Backs Against the Wall
Good morning. Today's text is from Nehemiah, Chapter 3. So let's turn in our Bibles to Nehemiah 3, page 353 if you are using a pew Bible.
About two months ago, Michael announced he was starting a new series in Nehemiah. So, like many of you, I began reading Nehemiah for myself. About that same time, some dear friends gave Lisa and I a very nice gift: The entire Bible on CD, read by Max McLean. You know, the great thing about listening to the Bible, is that you can multiprocess. You can listen and still do something else. That particular evening, I was folding the laundry AND listening to the adventures of Nehemiah.
I found that Chapters 1 and 2 were pretty good. Nehemiah was quite a man of leadership and prayer. I could see why Michael chose this book! Then came Chapter 3. Now, I want you to get the full experience of my evening with the socks, T-shirts, and the old city of Jerusalem. So, for your listening pleasure, I present Max McLean, reading Nehemiah chapter 3, in the New International Version. I think listening down through verse 7 is enough to give you a sense of my experience:
Chapter 3: Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel. The men of Jericho built the adjoining section, and Zaccur son of Imri built next to them.
The Fish Gate was rebuilt by the sons of Hassenaah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place. Meremoth son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz, repaired the next section. Next to him Meshullam son of Berekiah, the son of Meshezabel, made repairs, and next to him Zadok son of Baana also made repairs. The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.
The Jeshanah Gate was repaired by Joiada son of Paseah and Meshullam son of Besodeiah. They laid its beams and put its doors and bolts and bars in place.'Next to them, repairs were made by men from Gibeon and Mizpah-Melatiah of Gibeon and Jadon of Meronoth places under the authority of the governor of Trans-Euphrates. [FADE CD]
Pretty much, it goes on like that for 32 verses. Himhab son of Hobab worked next to Rimtam son of Hoohuz, and they repaired the Doodah Gate, laying its beams and setting its bolts and bars. They worked next to SlimJim, son of Lama Lama Ding Dong who put the bop in the bop-pa-ba-ba-bop and the dip in the dip-di-di-di-dip! After listening to that, I asked myself, "What in the world is Michael going to do with Nehemiah Chapter 3?" (long pause)
You ever wonder what Pastor's do for fun? Perhaps you are, right now, witnessing a pastoral practical joke. "Hey Bob, how 'bout preaching on the 18th? I'll even give you Nehemiah Chapter 3!" Then one of the other Pastors chimes in: "You know Bob, it's really an honor to preach part of Michael's series." I see the fence! Where's the whitewash?
Remember 2 Timothy 3:16 from J.T.'s message last week? I think it would be good, before mining the depths of this chapter, to remind ourselves of it. Let's read together from the overhead:
2 T1M3:16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the
man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
That tells us that all Scripture is valuable, even Nehemiah Chapter 3! By faith then, let's look seriously at Chapter 3, expecting that God will train us in righteousness. And I think it's a good idea for us to ask God to do that very thing. Let's pray:
Lord God. You inspired Nehemiah to record who-did-what in building the walls of Jerusalem. Your Holy Spirit moved him to write down names which are now long forgotten, and who restored gates only to be destroyed again. Yet the example of their teamwork lives on. The example of HOW they served You is here for us today. May we learn from it - imitate it - and may our service for Jesus' sake be so recorded in Your book. In His name we pray. Amen.
In it's introduction to Chapter 3, the Expositor's Bible Commentary tells us: "This chapter is one of the most important in the OT for determining the topography of Jerusalem." If nothing else, my study in preparation for this sermon gave me a better understanding of the old city of Jerusalem, and the topography of the hills. I became quite popular the last few weeks. Whenever someone came in to see my new office, they also saw my funky map. [STEVE SHAKING BOB'S HAND] I projected this thing on the wall, and traced it on a piece of yellow paper. Then I cut out a copy of the Scriptures, and pasted each verse where the guys were building. This is a picture of the Executive Pastor giving me the "Bible Bwana of the Week" Award.
[BOB'S FUNKY MAP] You know, studying the Bible can be fun and interesting, if we just step out of the "quiet time" mode every once in a while. Let me say, that it is OK to get your Bible time in the car, listening to it on cassette or CD. It's OK to do projects like this one, if it helps you to understand better what was going on. It's OK to use different kinds of Bibles. Here is one called the Narrated Bible. It takes the Bible and puts it in chronological order.
Now I am not saying that you only do these kinds of things. And you need to use something like an interpretive Bible critically. Ask yourself if you agree with their point of view. You have a mind - use it! If you want to win the "Bible Bwana of the Week" award, you have to read your Bible. There is no other way. Just remember - there are gates into your mind other than left-brained, logical, analytical information processing. Using one of them is no less valid than ratcheting your eyes open at o-dark-thirty in the morning - as long as you are opening yourself up to the Holy Spirit, where He can plow deep furrows into your soul.
[LINE DRAWING ELEVATED CITY]
Now lets move from the "Mr. Bob Funky Map" map to this line drawing of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's day. This shows why they always went "up" to Jerusalem, because it is on top a mountain. In the foreground you have the Kidron Valley, with a steep grade up to the eastern wall. Notice that the Temple complex is on the highest point, uphill from the City of David down here. [PHOTO OF CITY] This is an aerial photo from about the same perspective, and you can trace out the natural contours of the land and the site of Nehemiah's wall.
Nehemiah records the reconstruction of 10 city gates, and the walls in-between them. [MAP OF WALLS] He starts up here at the Sheep Gate, in the northeast, and moves counter clockwise around the city. He had something like 40 work crews, who rebuilt the walls in 52 days - all at the same time. And because it was only 52 days, most scholars believe that they used existing stones from the rubble, rather than cutting new ones.
Along the top section, there were about 5 work crews. Along the northwest side, about 13 work crews. Down here on the southwest side, 9 crews. Now look in the southeast section. This is where the Kidron Valley runs below the wall. 1 6 work crews were here - most of them bunched up on the ridge. Finally, the northwest section had 8 work crews.
Now, let's return to the southeast quarter. The highest concentration of work was right here. The reason being, that the blocks were down here in the bottom of the Kidron ravine. Scholars say that either this was the site of the old wall, and Nehemiah moved it to the more defensible higher ground, or the blocks fell down into the ravine when the wall was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar. In either case, the work was hardest here, because they had to drag all those stones up the hill, so it makes sense that there were more work crews for this section. I don't know about you, but I always get a charge out of seeing the accuracy of the Bible come to life, even in little things like matching geography with the Biblical record.
So the first thing we get from Nehemiah chapter 3 is an overview of the project. This should give you have a better mental picture of what they were doing. But you know there is much more in this Chapter than geography. How they did the work and who was doing the work, gives us many metaphors for "Serving Him Faithfully." Without even digging deeply, I came up with 11. Today we are going to look a just few of them.
We find Lesson Number 1 in Serving Him Faithfully in verse 1. "Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung it doors." Eliashib the High Priest, the spiritual leader of the people, the shepherd, worked to rebuild the Sheep Gate. This reminds me that the leaders serve first. They must set the standard.
Since I am new here on staff, I am going to take an opportunity I'll probably never have again. I think I am still enough of an "outsider" to say this with some objectivity. I want all of you to know, that I have observed the staff here at Immanuel, in my 4 weeks on the job. They are very careful about how they use the result of your offerings to God. I have never enjoyed working as much as I have the last 4 weeks. I love my job! And you need to know that, along with the joy that hangs in the air around this place during the week, comes a sense of wholehearted devotion to work. I am challenged every day by the work ethic I see in the paid staff here at IBC. It is a privilege to work alongside of them.
So as leaders, we must set the example by working hard. And there is also some good advice one chapter back in Nehemiah. Look at Chapter 2, verse 18. Nehemiah is speaking: I told them how the hand of my God had been favorable to me and also about the king's words which he had spoken to me. Then they said, "Let us arise and build." So they put their hands to the good work.
I want to focus on the phrase, "the good work." This is a good lesson for us as leaders: If you want people to serve Him faithfully, the service must be a "good work." It must be a work worthy of the time, the precious time, that volunteers are going to spend doing it. The Israelites all agreed that it was a cause worthy of their sacrifice. The wall protected them, but they knew it meant much more. It symbolized the condition of their lives. A broken wall labeled them as a reproach before God. A sound wall meant God was again on their side. They had a vision of the importance of the work.
If you want people to serve Him faithfully, the service must be a "good work." This is a caution for those of us who lead at IBC. Before I ask someone to sacrifice, I should ask, "Is it a good work, or just a good idea? One of the reasons I think our Vision Statement resonates so well with so many people is it helps us to know the difference. I have lots of good ideas. But most of them don't qualify as a good work.
Lesson Number 2 in Serving Him Faithfully is found in the oft repeated phrase "next to." Verse 2 says, "next to him the men of Jericho built... "; verse 4, "next to him..."; verse 5 "next to him..." and so on through the whole chapter. Serving Him faithfully means serving "next to" someone else. Many years ago, I was trying to share the gospel with a friend named Jeff, who was going through a divorce. I encouraged him to come to church. And I'll never forget his answer. He said, "I'm just not a joiner, Bob. I'm just not a joiner." What do you think he meant by that? Is it a sign of weakness to need other people? I think some people think so. For him, Christianity meant giving up his right to do whatever he wanted, and not being accountable to anyone else. You know what? He was right.
Being in the body of Christ means working together, needing each other, and relying on each other. It does mean giving up all our rights for the good of others. That starts with our families, of course, and then extends to each other. Oswald Chambers, in his devotional, "My Utmost for His Highest," often speaks of the believer becoming "broken-up bread and poured-out wine." There is probably no thought more foreign to our culture today than being completely used up for the sake of someone else. After all, if I give all of myself away, there won't be anything left for me.
You know, the whole wall went up all at once. It did not happen in sequence. Do ever think of yourself, with the demands of life, clamoring for your attention all at once? You have to attend to your spouse, your kids, your parents, your in-laws, your job, responsibilities at church, responsibilities to God, and keeping your house from crumbling all around you. It seems impossible to keep all that going all at the same time. Nehemiah was able to organize 40 plus crews of men and women, having them abandon their livelihood for several months. That was no less impossible, but God's good hand was upon them, and He worked it out.
I breakfast every Wednesday morning with a bunch of guys from the BodyBuilder ABF. I asked them, "how do you do this? - how do you keep all those balls in the air at the same time?" One of the guys came up with an excellent answer: "God needs to be in the middle of it, or it won't happen. Then he quoted Matthew 6:33 "'Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and everything else will be added to you."'
I wish I could explain better how having faith in God helps you to do everything you are supposed to do - how God will supply your personal needs while you give all of yourself away. It is like trying to explain how a boy can give away his lunch, and it can be used to feed 5,000 families. He gives away his meal, and gets back a miracle, and a meal besides. I wish I could explain that, but I can't. I suppose that's why they call it faith. But I do know that God expects us to trust Him, even when the task seems impossible. It was no less impossible for Nehemiah, yet God moved to get all his guys together. If Christianity is true, can't He preserve us and our families, as we become broken-up bread and poured-out wine? Can't He make all our guys move together? I think God will supply the resources if only we will stop hoarding ourselves away for our own use.
Lesson Number 3 in Serving Him Faithfully is this: You are not too important to serve. We find a sad commentary in verse 5: "Next to him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters." Literally, the text says, "they would not put the back of their necks to work." The idea is an ox, who refuses to wear a yoke. He will not serve. Nehemiah singles out these nobles for dishonorable mention, because they would not come and work. We have here in Nehemiah men from all walks of life, and none of them were bricklayers! We have merchants, perfumers, goldsmiths - men and women. There were people who came from other towns: Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, Mizpah, Zenoah, and others. They all came to work. But - "the nobles of Tekoa would not put the back of their necks to work." They wouldn't put their backs to the wall.
Are you above certain ministries? Jesus washed his disciples feet. It is natural to feel like you have paid your dues, raised your kids, and done your stint in the nursery. Now you are ready to move along. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt. Jesus washed his disciples feet. It is natural to think that attending the worship service is more important than directing people in the parking lot. Jesus washed his disciples feet. It is only natural to seek the convenient and comfortable ministries. Jesus washed his disciples feet. Perhaps it is time to move from being just natural to cognitively spiritual. Perhaps we need to wash one another's feet.
I think there was a sense of shame in the Tekoites, because they compensated for their noble's pride by building more than one section of the wall. And that is Serving Him Faithfully Lesson Number 4. When you can, do more than you can. The Tekoites finished their section early, so they moved across town and built another section. There is a fellow named Meremoth, in verse 11. He did the same thing. And he has an interesting history. According to Ezra, he was rejected from performing priestly duties, because he couldn't prove his family record. You know, if that happened to me, I might be tempted to just not serve at all. But, instead of bitterness, he offers willingness. He was willing to serve in whatever way he could, even it was not in his ministry of choice. Like the Tekoites, he built several sections of the wall. Are you willing to humble yourself for Jesus' sake?
I wonder at our tender feelings sometimes. If we are under-appreciated, or ill-used, how quick we are to abandon the work of the church, out of spite. I think we do well to remember the end of Hebrews, that reminds us that, "12 ... Jesus ...that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach." (Heb 13:12-14) Are you willing to bear His reproach?
We are not here to play, to dream, to drift;
We have hard work to do, and loads to lift.
Shun not the struggle; face it.
It's God's gift. Be strong!
Say not the days are evil - Who's to blame?
Or fold you hands, as in defeat - O shame!
Stand up, speak out, and bravely,
in God's name, Be strong!
It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
How hard the battle goes, the day how long,
Faint not, fight on!
Tomorrow comes the song.
Here is a simple way you can "Serve Him Faithfully" and "Share Him Boldly" too. On Saturday, September 7, J.T. Walker and about 100 people - men, women, boys and girls - are going to distribute these packets to 1,000 homes in our community. The packets contain a Jesus video, some microwave popcorn, some information about our church, and an invitation to come to our September 11 Remembrance service.
My 8 year old son Luke, and I are going to be there. We want to saturate our neighborhoods on September 7 with these packets. And here is the best part, all you have to do is walk, and hang them on the doorknob. You don't have to talk with anyone, you don't have to get into a spiritual debate with anyone. All you have to do is be friendly, get some exercise, and shake a little salt in the Burke community.
Serving Him Faithfully means doing what you can, and more than you can whenever you can. So where do we start Serving Him faithfully? That leads us to the 5th and final Lesson: Serve in your own backyard. A number of Nehemiah's workers repaired the wall closest to their own house. Your backyard is, first of all, your backyard. We start serving right at home. It should be obvious that serving Him faithfully does not mean we neglect our own family. I struggle with this every day. Lisa and I have been reading, "The Life You've Always Wanted," by John Ortberg. I can really relate to his honest depiction of real family life.
"...Some of this disappointment in myself runs deeper. When I look in on my children as they sleep at night, I think of the kind of father I want to be. I want to create moments of magic, I want them to remember laughing until the tears flow, I want to read to them and make the books come alive so they love to read. I want to have slow sweet talks with them as they're getting ready to close their eyes. I want to sing them awake in the morning. I want to chase fireflies with them, teach them to play tennis, have food fights, and hold them and pray for them in a way that makes them feel cherished.
I look in on them as they sleep at night, and I remember how the day really went: I remember how they were trapped in a fight over checkers and I walked out of the room because I didn't want to spend the energy needed to teach them how to resolve conflict. I remember how my daughter spilled cherry punch at dinner and I yelled at her about being careful as if she'd revealed some deep character flaw; I yelled at her even though I spill things all the time and no one yells at me; I yelled at her - to tell the truth - simply because I'm big and she's little and I can get away with it. And then I saw that look of hurt and confusion in her eyes, and I knew there was a tiny wound on her heart that I had put there, and I wished I could have taken those sixty seconds back. I remember how at night I didn't have slow, sweet talks, but merely rushed the children to bed so I could have more time to myself. I'm disappointed."
I wonder sometimes if my own kids will grow up and remember me as "Mr. Bob," that guy who was always singing for other kids, but somewhere along the line stopped singing for them? May God help me not to be everyone-but-my-own-family's pastor. If we are going to serve Him faithfully, it means we have to broken-up bread and poured-out wine, right at home, right in our own backyard.
Now, what about your backyard here at church? Do you have children in preschool? The preschool ministry needs workers. I mean, really - you men, what other ministry can you sit on the floor, play with trucks, and go "grrrrrrrr - eeech- bchhoomm"? Do you drive more than one car to church? The parking and shuttle ministry needs workers. Otherwise they'll go "grrrrrrrr - eeech- bchhoomm" ! Do you check books out from the library? The library ministry needs workers. Do you walk through the front doors? We need greeters! Serve in your own backyard. If you need to be reminded where your backyard is, we have this little Ministry Handbook. It is full of opportunities. And if nothing else, it will show you how big your backyard is.
So we have 5 Lessons in Serving Him Faithfully from Nehemiah Chapter 3: Lesson 1- The leaders serve first. Lesson 2, Serve next to someone else. Lesson 3, You are not to important to serve. Lesson 4, When you can, do more than you can. And Lesson 5, Serve in your own backyard.
Those are 5 good applications from Nehemiah Chapter 3. But before we close, I want you to take something else away from church today. This is probably the biggest part of Serving Him Faithfully. It is knowing that faithful service is not just doing more stuff. We already have too much stuff to do. We lead busy, busy, lives here outside the Nation's Capital. We don't need to do more stuff. What we need is to be more like Christ - a person who walks with Jesus; who is filled with the Holy Spirit; who is being conformed to the image of Christ. When you belong to God like that, then he can break you, pour you out, and use you in the lives of others. That's where serving Him Faithfully really begins. That's where we find out that the joy of the Lord really is our strength.
By the way, in fairness to Michael, he DID invite me to preach on whatever I wanted. And sharing in his series IS an honor. Michael, when you listen to this tape - thanks. I had a GREAT time studying, and preaching Nehemiah Chapter 3.
Father, we ask that You would indeed conform us to the image of our Lord Jesus Christ, "who did not come to be served, but to serve, and give His life as a ransom for many." We ask that you fill us with your Holy Spirit, and use us as broken-up bread and poured-out wine. And we ask that You be in the middle of our serving, right in our own backyard. Amen