Early in 1990, a man named Harry Myers called me. Connie and I were in Plano, Texas at the time working at First Christian Church. I didn’t know who Harry Myers was at the time, but he told me all about Britton Christian Church and then he said he had gotten my name from a friend. Harry told me they were looking for a pastor. I thanked him for calling, but told him I was happy working at First Christian in Plano. Harry was persistent. He called a few more times, but each time I didn’t budge. Harry called one day and said, “Can I come down and meet you?” I said, “Sure, but I really am happy here in Plano.”
Harry came down and we met at a restaurant. I wish I had video of the meeting. Harry was in his late 70s at the time, but there was a fire in his eyes. He described the great days he and his family had experienced at Britton Christian, but he described those days as days gone by. He sounded like Nehemiah’s brother, Hanani, who told Nehemiah about the desperate situation of the people living in Jerusalem. By the time we finished talking Harry asked if Connie and I would come and see the church for ourselves. I was very happy in Plano, I’m a pretty strong-willed individual, but nobody, and I mean nobody, could have told Harry Myers “No” that day.
Long story short, Connie and I arrived here at Britton Christian Church the first Sunday of June in 1990. The walls were still standing, but the upstairs of the Education Building, where all of the children used to gather for Sunday school, was being used as storage. Our boys, Dan and Nate, were just little ones, but the nursery was locked. I could go on describing how tough things were, but I don’t have enough time to lay it all out before you. I can say there weren’t many people here for worship and to make things even worse, during the first year we were here I think we had 12 or 13 funerals.
The first book of the Bible we went through in morning worship was the book of Nehemiah. We learned how Nehemiah relied on the Lord through prayer, we learned how Nehemiah took notes about what had happened and what needed to happen, and we learned that Nehemiah didn’t rebuild the wall on his own–everyone pitched in to help. I’m sharing this mainly for those of you who do not know the story of how God “rebuilt” the walls of Britton Christian Church. What we learned from Nehemiah shaped us as a church and continues to guide us to this very day. Now, it is March of 2020 and we are still relying on the Lord through prayer. We know the Lord has called us to be a “Lighthouse of Hope to the City,” but He is constantly showing us new ways to let His light shine in our community. And, like Nehemiah and the people of Jerusalem, we have faced challenges, difficult days, and opposition through the years, but we’ve always known, once again like Nehemiah, “the God of heaven will give us success” if we simply stay focused on Him and the work He has given us. What a blessing! Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Nehemiah 2:11-20.
11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. 13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate. 16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. 17 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.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. 19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (Nehemiah 2:11-20 NIVO)
So many of those who have written books and commentaries about Nehemiah have written for leaders. Some of the titles I’ve run across this past week are, “Learning Leadership From Nehemiah,” “Hand Me Another Brick: Timeless Lessons on Leadership,” and “Nehemiah: Becoming a Godly Leader.” There’s no doubt, the lessons we can learn from studying Nehemiah can provide leaders with invaluable lessons, but the problem with this, for me is, most of us don’t see ourselves as leaders. I’m convinced that the lessons we learn from Nehemiah are for all of us. We may not be leading companies, sports teams, or neighborhood organizations, but each and every one of us has influence. Influence isn’t simply bestowed because of a title like “boss,” but influence is earned through relationships. You and I have influence with those we work with each day. Kids have influence with their friends. Parents, you have influence with the children the Lord has given you to raise in the ways of the Lord. Those of you who are volunteering to go to Britton Elementary School and read with Kindergarten kids each week, you need to understand that even though you may see those little ones for an hour a week, you have influence in their lives. I could go on and on, but I think you get the point, we all have influence and the lessons we are learning from Nehemiah are invaluable for us to be able to use our influence to bless and teach others.
Last time we were together we learned the king had given Nehemiah everything he needed so that he could travel to Jerusalem and rebuild the walls. Things could not have gone any better. You might think that it would be smooth sailing ahead because Nehemiah said all of this had taken place because the gracious hand of God was upon him. What’s interesting is that the next two verses tells us,
9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me. 10 When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites. (Nehemiah 2:9-10 NIVO)
It is not going to be smooth sailing ahead…it never is. This life is difficult. There will be times of peace, there will be times of quiet, but we must humbly praise God for those times and not expect that to be the norm. Expect that the road will be rough, the challenges will be exhausting, but God will be faithful every step of the way. Someone once said, “Faith will move mountains, but don’t be surprised when God hands you a shovel.” Let’s take a look at Nehemiah 2:11-12.
11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few men. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on. (Nehemiah 2:11-12 NIVO)
Don’t skip over verse 11. What did Nehemiah do for the first three days he was in Jerusalem. We don’t know exactly, but we do know what Ezra did when he first arrived in Jerusalem because he told us in Ezra 8:32.
32 So we arrived in Jerusalem, where we rested three days. (Ezra 8:32 NIVO)
Nehemiah probably did the same thing. It had been a long journey. He needed to rest up so he could be ready for the work to be done. In Mark 6, we are told that Jesus and the disciples were so busy they didn’t even have time to eat. How did Jesus respond to the frantic pace of the day? Turn with me to Mark 6:31 and I’ll show you.
31 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” (Mark 6:31 NIVO)
It is good to work and to work hard. It is good to make the most of the opportunities that are before us, but we must find time to rest, replenish, and be renewed. Even God rested after six days of creation in Genesis 2:2.
After Nehemiah rested for three days, he got up and set out. He tells us in verse 12, that he took only a few men with him to inspect the walls that had been broken down. He went out on his reconnaissance mission at night. He didn’t tell anyone what God had put in his heart, he didn’t tell them about his plan to rebuild the walls, he kept things quiet while he was gathering information. This is important for you and me.
We know Nehemiah was a man of prayer, we’ve witnessed his prayer already in the first two chapters of his journal. At the same time that Nehemiah was praying, he was planning. During the four months Nehemiah prayed for God to give him favor with King Artaxerxes, Nehemiah was beginning to put together a plan. There’s no doubt that Nehemiah was doing both as he rode the perimeter of the broken down walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah had heard about the condition of the walls and gates, but he had never seen them for himself. I noticed something this past week as I was studying these verses that really caught my attention.
Do you remember when Hanani told Nehemiah about the condition of the city and the people? Nehemiah sat down and wept, he fasted, he prayed, and he continued to weep and pray for what he said were many days. He had never seen Jerusalem, he had no idea what the destroyed wall looked like, but he wept over the condition of the city and the people. Now that Nehemiah is riding the perimeter, seeing the Valley Gate, the Jackal Wall, and the Dung Gate for the very first time, he could have never imagined that it was as bad as what he was seeing with his own eyes. Did you notice what he was not doing? There’s no hint of emotion. Nehemiah had no time to grieve now that he was in Jerusalem. Nehemiah was locked in on the task at hand. What Nehemiah saw was devastating, but Nehemiah was putting together a plan. Dr. Derek Thomas wrote,
God had told him, God had put it into his heart, but the details he had to work out for himself. He had to employ his wisdom. He had to wait upon the Lord; he had to engage in all of the necessary stratagems in order to effectively work out what it is that they would need. Careful planning in everything that you do…in Christian work you need careful planning. (Dr. Derek Thomas, Inspection: Nehemiah 2:9-20)
That’s such great wisdom for you and me regardless of whether we are talking about where we go from here as a church, how you and your family proceed in the days ahead with your family, or your path ahead in life. You need to pray and you need a plan. After Nehemiah finished surveying the walls and gates, he tells us, in Nehemiah 2:16-18.
16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work. 17 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.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (Nehemiah 2:16-18 NIVO)
Nehemiah gathered with the leaders of the people of Jerusalem and then, in verse 17, he spoke to them for the first time about what he had seen. There are three words in verse 17 that jump out at me: “We, us, and we.” Nehemiah wasn’t the reason the wall was in shambles. Nehemiah hadn’t allowed the walls to be down for 150 years. So why didn’t he say, “Look what you’ve done! Why haven’t you done anything about the horrible condition of these walls? Have you no shame?!” That’s not how you motivate people. You don’t inspire others by beating them down. Nehemiah identified with the people, he put himself in the same predicament they were in by using “we” and “us.” I wish I had a week to go through all of the scenarios where this principle could help you and me in our relationships. Let me just share a couple. Do you have a marriage that is on the rocks? Things aren’t going well with your spouse. Don’t point long fingers of condemnation and let your husband or wife know that if they would just get their act together then you’d be happy. Instead, let them know that “we” have a problem and that “we” can work through it, it’ll take lots of work, but we can do it with the Lord’s help. Maybe you’ve got a child whose making bad decisions, I can tell you that grinding on them won’t change them. Maybe you should talk about coming alongside of them, ask him or her, “How can we figure this out?” “What can we do to make better decisions?” I’m not suggesting that you or I gloss over the problem, Nehemiah didn’t do that, but what he did do was take up a shovel and a hammer and help turn things around. Let me show you what I’m talking about. Read verse 17 with me again.
17 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.” (Nehemiah 2:17 NIVO)
You can easily see that Nehemiah didn’t downplay the problem, he didn’t make excuses either. He said, “Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.”
Oftentimes we use extrinsic motivation to try and motivate others. I can remember many years ago meeting with a man whose marriage was on the rocks. He had messed up big time and she was having a hard time forgiving him. So, what did he do? He bought her an expensive new Lexus for Valentine’s Day. She didn’t turn down the gift, but the new car didn’t soften her heart one bit.
We use extrinsic motivation to try and get our kids to do better in school. “Honey, I’ll give you $10 for every ‘A’ you make on your report card.” There’s nothing wrong with extrinsic motivation. Adults as well as kids like rewards. If you are the top salesperson at your company you might win a trip to Hawaii or Cancun or a pink Cadillac. Extrinsic motivation works some of the time, but intrinsic motivation is much better.
Nehemiah didn’t use extrinsic motivation on the people of Jerusalem. There was no promise of a weekend trip to a Dead Sea Spa or having their names carved in the donor section of the wall once it was rebuilt. He simply said, “Come, let us rebuild…and we will no longer be in disgrace.” Nehemiah did share an important bit of information with the people in verse 18, when he said,
18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me. They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (Nehemiah 2:18 NIVO)
God had been opening doors for Nehemiah. He shared with the people how God had opened doors and the favor God had given him with King Artaxerxes, the same king who had ordered the building on the wall to stop some fifteen years earlier. The people sensed God’s hand at work and what they heard Nehemiah sharing inspired them to say, “Let’s get started!” Piece of cake right? Nehemiah got everything he asked for from the king. The people have total buy in with Nehemiah on rebuilding the wall. Who knew life could be so good? But hold on a minute. In the very next verse we read,
19 But when Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab heard about it, they mocked and ridiculed us. “What is this you are doing?” they asked. “Are you rebelling against the king?” 20 I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.” (Nehemiah 2:19-20 NIVO)
If you are going to serve the Lord, if you are going to allow yourself to be used by God to do His work, to speak His truth, then you are going to face opposition. The enthusiasm of the crowd, who had decided to take up the task of rebuilding the wall, was still hanging in the air when Sanballat, Tobiah, and Gershem showed up and began to mock and ridicule Nehemiah and the people.
Opposition comes in many forms and it all stings. Many years ago a friend of mine who is nationally known for his ministry came to OKC. I picked him up at the airport and we came back to the church. We were talking about his family and ministry and what was going on here at Britton Christian Church when my friend said, “Hays, what are you still doing here?” I knew what he meant. “What are you still doing in this little church in this little out-of-the-way neighborhood? You can do more.” I looked at my friend and said, “There’s no place I’d rather be than here.”
Nehemiah didn’t answer Sanballate, Tobiah, and Geshem the same way I answered my friend. He said, “The God of heaven will give us success. We, his servants, will start rebuilding…” It was a different answer, but the same sentiment wasn’t it? Nehemiah, in effect said, “There’s no place I’d rather be than here doing God’s work.”
I’ve had several of those conversations with friends through the years and many years ago the Lord gave me a phrase that I’ve never forgotten. You should write this down because it applies to you as well. “It doesn’t matter that people understand what I’m doing, but it does matter that I understand what God has given me to do.” Know what the Lord is calling you to do and don’t let the Sanballats and Tobiahs distract you. One more thing before we go. Before you can ever know what God has given you to “do,” you must know who you are. You must know your identity. Is your identity “in Christ” or are you being shaped by what others think about you, your job performance, your status at the club, or your accomplishments in life? I want to give you an invitation this morning to root your identity in Jesus Christ. If you’ve never surrendered your life to Jesus then please, please don’t let this opportunity pass you by. Come forward and give me your hand as you give Jesus your heart.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 8, 2020