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it up? Who did you try to hide it from? Do you remember how you felt? I do. I have a vivid memory of 7th grade in my own home. We lived in Colorado, and we had a basement because our house was built on a hill. So it was a separate area with a television and pool table and was for the kids. I was there one night and I had a couple girls spending the night. Not my normal friends, they were „bad girls,‟ you know? And so somewhere in the evening someone brought up the bright idea that you can spray hairspray on a carpet and light it on fire and then quickly put it out and it won‟t leave a mark. This was revolutionary for our young minds. We tried a little circle, and lit it up, and it lit up a circle, and then we pat it out. WOW! We were pumped. So we tried a bigger circle. Lit. Put it out. Then we tried a peace sign. Then our names. Then other symbols. All over the carpet. It was the COOLEST. We felt like rebels and the best part was that no one would find out. My innocent parents slept through the whole thing. Well the next morning the girls left early and I went downstairs to clean up to the mess from our sleepover and instead of chips and pillows, to my horror I saw peace signs and names and symbols all over the carpet. True, we hadn‟t burnt down the house but we had created burn marks all over of our brilliant symbols. And you can‟t clean up burns. The carpet forever had those marks. I was horrified. I was guilty. I remember trying to move around furniture to hide it. But it was no use. The carpet was ruined and „SARAH‟ was burnt all over. I‟m sure my dad remembers that morning too. What happens when we break things? When we ruin things? When we hurt things? We all handle broken things differently. And we handle it different personally than we do when we break things as a group. What about our own church wall for instance? It is half-done and we continue to not come together to finish it? What else is broken in this church that we ignore? Sometimes when things are broken we hide. Sometimes we hide the broken thing. We feel guilty. We try to ignore it. We reason it away; it‟s not that big a deal. It‟s not really broken. It‟s better that it‟s broken. It‟s someone else‟s problem.
This was what was happening with God‟s people in the New Testament and we are going to see how they handled broken things and then how GOD led one man to fix the broken things together with God‟s people. We are going to read from the book of Nehemiah today, and I really feel like God has a word in season for us out of this book. I am going to read to you from the book of Nehemiah in the New Living Translation so you can hear these words with fresh ears:
Nehemiah 1:1-3 These are the memoirs of Nehemiah son of Hacaliah.
Nehemiah‟s Concern for Jerusalem
In late autumn, in the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes‟ reign,[a] I was at the fortress of Susa. 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.
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.”
This is a very interesting and important time in the life of God‟s people, the Israelites, and so let me tell you why what Nehemiah is learning is so important. The walls of Jerusalem had a huge purpose, they were to protect Jerusalem and it‟s people and had been up since ancient times. God‟s people had been taken from Jerusalem and everything - the temple and the walls had been torn down. God actually allowed the Babylonians to take over the Israelites because the Israelites were sinful and wouldn‟t listen to God. At this point in Israel‟s history, the Israelites had been allowed to return and rebuild the temple but Nehemiah learns the walls were still broken down. Nehemiah was a Jew but also an important man in the kingdom, he was cupbearer to the king. So he is a Jew, being held captive by a stronger
nation at that time, the Babylonians, but he had risen to a place of influence and trust in this foreign government. So slowly the Babylonians were letting some of them return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and then later Nehemiah learns of the progress from his brother who just visited Jerusalem. Now Nehemiah is a strong man, an influential man, a man of great stature, but let‟s see how he responds to this news of his people.
Nehemiah 1:4-11 When I heard this, I sat down and wept. In fact, for days I mourned, fasted, and prayed to the God of heaven. 5 Then I said, “O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, 6 listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people Israel. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family and I have sinned! 7 We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands, decrees, and regulations that you gave us through your servant Moses.
remember what you told your servant Moses: „If you are unfaithful to me, I will scatter you among the nations. 9 But if you return to me and obey my commands and live by them, then even if you are exiled to the ends of the earth, I will bring you back to the place I have chosen for my name to be honored.‟
people you rescued by your great power and strong hand are your servants. 11 O Lord, please hear my prayer! Listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you. Please grant me success today by making the king favorable to me.[b] Put it into his heart to be kind to me.”
What Nehemiah encounters that day is not something foreign to all of us. Nehemiah encounters a broken thing. Something is wrong. Something is broken. Something needs to be fixed. We all have broken things in our own life and in our world. What is unique is how Nehemiah handles the brokenness. Nehemiah is actually and example of how God longs to work through His people when they encounter the brokenness of this world. There are two simple but profound steps that God‟s people need to take with broken places and broken things, and the first is found in this first chapter of Nehemiah. Nehemiah‟s response to the broken walls of Jerusalem was a broken heart. He loved the people of God and the glory of God. He was in anguish because God‟s special people were unprotected, shamed and humiliated. He wept because the glory of God was hidden. Verse 4 tells us that he sat down and mourned for days. If we love God then we should love what he loves. If we love God‟s people then we should celebrate when they are whole and weep when they are broken. There are so many things broken today in this world that sometimes we react in ways we would never expect. We know how we react when we break a glass or something in our home, but often we have that same reaction when the brokenness in this world is the church or people We ignore it. We hide it. We feel guilty that people are broken but do nothing about it. We try to say it‟s someone else‟s fault. It‟s not just the people outside on these streets that are broken; our OWN people here are broken. We are broken. We need to come to our people with a heart like Nehemiah‟s. He wept. He grieved. He fasted and he PRAYED. He sought the heart of God asking FORGIVENESS and for an ANSWER to make it right. There are many broken walls in this church and I‟m not talking about the ones outside, but often we act the same about our literal walls that we do about our spiritual walls. We start but we stop. It‟s someone else‟s job. We ignore it. We hope it will go away. But brokenness will not just GO AWAY. Broken people need a whole God. And it‟s our job to pray for them. To grieve for them. To love them. When God‟s Spirit begins to move among his people, they see the broken walls and begin to care. They turn from indifference, and their
hearts are broken over what doesn‟t glorify Jesus in his church. They take ownership of their own compromise. They cry out to God and ask him to intervene. We should hate sin in our church, we should hate brokenness, and we should take it to God and pray over it. It‟s not YOUR fault that you are broken, it‟s OUR fault. We are supposed to be ONE CHURCH. It wasn‟t literally Nehemiah‟s fault that the wall wasn‟t done, but it was ONE CHURCH, so he took it to God as if it was His sin. We are one in Christ. We fall together but we will rise together. Next we see in Nehemiah how we should respond to the brokenness in our world and in our church.
Nehemiah 2:1-6 Early the following spring, in the month of Nisan,[a] during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes‟ reign, I was serving the king his wine. I had never before appeared sad in his presence. 2 So the king asked me, “Why are you looking so sad? You don‟t look sick to me. You must be deeply troubled.” Then I was terrified, 3 but I replied, “Long live the king! How can I not be sad? For the city where my ancestors are buried is in ruins, and the gates have been destroyed by fire.”
king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
With a prayer to the God of heaven, 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.”
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.
Second, Nehemiah should fill us with an incredible confidence that if we turn to God and cry out for his help, he will help, and point us towards ACTION to rebuild the brokenness
Being the true church and rebuilding broken things isn‟t just about prayer, but it‟s about true action. Nehemiah didn‟t just cry over the brokenness, or talk about it at a CPF meeting, or pray for it at a church service, he prayed that God would give him the opportunity to DO SOMETHING. And God DID. Nehemiah has decisive and strong action to rebuild. He doesn‟t try to get a team together, he doesn‟t have a meeting, he takes it upon himself to lead the way. He thinks if he doesn‟t do it maybe no one will. And he knows he HAS to act. Nehemiah prayed, “... give success to your servant today.” He was asking God to use him and he was looking for an immediate opportunity. That‟s prayer and readiness for action. Nehemiah doesn‟t over spiritualize what‟s happening. “Oh God break our hearts for what breaks yours…” NO, break me and then give me a way to rebuild the walls! Things are broken around us, but WE are God‟s hands and feet in this world. We are supposed to get messy and dirty and sweaty rebuilding this place. It‟s not someone else‟s job; it‟s YOURS. It‟s MINE. It‟s been interesting in a million ways having my parents here, but one of them is because they can be a mirror, realizing things about our lives that we don‟t even notice. They have brought to my attention multiple times the number of kids in our home all the time. It‟s so normal to me now, I don‟t even notice. They talk about how we are patient. How we love them. How we are intentional. I don‟t always feel patient with all the kids in my house. When they are always using my phone and it‟s sticky and frozen when I get it back. How they bring in dirt and smell different than I do. We joke that they have a radar at their homes and literally know exactly when we drive into our home because they show up immediately. I don‟t always feel patient with these kids, but they are in our lives for a reason. Many of you know that my heart breaks for the children in Ocean View. I think they are vulnerable and abused and hurting and I grieve for them. Well it could end there for me. I could give them a 5 rand here or there, or make sure to smile at them, but God has helped me turn it into action. I recently realized that some of the most vulnerable and abused kids are the ones who most often are at our home. And they don‟t ALWAYS make the right choices, but I prayed to influence children and God gave me a way. Now I don‟t always want to talk to them or feed them or let them in, but it‟s
not about me. It‟s about rebuilding broken places in people and so I love them because God does. They are my kids and I am proud of them. I don‟t just pray for them at night I come to God‟s feet for an answer to their pain and move every day confident that He will use me. I can‟t FIX them, but God can and I believe God will rebuild the broken places in their hearts. And I pray I help in that. You see, Nehemiah didn‟t just randomly decide one day to rebuild the walls. God LED him to do that through his prayer and fasting. Don‟t try to fix things yourselves, God has the BEST answers and will give them to you. Wait on Him. Seek Him. Listen to Him. ACT with Him. Sometimes we over-spiritualize the work necessary to advance God‟s cause. Nehemiah doesn‟t fall prey to the lie that being a person of faith means you don‟t need to plan and prepare. Nehemiah prays for an answer, gets the answer and ACTS. WE have acted this year – the bazaar and the food parcels for the poor. We are a diverse church, we are growing, we are learning, we are falling more in love with God. We can act, but God has so much more for us. We must look around, our hearts must break for the broken walls, and then we must pray and act. And the action isn‟t for only the pastors, it‟s for me and you. Where is God calling you? What breaks your heart? What is broken in your life, in this church, in our community hat needs to be rebuilt?
Let us then approach God‟s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
It‟s not just your time of need, or her time of need, or his time of
need, we are ONE in Christ and our walls are broken. It‟s time to rebuild, so who will come to these broken things and pray for an answer. Who will pick up the bricks and begin to build. Nehemiah did, and I want to also.
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