Summary: Our church, like many churches, is in need of some repair much like the walls of Jerusalem. Nehemiah’s rebuilding began with reliance on God, repentance from sin, and risking obedience.
January 4, 2004 Nehemiah 1
“The state of the church”
It’s a new year. And that means that it is time for evaluation. One of the things that gets evaluated the most at the beginning of the new year is a person’s weight. My family and I just got back Friday from my mom’s house in Georgia. My mom doesn’t know how to do small meals. I put on about 5 pounds while I was there. That means that the new clothes that I got for Christmas are already getting a little snug. Nobody likes to face up to the fact that they are bigger now than they were this time last year. The nice thing about winter is that we really don’t have to face up to our weight because sweaters and coats hide so much. But spring is coming. I noticed in the Walmart circular that was waiting for us when we got home that the first few pages of the ad were devoted to exercise equipment.
One winter morning, after the holidays were over, a man went into the bathroom to get ready for the day. He stepped on the scales to get a measure of his weight, and as he did, he sucked in his belly. His wife, who was also in the bathroom noticed what he was doing, and said with a sly smile, “That’s not going to help any.” To which he replied, “Oh yes it is. It’s the only way that I can see the numbers.” I have told that joke before, and the reason that I tell it again is because it is only one of two jokes that I have ever told that my daughter, in her evaluation, actually thought were funny.
Actually, I should be used to evaluation. People have evaluated me all my life – every time that they call me short. That’s probably one reason I started wearing cowboy boots. They make me a little taller. (Do you like the new boots that I got for Christmas?) And I admit it. I am short. But I’m not as short as some people in the Bible. Have you heard of Bildad the Shuite (shoe height)? What about the guard who slept on his watch? There’s one more – Nehemiah (knee-high-miah).
Whether Nehemiah was short or tall in his physical stature, I do not know. But I do know that Nehemiah was tall – very tall – in his character and in his ability to lead people to accomplish more than they ever thought possible. So it is to Nehemiah that we come this morning to help us evaluate where we are as a church and what we need to do over the coming year to get to where God wants us to be. This morning, we’re going to look at Nehemiah chapter one and discover three principles that can help us change the situation that we are in as a church.
1. Describe the situation accurately. (vs. 1- 3)
When you are trying to evaluate where you are and why you’re there, it is usually helpful to look at how you got to where you are. What steps did you take, what mistakes did you make, that led you to the place where you find yourself now.
The setting of this story is the year 445 BC. Almost 300 years earlier, the nation of Assyria conquered the northern half of Israel and carried them into exile. 120 years later, after Babylon had already conquered Assyria, they came to Judah (the Southern portion of the kingdom) and carried off the first captives. In succeeding years, Daniel and his companions were taken to Babylon and finally, the protecting walls were broken down, and the capitol city of Jerusalem was leveled and destroyed. Most of the Israelites were destined to live out the remainder of their lives separated from their homeland and build the best existence that they could living in the land of their invaders. Two generations later, the political climate in Bablylon changed, and all Israelites who wanted to – about 50,000, were allowed to return to Israel to re-build the temple and begin to re-populate the land. Now, it’s 70 years later. The temple has been re-built, but that’s about all that has been accomplished. Once that task was complete, the people started meeting opposition, they lost their courage, and nothing more had been accomplished. Nothing exciting was going on. They were just existing. That’s where Nehemiah comes into the story.