Hanging with Who?

September 19, 2011

He was a little confused.  There were some people who loved him and others who hated him. He thought he was doing a good thing, a necessary thing, even a God thing, but obviously there were those who disagreed. 
Nehemiah was one of the Jews living in exile and was in the service of the King of Babylon a king by the name of Artaxerxes, whom for simplicity sake we will now refer to simply as King Art.
And Nehemiah’s life had been very comfortable, he had a great job, a nice place to live and job security for as long as he lived. He was the King’s cupbearer, which doesn’t seem to be much of a job today but then it was very important.  In a time and place when leaders were deposed with more permanence then a vote of non-confidence a king couldn’t be too careful.
Thus, if you were a smart king, 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 kind of like the guy who fell of the ten story building and when he went by the third floor someone heard him say “so far, so good.”   Nehemiah had it made, and he knew it.
And then one day his comfortable little world was disrupted when his brother showed up after having been away for a while. They were sitting down having a Tim’s and Nehemiah asked Hanani how things were going in the old home town, not really expecting an answer or at least not an honest answer.   And if you think people really want to know how you are the next time someone asks you,  tell them the truth.
But Hanani obviously chose being honest over being polite because he said “You know brother, it stinks, Jerusalem is in ruins, the walls around the city have collapsed and everyone is just kind of moping around. It’s really kind of sad.”
And for some reason something clicked with Nehemiah, he had no real connection to Jerusalem, his grandparents had been brought to Babylon as slaves sixty years before and Jerusalem was no more tangible than was the far side of the moon.  He had heard about it before, he even knew that it had been destroyed and left in ruins, but it had never been real before.  And now for whatever reason it broke his heart.  And the more he thought about it the more it bothered him, it began to gnaw away at his very being and eventually he began to mope around and it wasn’t long before the king noticed that something was bothering Nehemiah.  After all Nehemiah was a constant fixture at the king’s table, he was always there with the king’s cup. 
Well it didn’t take much prompting from the king before Nehemiah poured out his heart, telling his boss the entire story, how Jerusalem had been left in ruins and that it was breaking his heart. The king asked what he wanted to do about it and the words he spoke almost came from their own volition.  He wanted to return to this city he had only heard of and do the impossible, he wanted to rebuild the walls and rehang the gates.  And amazingly enough the king agreed and that is where we began our story. 
He was a little confused.  There were some people who loved him and others who hated him. He thought he was doing a good thing, a necessary thing, even a God thing, but obviously there were those who disagreed. 
The story is found in the book of Nehemiah which is the 16th book of the Bible. 
We are told that the book was probably penned by the prophet Ezra drawing from Nehemiah’s memoirs.  You’ll remember that the Babylonians had conquered Israel in 586 BC and had taken the residents of Jerusalem into captivity.  Persia in turn conquered Babylon in 539 BC and later allowed the Jews who wanted to return home.  Some chose to remain because Babylon had become home.
Under Ezra the remnant who returned had rebuilt the temple, but the city walls were still in ruin.  The events that the book chronicles happened between 444 and 432 B.C.
So what’s up with Nehemiah?  Well throughout the story we run into a multitude of different characters, each who has his own agenda and who affected Nehemiah and his quest in different ways.  As I read through the book I realized that the same is true with us as well, that none of us function in a vacuum, in isolation.
We all are surrounded by people, for good and for bad.  It was John Donne who wrote “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” So, who are some of the people that Nehemiah comes in contact with and what effect do they have on our hero?
 
1) Nehemiah Had His Sponsor  At some point or another we are all going to need a sponsor in our life.  Someone who believes in us and is willing to go to bat for us. This is the person in your life that you could call at 3 o’clock in the morning and tell them you need a thousand dollars and they would write you a cheque or go to the bank machine and get the money.  This is the person in your life that you could tell your deepest darkest secret and they wouldn’t walk away.  You can call them your sponsor, or your mentor or your best friend. 
Reminds me of the bumper sticker that says “Friends help you move, best friends help you move bodies!”  Just kidding.
In Nehemiah’s case this was the King, what had started out as a master servant relationship had obviously morphed into something completely different.  The king not only believed in Nehemiah and Nehemiah’s dreams but he wanted to be a part of them and he didn’t just pay lip service.  When he asked Nehemiah what was bothering him and then Nehemiah told him listen to the King’s response, Nehemiah 2:4 The king asked, “Well, how can I help you?”
Now it’s easy to ask that question but where the rubber meets the road is when a person tells you how they can help.  “How can I help you?”  “Well I’m glad you asked, you could do this and this and this.” What now?
 I guess there’s one of two things that will happen, either it will get done or it won’t get done.  
Listen to what happened in this case,  after Nehemiah stated his case and told the king exactly what he would need we read in Nehemiah 2:8 . . . And the king granted these requests,
Take a look around, we often take this building for granted, for most of those who worship at Cornerstone the building was always here, but it has only been here since 2005.  Before that we worshipped at the LeBrun Centre in Bedford and before that at the Empire Cinemas in Bedford. 
And there came a time that we decided that we needed to build and we discovered that the guidelines for borrowing money from our denomination are similar to what the banks used to be, they like to limit the amount you borrow to around three times your annual income and our annual income at Cornerstone was around $80,000.00 when we were getting to build.  That would justify a mortgage of around $250,000.00, which was the before tax price of our land, no building, just our land. 
And HC Wilson, our district superintendent at the time believed in our vision enough that he signed the papers authorizing a million dollar mortgage.  And if things had of gone south it would have been HC Wilson who would have had to answer for that decision.  You understand that our total income was $80,000.00 a year in the 12 months before we moved into and the payments on our mortgage for the 12 months after we moved in would be $96,000.00 and H.C. Wilson signed the papers because he believed in what we were doing, knowing that if it went south he would go south with it.
Sometimes you don’t even have to ask, I remember when Angela’s dad passed away in 2004 my best friend drove up from Yarmouth the next day to be with us, didn’t ask if he could or should he just did it.  And in 2005 when I was sitting in my office just before we dedicated this building there was a knock on my office door and he was there again.
You probably don’t have too many of these people in your life because it requires such a commitment, and you probably can’t be this type of person to many different people for the same reason.  Which is probably what Thomas Fuller meant when he said “If you have one true friend you have more than your share.”
But Nehemiah wasn’t able to fulfil his dream with just the King.  When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem he spent the first three days scoping out the situation and then he approached the local leaders and told them what God had laid on his heart for them to do.  You might say that he cast the vision for them.  And listen to their response back to him, Nehemiah 2:18 They replied at once, “Yes, let’s rebuild the wall!”   But that wasn’t all the scripture also says, So they began the good work.  2) Nehemiah Had His Supporters  
Throughout the book of Nehemiah you read about people who helped to rebuild the gates and the walls surrounding Jerusalem.  Eliashib helped rebuild the Sheep Gate, the sons of Hassenaah repaired the Fish Gate,  Meremoth repaired one section of wall and Jedaiah fixed the next section.  It was Hasshub who rebuilt the Tower of the Ovens. And how would you like to have been Malkijah who got to repair the Dung Gate.  And then there was Shallum, listen to what he did, Nehemiah 3:15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallum son of Col-hozeh, the leader of the Mizpah district. He rebuilt it, roofed it, set up its doors, and installed its bolts and bars. Then he repaired the wall of the pool of Siloam near the king’s garden, and he rebuilt the wall as far as the stairs that descend from the City of David.  Wow! Talk about an overachiever, that guy was definitely a keener.
If we are going to accomplish everything we need to do in this life we are going to need supporters, they may not be there at 3 o’clock in the morning with a thousand dollars but they will be there to help.  And if you are going to make an impact in the lives of those around you then you need to be willing to help when they need it. 
These are the people who help you move, bring meals when you are sick, watch the dog when you are away.  They might not help you move a body but they will help you move a coach.
Let’s go back to BB, Before the Building.  It was just 8 years ago that we started to seriously talk about buying property and building a church home, and there were a number of people who were all excited until it actually came time to commit something and make some sacrifices and then they disappeared, obviously a lot more talk than walk.
But there were others who were willing to do whatever it took, and vacations were postponed and new cars weren’t bought and 50 or so people committed the 358,000.00 that was the beginning of this building.  And they not only committed it but they paid it. 
Let’s go back to the story Nehemiah 4:1-2 Sanballat was very angry when he learned that we were rebuilding the wall. He flew into a rage and mocked the Jews,    saying in front of his friends and the Samarian army officers, “What does this bunch of poor, feeble Jews think they are doing? Do they think they can build the wall in a day if they offer enough sacrifices? Look at those charred stones they are pulling out of the rubbish and using again!”       3) Nehemiah Had His Critics Here’s the reality folks if you ever say anything or attempt anything worthwhile you will be criticized for it.  And we can’t understand that.  I mean why would people criticize you for doing something good?  Nehemiah must have wondered that himself.  All he was trying to do was rebuild the walls of the city, what could people possibly find wrong with that?  And yet they did. 
Nehemiah should have paid attention to Robert Kennedy who said “One-fifth of the people are against everything all the time.”   Like the old guy in the church was asked “You’ve been here for 80 years, you must have seen a lot of changes.”  To which he replied “Yes, and I was against them all.”  We don’t know for certain exactly why Sanballat was so upset with the rebuilding of the temple but some scholars have said that he was the Governor of Samaria, which is the area to the North of Jerusalem and felt that Nehemiah was encroaching on his territory.  Whatever the reason we find Sanballat surfacing time and time again throughout our story trying to turn the people against Nehemiah. 
How do you answer critics?  Good question, I have been pastoring for 30 years now and believe it or not there have been a few times that people have criticized things that I’ve said and things that I’ve done. Actually there have been more then a few times.  And there are a couple of things that I remember when  Calvin Coolidge was President he said “I have found it advisable not to give too much heed to what people say when I am trying to accomplish something of consequence. Invariably they proclaim it can’t be done. I deem that the very best time to make the effort.”  And the Greek Poet Epictetus wrote “If evil be spoken of you and it be true, correct yourself, if it be a lie, laugh at it.”
 
There will always be critics, realize that and get on with doing what God wants you to do.  Even Jesus who was born perfect and lived a perfect life had critics. 
The next group that Nehemiah had contact with were his critics squared.  Listen to the story in Nehemiah 4:11 Meanwhile, our enemies were saying, “Before they know what’s happening, we will swoop down on them and kill them and end their work.”       4) Nehemiah Had His Enemies  The critics said nasty things about him, and spread rumours about him but it was his enemies that wanted to do nasty things to him. 
That’s pretty serious stuff, and as Henry Kissinger said “Even a paranoid can have enemies.”  But Nehemiah wasn’t going to be put off by threats; he stationed guards whenever he had people working on the wall, he told them to keep a watch out and to be careful. 
In our spiritual life we have enemies, those who not only want to see us fail but actually try to make us fail.  You know what I’m talking about; they try to persuade you to abandon your faith to compromise your morals and to deny your God.  And our greatest enemy is Satan, he wants to leave your spiritual life in ruins and he will use any means possible to do it.  1 Peter 5:8-9 Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour.    Take a firm stand against him, and be strong in your faith.
And like Nehemiah the only solution is to be on guard. 
Nehemiah could never have accomplished what he did, even with the King’s help and his supporters help in the face of his critics and his enemies if he was functioning in his own strength but he wasn’t. Let’s go back to the story: 
Nehemiah 6:15-16 So on October 2 the wall was finally finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized that this work had been done with the help of our God. 5) Nehemiah Had His God  From the very beginning the dreams and desires of Nehemiah came from God. And God helped them do what people said they would never be able to accomplish on their own.  
The story is told that when the Panama canal was being constructed that Colonel George Washington Goethals  faced severe criticism about the project, when a co-worker asked when he would answer his critics Goethals responded “When the canal is finished.”  It appears that worked for Nehemiah as well, listen to Nehemiah 6:15-16 So on October 2 the wall was finally finished—just fifty-two days after we had begun. When our enemies and the surrounding nations heard about it, they were frightened and humiliated. They realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.
When you set out to do something great for God, understand that will not exempt you from criticism or from the attacks of the enemy.  When I first went into the ministry when people criticised me or attacked me personally I would wonder whether or not I was doing the right thing.  But then I realized that people were meeting Jesus and lives were being changed and I couldn’t make everyone happy but I had a moral obligation to make God happy.  Sometimes you will hear me speak of “Playing to an Audience of One.”  And God is that audience. 
That is the secret for your Christian life and for the life of our church to make sure you are doing what God wants you to do.  Because if God is on your side then you are on the winning side.  Listen to Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Let’s read that together Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?
Now let’s personalize it Romans 8:31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for me, who can ever be against me?
So where are you at today, and who are you hanging with?