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Servant Leader-Nehemiah

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     One of my favorite shows on TV is Mythbusters.  On this show, they take urban legends or wives tales and try to see if they’re actually true or not.  For example, most of us have probably heard that if you ever have an accident and your car ends up in the water, you’re supposed to wait until the car fills up with water so you can just open the door.  They did this and found that there is too much external pressure on the door to allow it to open.  In other words, if you wait until the car fills up, you’re gonna drown. 

     Another one is that if don’t wait at least an hour after eating before you go swimming, you will get cramps and possibly drown.  Despite what our parents told us, this is just not the case.

     There are myths within the church as well.  One of the biggest ones is that you have to have a special “calling” from God in order to do amazing things for God’s kingdom.  Moses, Elijah, David, John the Baptist and Paul just to name a few were all called by God to perform a given task.  Even today, this philosophy is prevalent in churches.  For example, there is the common belief that evangelism is to be left to those who have the GIFT of evangelism.  In other words, evangelism is to be left to laypeople who have been CALLED and EQUIPPED to evangelize, or to the pastor who not only has a calling from God, but also has had specialized training and education.  I would like to “bust” this myth by introducing you to a man named, Nehemiah.  READ Neh 1:1-11.

     In the midst of these opening words, two critical facts stand out: SLIDE 1) Nehemiah is GREATLY disturbed and grieved by the news he received about Jerusalem and 2) He was the cupbearer to the king.  These two facts are of tremendous importance because they affect everything that follows.

     Nehemiah’s response to the news about Jerusalem is more than, “Man, that’s too bad.”  He is driven to his knees in anguish over what he has heard.  He confesses not only the sins of the people, but he takes ownership himself in being disobedient.  He calls on God to remember His promises to the people that He would restore them, IF they would turn back to Him.  He prays and asks God to RESTORE Jerusalem and those who are faithful.

     Nehemiah’s statement about being the king’s cupbearer is important because it tells us quite a bit about his character.  Here was a Jew, a captive from a conquered land, having the personal trust of the King of Persia.  You see, the king’s cupbearer is not just responsible for giving the king a drink, he is the one who taste-tests EVERYTHING before the king eats it, in order to make sure it’s not poisoned.  (How’d you like THAT job?)  King Artaxerxes has put his life in the hands of a man who has EVERY reason to want to see him dead.  So, this simple statement shows us that Nehemiah was a man of loyalty and integrity; a man that can be trusted.  READ Neh 2:1-3. (In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before; so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”  I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”)

     After months of prayer, Nehemiah’s grief over his homeland became apparent in his behavior.  In fact, this is another indication of the relationship Nehemiah had with the king.  The king knew him well enough to know that something was bothering him, and he wanted to do something about it.  In the verses that follow, King Artaxerxes not only allows Nehemiah to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls, he gives him letters to assure his speedy passage, a military escort to make sure he had safe passage and enough money to finance the whole project.  Nehemiah truly had the respect and trust of the king.

     Upon arriving in Jerusalem, Nehemiah finds everything just as he feared, and so he talks with the local officials.  READ Neh 2:17-18. ( Then I said to them, “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 we will no longer be in disgrace.”  I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.)  They bought in to Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls and so work began and, like any construction project, all sorts of unexpected obstacles stood in the way of completion.  From labor issues to politics, they were all hindrances that Nehemiah had to deal in order to get the walls rebuilt.  READ Neh 6:15-16. (So the wall was completed on October 2, in fifty-two days.  When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.)

     What an amazing accomplishment!  In 52 days, the people of Jerusalem, under Nehemiah’s leadership, had literally re-built Jerusalem’s walls from the ground up.  Even by today’s standards, that would be an engineering marvel, and credit is given where credit is due: God’s enabling hand at work.

     My point in telling you all of this is to help you see Nehemiah as someone you can relate to.  Nehemiah was not a prophet.  He was not a priest.  He was not even an engineer.  There was no burning bush or a middle-of-the-night vision.  Nehemiah is an ordinary man who, while in exile, keeps his faith, loves his people and does his duty.  God does not call him or anoint him for the task.  He simply responds to the needs of his people and finds that God’s gracious hand is upon him, empowering and enabling him for the task.[1]  

     I want you to see yourself in this text.  Don’t be fooled by the myth that you have to have a special calling or training to do amazing things for God’s kingdom.  Nehemiah was a cupbearer that acted upon something he was passionate about.  What are you passionate about?  Do you see needs in the community around you that are not being met?  Do you see injustice that is not being corrected?  Do you see immorality that is left unopposed?  What are you doing about these things?

     Obviously, you can’t be a crusader for EVERY social ill or injustice, but what is one that you CAN invest yourself in, in order to make a difference?  Nehemiah didn’t try to overthrow the government, he saw a need that he could invest himself into, with the hope of making an impact.

     People make the excuse, “What difference can I make; I’m just one person?”  One man, Moses, stood before Pharaoh and demanded the release of the Hebrew slaves.  One man, Zerubabel, was the key figure in getting the Temple rebuilt.  One man, Nehemiah, was the key figure in getting the walls around Jerusalem rebuilt.  One man, Jesus Christ, saw the bondage that humanity was in, and He did something about it.  One person CAN make a difference

     Nehemiah’s journey was not easy, and neither will yours.  There aren’t many things in life that are worthwhile that don’t come as a result of sweat and tears.  People were continually trying to de-rail Nehemiah, and some even tried to kill him.  Nevertheless, he stayed focused on his task.

     I believe God blessed Nehemiah’s task because his motives were pure and he was acting out of compassion/love for his people.  He was not seeking recognition or fame; He just knew he had to do SOMETHING about the condition of Jerusalem and its people.

    Like Nehemiah, God has “wired” us with particular interests and passions that He desires for us to use for Him.  These are beyond whatever spiritual gifts you may have, and go to the very core of who you are.  Some of you have a deep-rooted passion for kids.  Some of you have the uncanny ability to see through all the smoke and mirrors surrounding a particular situation to the core issue.  Others of you have been impacted by drugs, alcohol, gambling or imprisonment and so you are passionate about helping people avoid or recover from these situations, or maybe even pursuing ways of preventing these kinds of things from being allowed in your community.  The options are endless, but what is NOT an option is INACTION.  God has given us these gifts and abilities for the benefit of OTHERS, NOT ourselves.  You’ve heard me ask before, “How are you serving?”  Well, that question goes beyond the four walls of the church.  If you want to put a label on it, call it SLIDE “Social Holiness”.  It is taking the love of God and impacting our community and society with it.  It is not waiting for a “call” before acting.  It is seeing a need and being willing to ACT on it.  When you do, you will find God’s gracious hand upon you and what you’re doing.


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[1] McKenna, David L. Becoming Nehemiah: Leading with Significance. Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, MO, 2005, p32.

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