Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Sermon on Nehemiah 2

Sermon preached by Margaret Carter

When l looked at the bible verses l felt unsure what to write about. There didn’t seem very much to Nehemiah 2, basically Nehemiah feels sad, speaks to the king, he goes off and the wall is built, end of.

But in thinking and praying about it over the weeks l think it’s fundamentally about four main characters, Nehemiah, Ezra, the King and God and their relationship to each other.

Firstly the relationship between Nehemiah and God
1.    So the relationship between Nehemiah and God:
Nehemiah was a layman, not a priest like Ezra nor a prophet like Malachi. Before he did anything he prayed. He is a man who talked to God naturally about anything and everything. Nehemiah always begins his prayers by praising God. He praises Him for his faithfulness in keeping his covenant of love that he had made with his people of Israel.
2.    Nehemiah and Ezra
Both men were in Jerusalem during the reign of Art-er-serk-seas. They probably knew each other but the bible doesn’t specifically state this as fact. Ezra and Nehemiah were contemporaries and very different to one another. There are many unique characteristics about Nehemiah and we often feel we know him. He is much more candid about his feelings than Ezra. They are often compared but Ezra always comes off worst. Both are described as being prayerful and faithful. However Nehemiah is said to be the people person, more readily liked than Ezra. Nehemiah was sociable, emotional, practical and a brilliant organiser. It wasn’t hard to like Nehemiah. Ezra was quiet and retiring devoting much time to prayer, study and teaching. Nehemiah was a man of action, a forceful leader who mobilised people to accomplish great things. Indeed he is one of the OT greatest models of godly leadership.
3.    Nehemiah and the King.
Nehemiah was a trusted servant of Art-er-zerk-seas, king of Persia. He was his cupbearer. This meant he had to taste the wine before the King tasted it. It couldn’t have been a pleasant job, to taste the wine, literally wondering if your next drink was going to be your last, but it was a very responsible job. It automatically made him a confidant of the King, and he would share things in the relaxed atmosphere of that relationship.

And so in Nehemiah chapter 2, when Nehemiah heard that the rebuilt temple walls had been pulled down again and that the people around Jerusalem were unhappy about the rebuilding of the city, he looked so miserable that the King asked him what was the matter.
In those days the King's servants were expected to keep their feelings hidden and to try to display a cheerful countenance.

Four months passed before Nehemiah found the right opportunity to speak to King Art-er-zerk-seas about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. During this time he prayed and prayed about his conversation with the king. He had four months of praying and fasting to prepare his heart before the Lord.

He knew the whim of an absolute ruler could mean life or death. He was also afraid because he knew that it was the king himself who had stopped the rebuilding earlier in his reign. When the king asked about Nehemiah’s sad expression, Nehemiah first offered a short arrow prayer to God. Then notice that Nehemiah answers the King with a question(v3), like Jewish Rabbis. Nehemiah followed that example. Instead of telling the king what he planned to do, he arouses the King’s sympathy and interest.

Then he told the king that he was sad because the city where his fathers were buried lay in ruins. The king was sympathetic and was pleased to send Nehemiah and only wanted to know how long he would be gone. (He was gone for 12yrs) So Nehemiah went with the King’s blessing and he began his work by inspecting the walls. He walked the walls at night, so as to not attract attention. Now the Jews, who were building the walls had become apathetic and had given up caring about the state of the city. The workers needed mobilising. Nehemiah did this by encouraging, not ordering, using inclusive language like...Come let us rebuild the wall.... Nehemiah’s appeal to the people who were with him was positive, he focussed on the greatness and glory of God. He spoke of we and us not you and them. Nehemiah worked no miracles but he gave the people a new vision of how things could be and God’s sufficiency that caused them to rise up and be motivated to rebuild the wall.

However whenever a work of God begins, there will be opposition, and opposition to Nehemiah came in the form of Sanballat and Tobiah and also an Arab called Gesham, who was an influential leader in Arabia and southern Palestine.

But Nehemiah was not to be deterred. The God of Heaven will give us success, he said. It seems that Nehemiah’s resolve became stronger as he confronted these men. It is often God’s way that; though Nehemiah had many natural strengths, they would soon be tested and refined. We never know what we are capable of until we are tested. If we are truly doing God’s work in God’s way, God will use the opportunity we face, to make us, not break us. Nehemiah was not only able to challenge his own people, he was also able to stand against the enemy and effectively deal with their opposition.

He got on with people and was brilliant at personnel management. He could draw alongside people and encourage them. He shared his own experience of God and how He had helped him to encourage the workers. He could boost morale and help them to be re-energised when they flagged. When inspecting the walls he gave credit to everyone and they completed it in 52 days. There is such a balance in his character...prayerful and practical. Joyful and sorrowful, tough and tender, sensitive to God and to people. An example we could emulate.

Nehemiah always begins his prayers by praising God. He praises Him for His faithfulness in keeping His covenant of love that he had made with his people of Israel. How do we pray? Do we thank God, praise God before asking for what we want?
How do we apply this?
The book of Nehemiah shows us the kind of significant impact one individual can have on a nation. Nehemiah served in secular offices, using his position to bring back to the Jews, order, stability, and proper focus on God.
God uses all manner of people in all manner of places doing all manner of work.
Just for a moment think about the people we have mentioned today:
Nehemiah: Prayerful, successful, sociable, practical.
Ezra: Isn’t a people person. Prayerful, quiet, studious.
King Art-er-zerk-seas: Strong, powerful, Listened, changed his mind, allowed Nehemiah to go.

Which character trait do you identify with, maybe none of them, maybe you’ve never looked at yourself and thought about your own strengths and weaknesses.

Do you feel you must be “in ministry” in order to serve God? Be encouraged; He is not limited by your vocation. In fact, God has placed you where you are for a purpose. Think about the verse from John: Whoever wants to serve me, must follow me, so that my servant will be with me where l am. And my Father will honour anyone who serves me. Jesus doesn’t say whoever wants to serve me must have these strengths or those, all he says is serve me and follow me.

In Nehemiah Ch 2: 1-20 we see a message of faithfulness and perseverance.
Nehemiah lived far from his home and yet never gave up hope that someday he would return. He spent most of his life in exile in a pagan land, yet he never wavered in his faith and trust in God. We can learn from the life of Nehemiah valuable lessons in restoring and maintaining our relationship with God.

So for us, our lives scarred by sin and rebellion, there is great hope that God is a God of forgiveness – a God who will not turn his back on us when we look for him in repentance and brokenness. No matter how long we have been away, He is ready to forgive us and receive us back into His family. He will show us how to rebuild our lives and resurrect our hearts. Just praise Him, thank Him and then ask Him.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
We praise you and give you glory:
We bless you for calling us to be your holy people.

We thank you for calling us,
And for choosing us to give you glory.
In a special way we thank you for...

I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. I ask your forgiveness and now turn from everything which I know is wrong, especially....

Dear lord we ask for prayers for the needs of my love ones,
my financial needs, for my children,
for ...
Please come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit and be with me forever. Amen

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
We praise you and give you glory:
We bless you for calling us to be your holy people.

We thank you for calling us,
And for choosing us to give you glory.
In a special way we thank you for...

I am sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life. I ask your forgiveness and now turn from everything which I know is wrong, especially....

Dear lord we ask for prayers for the needs of my love ones,
my financial needs, for my children,
for ...
Please come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit and be with me forever. Amen 

Sermon on Nehemiah 3

Sermon preached by Penny Wheble

If you’ve been a Christian long enough, you’ll know that God likes to hide things. He hides important truths in places that you wouldn’t initially expect to find them - until you start to dig!
Nehemiah 3 is just one of those places!

On the surface it’s a chapter discussing different gates of Jerusalem and the specific builders that helped to rebuild them. But that’s just the surface! When we look a little deeper you find that God has hidden within those gates significant spiritual truths for both an individual’s Christian life as well as his prophetic plan for the ages.

The order and position of each gate is very specific, and gives us insight into the journey that God takes each of his children on, as well as the journey of the church as a whole until Christ’s return.
  • Gates are a walled city’s most vulnerable places. This is where the enemy would try to break into the city so they had to be kept in good repair.
  • Focus on the gates would generate the greatest excitement. The people all knew where the gates were.
  • The gates are strategic.
  • The gates are there for the protection of the people and the beauty of the city.
No one could exclude themselves from participating in the work because they were too holy or too privileged. If the high priests were involved, then everyone should be involved. Here at St Martin’s, Simon follows their example in that whenever help is needed in the kitchen or floors need sweeping or the church carpets need vacuuming, he gets stuck in!  

This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.

Slide of Nehemiah’s Jerusalem

In today’s talk I’m going to highlight how hope initiated the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah highlights the special work done on and around each of the gates of Jerusalem. But why are the gates important?

There were many gates around the walls of Jerusalem. In today’s reading we hear about the re-building of 2 of these gates. Nehemiah inspired this work by bringing hope and vision.
There are many interesting observations that help us see how, through Nehemiah’s God-inspired leadership, what were considered to be impossible tasks, could be completed in a short time scale.

1) The first gate mentioned was the Sheep Gate (Nehemiah 3:1-3)

“Then Eliashib the high priest arose with his brothers the priests and built the Sheep Gate; they consecrated it and hung its doors. They consecrated the wall to the Tower of the Hundred and the Tower of Hananel. And next to him the men of Jericho built, and next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built” (Nehemiah 3:1-2).

Nothing was too holy for the priests. As they worked hard, the people took courage. If the priests got their hands dirty on this project, and this included the high priests such as Eliashib, then everyone could see a greater reason for why they should join in the work.
Towers and walls are difficult to build but when the priests finished , the work remained as a permanent symbol that leaders do their best work when they act as servants to others.

A pastor has specialised functions in the church such as overseeing the flock, but sometimes they are needed to do the evangelism, cleaning, administration, etc. Through their example the people see that every act is holy because it is done for God. However they cannot do everything by themselves. Acts 6 is a clear reminder of the importance to specialise in certain roles. Acts 6:2 says,
“And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, “It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2 )

For a while the apostles were doing ‘all’ the work, but it was not good in the long run. Changes had to come. The same is true with rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah planned and inspired the work to be started, and then stepped back as foreman and encouraged everyone to do their part in completing the task.

Now back to the reading. We hear about two other building teams going westward around Jerusalem starting from the Sheep Gate in the very north. The men of Jericho built the section next to the priests, and next to them was Zaccur the son of Imri. At this point we run into another entrance to the city of Jerusalem, the Fish Gate.

2) The Fish Gate (Nehemiah 3:3-5)

“Now the sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate; they laid its beams and hung its doors with its bolts and bars.

And next to them Meremoth the son of Uriah the son of Hakkoz made repairs. And next to him Meshullam the son of Berechiah the son of Meshezabel made repairs. And next to him Zadok the son of Baana also made repairs. Moreover,  next to him the Tekoites made
 repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters” (Nehemiah 3:3-5).

The Fish Gate was rebuilt by Hasenaah’s family. They laid its beams and hung its doors. After that they set the bolts and bars into place. Replacing doors in some ways is much more difficult than just making a wall. The work was a joint effort, however.

Right next to the Fish Gate were adjoining walls. Once the gate was fixed, it made sense to repair the wall. So others got involved and made the necessary repairs on the walls surrounding the Fish Gate. Meremoth, Meshullam,  Zadok and the Tekoites. When it described Meremoth as the ‘ son of Uriah, the son of Hakkoz’ it simply means that he was the Meremoth that was the grandson of Hakkoz. Sometimes it will even more generally refer to as the descendant of Hakkoz (which is also true). And we think we have complicated family trees!!!

In any case, we see each family making contributions. For years nothing had been done. Why is it that now they got involved? Certainly part of it was the vision from Nehemiah that the job could be done. If a neighbouring family worked hard on one part, then it was easier to see what still needed to be done. They also gained confidence that they could actually fix their own part of the wall.

An interesting statement is made in verse 5, “Moreover, next to him the Tekoites made repairs, but their nobles did not support the work of their masters” (Nehemiah 3:5). Did this mean that certain rich and influential men did not financially support the work or were just unwilling to personally help out? Probably both I guess!

It is possible that “..these nobles..”  refers to certain city politicians. In any case, they had the money. They weren’t going to get involved. It doesn’t say why, but they likely had connections with others who didn’t want the wall rebuilt. Never the less, the Tekoites didn’t allow this to deter them, but continued with the work until it was complete.

Without the support of the “noble” people of society, the truly faithful will continue until completion. This reminds us that we do not have to wait for everyone to help before we set our heart on some specific tasks. We might think it can be done with someone else’s help, but if God wants it done, he can do it without the participation of those so-called ‘key’ people. Nehemiah stood as an example that this task could be done (Nehemiah 2:18). God used his example to motivate almost everyone to participate. This story may sound familiar!
That’s Not My Job

We are also reminded that we might be one of those leaders, either in the church or elsewhere. We need to be careful not to focus on our own will but on God’s. The nobles lost their privilege to join in God’s work. We must think beyond our own position and for what reason God gave us these positions and wealth. We must be like the men of Issachar mentioned in the book of Chronicles. They knew the times and lived with a greater understanding of what God was doing.

“And of the sons of Issachar, men who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do, …” (1 Chronicles 12:28)

Let’s now look at some observations on this part of Nehemiah 3  
1         Believers need to work together to accomplish something
It pleased God to see his people working together with one heart and one mind. God puts us into situations where we must work together, and learn how to lead, how to follow, and how to work together with one heart and mind.
The wall was continuous. Any gap compromised the entire structure, so every space at the wall was important – even if someone didn’t think so. As well, the wall would never be strong if someone was tearing it down at a different section.
2         The work done was a reflection on the family – almost everyone mentioned is referred to as the son of someone.
It’s in the family our children learn to work, and parents must be committed to teaching their children how to be hard workers. In a spiritual sense, our hard work, or lack of it – is a reflection on our spiritual family. Each Christian should be a good reflection of their spiritual family.
3         Evidence of Nehemiah’s leadership
Nehemiah was an effective leader because he made each man accountable for his work. Each man had a section of wall that he was responsible for, and it was known to others that he was responsible for it. By giving each man a sense of responsibility for his work, they helped ensure that the work would be done properly,- nobody wanted it to be seen that they were a poor worker in God’s cause.

We can see that Nehemiah was a gifted leader who was able to motivate others, but a job usually gets done because of prayer and unity among believers. This is mainly because vision is spiritual and not material. When there is a lot of mundane work, like repairing a badly damaged wall, there must be unity for the job to be done. People need to feel that they are part of the decision and the process. To miss this step of getting people on board and owning the vision usually leads to failure. Unity should be a distinctive mark among Christians.

Sadly, many people, even Christians, live only to make a good impression on others or to please themselves. But this selfishness brings discord. Paul, in our Philippians reading, stressed spiritual unity asking the Philippians to love one another and to be one in spirit and in purpose. When we work together, caring for the problems of others as if they were our own, we demonstrate Christ’s example of putting others first, and we experience unity, so we shouldn’t be so concerned about making a good impression or meeting our own needs that we strain relationships in God’s family.

So what can we learn from this? Each one of us fits in somewhere; every one of us has a part to play. All these different people were working together with one purpose in mind - to rebuild the wall. So it should be amongst Christians. Our one overriding purpose should be to build up the church of Christ and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19 the Great Commission). And Christ has assigned each one of us our ‘section of the wall’ (Rom 12: 3-8; I Cor 12: 4-27)

“None of us have got it together but together we’ve got it” (J.John)
I’d like you to ponder these questions:
How do you feel when facing what seems to be an impossible task – especially when there doesn’t seem to be the same commitment from those you are working with?

How has co-operation played a significant part in this church or your Homegroup’s success (or otherwise) in ministry?

Do you feel you are as motivated to work in this church as the people building the gates were? Why? Or Why not?

Finally, ask the Lord to give you a helper or prayer partner and ask them to help you learn to work together.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Learning from Abram and Sarai's Mistakes Genesis 16:1-10

One of the most popular songs requested at funerals is Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’.  In this song he sings ‘Regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.’  I’ve only ever met one person who claimed that they had never regretted anything they have done in their life.   I suspect that most of us will regret things we have said or done in our life, or not done, missed opportunities.  I know I do. 

The truth is, all of us have made mistakes.  None of us our perfect.  The Apostle John writes ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8)
What is important is not that we make mistakes, but that we learn from them.  Like the inventor Thomas Edison, who said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”  Or Richard Branson who said “Don’t be embarrassed by your failures, learn from them and start again.” 

In Hebrews 11, the great heroes of faith are listed, amongst them Abram and Sarai.  What is interesting about this list is that when you study their lives, you discover that these people were far from perfect.  They often made terrible mistakes, many of them doubted and questioned God, and they were deeply flawed individuals.  And that can be said about most of the people in Scripture that God calls. 

For example, think about the twelve disciples, if you were setting out on a new venture like Jesus, they would have probably been the last people you’d want on your team, but they were the ones Jesus chose.  I draw great comfort from this, because if God can use someone like them, then he can also use someone like you and me, as weak and foolish as we may be.     

This is why Paul in 1 Corinthians writes ‘God chose the foolish things of this world to put the wise to shame. He chose the weak things of this world to put the powerful to shame. What the world thinks is worthless, useless, and nothing at all is what God has used to destroy what the world considers important.’ (1 Cor 1:27-28) 

Although Abram and Sarai are held up as great examples of faith in Scripture, we see too that they made plenty of mistakes along the way, mistakes which if we’re not careful we also can make.

Mistake #1 Lack of Trust

In Genesis 15:4 God gave a promise to Abram who was childless that he would give him an heir.  That promise was not just for Abram, but for his wife Sarai as well.  But her hopes of becoming a mother and giving to Abram the son God had promised diminished with every passing year.

There was a stigma attached to not being able to bear children, and it was seen as punishment from God, and so after ten years of waiting and trying, Sarai’s patience ran out, and she told Abram to sleep with her servant Hagar, in order to produce an heir. But what Sarai’s and Abram’s actions demonstrate was their lack of trust in God. 

For us as Christians, learning to trust God is one of the most important but difficult lessons we need to learn.  Proverbs 3:5 says Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. 

The great 19th century evangelist and preacher DL Moody said this: Trust in yourself, and you are doomed to disappointment; trust in your friends, and they will die and leave you; trust in money, and you may have it taken from you; trust in reputation, and some slanderous tongue may blast it; but trust in God, and you are never to be confounded in time or eternity.

God’s way is ALWAYS the best way, even if to us it seems all wrong.  If you asked God for one thing and received another, TRUST.  You can be sure that He will always give you what you need at the appropriate time.

The second mistake Abram and Sarai made was they tried to do things in their time and not God’s. 

Mistake #2 Their time not God’s

Sarai took matters into her own hands by giving Hagar to Abram.  Like Abram, she had trouble believing God’s promise that God would bless them with a child.  Out of this lack of faith came a series of problems. 

This invariably what happens when we try to take control from God, trying to make a promise of his come true through efforts that are not in line with God’s specific directions.  In this case, the greatest test Abram and Sarai faced was time, waiting for God to fulfil his promise.  This can be hard.

For St Matthew’s, you’ve had to learn an important lesson about learning to wait and trust in God, as you searched for a new Rector.  I imagine that by the time you’d been through a second round of interviews and no one was appointed, there may have been some who were starting to worry about whether you’d find a new Rector.  But the waiting was worth it, because in Jim you are getting a fantastic Rector, and someone who feels really called to be at St Matthew’s. 

In these times of waiting we need to remember God’s promises, and not lose heart.
There is a beautiful Taize chant which has the words, Wait for the Lord whose day is near.  Wait for the Lord, keep watch take heart.

The subsequent problems that developed between Abram, Sarai and Hagar were all the result of not waiting on God, and allowing him to supply their needs. 

The third mistake Abram and Sarai made was

Mistake #3 Blaming others

Sarai was the one who arranged for Hagar to have a child by Abram, but when Hagar conceived we are told she started to look with contempt on Sarai.  And so Sarai’s anger turns against Abram, who she blames, forgetting that she was the one who first suggested that Abram should take Hagar.

It is always easier to put the blame on someone else than to face up to our own faults, to strikeout in frustration and point the finger at someone else than to admit an error and ask for forgiveness.

The Apostle James writes ‘My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,’ (James 1:19)  And Jesus warns us against seeing the speck in your friends eye, but not noticing the log in our own eye. (Matthew 7:3)

Elton John wrote a song called ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word’.   It’s not easy to acknowledge when we’ve done something wrong, and upset or hurt someone by our words or actions, but it is extremely important, which is why Jesus taught us to pray ‘Forgive us our sins’, to acknowledge the times we fail, and make mistakes. 

Paul warns us that “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26), this is the fourth mistake we see Abram and Sarai make as they mistreat. 

Mistake #4 Mistreating Hagar

In response to Sarai’s complaint, Abram says “She’s your servant; do to her as you please.”
Hagar is not treated with care, respect or dignity as a fellow human being, but as an object to be used as they see fit by both Abram and Sarai.  There is no love, concern or compassion for Hagar, instead we’re told Sarai dealt harshly with her.  She took out her frustration and anger against Abram and herself on Hagar, punishing her for their own mistakes.

I realise myself that when I am frustrated and angry it is all too easy to take out my frustrations on those closest to me, not because they are at fault, but because they are there. 

This is why, Paul says in your anger do not sin, because if we are not careful we can lash out at others for no reason at all, or say something that could all too easily hurt them.  And a careless word said in haste, can cause considerable harm.  That is why the psalmist writes “Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.” (Ps 141:3)
The fifth and final mistake is the one Hagar made. 

Running away from our problems does not solve them

Faced by mistreatment, Hagar attempted to run away from Sarai and her problems. But an Angel of the Lord appeared to Hagar and told her to return to Sarai – the cause of her problem and to submit to her. 

Although Hagar had been wronged by Abram and Sarai, she herself carried some of the guilt in the way that she had despised Sarai, and God was challenging her about her attitude towards Sarai, no matter now justified it may have been. 

When faced by challenging situations, we may feel like running away from them, but that rarely solves the problem.  Instead God challenges us to face up to our problems, correct our attitudes and act as we should, not as we would like to. 

For Hagar it was a hard thing to return, it involved turning, the basic move in repentance which is the first stage in finding God’s way, but with this came a wonderful promise, that the Lord will “increase your descendants so much that they will be too numerous to count.”
What this showed, is that God noticed and had compassion on Hagar.  She had not been forgotten, God had noticed her suffering. 


In these verses we see three people make serious mistakes.

Sarai, who took matters into her own hands and gave her servant girl to Abram.

Abram, who went along with the plan but who, when things began to go wrong, refused to get involved in solving the problem.

And Hagar, who ran away from the problem.

But in spite of this messy situation, God demonstrates that he is not limited by the complications in our lives.  He can bring good out of any situation.  Sarai and Abram still received the son they so desperately wanted, and they clearly learned from their mistakes (see Genesis chapter 22) and God solved Hagar’s problem despite Abram’s refusal to get involved.

No problem in your life is too complicated for God, if you are willing to allow him to help you. And no matter how messy or complicated our lives may be, God wants to, and can use you.