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.