“…They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the providence are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’” Let me just push the pause button here. As Nehemiah was hearing all this bad stuff, he could have reacted very differently than he did. Since he had a cush job and had it made with retirement plans and benefits, he didn’t have to concern himself with the Jews in Jerusalem. He wasn’t even born in Jerusalem, he was born in Persia and was more Persian than Jewish with the exception that he believed in God.
He didn’t need to get involved with those other Jews. But he didn’t react that way. Likewise he could have said, as many of us have said when we have been presented with a problem, “Who messed up? You mean those Jews have been there for 90 years and the wall still hasn’t gotten rebuilt. What’s the deal? How inept. How stupid. How ludicrous. How crazy. Send me their names. I’ll get them fired.” He didn’t say that though. Look what he did. He did something that is just different. Nehemiah 1:4. “When I heard these things, I sat down….”
Fellowship Church Grapevine – That’s right, God’s man, one of the greatest leaders to ever walk on the face the earth, sat down. That is the first thing we are to do, leaders, when we are presented with a problem or a predicament. Great leaders like Nehemiah are sensitive, they sit where others sit, they walk where others walk, they feel what others feel. Nehemiah “…sat down and wept.” He sat down and wept. He was identifying with them. Are you identifying with people in your life? Are you identifying with people in your company? Are you identifying with people in your Bible Study? Are you identifying with other people you rub shoulders with weekly? Listen for the right answers.
I have two brothers. I am thirty-five, my middle brother is thirty-three and my youngest brother is twenty-two. My middle brother has a syndicated talk show for singles in ten major markets. It is a Christian talk show about dating, living alone, building relationships, etc. Ben and I will talk about different messages and ideas. If I ask Ben what he thinks about using the Mission Impossible theme regarding Artaxerxes and Nehemiah, he will tell me that that sounds great.
If I should ask him about another idea, he might reply that he thinks it is crazy, that it wouldn’t work. I will listen to that and receive that. I know he is shooting straight. Conversely, Ben will ask me what I thought about a specific guest that he had on his Sunday night talk show. I might answer that she was clueless and boring. So Nehemiah asked Hanani what was the deal and Hanani replied that the people were in trouble. Let me stop here and say something to you.
Fellowship Church Grapevine – Who do you need to ask some hard questions of right now; the person you have been in a long relationship with, a spouse, a child, a co-worker, a trusted friend? Maybe you would ask them questions like, how is your life going spiritually? What is the next character step you are working on? What is the main thing you struggle with? Ask someone who you have a natural affinity with, a natural bond with, the hard questions and you will begin to emerge and develop as a leader. Leaders ask the right questions. Notice, too, leaders listen for the right answers. They ask the right questions and then they listen for the right answers. They are not selective listeners. We go back to Nehemiah 1:3.
This mission has been impossible for 90 years, but in My economy, it is possible.” Then maybe God said, “Nehemiah, if you choose not to accept this mission, Jerusalem could self-destruct one day in five seconds.” Why did God say to Nehemiah, ready, set, hire? He said that to Nehemiah because Nehemiah met the four basic requirements of leadership. These are precisely the requirements that we need to meet if we are going to improve our leadership skills.
Whether you are a leader in the home, whether you are a leader in middle management, whether you are an hourly employee, whether you are a president or CEO of a major company, if you are going to be a true difference maker, you had better see if you meet four basic requirements. Let’s look at the first requirement that this great leader Nehemiah met. Nehemiah 1:1-2. “in the month of Kislev…while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.” Circle the phrase, I questioned them. Here is the first requirement of being a leader, don’t miss it. Leaders ask the right questions.
Fellowship Church Grapevine – Notice Nehemiah asked the right person, his brother, who would shoot straight with him. He asked the right question to the right person, who had the right information. Because he did that he could do the right thing that God wanted him to do. Leaders ask the hard questions, the penetrating questions, the serious questions. He asked his brother these questions. Your brothers and sisters tell you the truth, don’t they. He didn’t just ask someone who was a yes person. “Hey, how is it going in Jerusalem?” “Oh, great, Nehemiah, everything is perfect. Morale is great.” He asked someone who would tell him the truth.
Nehemiah was a Hebrew, a non-Persian, yet he was second in command to King Artaxerxes. They didn’t have CNN back then. He would give late breaking news to the King. He was the most faithful and trusted advisor to the King. He was the wine and food taster because assassinations back then were quite common. So if a cupbearer tasted some wine and dropped over dead, the King would say, “Well, guess that was a bad year.” Nehemiah had it made. He had all the perks, all the benefits of being the cupbearer; the corner office, the cellular chariot phone, the use of the company’s team of camels.
Major money. I can picture Nehemiah kicking back in his corner office overlooking the beautiful sights of Susa, the Washington, D.C. of Persia, the place of power plays, power suits and power lunches. Maybe, just maybe, he heard the Mission Impossible theme song. Maybe, just maybe, as he heard the music, and I am paraphrasing a little bit, God stepped in and said, “Nehemiah, this is your mission should you choose to accept it. Travel 800 miles to Jerusalem and rebuilt My walls around My city. By the way, Nehemiah, you are going to face some major opposition, some major criticism.
Fellowship Church Grapevine – Also, Nehemiah, you will have to walk into King Artaxerxes’ office, the man you report to directly, who can chop your head off if he is in a bad mood, and ask for about a decade off work while keeping all your salary and benefits. You will have to ask for the resources to go back to Jerusalem, the security forces and the travel documents. Nehemiah, I know you are a cupbearer but I am going to take you and turn you from a cupbearer into a contractor. Nehemiah, I will give you the ability to do it.
A new king then took the helm. King Nebuchadnezzar was gone and the new king was King Cyrus. I think his first name was Billy Ray. King Cyrus of Persia had an achy-breaky heart, a sympathetic heart toward the Jews. He said, “Jews, I’ll tell you what I am going to do. I’ll let you go back 800 miles to Jerusalem and if you want to you can construct your house of worship and if you want to you can rebuild the walls.” So a lot of Jews went back under a man named Zerubbable and under a man named Ezra.
The temple kind of got rebuilt. Noone, though, could rebuild the walls. So they were doing the worship thing in Jerusalem but they were open and naked for opposing forces to come in and tear them apart. Billy Ray Cyrus steps down. A new king moved into the palatial oval office of Persia, which is today known as Iraq. His name, making the all name team in the Bible, was King Artaxerxes. King Artaxerxes is now the man of the hour in Persia. And King Artaxerxes says, “There will never be walls around Jerusalem again.” King Artaxerxes said that.
Fellowship Church Grapevine – Let’s talk about our boy, Nehemiah. Let’s talk about the man of leadership. The book of Nehemiah is a book of Nehemiah’s memoirs. And Nehemiah talks about his occupation. You might think he must be on the CEO level since he is representing leadership in this series. Look what Nehemiah says in chapter 1, verse 11. “…I was a cupbearer to the King.” A what-bearer? A cupbearer. Nehemiah, Mr. Leader. You mean he was a table waiter, a camelburger flipping person? No. He was a cupbearer to the King and don’t misinterpret the term cupbearer. The cupbearer was the second most important position in the empire.
One of the reasons that we dress casually is to indicate that you can come to church just like you are, wearing casual clothes. Jesus loves you just the way you are, just the way you look. But we have got to think through being dressed up. Again, single parents, and we have so many of you attending our church, our hats go off to you. That is the most challenging job in the universe. Prepare before hand. Get the clothes out.
And let me say a word to parents and single parents about teenagers. This is just a little side bar deal. If your teenager ever says, “Well, I just don’t feel like going to church.” Hey, you are Mom, you are Dad, you are the leader, the parent. They don’t have a choice. They don’t have a say so. Students, when I was young I didn’t always want to go to church either. I admit that. But my parents said, “Ed Young, you are going.” And I am so glad that I did. The same is true, whether you are a student or an adult. Usually on the weekend when you say you don’t feel like attending, but do go, that is when God has something incredible for you. It is never easy to go to church and let me tell you why. The evil one knows what is going to happen in your life. He knows that all heaven will break loose in your life and mine when you go to church and he doesn’t want it to happen. So he will give you and you and you an excuse.
A couple of weeks ago I was lying in bed early Sunday morning and Lisa was prompting me to get up, get up, get up. I told her that I didn’t really feel like it. But she said, “Ed, you are the pastor.” She didn’t say that. I was just joking around.
Listen to this, God took a very ordinary piece of farm furniture and it became extraordinary when Jesus Christ was put there. It became extra-ordinary. Our church is full of hundreds and hundreds of people who are very ordinary. We are ordinary. In God’s perspective, we’re just a piece of farm furniture, but when we come to the point in our lives where we give Jesus Christ our lives, where we make a manger out of our heart and let the baby Jesus be born there, we become extra-ordinary people, don’t we? Not on the outside, but I’m talking about on the inside and the question I pose to you tonight is this…have you made a manger out of your life and let Jesus, the Christ-child live in that manger? Because that is what God did. The Bible says salvation is a free gift.
Now tonight for some families, if you’re like my family, and also tomorrow especially, we will open presents, won’t we? And usually, when people give us presents, they’re so excited and they’re smiling and they kind of do their mouths like this when we’re opening the gifts and “Do you like it, honey?” and when the children smile, the grandchildren, the children, the mate, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, it thrills our heart. Oh, we’re so excited. We finally picked out that sweater or that tie or that dress or those shoes and when they take it out of the box, we always say, “Well, put it on!” and then we’ll go into the room and put it on and come out and people take pictures and we have a pajama top on and shoes and you know, you’ve seen the scene.
Fellowship Church Grapevine – It’s the desire of the person giving the gift for the person receiving it to do what? To put it on. That’s what God did. God said, “Here is My Son, Jesus Christ”. Literally, God came down the stairs of heaven with the baby in His arms. HE experienced, we’re talking about a working class, blue collar existence.
Ephesians 4:28. It says it pure, plain and profound. “He who has been stealing must steal no longer.” Pretty good, isn’t it? Two challenges. Challenge number one. When you go home this afternoon after a Luby’s lunch or California Pizza Kitchen visit or whatever, I want to challenge you to do a walkthrough of your home. Assess what is yours and what belongs to someone else. Have you done the long-term borrowing thing? Have you withheld something from someone so long that now it has a hold on you? Maybe a yard tool, maybe a dress, maybe some shoes, maybe some cash? What? Because a lot of people here are dealing in patterns of deception and this deception has so dominated your spirit that you have gotten into stealing. After you recognize what is yours and what is not yours, box it up and send it to the person you took it from. Now don’t just write a letter and say, “Oops, sorry. I forgot about it.” Write something like this. “Dear whoever you are, I am going to a church called The Fellowship Church. I understand now that part of my development and maturing in Christ is to obey the eighth commandment, to honor God with my resources. I want to honor God by giving these things back to you.”
Well, maybe the item is tattered or messed up. Maybe it is kind of abused because you held it so long. Send them a check, a money order. Maybe some others need to go back to a teacher or back to a convenience store or back to someone else and say you have taken something from them. “I have seized stuff from you. I have cheated you out of money. I was wrong. Will you forgive me?” It all starts with the walkthrough of your house.
The second challenge. Do a walkthrough of your heart. Ed Young Pastor ask God to reveal your motives, your reasons, your rationales for doing certain things. God will bring up things in your life that you are doing that will surprise you, if you will just let Him. This is putting shoe leather beneath the eighth commandment. This is the application stuff. This is the “so what” stuff. We don’t just read the eighth commandment and say, “Oh a lot of people are stealing. That’s bad, God.” and leave. We say, “God I have an open mind and an open heart and an open home. Show me what to do because of it.” That is biblical Christianity.
If we as a church put shoe leather beneath this commandment, no longer will we ever play the Steal of Fortune.