(Re)Building Better

(Re)Build Better  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  1:00:10
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Nehemiah Chapter 1

Let's orient ourselves to the text, Nehemiah Chapter 1.
In our text the Jewish people are God's people, God's chosen people. God allowed another nation, the Babylonians, to take God's people captive from the region of Judah. Particularly, Jerusalem located in Judah was physically the special place/special city of the Jews—the location of the House of God, the temple; where God's presence dwelt. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, left it in ruins, and exiled the Jews from it.
Later, the king of Persia captures Babylon, establishes the Persian empire and so assumed authority over the Jews. The king of Persia allows/sent the Jewish people to return home, to where they once lived. The Jews return in waves, not all at once, over more than 90 years. In the first group, more than 40k Jews returned to Jerusalem.
Nehemiah ends up leading a group of exiled Jews (the third or so group) back to Jerusalem. Nehemiah's efforts were 90 years after the first people returned to Jerusalem.
Now, in our text, (Nehemiah Chapter 1) we enter the scene 90 years after the Jewish people have been in Jerusalem and before Nehemiah makes his own trip there.
It is the month of Chislev--November or December.
Nehemiah is not in Jerusalem. Nehemiah is with the Persian king in Shushan the citadel--about 1k miles journey one-way to Jerusalem; would take at least 4 months to travel that distance (between Shushan and Jerusalem). Nehemiah is cupbearer to the Persian king, serving in the king's court. Nehemiah has a trusted and stable role in exile.
Nehemiah 1:1–4 NKJV
1 The words of Nehemiah the son of Hachaliah. It came to pass in the month of Chislev, in the twentieth year, as I was in Shushan the citadel, 2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem. 3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah 1:11 NKJV
11 O Lord, I pray, please let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant, and to the prayer of Your servants who desire to fear Your name; and let Your servant prosper this day, I pray, and grant him mercy in the sight of this man.” For I was the king’s cupbearer.
Nehemiah 2:1–6 NKJV
1 And it came to pass in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, that I took the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had never been sad in his presence before. 2 Therefore the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, since you are not sick? This is nothing but sorrow of heart.” So I became dreadfully afraid, 3 and said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ tombs, lies waste, and its gates are burned with fire?” 4 Then the king said to me, “What do you request?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. 5 And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ tombs, that I may rebuild it.” 6 Then the king said to me (the queen also sitting beside him), “How long will your journey be? And when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
Nehemiah 6:15–16 NKJV
15 So the wall was finished on the twenty-fifth day of Elul, in fifty-two days. 16 And it happened, when all our enemies heard of it, and all the nations around us saw these things, that they were very disheartened in their own eyes; for they perceived that this work was done by our God.

(Re)Building Better

Theme and Topic

(Re)Building Better: I choose

Theme and Topic
We, as a world, as nations, as a church are in or approaching the process/season of rebuilding our lives--our relationships, our finances, our families, our campuses, our church, our organizations, our career prospects, our academic life, our educational trajectory, some, our physical homes. In this season of COVID-19, so much has been disrupted, upended (mind and soul stretching), unpredictable...yet, not all-consuming and long in duration to the extent that I forget what life was before COVID-19.
Some things were nice, perhaps. And with nostalgia comes a desire and sometimes effort to rebuild, to regain, what was before, what was lost.
I am aware, however, and perhaps you, too, are aware, that everything was not great.
And so my personal desire is not to simply re-build what we had; I believe, as God charges me with vision, I have a responsibility to build back better, and even to build anew....to build a better future, a future that we perhaps have never known.
I am not so ignorant as to fail to recognize that while the COVID-19 pandemic as we currently experience it may end in a year or two years, that there are other (and numerous) such turmoils of life which continue--for which there is no multi-continent, multi-political party, multi-faith effort (of the scale/magnitude, charge, financing, and focused effort as COVID-19 task forces) to eradicate these other turmoils. The sin of racism--the spiritual sin of hatred--continues. (Sexism, Ageism...) And you can name many more conditions that plague our souls.
It's time to think and prepare and act to build and rebuild our future, a better future.
I want to use the text of Nehemiah to mine for us spiritual gold for building a better future.
Nehemiah's kinsmen have made the trip from Judah to Shushan the citadel and, upon Nehemiah's request, share that the survivors of the captivity--those Jews who returned to Jerusalem following the Babylonian exile--were in great distress, reproach, the wall of Jerusalem broken down, and the gates are burned with fire. Nehemiah hears this, likely recognizing that this state of ruin is more than 90 years after a king of Persian decreed Jews may return to Jerusalem.
Commentators conclude:
a city wall provided protection for the inhabitants. The condition of a city wall was also seen as an indication of the strength of the people’s gods. The ruined condition of the wall of Jerusalem reflected badly on God’s name.
Without a wall, Jerusalem was vulnerable to attack. The riches of the temple treasury (see Ezra 8:15–36) would have been quite a temptation for Israel’s enemies.
Nehemiah became instrumental in God's people rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and restoring their relationship with God.
For the next several weeks I want to speak with you about your choices in this season of transition, recovery, healing, building and rebuilding.
Today, I want to speak with you about
"I choose....to lead."
Q: If I were to ask you what makes a person a leader, how would you answer? What would you say?
I am not here this day to convince you to lead, for some people hear "leader" and automatically want to pursue a title, an official position, gain power.
Today, I won't pressure you to lead, though I believe this world desperately needs great leaders. Our world has a leadership crisis.
While I am not hear today to necessarily ask you to lead, I am here at this moment to encourage you (inspire you) to respond...saying, "I choose to respond."
Whatever we hold as a definition of a leader, today I want to lift before you Nehemiah because he was able to do in 52 days what others of his people did not do (for a myriad of reasons) in 90 years--rebuild Jerusalem's wall.
Today, in the lives we live, we have a work to do--it may take longer than 52 days, yet I am praying it comes to completion well before 90 years.
Therefore, let's consider Nehemiah as our example of what to do.
Nehemiah chose to respond.
Nehemiah 1:2 NKJV
2 that Hanani one of my brethren came with men from Judah; and I asked them concerning the Jews who had escaped, who had survived the captivity, and concerning Jerusalem.
1. The first thing Nehemiah chose to do was respond to what was in(side) him. In this case, it was concern.
Nehemiah was concerned for the generations of his people who survived the captivity, made their way home, and concerned for the place Jerusalem.
Q: what is in you that wants your attention?
(What makes you cry? Sing? Come alive? Burdened?)
Now, not everything in you is of God, but neither is everything in you of the world or of the devil.
The Apostle Paul speaks about, in 1 Corinthians 2:16, "...But we have the mind of Christ." We can walk and live by the Spirit of God.
Everything that is in you take to God to see what it is. We will later see Nehemiah bringing his concern to God.
Give respect to what is in you, for if we realize/admit it our not, it directs your energy and pulls your attention to it.
Nehemiah was concerned and his response was to ask the question: "How' my people doing? How is it back home?"
Be not afraid to ask the question.
Our world, your world, needs you to ask the question. Whether you ask it aloud to others or you ask it solely to God, begin the conversation.
Failing to ask the question does not make the question to go away. It just makes the question to go unanswered....unaddressed.
Part of building better and rebuilding better is being able to ask and answer the question on the front end of the work ahead. Some say "all is well that ends well." Let it be true that "all is well that begins well." Let's begin this new chapter in God's graces, with God's direction, God's anointing power, God's set people and resources for the work ahead.
When you ask the question:
a) be authentic; name what you care about. (What burdens do you have that might be from the Lord?)
b) ask the relevant question to the people who would know the best. (We are not talking about gossiping to people who can make no difference in outcomes, nor about antagonizing others; we're talking about transforming a better future.)
For the Jewish people, this period of restoration begins because Nehemiah inquires about what matters to him, asking first-hand witnesses/participants. And as we go on we see that Nehemiah takes action.
Q: How do you live into what matters to you? Where do you bring it up? With whom? How do you get greater clarity on what tugs at your souls?
Nehemiah asked the question: "How are the people?"
Nehemiah 1:3–4 NKJV
3 And they said to me, “The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.” 4 So it was, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned for many days; I was fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
Nehemiah heard the answer and once again, choose to respond.
I want for you to take away two things today:
If you can only take away one thing, let it be this first point:
1) All effective (and lasting) leadership has a strong component of self leadership.
If you are going to build a better future, a better today, you have to involve yourself.
Life is not always going to knock on your personal door and say, "change me." You have to go after it. Sometimes you have to involve yourself in what you believe should be better.
The other thing I want for you to take away is:
2) Leadership done well is a dynamic response to what you encounter/what comes before you.
("Adaptive leadership"/"Responsive leadership". If you can adapt to changes then you can keep on leading; if you fail for too long to adapt to changes, consistently fail to respond effectively, then your leadership, your influence, will diminish. But that's not the tragedy. The tragedy is that the change needed will be delayed.)
In his responsiveness, Nehemiah sat with the day's reality and took it all in, as painful as it was to receive.
We live in a day where it easy to distance ourselves or ignore what troubles us. Nehemiah embraced his concern and allowed it to be what it was--heartbreaking, disappointing, sad.
Neihemiah's dynamic response is that he absorbed what he learned, got ahold of himself by fasting, and got ahold of God by prayer.
Nehemiah used prayer to discern God's perspective and stance on what was inside Nehemiah and and what Nehemiah heard and learned.
Nehemiah used action to discern God's favor, to clarify whether this mission was Nehemiah's assignment. Nehemiah spoke truthfully to the king and asked permission, safety and resources to help restore Jerusalem, to rebuild its wall. A request that jeopardized his life upon the asking.
I'm closing:
Family, some 15 years ago, I was in church.
Family, I encourage you today to respond to what's in you and what you learn. This won't happen automatically. You much choose to respond in our effort to build and rebuild better.
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