge of bolts and nuts and the little tiny hinges hidden in the back portions of the walls must have known that they weren’t going to get a lot of accolades.
But what happens if you don’t have doors?
You can’t get into anything.
It’s like 1 Corinthians 12:15. If the foot should say “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be a part of the body.
Imagine if your foot was thinking that. “I wish I were a hand. I’m sick and tired of being all cooped up inside this shoe. I wish I was free to move and high five and play video games. Instead, I sit. I stay on the ground. I’m not nearly as important as a hand. I’m not as cool as a hand. Or as good looking as a hand. The body needs the hand, but it doesn’t need me.”
But then, when the foot gets its wish and becomes a hand, suddenly the body…doesn’t go anywhere.
It’s so easy to feel like there’s not a lot you could do to contribute to our Building Project. You might think, “I don’t have a lot of money. I can’t preach like pastor. I can’t do architecture drawings; I don’t know anything about preschool and I don’t know the difference between a bandsaw and a handsaw. I’m not that valuable to this congregation.”
But that’s the devil talking.
If you think that you aren’t that important to this congregation because you don’t have the skills and money and talents like others, you’re wrong.
God thinks you matter. A lot. He died for you. He hung and bled and died on the cross for you. He saved you from your sins. He rose triumphantly to save you from death. He washed you in your baptism to make you a part of his family. He offers you his true body and blood to reassure you that you have a part of him.
He wants you a part of His Building Project. He wants you to be a part of adding soul after soul to his kingdom.
No matter what you do.
If you do painting, then do painting for the Glory of God.
If you do singing, then do singing for the Glory of God.
If you do friendly, then do friendly for the Glory of God.
If you do numbers, then do numbers for the Glory of God.
If you do speaking, then do speaking for the Glory of God.
If you do giving, then give for the Glory of God.
If you do anything, then do something for the glory of God.
(2) Our Project Needs More than just You
But be careful. Once you are invested in God's kingdom, the devil works a second trick.
It is described in 1 Corinthians 12:2. “The eye cannot say to the other body part, ‘I don’t need you.’” Imagine if your eye started to think, “I’m the best. I get to see beautiful, color changing trees. I get to watch Simone Biles do Olympic flip after Olympic flip. I get to read tweets and blogs and newspaper articles. I am the most important part of this body. No one and nothing is as important as me. Especially your ear – all you do is sit there, looking all open and kind of dopey.”
But if the ear packed up its bags and moved to Vermont, the eye struggles. “I see the doctor, but I can’t understand what he’s saying. How serious is the injury?"
If you think that you are more important to our Building Project or to our congregation than others, you’re wrong. Others matter too.
God thought they mattered. He died for them. He hung and bled and died on the cross for them. He saved them from their sins. He rose triumphantly to save them from death. He washed them in baptism and made them a part of this family. He offers them the true body and blood in the Lord’s Supper to reassure them that they are a part of Him.
And since you are a part of Him, they are a part of you.
Nehemiah’s group knew this. It’s why they were on the same page.
Some worked on the Sheep Gate -- where they brought in the sheep for sacrifices at the temple. Very important.
Some worked on the Fish Gate – where they brought the fish in for the marketplace. It was a bit fishy smelling, but equally as important.
Some worked on the Dung Gate – essentially the restrooms! Also important.
Everyone is important here. No matter what they do.
Can you help me make sure that they know that?
Whether it’s someone on the front lines of evangelism or in the back printing off the invites.
Whether it’s someone giving a large amount of money to the project or a large amount of prayers.
Whether it’s someone telling a bunch of people about Jesus all at once or someone telling one other person about Jesus all by himself.
We are all important. Important to making this whole thing work.
Treat each other like that.
(3) Don’t be a Tekoite
Verse 5 says, “The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.”
I think that’s a very interesting because this is the only part of chapter 3 that’s negative. The Tekoites worked on the wall, but apparently they weren’t very agreeable. They were stinkers.
Which leads us to a very powerful truth, if you work well with others awesome. If not, others will notice that, too.
If all of us are Tekoites, being selfish and only thinking about ourselves, then not a lot will get done.
Don’t let the devil stall our project. Don’t be a Tekoite.
(4) Remember Ezer, Son of Jeshua
Do you know who he is? He makes an appearance in verse 19. It doesn’t say much about him. It simply says that he was involved in a section of the wall near the armory. That’s it.
I have feeling that not a lot of people knew that. I have a feeling that plenty of people walked by that wall without so much as ever knowing the name of Ezer. Essentially his work was forgotten.
Except…not everyone forgot.
He is in the Bible.
That’s because God didn’t forget. God doesn’t forget the works of faith done to his glory no matter how small. From sanitizing a Pre-K toy to loading the dishwasher after Fellowship. From loading a sermon onto the website to handing a bulletin to a visitor. God remembers it all. It’s to His glory.
Rest assured that whatever you do, big or small – he sees it all.
And it’s all to His Glory. Amen.
Big Task; Bigger God
Have you been watching the weight lifting in the Olympics? (It’s usually on ESPN 7 at about 2am in the morning, but it’s good.)
These men – huge men – busting out of their Olympic gear with muscles, veins, and eyeballs lift these huge barbells. On each end is plate after plate after plate – which isn’t so bad at first glance – until you realize each plate is about 100 lbs.! These guy take 650 lbs., clean it and throw it above their heads without much of a problem.
If I were in the Olympics and I had to lift that above my head, I think I’d have to settle for a participation medal. Because there’s no way I could lift something like that. There’s no way I could do it. I don’t have the physical strength.
The task is too big!
Does your life ever feel like that?
Do you ever encounter something that feels like a 497 lb. barbell?
Does it ever look like too much?
Today we’re continuing our series called Building Project by looking at the Big Task that Nehemiah discovered awaiting him in Jerusalem. In fact, it was a huge task! A task that would definitely qualify under “it looks way bigger than one person can handle!”
And yet – Nehemiah was confident he could handle it.
Why? Let’s go to God’s Word and find out. Before we do, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Big Tasks Look Big
Last we left Nehemiah, he had just gotten permission, protection, and a promise for supplies from King Artaxerxes. Verse 11 picks up after Nehemiah gathers his stuff, selects his crew, passes through city after city, and journeys 1000 some miles to Jerusalem. It says, “I went to Jerusalem and after staying there three days, I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.”
Initially Nehemiah simply reintroduces himself to Jerusalem. He probably meets up with some old friends for coffee. Grabs a bite to eat with his 2nd cousin twice removed. Catches a local wrestling match for entertainment and settles into the area.
Notice -- he hadn’t yet told anyone about his plans for Jerusalem. That’s probably just a reference to the people of Jerusalem -- not so much the guards who came with him – He hadn’t yet told them that he planned to rebuild.
I think he just wanted to come up with a plan first. He wanted to propose a simple plan that would be easy and not that much time and effort. A plan that people could easily get on board with.
Think about it. Are people more likely to choose things that are easy or difficult?
Would you prefer to move the mulch from the parking lot to the playground with your bare hands or a wheelbarrow?
Would you prefer to move from one house to another using a full service moving company or by yourself using a single passenger smart car?
Would you prefer to get a college credit from a course called “A Review of Addition and Subtraction” or “Advanced Trigonometry and Calculus formulas Approaching the Infinity Limit”?
And that’s what I think Nehemiah is trying to accomplish. He wants to be able to tell people it won’t be so hard before he gives them the idea.
So he begins his investigation at night. Like a celebrity wearing a moustache and sunglasses, he doesn’t want to be seen until he’s done with his investigation.
He approaches the first area. He gets off his horse. He holds up his lantern ...and is shocked.
Piles and piles of rubble. Stone on top of stone on top of stone. Charred marks from the first fire still mark the gates. The whole thing looks like an old dump, not the impressive wall of Jerusalem he was expecting.
Ok. It’s a bit rough. Maybe there are other parts that won’t be so bad.
So he heads toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s pool but…there it’s even worse! In fact, the rubble is so bad that he gets to a point where his horse, which needs a couple feet of space on each side to maneuver, has to turn back! The destruction is everywhere – so bad that he has to head to the outside of the wall to finish his investigation.
That was worse. But I’m sure once we ride around the city a bit, we’ll find at least a few entrances that don’t need much work other than a fresh coat of paint.
He was wrong. He couldn’t even get back into the city other than through the gate that he had just entered.
This was a big task.
Then, Nehemiah remembers something. Check out verse 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews, or the priests or the nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. Suddenly, that itself was a tall task. He was going to have to convince all those people that this complete dump was worth all the cleanup, all the hard work, and all the funding to be restored!
This task seemed a lot bigger than originally anticipated.
Do you have a task in your life like that?
Something that seems so big you wonder how you could ever do it?
I don’t know how I’ll ever repair this marriage. Too much damage has been done.
I think it’s impossible for me to make a connection with my son. We’re too different.
I don’t think I’m ever going to get out of poverty. It’s too much a way of life.
I know my body will never recover from that surgery. Recovery is too tough.
I don’t know that I’ll ever reconnect with God. I’ve done too much wrong. I’ve been too far away. I destroyed my life. I’ve left it in shambles. Relationships have fallen apart. My bridge to God has been burned. There’s grief lying around every corner. Sin has stained my walls and there’s hateful graffiti reminding me of my past actions.
The worst realization? This is all my fault!
It’s impossible for me to do.
Well…do you know what God’s Word says to you today? It says, “You’re right. It is impossible for you to do.”
II. Our God is Bigger
Segue with me to the Gospel. A rich man approaches Jesus. Everything he has in his life, he’s built. He’s built a career. He’s built a family. He’s built his stock portfolio. He’s built his riches. He’s pretty sure that he’s already built up some eternal riches, but he wants to ask Jesus to make sure.
“What do I need to do to gain eternal life?”
Jesus gives him the formula. Keep God’s commands. Love God. Love others. Do so all the time and perfectly.
The man considers his life. A grin comes across his face. He brushes off his shoulders: “You bet. I’ve done that. Anything else?”
“Sell everything you have and devote your life to me.”
The man’s face drops. He looks around in shock. He stares at Jesus to see if he’s bluffing but – he’s not. He turns around and walks away – dejected.
The disciples who have been watching this are even more dejected! If he can’t do it, who can? He’s handsome. He’s rich. He’s got it all. If he can’t build himself a way to heaven, then how can any of us? We’re fishermen. We’re sinful tax collectors. We don’t have it together anywhere near as much as he does. How can anyone do what you are asking?
He says, “With man this is impossible…but…nothing is impossible with God.”
And that’s the point, isn’t it? When it comes to salvation…when it comes to forgiveness and peace with God and the path to heaven…we cannot. It’s impossible! But not with God.
Look up at that cross. That’s a symbol for the best reconstruction crew of all time. Because on that cross – Jesus fixed your life.
He replaced the broken bridge to God with a cross.
He cleaned up all the stains of your sin.
He removed the rubble of guilt.
He power-wash cleaned you inside and out.
He paved you with the jewels of his righteousness at every street lamp.
He built a wall of protection made out of the Holy Spirit himself.
He says, “Here I will dwell; you will be mine.”
God did that impossible thing! Something that not one construction crew, band of workers, or a Habitat for Humanity group could even approach building.
He built your salvation.
That’s the same God who is with you whatever your task is.
He was with Nehemiah! Nehemiah knew it. And so in spite of how difficult, challenging and tall of a task the rebuilding of Jerusalem was going to be, look at what he does the next morning. V17 I said, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem!”
And the people don’t refuse. They don’t say It’s too hard. They don’t tell Nehemiah to do it on his own.
They said yes. They said yes, because they knew they had a pair of very capable hands behind them.
I’m not talking about young Jake’s hands that didn’t quite know how to make brick yet.
Nor elder Malachi’s hands that shook as he lifted up a saw.
Not even Eli the carpenter’s hands that swung a hammer at slightly above average speed.
But the hands of the Almighty, Eternal, All powerful, world creating, volcano shaking, God were with them.
And as big as the project was – God’s hands were bigger.
And as big as the task that you are going through may be. Remember: God’s hands are bigger.
III. WHAT NOW?
Now take a look at a picture of the universe. It’s huge. We haven’t even explored all of it. What’s interesting is that if you take a look at a picture like this, you need to realize that earth is such a very tiny speck. But then, if you take a look at a map of the world. It’s gigantic. On it, Raleigh is so very tiny small. Not even identifiable. And if you take a look at a map of Raleigh – zoomed out on Google maps – Gethsemane is so tiny. And the field across the way for our Building Project is so tiny as well.
So…if that field is tiny compared to Raleigh compared to NC compared to the world compared to the universe compared to God!
What is our Building Project to Him?
And what is your big, impossible task to him?
Nothing. Nothing in fact is impossible with God.
Keep that in perspective. You’ll gain a lot of confidence.
(2) Start Building
That’s what happened when the people decided to do what they were going to do. They started building! Scripture says, “They began this good work.”
Maybe they put together a Building Committee, volunteered for a design group, set out sign-up sheets for making bricks and a sign-up sheet for making noontime meals for the workers. They gathered money. They said prayers. They did whatever it was they could do to make the project work!
Do the same thing. Whatever your task is – get to work.
And if you are able to help with our building project! Please do. Give and volunteer and pray. Email me to find out some of the ways that you can help.
(3) Ignore the Haters
Did you notice chapter 2 doesn’t end all that pleasantly? Scripture says that a host of foreigners – non believers – mocked and ridiculed us. They said, “What is it you’re doing? Are you rebelling against the king?”
That makes things tougher. When someone is telling you, you can’t.
But look at Nehemiah’s response. “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding.”
In other words – You’re right. We can’t. But God can. And as his children, we see that. WE see God. We see his hand at work and we know he’s working for us.
You don’t see that. And that’s ok. It won’t stop God from getting the job done.
Ignore the haters.
Ignore the blog posts that talk about how you’ll never rebuild your life.
Ignore your friends who say you’ll never fix that relationship because it’s just too big of a job.
They don't see what you see.
They don't see that your God is big.
And there isn't any task too big for Him.
Building Project: Courage Needed
Today we’re continuing our series called Building Project.
In short – Nehemiah needed courage to get the building project off the ground -- similar to how getting our Building Project off the ground has taken and will continue to take courage. Similar to how whatever building project you’re undergoing (architectural, relational, or spiritual) will take courage.
Where do you get courage when you’re lacking it? Let’s go to God’s Word and find out. Before we do, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Nehemiah’s Courage
Last week we read through Nehemiah chapter 1 and learned about Nehemiah’s idea to rebuild his home city of Jerusalem. He heard about its destruction, got an idea, and he humbly prayed to God for his blessing in moving forward with the building project.
But…approaching God? That was the easy part. God is merciful and kind. God wants what’s best for the people.
The King of Persia? A little less so.
His name was King Artaxerxes. He ruled from 465 B.C. to 424 B.C. During his reign, he came to power through an intriguing murder that saw his brother and father dead, he squashed an Egyptian revolt, and he weakened his enemies in Greece by funding a rebellion within Athenian walls.
He wasn’t to be trifled with.
And he had already hated the idea of rebuilding Jerusalem. If you look at Ezra 4, it records that King Cyrus, Artaxerxes’ grandpa, had allowed the rebuilding of Jerusalem to commence. But when Artaxerxes is in control and finds out about the rebuilding – he issues an edict from his throne to tell the Israelites to “stop work so that this city will not be built.” His reasoning? Jerusalem was a city that had rebelled against foreign governments time and time again. There was no reason for it to be rebuilt and threaten Artaxerxes’ kingdom.
Nehemiah must have known that. As he poured the wine from his ladle into the king’s chalice. Nehemiah must have known that the King had previously stopped the rebuilding Jerusalem. (It had been three months since Nehemiah had heard about the abysmal state of Jerusalem, yet he hadn’t said anything to the king yet.) Call it fear. Call it putting it off. He just hadn’t summed up the courage to talk about it yet.
With good reason. In Persian court, servants were not to speak to the king unless they were spoken to. (Similar to the old rule for children – Don’t speak at the dinner table, unless spoken to – which would be fine by me. Then, I can just focus on eating as much meatloaf as possible. But – I digress). If a servant spoke without being spoken to, there might be punishment.
A pink slip.
A prison sentence.
An “off with your head” type order.
Approaching the King was nerve wracking stuff.
But on this particular day, Nehemiah couldn’t withhold his grief. Whether he was contorting his face on purpose (like a young child trying to get you to notice that they’re sad) or he was literally unable to control his emotions – Nehemiah wasn’t the same.
The King noticed. The King spoke.
“Cupbearer, why does your face look so sad? You aren’t ill? (which would be an acceptable reason to look sad before the king) This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
The implication is there. Why are you sad? Your sadness is making me sad. You better have a good reason for making me sad or else…
Nehemiah gulped. Scripture says, “I was very much afraid.” And if you look at the Hebrew there – Besides using the word for Afraid – it uses two qualifiers that intensify Nehemiah’s state of being afraid.
We might better translate: “He was very, very, very, very, very afraid.”
He could shrug it off. “Nothing, King. What would like to drink?”
He could lie. “I’m just feeling a bit sick that’s all. I’m sure it was something I ate. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”
He could flatter the king. “I was just sad that I hadn’t seen your handsome face all day long. Tell me, Artaxerxes, have you been working out?”
Or he could choose to do something immensely scarier:
He could tell the truth.
3 “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
The king shifted in his seat. He placed his finger below his chin.
What do you want?
This was Nehemiah’s last chance. He could abort mission. He could call an audible. He could simply ask the King for a royal Kleenex and let that be that.
But… he couldn’t. He knew he had an opportunity. He knew he couldn’t let this opportunity go.
And what he did next is very telling. It gave him courage to seize the opportunity and ask the king for permission to rebuild Jerusalem.
4b I prayed to the God of heaven.
Because the God of heaven could help him.
Artaxerxes may have been the king of Persia. But God was the King of the Universe.
Artaxerxes’ kingdom stretched throughout Asia minor. God heaven’s kingdom spanned from Pluto to Mercury.
Artaxerxes had thousands of people listening to his commands. God had hundreds of thousands of angels riding chariots of fire at his instant disposal.
And Nehemiah had courage. 5 I answered the King, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
The king considers it.
He asks how long he is gone for the sake of his Google calendar.
Then, he grants him permission to begin his building project.
And Nehemiah is feeling even more confident! He asked the king for letters – which were essentially passports – that would allow him free passage as he traveled and he asks the king for a letter to Asaph – the keeper of the national park – to allow him some timber to rebuild the city AND he asks the king for even more timber so that he can build a temporary residence while he’s there.
The king grants it.
Nehemiah asks for the king to pay for his travel, supply him with building materials, and arrange his lodging – and the King grants it.
Nehemiah gives credit where it’s due. Nehemiah knows exactly why he has been so blessed. Nehemiah knows why he had the courage to ask.
The gracious hand of God was upon me.
II. Your Courage
What about you? What level is your courage at?
Have you ever noticed that when some kind of amazing opportunity shows up in your life, the devil does everything possible to remind us everything that can go wrong?
They offered you a raise? It’ll probably mean way more work than you can handle.
That guy seems perfect? There’s probably some dark secret he’s hiding.
That house on the market fits all of your criteria? There’s probably structural damage.
So. In the interest of being up front – I thought it might be valuable to discuss a comprehensive list of things that could go wrong with our preschool building project. (I tried not to leave any out).
We might run out of money.
We might run out of volunteers.
We might run out of students.
All of our teachers might catch the Zika virus.
There might not be any babies born from 2016-2020 and thus zero students available.
Everyone in Raleigh might move to Fuquay-Varina.
The contractor might order the wrong flooring and install an ice rink in the middle of our mini gym.
There might be a group of Lambs Rights protestors that hate our name and picket the expansion!
State Regulations might insist that every pre-K be made out of Donut Batter – and since we didn’t make it out of donut batter – we’re going to be shut down!
Do you get the point? There’s always something bad that can happen. If you focus on that, the fear will be crippling.
Like the disciples.
There they were in the middle of the lake. The sea was raging, the clouds were thundering, and the lightning was flashing! The disciples rowed and rowed and rowed, but weren’t getting anywhere.
Finally, they give up and they shout! “Lord, don’t you care that we’re drowning!”
Jesus rolls over; he yawns. He stretches and sits up. “Why are you all so afraid?”
He speaks to the storm.
The storm dissipates.
And so does their fear.
That’s what God does. God dissipates fear.
And when you focus on Him, your fears will dissipate.
That’s what happened with Nehemiah. Look at what he said, “The hand of God was upon me.” God’s hand is big. God’s hand is powerful. God’s hand is eternal. If the hand of God is on you, then you’ll be feeling courageous!
But Pastor…how do we know if God’s hand is upon us? How do I know if God’s hand is on my building project?
Because that’s exactly where God tells us that His hand is.
Isaiah 41:10 says, “I, the Lord am with you. I uphold you with my righteous, right hand.”
That’s the right hand that has always been with you.
A hand that carefully knit you together in your mother’s womb.
A hand that gently has been leading you through your life.
A hand that has comforted you in your sadness and calmed you in your fears.
A hand that took hold of your sins, transported them backwards 2000 years and nailed them to a cross.
A hand that made sure those sins were really nailed up there by holding onto them as it too was nailed to the wooden death device.
A hand that bled.
A hand that sweated.
A hand that went limp.
A hand that three days later touched the side of the open grave.
A hand that let his disciples examine the resurrection miracle.
A hand that was raised victorious – champion of sin, death, and the devil.
A hand that moved through God’s Word to comfort your soul with forgiveness, life, and salvation.
A hand that has not left you and will not leave you and will not leave us.
III. WHAT NOW?
Do you know who Brad Snyder is? He is a swimmer who will swim in Rio. He’s like most swimmers in Rio. He’s fast. He glides through the water. He wears one of those funny swimming caps.
But he’s also blind.
He is a Navy veteran who served in Iraq. While there, he stepped on an IED. The IED exploded. He was severely injured. Doctors worked hard to save his life, but they couldn’t fix his eyesight.
Now, he swims. Which sounds crazy! How would you know where you’re at in the pool? Wouldn’t you be afraid that you’ll hit the wall? Wouldn’t you be afraid that you won’t be able to find your way out of the watery course and it will become your watery grave?
But Brad doesn’t look all that scared. Because Brad has a coach. A tapper. A tapper is literally a coach that stands near the edge and using a long stick to “tap” his back as he approaches the wall – to let him know – Now is the time to turn. Now is the time to go that way.
That’s what God hand does to us. He’s our guide. He’s in control. He didn’t die on the cross to abandon us.
He won’t abandon us in our Building Project.
The hand of the Lord is on us. Don’t be afraid. Amen.
We are starting a Building Project. Have I told you?
After years of planning, pursuing, praying, discussion, dreaming, and dollar raising, we are getting much closer to make the Precious Lambs Expansion a reality. We’ve got the loan. We’ve got plans headed to the City of Raleigh. We’ve got design people designing. An architect architecting. Prayer warriors praying. It’s exciting.
But as exciting as it is, there’s another truth that has been entering my mind a lot lately. Hidden behind the excitement is this truth: I’ve never done a Building Project. My church at home did one, but all I did to support it was collect about 2 dollars in dimes. Now it’s a bit different. Now I’m the pastor. It feels a bit overwhelming.
Maybe you feel that way, too.
Then, again you may have other building projects that are intimidating. Maybe you’re building a marriage. Maybe you’re building a family. Maybe you’re building a career, a reputation, or a new faith connection to Jesus – building these things can be just as intimidating.
Where do we start?
The answer is the same – whether you’re building something architectural, familial, or spiritual -- We start with God’s Word.
Over the next four weeks, we’re going to be taking a look at God’s Word – as it describes a very large building project that the ancient Israelites underwent. Our goal is to glean some knowledge from looking at that Building Project that we can put into practice for this Building Project – and our own, personal building projects.
Before we do, let’s say a prayer and ask God to bless us. O Lord, strengthen us by the truth; your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see. Open our ears to hear what you want us to hear. Open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Grand Idea
The building project we’re looking at is you may not have known was in the Bible. Open up your Bibles to Nehemiah. That’s right Nehemiah. His book is in the Old Testament right between Ezra and Esther. A guy who’s usually known for being super short (Get it? Knee – high – miah.)
Nehemiah lived around 445 B.C. That’s about 140 years after the Israelites had been exiled from Jerusalem. Here’s what happened. The Israelites had been ransacked by the Babylonian empire. They had attacked Jerusalem, destroyed the city, and take the survivors to Babylon as captives.
Nehemiah’s ancestors had been a part of that exile. But thankfully God had blessed the Israelites while they were there. Famous names like Daniel (the guy in the Lion’s Den) and Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (the three guys who were thrown in the fiery furnace) were giving high government positions. They kept those positions when the Babylonian Empire fell to the Persian empire.
Nehemiah lived during the time of that Persian empire – and he too was blessed. He worked for the government and had a highly respected job in the king’s court as the king’s cupbearer.
One day -- perhaps as Nehemiah is drying off one of the beautiful crystal goblets that the king drank from -- his own brother shows up at the palace. This is a big deal. His brother had been in Israel – which was over 900 miles away – so it had been awhile.
And I’m sure Nehemiah was excited to see him.
How have you been? How is the family? Did you bring me anything?
But then Nehemiah asked about his homeland. How are things in Israel? How are my people? How is Jerusalem?
The question made his brother’s face droop.
What is it? What’s wrong?
It’s…Nehemiah, it’s not good.
What’s not good?
Well, Nehemiah, do you remember all those stories we used to listen to from Grandpa? About how Jerusalem was a magnificent city. About how it was the holiest of sanctuaries. About how Solomon and David had made it the grandest sight-seeing place on earth? Well, it’s not such a sight anymore. Now it’s a disaster.
Nehemiah 1:3 -- Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and distress. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates have been burned with fire.
The same fire that had been used to destroy the city 142 years earlier. That means the city wasn’t doing any better than it had been after the destruction. It was still a disaster.
After Nehemiah hears that report, something very interesting happens in the Scriptures. Suddenly, it changes from the 3rd person perspective, (i.e. he, she, it) and the writing style changes to the 1st person.
4 When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.
I think that’s really telling. Nehemiah is so hurt, so disappointed, so torn apart by this news about Jerusalem that he personally invests himself in the story when he’s reflecting on it years later.
And he fell to the floor! Have you ever been that sad? So sad that you literally fall to your knees in disappointment? That’s the kind of stuff Olympians will be doing in the upcoming days. Nehemiah does it when he hears about the dismalness of a city that he’s most likely never been to!
And he weeps. A grown man! A Government official! Crying. With tears of sadness.
And he mourns. The sadness becomes a way of life. Day after day. He’s in a funk. His Facebook posts would have received plenty of encouragement.
And he fasts. He refuses food, drinks nothing but water, and focuses himself on the situation at hand.
And he got an idea. A rather big idea.
What if…what if I heard about this for a reason?
What if I’ve been given my job here in the palace for a purpose?
What if I return to Jerusalem? What if I reenergize my people? What if we reorganize?
What if we rebuild our city?
II. A Humble Prayer
This was no small task. He would have to travel for months. He would have to uplift a people that was down in the dumps. He would have to oversee a grand architectural project. He would have to get permission from the king to make this happen. He would have to be contractor, governor, cheerleader and visionary –all in one!
What made Nehemiah believe he could do this? Look at his prayer:
(1) Acknowledges God’s Character
5 O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome, God who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands.
Notice right away what Nehemiah starts talking about. He doesn’t start talking about how great he is, how wealthy he is, how great his social status is or even how smart he is. Nope.
He starts by talking about His God.
5 O Lord, God of heaven! That’s a big God! A God much bigger than Nehemiah! A God who made the universe in six days. A God who caused mountains to spring up and grand canyons to be made. A God who grew plants out of nothing, trees out of nothing, flowers out of nothing…A God, for whom, rejuvenating Jerusalem would be no problem!
And (side note) if rebuilding a destroyed city would be no problem for God –an Early Childhood Ministry center would be no problem for God. Neither will rebuilding your marriage, building your family or building a closer connection between you and God.
And Nehemiah notes why God will do this. He’s a God who keeps his covenant of God. A God who would love to do it because -- because of your awesome love. Because of the love that withholds the promise of the Savior. Because of a love that is remarkably unlike human love. Because of a love that is love is incredible, unconditional and constant!
God – do it, because you’re God.
(2) Confesses His (and his People’s) Sin
6-7 I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house have committed again you. We have acted very wickedly toward you. We have not obeyed the laws and commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.
Now this is interesting. Because sometimes, when something awful happens we blame God. We might expect Nehemiah’s prayer to be a lot like that. “God you jerk! God, how could you let this happen? God, you’re a joke and your city is a joke.”
But Nehemiah knows better. Nehemiah was a student of history. He knew that God allowed Jerusalem to be ransacked only after he sent prophet after prophet after prophet, scripture after scripture after scripture to warn them – stop worshipping other Gods! Stop committing sexual immorality. Stop sinning! Stop remaining in unbelief and heading on a one track path to hell!
Nehemiah doesn’t claim that God was wrong. He confesses that they were wrong.
And not just the nation of Israel. He repents of those sins -- which, if you’re keeping track, had happened 142 years earlier! Long before Nehemiah was even born. But he also includes himself. He recognizes his own sins, he confesses his own failures and he repents of his own sinfulness.
This is the exact opposite of a job application. In your resume, you talk about your credentials, how much good you’ve done and how great of a fit you are for a job. Nehemiah’s application for God’s help is essentially – I’m from a family of sinners. We’ve sinned a lot. WE caused our own destruction.
And – oh yeah– I’m really good at the family business – because I’m a horrible, no good, very bad sinner too.
(3) Appeals to God’s Promise
Hmm. It kinda seems like Nehemiah should have rehearsed his prayer. Because now that he’s mentioned how awful he and the Israelites have been – he’s basically disqualified them for any help, right?
Wrong. Because that’s not the reason that he is asking for help. It’s not based on their merit.
It’s based on God’s promise.
8 Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, “if you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations…Which is exactly what the Israelites had done. They had sinned, broken God’s commands, and suffered the consequences for their own actions. But – And this “but” means there was more to the promise –But if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.
Essentially – We didn’t keep our promise; O God, keep Yours.
But Nehemiah’s not wrong. Because that’s what God does. 1 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we are faithless, he is faithful; for he cannot deny himself. That’s what God did in Jesus. He sent Jesus even though we hadn’t even remotely kept his commands! He lived perfectly in our place, when we had lived for our own sinful desires. He died innocently in our place, when we had earned that death. He rose triumphantly from the grave – to promise us heaven which we hadn’t done anything to get!
That’s why Nehemiah is so confident in God’s blessing. Not because of himself, but because of God and who He is.
III. WHAT NOW?
It’s so easy for us to get confused.
I was talking to a few people recently about our building project plans. I was really excited as I was talking about it – as I usually am – and I told them about all the cool things that were going to happen as a result of it. I talked about how we’d be able to reach more families, tell more kids about Jesus, connect with more people in the community, use our old space to connect with refugees, reinvigorate our youth group, and in general – do awesome things!
When I finally got done (or rather – I needed to take a breath) the person I was talking to said, “Good. You deserve it.”
Hmm? Really? Do we? We’ve worked hard? There have been countless members of this congregation saying prayers, offerings gifts, teaching, supporting, assistant teaching, cooking, serving on committees, planning, and generally envisioning a building over there for years. Don’t we deserve it?
Do you remember why Jerusalem was in ruins? It's because they hadn’t kept God’s commands. Commands like “Love your neighbor as yourself. Love God more than anything else. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. Don’t lust. Don’t hate.”
Have you done that? Have we done that?
Here’s the truth. We don’t deserve God’s blessing. We don’t deserve salvation and we don’t deserve to build a big building.
Honestly, whatever it is your building – a new house, a family, a reputation, a career – be very careful of that false concept. We don’t deserve anything – anything besides – what God’s Word says we deserve, “What has been earned because of sin is death."
But that doesn’t mean we won’t get God’s blessings. It doesn’t mean we can’t be confident.
Look at the end of Nehemiah’s prayer in verse 11 He’s confident even though he’s speaking on behalf of a people filled with sin: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.”
That doesn’t sound like the request of a nervous man. That’s the sounds of confidence. Not in himself. Not in his people. Not in their goodness. But confidence in God.
It’s the same confidence we have.
Confidence that Jesus lived for us.
Confidence that Jesus died for us.
Confidence that Jesus rose for us.
Confidence that we are forgiven.
And confidence that He will hear us and bless us, whatever our building Project.
Confidence that He will hear you and bless whatever your building project is.
Because He’s God and that’s what God does.
And God’s…pretty good at building. Amen.