We Must Do Something
Text: Nehemiah 1:1-11
This church had its first public worship gathering on Sunday, January 22nd, 2006. That was 17 years ago last Sunday! We turned 17 last week and didn't even celebrate it. lol We forgot!
It is crazy for me to think about as I look back. I was 26 years old. I didn't have much ministry experience. I’m from Lebanon so it is considered crazy to plant and pastor a church in your hometown. But my heart was burdened by the fact that many of the folks I grew up with and cared about did not have a relationship with Jesus and most of them had walked away from church/Christianity - not because Jesus was boring or unworthy - but because they didn’t really understand it. Most of their experiences in a church were boring. They weren't learning anything. It didn't connect to their lives. So they grew up in it and walked away from it. That bothered me, especially as someone whose eyes were opened that it was actually very different. I had tasted and seen that the Lord is good and I wanted others to know it as well.
So I planted a church in my hometown. TJC started on Hwy 109 (in the building beside Interstate Battery), eventually relocated to Mt Juliet at West Elementary, then to the old lighting store by Cumberland, and now to here. We started running after people with the hope of Christ since 2006 and remain passionate and committed to doing that to this day.
But this area has changed a lot since 2006. Wilson County has grown by 30% since 2010. We are the 3rd fastest growing county in the state with over 152K residents as of 2021 census data (so it's more now). The latest data also shows Lebanon is the 4th fastest growing city in the state. The county has nearly 160K residents.
Our church started with about 30 folks who resonated with the idea of taking the life-changing hope of Jesus to this area. We have been pushing 1700 people in weekend worship on Sunday, which means hundreds more call TJC home. Those who orbit TJC are probably somewhere around 2,500 people.
So what I want to do over the next 5 weeks is share where we are going as a church family. God has blessed our church. In a country where 90% are either plateaued or declining, even worse are the numbers each year closing their doors, we have seen the opposite. I'm going to ask you the same questions I started asking our elders and staff several months ago:
What does God expect of a church like ours that has been blessed by Him in this way?
What is required of those who have been given much?
What are we going to do with what God has put in our hands?
Are we going to pat ourselves on the back and boast? By no means. We can't do that.
Are we going to sit back and play it safe, basking in our blessings, burying our talents so we do risk losing any? By no means. We can't do that.
So what are we going to do? That's what we are going to be answering as a church over the next 5 weeks.
Scripture Exegesis: Nehemiah 1:
When it comes to seeing the condition our society is in spiritually, and the trajectory it is heading on...
Are we blind because we can't see or because we don't want to?
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Nazis in Germany committed ruthless and heinous crimes against millions of Jews. Jews were arrested, imprisoned, and put in camps where they were starved, diseased, and worked until death. Many were shot. Many were burned alive. It is one of the most disturbing events in human history. One of the great questions that many have asked over the years is: Did the German people know what was happening? The question attempts to get to the heart of whether or not they knew and did nothing about it. Most scholars believe that while some may have known, the vast majority did not. In fact, the Nazi officials purposely send out propaganda about where the Jews were and what was going on, to appease the minds of its citizens, who honestly didn’t want to know. When the Americans began to advance and the war began to swing towards the Allies, camps were discovered and the horrors of Hitler and Nazi Germany were exposed. But the Allies didn’t stop there, they went into the cities, usually a few miles from the camps, and made citizens walk through the camps to visually see and absorb the reality of what had happened in their backyard.
Reality was revealed to these citizens about the horrors committed by their country. The knew something bad was going on, but they didn’t want to know the extent of it, they didn’t want to see it. They didn’t want to truly know what reality was.
Are we blind because we can’t see or because we don’t want to?
I believe we are very similar in many ways. You and I know serious problems exists around us. We see the direction of the culture. We feel the foundations of truth slipping away. We sense the chaos that follows throwing off God's boundaries. We see the culture devouring our kids and students, confusing them on issues of sexuality and gender. And for many churches, if not most, they choose to stay blinded. They choose to bury their head in the sand, crossing their fingers that the gospel will go forward, their kids will persevere, and that the world gets better. Friends, that's not how it works.
We are beginning a series today called: ARISE. We are going to be looking at the need around us and be challenged about our willingness to be inconvenienced and shaken up over it. We will be using the story and the book of Nehemiah as our guide, and simultaneously outlining how we as church believe God is leading us to act.
The book of Nehemiah is a story about a man who sees and learns of the condition of his city and his people, and is wrecked over it. This sets into motion his resolve to do something about it. Let me give you the BIG PICTURE background of where the book of Nehemiah falls within the greater storyline of Scripture.
Creation - Fall - Israel (slavery, exodus, promised land, kings, two kingdoms, exile) - 400 years prior to the coming of Jesus
Specifically, here is what was happening as we approach Nehemiah. Our text this morning, where Nehemiah learns of the condition of Jerusalem happened in 445-444BC. Over a century before this took place, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded and captured Israel (598BC), destroyed the Temple built by Solomon, and sent many Jews into exile (story of Daniel). But 50 years later, King Cyrus of Persia overthrew the Babylonians and took control of the vast empire. And as we see in the book of Ezra, allowed a wave of exiled Jews to return to their native land. Ezra himself returns to Jerusalem in 458BC, just 13 years prior to Nehemiah receiving word of the condition of his homeland. Now Nehemiah himself, as we will see, is the cupbearer of the new king of Persia, Artaxerxes’ - the son of Xerxes (the bad guy in 300 movie). Nehemiah is in the capital of Persia, Susa, which is in modern day Iran.
1. We need our hearts broken over the conditions of the world.
So Nehemiah begins by telling us that in the twentieth year of the reign of Artaxerxes, while he was in Susa the capital, Hanani, a Jew, came with certain men from Judah. And Nehemiah asks them a question: how are my people who returned back home and how is the city? The answer they gave him was that the remnant there was in great trouble and shame, and that the wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates destroyed by fire.
Nehemiah has reality revealed. I want you to notice that Nehemiah asks. He wants to know what is going on. He was not content to ignore reality. He had a suspicion that things were not good, but he was not okay with being in the dark about it. I believe there is a serious parallel to Nehemiah’s story and to us today. We live in a world where the conditions are not good. Daily in the news and in our entertainment, we are reminded of the godlessness that pervades our culture and society.
But what we need is not to focus on social problems we need to fix. You don’t need to hear about why we should tackle hunger or homelessness, though those things matter, but what we need to become hungry and desperate for is a spiritual awakening. We need a move of God to come upon our land. If we experienced a spiritual awakening in our cities, it would be followed by a social awakening. Introduce people to Jesus and you’ll find people who want to meet needs around them. Like Nehemiah, we need to get out of our bubbles of complacency and safety, and begin to take some risks with our faith. We need to have our eyes opened to what is really the condition of people around us.
I want you to notice that Nehemiah first asks about the people, then the city. The report went on to say that the remnant preserved in the city were in great trouble and shame. Friends, we live in a nation spiritually destroyed. We who are true followers of Christ are a remnant. There are people all around us that are facing a Christless eternity. They don't know the Lord. We have churches dying all around us or just surviving.
Do we even realize this is true? We need a sobering dose of reality. Things are not well.
Are we blind because we can't see or because we don't want to?
2. Prayer precedes movements of God
vs 4 --
As terrible as these things I previously mentioned are, they are only temporary issues, there is still something much worse...men and women within reach of the gospel who perish in their sins and suffer eternal condemnation in hell is an even more devastating reality.
Every person you see will spend eternity somewhere
Nehemiah’s response to what he hears can be summed up in one word: broken. Nehemiah was broken over the condition of the people and his city. When he heard these words he sat down and wept and mourned for days. This was no small, temporary sadness. He wasn’t shaken up for a moment and then returned to normal. Nehemiah was devastated. He wept and mourned for days. He grieved for the people and city. He grieved over what it meant.
Here’s my question for all of us: What will it take to break our hearts over the fate of people’s eternities? How bad do things have to get in the culture before we say "enough, something has to change!"?
There is a reason why we cannot remain apathetic towards the spiritual condition people are in. There is a reason why lost people need to matter to us. Unlike the short-term nature of pain and devastation in this life, if people perish and die in their sin, they will experience an eternity of condemnation that will never be quenched or relieved. The worse pain and hardship imaginable on earth is not even a comparison to the tortures of hell. We must make rescuing people from eternal damnation a higher priority than relieving temporary problems. We also must recognize the conditions of our world and get serious about building people up that can withstand these pressures and forces.
But how will this happen? What is going to be an important factor in this becoming reality and not just a dream or a hope? One of the ways, massively important, is Prayer. Powerful prayer precedes any mighty movement of God
Welsh revival: In 1904/1905, over 150,000 were converted and joined churches throughout Wales. A great revival swept the land. Like our cities today, the culture was one of gross sin. Destructive things were celebrated and laughed about. But a movement of God broke out. And it literally changed a nation. Families were restored. Crime almost became non-existent. What happened? There was a movement of fervent prayer that precedes a mighty movement of God.
Charles Spurgeon is known as the Prince of Preachers. He pastored in London during the 1800’s. He pastored what was the largest church in the world at that time, anywhere from 6,000-10,000 people. His sermons were transcribed and sent all over the world. Spurgeon’s sermons were read by millions in a day where news travelled slowly. To say God blessed this man and his church would be an understatement. Though he was known as a great preacher. Spurgeon would acknowledge and insist that the reason for what his church had experienced was the prayers of the people. When visitors would come to the church, Spurgeon would take them to the basement which served as a prayer-room. He would then look at the guests and say, “Here is the powerhouse of this church." Spurgeon is quoted as saying: “A prayerful Church is a powerful Church.” Powerful prayer precedes any mighty movement of God
When we look at Scripture, we find prayer as leading the way before major things begin to happen and transpire.
**The Gibeonite deception (Joshua 9)
**Gideon defeats 120,000 with 300 (Judges 6-8)
**David becomes king (2 Samuel 7)
**Elijah calls fire down on alter (1 Kings 18)
**Jesus raises Lazarus (John 11)
**Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26)
So how badly do we want to see lost people saved and saved people experiencing the fullness of life found only in Jesus? What does our prayer lives individually and as a church look like? Do we have faith that will move the heart of God?
3. Our prayers should be filled with humility, confession, and trust in His promises.
Before Nehemiah launches into action, he launches into prayer.
outline of Nehemiah's prayer:
-- Nehemiah begins by begging God to hear him (vs 5-6)
-- he prays for, and on behalf of, the people (vs 6-7)
-- he confesses the sins of the people, including his own (vs 6-7)
-- he pleads for God to remember his promises (vs 8-9)
Humility -- recognizing that we need God and cannot do anything on our own. We have desires of what we want to see happen, and we believe they are things they God approves of and delights in, but we must humble ourselves and seek dependence upon the Lord.
Confession -- we are imperfect people seeking to do godly things. We need to confess our own shortcomings and imperfections, lest pride and deception creep in. We want our hearts pure before the Lord.
Trust in His promises -- God has committed Himself to His Word and promises. Where He speaks we want to believe and act. God is able to more than all we can think, ask, or imagine. Revival in our cities, culture, and world are not beyond Him. Strength as we go. Blessing and favor as we work. These are things that He has promised as we seek Him.