It was a cushy job. And he knew it. It was probably the best job in the kingdom and he was well aware of how lucky he was to have it. Work wasn’t always easy to find especially when you were a foreigner. Most of his friends worked as labourers, and in unskilled positions. Even those who had followed a professional pathway found a lot of doors closed because of their race or religion.
There had always been those barriers, and stumbling blocks but he had risen above then. Pulled himself by his own boot straps so to speak and made good. A real rags to riches story. And he never let a day go by without thanking God for being where he was.
It was a cushy job. And he knew it. It meant that he didn’t have to work in the hot sun, that he never had to worry about going hungry or having no place to sleep at night. It meant security for his family; it meant having a comfortable place to live, and plenty to eat. And he really didn’t relish the thoughts of disrupting his life at all. It was a cushy job. And he knew it and he wasn’t going to let anything ruin the good thing he had going.
His name was Nehemiah, and the bible tells us in Nehemiah 1:11 that he was cupbearer to the king. And while that might not mean much to us, it meant a lot to Nehemiah. You see it really was a cushy job, he did exactly what his title implied he did, and he carried the king’s cup. In a time when kings were deposed in a much more permanent way, then what happened to Stéphane Dion there was always a fear that one might find oneself drinking strychnine wine. Thus you had a cupbearer whose job it was to ensure that your cup was not hazardous to your health. He carried that cup with him everywhere he went, it never left his sight and he could always reassure the king that when his drinks were poured that there would be nothing wrong with the cup.
Now the only drawback with the job was that Nehemiah always got to have the first drink out of the cup, just in case. But being an optimist Nehemiah’s outlook was “so far, so good.” Nehemiah had it made, and he knew it.
1) He Was Comfortable
It’s very easy to get comfortable in this life, and very easy to get comfortable as a church. You’ve seen those churches that get settled into their little niche, the offerings are holding steady, the preachers doing alright, the building is almost paid off, why rock the boat. They’ve gotten into a rut, and you know as well as I do what a rut is? It’s just a grave with both ends kicked out. They are comfortable but they really aren’t doing anything for the kingdom, all they are doing is putting in time.
When Apple computer’s co-founder Steve Jobs approached John Sculley vice president of Pepsi about coming on board with Apple as chairman of the company he asked him the question “Are you content to spend your life selling fizzy water or do you want to change the world?”
And so we have to ask ourselves do we want to spend our life playing church or do we want to change the world. Do we want to stay comfortable? Right now we have moved into the comfort zone. We have been in our new building for almost four years, as a matter of fact four years ago on this date the building looked something like this and on this date four years ago the number of people who worshipped with us that Sunday was 38. We are known and respected in the community; we are seeing new people come out on a regular basis. We can settle back now we have it made.
It was a cushy church and they knew it. It’s easy to get comfortable, I’ve told you this before but in one of my previous churches we had a man who was a very Godly man, and yet when we talked about building he was opposed because we had enough room in the church for everyone who came. And he couldn’t understand why parking needed to be expanded; after all he had a parking spot. He didn’t realize that you would never need the space you didn’t have.
And then one day, into Nehemiah’s comfortable little life came an interruption. His brother had just come back from Jerusalem and in passing time Nehemiah asked in Nehemiah 1:2 Hanani, one of my brothers, came to visit me with some other men who had just arrived from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had returned there from captivity and about how things were going in Jerusalem. He was just passing time, you know you run into somebody from the old home town and you say “how’s everybody doing?” You don’t really care but it is the proper thing to do. “Hi, how are you? Oh really and everybody in the old neighbourhood? Good, good.” You know how it’s done but this time instead of hearing that everything was going just fine he was in for a shock because what his brother told him was Nehemiah 1:3 They said to me, “Things are not going well for those who returned to the province of Judah. They are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem has been torn down, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
2) He Was Challenged Now to be frank that wasn’t what our hero wanted to hear, he wanted to hear that everything was going alright. But that wasn’t the story. In fact the story was just the opposite, things were going rotten. And that got to Nehemiah, he may well have been living in exile, and living the life of Riley, so to speak, but he was still a Jew at heart and Jerusalem was still his spiritual home, and to hear about the tragedy surrounding those who had chosen to return to Jerusalem broke his heart. His reaction is recorded in Nehemiah 1:4 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven.
Nehemiah was upset, the news shook him, probably if he had of stopped to think about it before he would have realized that was what was happening but he had never stepped out of his comfort zone before long enough to be concerned about anything except for his own welfare.
And then God intrudes into our comfort zone to remind us that there are men and women, boys and girls out there who don’t know Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and that they are going to die and go to hell, and then he has the nerve to remind us of Matthew 28:19-20 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
And so we discover that we aren’t alone in our cushy little church, playing religion and having a good time, but that we have a purpose for being here. You see the very things that make our church comfortable make our church grow. We’re not here simply as a comfort club for the saints we are here to make a difference. The greatest definition I’ve ever seen of Christians was given by the religious leaders in Thessalonica who dragged the Christians to the city rulers and in Acts 17:6
we read the charges “Paul and Silas have turned the rest of the world upside down, and now they are here disturbing our city,” they shouted. When was the last time our church was referred to as “those who have turned the world upside down?” And we need to grasp the reality of hell, and the reality of eternal damnation and that there are men and women, friends and relatives, spouses and children who are destined for a Christ less eternity. And when that happens then like Nehemiah we will sit down and weep, we will fast and mourn.
And so in his concern Nehemiah began to pray and began to ask God, “Why don’t you do something?” But the problem didn’t go away, and it weighed down Nehemiah’s spirit, and this normal happy go lucky guy began to look down and act down, until even his boss noticed that this wasn’t the same old Nehemiah. In Nehemiah 2:2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don’t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.”
Hey Nehemiah what’s wrong? How come you look like your puppy died? And Nehemiah explained the entire thing to the king, because when you are concerned about something you like to spread the concern around. Maybe you think that the load will lighten if you make some other people feel guilty as well. And so Nehemiah poured out his heart to the king. And the king did something totally unspiritual; instead of asking “what is God going to do about this?” he asked “What do you want me to do about this?”
And so Nehemiah gave a typical Christian response and said “let me pray about it.” As if he hadn’t already been praying about it for five months. And so while the scriptures don’t give us a complete description of the conversation that Nehemiah had with God we can only presume that it went somewhere along the lines of “God, it’s me Nehemiah, ah look the king wants to know what he should do about Jerusalem. It’s like a real answer to prayer; you know when I prayed that you would call up somebody to fix the walls around Jerusalem. I’m really glad that you answered the prayer, so like what do you want the king to do? You want him to give me some time off? Sure like I could always use a vacation but what do you want the king to do concerning the walls of Jerusalem? You want him to give me some time off so I can go and fix the walls surrounding Jerusalem. God, that isn’t what I had in mind when I prayed that you would call somebody to fix the walls. I mean like what’s wrong with my brother Hanani? Like here am I, send Hanani. Oh, you want me huh?”
You ever have discussions like that with God? “Hey God why don’t you call somebody to do this?” And the next thing you know he’s saying “Hey no problem, go for it.” “Hey God the church needs x amount of money to relocate, or for a new copier or there is a need for volunteers with the kids or the youth, or whatever, could you please provide it? And he says “I have provided it, now you just have to give it or do it.” “No God, you don’t understand, I wanted somebody else to give it, and somebody else to do it.”
But Nehemiah bit the bullet and went back to the king and told him Nehemiah 2:5 I replied, “If it please the king, and if you are pleased with me, your servant, send me to Judah to rebuild the city where my ancestors are buried.”
3) He Was Committed I like Nehemiah’s vision at this point, notice he didn’t say he wanted to go look at the wall, or he wasn’t going to pray over the wall, he wasn’t even going to look to see if it could be done. He said that he was going to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall, plain and simple.
“Hey Nehemiah, you ever consider that the job might be too big for you?” “Maybe. But it’s not too big for me and God.” We need to realize that as Christians we don’t function alone, remember Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Doesn’t say “I can do everything by myself” nope, it says Philippians 4:13 For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.
And we have to realize that in this life God doesn’t expect us to operate as the Lone Ranger. As God asks us as individuals and corporately, that is as a group to do things, we need to realize that he will never ask us to do anything that he won’t provide us with the ability to do. And so Nehemiah decides that he’s off to rebuild the wall surrounding Jerusalem.
Now even though Nehemiah had this incredible vision of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and even though Nehemiah had this incredible faith in believing that he could rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. And even though Nehemiah seemed to set out to do a seemingly impossible task he was realistic in his goals. Nehemiah 2:6 The king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked, “How long will you be gone? When will you return?” After I told him how long I would be gone, the king agreed to my request.
The bible doesn’t tell us at this point how long Nehemiah set down but if we are willing to jump ahead a bit into Nehemiah 5:14 we discover that all up it took Nehemiah twelve years to complete his task.
Nehemiah didn’t really plan on doing the job in a week, or a month or even a year. He realized that he had to set a realistic goal. God does perform miracles, there is no doubt about that, and the fact that Nehemiah was able to reconstruct the walls of Jerusalem at all was a miracle, but God often uses men, and women and the talents that they have to perform his miracles.
As we look at where God wants Cornerstone to be and to go over the next few years we need to not only look at what God can do, but what God can do through us. How much are we willing to do to see the task completed? Nehemiah surrendered twelve years of comfort, twelve years of his “cushy job” twelve years of his life. And because of that willingness God was able to perform a miracle through Nehemiah’s life.
How willing are we to allow ourselves to be used for miracles? How often are we willing to pay the price? We set the goals, we dream the dreams, we see the visions. But are we willing to go to the mark and say; “Here I am God, I am willing to do whatever go wherever and give however much you ask.” But you know what they saying “When it comes to giving, most people will stop at nothing.” What would happen if we exhibited that desire and commitment in our Christian faith? Miracles? Undoubtedly.
And so Nehemiah packed up everything he had, piled it on the back of his camel, checked out his BCA (Babylonian Camel Association) road map and struck out across the desert toward Jerusalem. When he got to Jerusalem he looked at the rubble surrounding the gates and walls of the city and after surveying the damage he called a general meeting of the people and told them what God had laid on his heart.
You gotta realize that God had made it Nehemiah’s vision and Nehemiah’s dreams but he had to share them with the rest of God’s people. God very seldom reveals his will to committees directly. Usually God reveals his plans, and dreams and visions to a leader and it is up to that leader to convey those dreams, plans and visions to God’s people. Throughout the bible we see that principle illustrated, whether it was with Abraham, or Gideon, or David, or Solomon, or Moses, or Daniel. God spoke to an individual and through him the dreams became a reality.
God lay’s visions on my heart for this congregation and it is up to me to share those visions with you. But don’t feel bad because they didn’t start with you, that doesn’t make them any less yours. It was David’s dream for the tabernacle, and it was Solomon who built it, but it couldn’t have been done without the help of every person that contributed financially, or gave of their time, or of their talents to see that building completed.
When Nehemiah had shared the burden on his heart to the people of Jerusalem, they responded in Nehemiah 2:18 by saying “Yes! Let’s rebuild the wall!”
We have just such a challenge ahead of us today. Four years ago when we were getting ready to move into the building I had a couple of concerns 1) How would 40 people pay an $8,000.00 a month mortgage and 2) How pathetic would 40 people look worshipping in this worship centre?
Over the next year or two we are going to be facing new and bigger challenges. In the past three and a half years the size of our congregation has quintupled, is that a word? If we quintuple over the next 4 years we would be trying to figure out what to do with over 1200 people. But even numerically if we were to grow by the 200 people that we have added since 2005 we would have close to 450 people on a Sunday morning. And if that is going to happen it will require sacrifices on all of our part. How many services will we have to have in order to grow to that point? The two we have now and . . . I don’t know a Saturday evening service? A Sunday evening service?
At what point will we have to bite the bullet and think about expanding? Don’t tell anyone but we already have at least a tentative concept for an expansion and Jason and I have already spoken to a planner with the city.
Because what are the options? How many service are feasible and practical. You understand that right now I preach at the 9:00 and the 10:30 and then in the afternoon Angela and I go to the Berkeley and do a third service. Some people are opposed to the church growing, they are afraid we will get too big or will lose our sense of family. So what is the alternative? Do we just put up a sign that tells our community “We are full, so just go away”? And if we believe what we say we believe about peoples need for Jesus would be basically be saying to the community “We are full, so you can go to hell.”
But if we are committed to reaching our community and touching as many lives as God allows us to touch then eventually we will have to expand. And when that happens the question will be how much are we as a congregation be willing to sacrifice to make that a reality?
But whatever we decide the bottom line is still, Psalm 127:1 Unless the Lord builds a house, the work of the builders is wasted.