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Doing His Will Requires Resolve
Scripture: Nehemiah 6: 1-6
Track 8 of 8 in the Inside~Out: Discovering the Will of God series
Running time: 32 minutes, 34 seconds.

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Brent McCrory Speaker: Brent McCrory
Brent is an intern at Madison Park Christian Church.

View all sermons by this speaker.

"Doing His Will Requires Resolve" November 18, 2007

Questions are fascinating, aren't they? Have you ever tried to go an entire day without asking any questions? Do you think that's possible? For those of us in the room who are married have you ever gone an entire day of communicating with your spouse without having to ask some sort of clarifying question in the course of that day? Do you think that's possible? What if they outlawed questions? What if all of a sudden it was illegal to ask questions? What would that be like?

Obviously right now I'm posing a series of hypothetical questions dealing with questions. Aren't I? And I'm doing that because I enjoy questions. I like questions. And I think about the possibility of me going an entire day without asking questions, and for me it's just simply not a possibility. I venture back into the marriage realm a little bit hesitantly, and I don't think that's possible for us in our household, not so much for me but for my wife, because I'm sure I do a lot of things that raise a lot of questions from her mind. So it's just not going to happen. And trying to outlaw questions is just simply ludicrous. There is no way you could do that. There is no way you could possibly enforce that.

And when you stop to think about it really questions propel a lot of our society forward in many ways. People ask questions about things like, well, why is this person sick? Or, why can't we do this better? And so that leads to research. That leads to experimentation. That leads to medicine and to vaccines. That leads to more fuel efficient cars, for example. All sorts of technological advances we see around us are the result of asking questions.

But not every single question that we have to ask is created equal. Marilyn vos Savant is a journal article writer, and she has an article in the weekly Parade magazine on the Sunday edition, and it's entitled Ask Marilyn. She became famous in the mid '80's for having the world's highest IQ according to Guinness Book of world records. And so people write in and they ask her questions, and she basically writes back and answers their questions.

There are some questions that don't make it into her weekly article. P.T. Edmonds of Washington State writes in and asks, "When I am walking my dog, considering that he has twice as many legs as I do, is he getting twice as much exercise as I am or half as much?" A.K. of Youngstown, Ohio, writes in, "Could leap year be switched from February 29th to June 31st? It would give us an extra day of summer and one less day of winter." The last one I will share is from P.K. from the State of New York. He says, "Suppose the hokey pokey is what it's all about?" I think we can realize and agree that those questions are just simply nonsense. I mean, there is no substance to them. I mean, after all, if the hokey pokey is what it's all about, I don't know what I'm doing up here this morning, and I really don't know what you guys are doing out there listening me this morning.

But I got to thinking about the question of can we move leap year from February 29th to June 31st, and I would like an extra day of summer. I think that would be kind of nice. Another day of warmth, a less day of cold. And then I got to thinking, well, that's not really how that works. It's just simply a day on the calendar. It's not going to shorten the winter months at all. And then I got to wondering, well, what about those people who are born on February 29th? Could they ever celebrate a birthday again? It's just confusing for me. So I just have to leave that one alone. I just don't think that could happen.

So I think we see the questions are important, but there are not all created equal, and I'll be honest with you. The reason why questions are important to me is because, I don't know what it is, just something about me, sometimes I just don't think I'm that bright, and it takes me awhile to get things. So I ask a lot of questions. Or I hear somebody else ask a question, and then I get it, and I'm like, oh, man, I see that now, because the question that they ask sheds some light on something and I see it in a different way and then I can work on trying to apply that to my life.

It happened to me just this week again as I was preparing for the sermon and I was thinking about, well, how am I going to approach this and what angle am I going to take and at what point am I going to reveal the thrust of the sermon. Sometimes you build up to that and you release it at the end. Sometimes you let it out at the beginning. And then it dawned on me. How many of you were handed a bulletin when you walked in this morning? A lot of people were. And on the front of that bulletin or on the wall behind me it says, Doing His Will Requires Resolve.

And so here I am just wondering how I'm going to approach this and when I'm going to make a major point in the sermon, and then it's on the wall behind me the whole time while I'm speaking. I'm just like, man, why don't I get that sometimes? I mean, after all, I've preached here a few times before, I attend here regularly when I'm not preaching somewhere else, and so I have those bulletins week in and week out and I know what the focus of the message is going to be before I ever sit down that morning.

And so we have the focal point of the sermon of Doing His Will Requires Resolve, and I don't think it's necessarily something that people would disagree with this morning. In fact, doing just about anything requires resolve when you stop to think about it.

I found this fascinating. I was doing some research this week for the sermon, and I came across this statistic that for babies most babies start to walk around 12 months, anywhere from 9 to 18 months when they start to walk, take their first steps. But from the time that a child will pull itself up and stand upright next to like a coffee table or a couch or something, it takes them 1,000 hours of practice until they are ready to walk on their own. A thousand hours. That's almost 42 days of practice, of falling down and getting back up, falling down again, of just trying and resolving and working towards a goal that they want to be able to walk.

But if you were to watch a three- or a four-year old running around all over the place, you would never know that it was a struggle for them to learn to walk. Now it's a struggle for you to get them to stay still. They are just all over the place. And it's the same for us in many ways. I mean, for the vast majority of us once we learn to walk, it's never really an issue unless we have some sort of an injury where we have to relearn the process. Or behind me on the wall here, achieving educational degrees it takes a lot of effort. Maintaining a level of fitness, it takes effort. There are just things in our life this we do regularly and we have resigned ourselves to the fact that this is important to me and so I'm going to work at this, no matter what it takes, no matter how I have to adjust my schedule to make it happen.

And so the question of, is it true as far as doing God's will, I think it is a foregone conclusion that I think, yes, it's true. For those of us who have been following Jesus for awhile we realize that it's not easy living the life of a disciple. It's hard to work on being less selfish and thinking of others and putting them before ourselves and reaching out to other people.

And so we can raise another question of, well, why does this matter to me? Why does it matter to me if it takes effort to do God's will and resolve? Why does that matter to me? I think it's a valid question, and I think it's really a question that's a lot harder to answer than it is a true question.

And I think back to when I was in junior college. It was my second year of junior college, and it was in the fall, and a group of my friends, a large group of us, we went to a Kansas City Chiefs game. I don't remember a whole lot about the game. I remember the Chiefs won. They were better then than they are now. I remember it was an evening game. It was cold. And after the game we drove back to our campus apartment. It was about two hours away.

And when we get home, two of my roommates, Derek and Mad Dog -- well, his name is James. Everybody called him Mad Dog. We walked into our living room, and in there sitting in a chair was this strange man whom we had never seen before. We had no idea who he was. And we thought, boy, this is kind of odd. We generally lock our place. Here it's late at night, and there is this guy just sitting in there waiting for us. It turned out that he was there to visit with our other roommate. His name was Willie. He hadn't made it back from the game yet. Because earlier that night Willie's dad had decided to take his own life and committed suicide, and this was a friend of the family, and so he had come there to break the news to Willie. And I wish that I could tell you that I was there for my friend, that I was there in a christian way to help him through this hard time. But especially in light of what Chuck preached about last week coming out of Esther and how we need to live our lives with the belief that God has us in specific situations and times and in contact with certain people so that we can reach out to them and we can minister to them.

But if I told you I did that I would be lying to you today, because I wasn't there for Willie at all. I was a much different person than I am today. I did a lot of things I'm not proud of. There is one thing that's the same in that I knew who Jesus was. I was a christian by name. I had been a christian for around 11 years at that point, but I wasn't intentional about my growth as a disciple of Jesus. And even though 11 years had passed chronologically and I was now older and I was physically more mature and I could do more things, I hadn't done anything spiritually to further myself for a long time.

And so that cold fall evening when my friend finds out that his dad decided his life wasn't worth living anymore, that by default Willie was no longer worth living for or his mom or his siblings, and takes his life, I had nothing to offer my friend, because I wasn't spiritually mature enough to be there for him. And I think about that sometimes, and it really bothers me, because I don't know if Willie is a believer or not. To my knowledge he isn't.

Shortly after that time he moved home, started helping out around the house. There is a lot to be done, helping his mom out, taking care of his brothers and sisters. We saw each other occasionally, not as much. He did graduate, and I lost contact with him, and I just wonder sometime what would be different if I would have been more mature spiritually and I could have been there for my friend in his time of need. Because sometimes it's not just for us that spiritual growth is important, but it's for those around us that it becomes so important and that we can reach out to other people.

I wish that was the only instance I had of letting that particular group of friends down, but it's not. I have a lot of them. That same school year, as a matter of fact, in the spring my roommate Mad Dog he was sitting in the living room reading his bible and he was obviously perplexed and he was reading from the King James version, and I didn't simply know enough. I was so uncomfortable with asking him any questions and trying to help him out with anything, but at least this time I did something. I went to my room and I grabbed my bible. I had an NIV student bible. At least it would be easier to read. At least it would have some study notes that might help him out a little bit. So I gave it to him. About an hour or so later he was done reading, and we never talked about it again. I didn't bring it up. I was too uncomfortable with it. That was the most spiritual conversation I think we probably ever had.

And then two years later his sister gets killed in a tragic car accident, and he took it really hard, and you would think that I would have learned my lesson. You would have thought that somewhere in there something would have clicked in my mind that I would have thought, man, myself growing as a disciple of Jesus is important because there is people around me who are going to need to know His love, and I right now have nothing to give them. But two more years chronologically passed, and I did nothing to further myself spiritually. Once again, I had absolutely nothing to offer my friend.

Once again, I don't believe -- I don't think he is a follower of Jesus at all. To my knowledge he doesn't have a relationship with Jesus Christ. And I think back once again and I think if I would have been more spiritually mature, what could I have done for my friend when he was hurting during that time? And I realize when there is tragedies like that that sometimes there is never the right thing to say, or you can start to say things and you really say too much and you make the problem worse. But I know in my heart that there is times after that happened and there is definitely times before that when I could be intentional with that relationship and with that friend as I'm growing and maturing myself and I'm praying for my friend to come to know Jesus and I invest in his life so that I have a voice into their lives. But if I'm not being intentional about my own spiritual growth, then I have nothing to offer my friends when they are hurting.

Turn with me, if you will, to the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah is in the old testament. If you open your bible basically to the middle, you will be in the book of Psalms. You back up one book you will be in Job, one more book you will be in Esther, and then Nehemiah is before that. Nehemiah is written -- it's right after the book of Ezra. Ezra and Nehemiah really go together very well in the bible. They tell a lot of the history of the Jewish people after their return from exile.

They were in exile because of lack of faithfulness to God. In 605 B.C. the Babylonians came in and they conquered large parts of Judah, and they took citizens into exile, the prophet Daniel being one of them. A few years passed, and the Jewish people foolishly aligned themselves with the country of Egypt thinking that they would be able to gain some political stability and get some military might, and that made Babylon mad. So they came back again in 597 B.C., and they ransack God's temple and they take out of artifacts and they take a whole bunch of people into exile with them, a lot of people who were the leading citizens thinking that if we get rid of these people then the country isn't going to be trying to subverse our leadership anymore.

Well, that didn't exactly work out, and in 586 B.C. the Babylonians come back, in 587 rather, and then in 586 they burn the temple, they tear down its foundations, and the city of Jerusalem was just in a heap of ruins. It was devastated. Very few people are left in the land. And then in 539 B.C. the Persians come to power, and 538 B.C. King Cyrus gives a decree saying that all the Jewish people can return back to the land of Judah if they so desire and they can rebuild God's temple. That's in the beginning of Ezra Chapter One, Verses 1 through 4. You can read about that prophecy in Isaiah 4:28. In the first part of Ezra, Chapters 1 through 6, deals with rebuilding of the temple, and then Ezra focuses the last part of his book, Chapters 7 through 10, with reorienting the people to God's law and recommitting themselves to that. And that coincides with the book of Nehemiah as well.

His task was a little bit different. In Chapter 1 of Nehemiah he inquired about the status of Jerusalem and the land of Judah. Then the answer comes in Verse 3. "And they said to him, 'Those who survived the exile and are in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down and its gates are destroyed by fire.' As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days, and I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven." Nehemiah goes on and he writes about he confesses his sins and the people's sins and how they were disobedient to God, and he realizes that's why they are being punished, that's why they are in exile, and he reminds God, when your people return to you you will gather them back to you, and that's what he is looking forward to at this point in time.

And we read Nehemiah's reaction to the news that Jerusalem is leveled and the walls are destroyed, and we think, well, that's kind of odd for him to sit and fast and mourn for days, because it's not like this was breaking news. The walls had been destroyed for about 140 years now. Surely he had heard and he knew why he was in a foreign land. He knew what had happened.

But for people during this time period the walls of the city were significant. The walls of the city basically symbolized civilization and stability versus being just a wandering group of barbaric nomads with no home. They symbolized peace and security as well. It could be a symbol of God's blessing for them, and many times the city of Jerusalem is related and symbolic of the nation of Israel as a whole in the new testament. So with the 586 B.C. destruction of Jerusalem and the tearing down of the walls it really symbolized the destruction, or at least the rejection of God's people by God because of their disobedience to him.

So all these years later, 140 years later, they have the question in their minds of, well, are we still not God's people? Has he still rejected us? Do we no longer have his blessing upon us? The thought of this is more than Nehemiah can bear, and so he asks the king of Persia, King Artaxerxes, if he can go back and rebuild these walls, and the king grants his wish. And in Chapter 2, Verse 7 he gives Nehemiah a letter which gave him right of passage through the Persian empire so he can go back and work on rebuilding these walls.

But just because he had this decree from the king giving him the authority to do it didn't mean that things were a cake walk for Nehemiah, because there were a lot of people who didn't want to see these walls rebuilt. Nehemiah arrives back in Judah, and there are people who are opposing him. These people were the ancestors of the Samaritans, the people who the Jews were at opposition with. We can read about an instance of that in the new testament in John Chapter 4.

Two people are mentioned, at least two are mentioned by name, Sanballat and Tobiah. And in Chapter 2, Verse 19 they are leading the mocking and the ridiculing of Nehemiah and his workers as they are rebuilding the wall, and they think that the reason -- they say the reason you are rebuilding those walls is because you want to rebel against the king of Persia and claim your independence of him. In Chapter 4, Verse 3 they say that the wall is so pathetic that if a fox hopped on it and ran across it it would fall down, and then they even threatened him with physical harm and death in Chapter 4 as well.

But Nehemiah wasn't going to give up. He knew what God's will was. He knew that God was calling him to rebuild those walls, and so he was going to persist, and he was going to make any adjustments necessary to bring this to fruition. And so he takes his work force and he divides them in half basically. Half of the people stood guard with their shields and their spears and their swords ready to fight off anybody who would come and attack, and the other half would work. Of those people who were working some of them would carry the bricks and everything in one arm, in one hand, and they would hold a weapon in the other hand ready to fight. And the others would use both hands and work on the wall while having a sword strapped to their side, just that constant readiness to carry out God's will. They were facing opposition, but yet they were adjusting how they were approaching it.

When we come to Nehemiah Chapter 6 starting in Verse 1, he says, "Now, when Sanballat and Tobiah and Geshem, the Arab, and the rest of our enemies heard that I had built a wall and that there was no breach left in it, although at that time I had not put up the doors and the gates, Sanballat and Geshem said to me, 'Come and let us meet together at a village in the plane of Ono.' But they intended to do me harm, and I sent messengers to them saying, 'I'm doing great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave and come down to you?' And they said to me four times this way, and I answered them in the same manner. In the same way Sanballat for the fifth time sent his servant to me with an open letter. In it was written, 'It is recorded among the nations, and Geshem also says it, that you and the Jews intend to rebel. That is why you are building the wall. And according to these reports you wish to become their king.'"

So he still continues to face this opposition. And you can hear what they are trying to do. They are trying to stir up Persia to get Persia to come in and see that these Jewish people that are being rebellious again to come in and squash their rebuilding efforts. Nehemiah knows that's not what they are doing. He refutes their claims, and he prays to God for strength.

The wall gets completed, and in Verse 16 it says, "And when all our enemies heard of this all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God." Because at this point the shame and the humiliation of a city in ruins was now being lifted. They had their temple completed. They had their walls rebuilt as well around the city which symbolizes protection, which started to symbolize once again perhaps God's blessing and his providential care for them as a people.

And in the rest of the book of Nehemiah you can read about the covenant renewal ceremony that he led them through as he orients them back to God and his word and his commands. They have the Feast of Tabernacles for the first time since the time of Joshua. They read about it, and so Nehemiah has them do that. And what they did is they lived in tents basically reenacting a time when the Hebrew people were wandering around in the desert because of disobedience to God, and they had to live in temporary shelters, but during that whole time God had provided for them. And so by them doing this Feast of Tabernacles they were symbolically reenacting that and realizing that if we are faithful to God he will continue to be faithful to us. Because that's the type of God that we serve. He is always faithful to us.

And in many ways it's a new beginning for the Jewish people. It's basically a new exile. It parallels a lot with the original exile out of Exodus that God works about a thousand years prior to this, how he releases people from bondage in a foreign land, and here he is doing it again, bringing them back to Jerusalem. And it's a wonderful story, the story of Nehemiah. It's filled with all sorts of historical data and things that parallel archeological history.

But what does that have to do with us today? We live in 21st Century America. We don't have walls around the City of Quincy. We better never build walls around this church because we are not trying to keep people out. We are trying to bring people in here so that their lives can be transformed and changed as they hear about the gospel.

And so it's not the physical things that Nehemiah did, but it's the resolve that he had and the calling that he had on his life and knowing what God's will was, and so he was going to do whatever it took to be obedient to carry that out. And we saw how he had to adapt his plans, and that just illustrates the fact that when something is important enough to us in our lives we will adjust our plans and we will do that. We will make sure that we carry that out.

I skipped over it, but you can read in Chapter 5 when Nehemiah learns about social injustice that was going on, the poor people were being oppressed, he puts an end to that. Being the governor he was somewhat wealthy being paid, but he didn't keep that all to himself. He provided enough food daily for 150 men to eat at his table. We don't know this for sure, but I assume that there was some sort of a rotation going, and probably those people who were working on the wall were eating at Nehemiah's table, and so it would have been important for them to be getting some nourishment so they would have the strength to carry this work on.

And I think of events that's been happening here at Madison Park over the past several months. I think of some Inside/Out activities that have been taking place. At the beginning of October we had the grocery giveaway. A lot of people signed up for that. We went out into the community and shared, shared groceries with needy families, and that was a wonderful thing, a wonderful experience for many people who took part in that. It was a financial stretch to buy groceries for somebody else, but then it was a social stretch to go and engage these people who were probably total strangers to us who we had never seen before and sit there with them and help meet their physical needs. And so I applaud everybody who did that.

But my follow-up question is, has anybody been back to do that again? Have you taken the initiative on your own to call that person back, to go back with more groceries or to see what other needs that you can possibly help meet? Because the fact of the matter is sometimes some people are so closed off to the gospel because they've seen bad examples of a christian life that they need to see some good examples, and so when they have somebody investing in their lives and providing for them out of their own pocket, that will open the door to be able to share Jesus with them at some point.

You could invite those people whoever you are continuing to bring groceries to or maybe call them back up if you haven't been back and then invite them to come with you as your guest, pay for their ticket, pick them up, and bring them to Madison Park to Madison Park's "A Christmas Carol," enjoy the evening, enjoy the desserts that we will have. It will be a wonderful presentation of the gospel message that they will be able to see in a wonderful way with all the singing and the acting that will be going on, and it's another step in investing in somebody's life as you are being intentional in reaching out to people and furthering their own walk.

Just this past Wednesday we had a group of people who went to the Berrian School and did odds and ends types of cleaning that sometimes don't get done as much when school is in session because they have a list of things that they need to get clean, and so a lot of cleaning was cleaning out the cubby holes and getting all the dust out, and there was painting going on in the gym and things like that that just simply need to be done. It was a way of showing that we cared about community.

And listen to the reply in response to that work that night. "This had to be the best experience in reaching out into the community that I have ever had. Prayer for each student by name and the staff was awesome." And that response was shared by Steve Myers, an elder here at Madison Park, somebody who is a retired schoolteacher, spent many years in the system and has been involved in the community in different ways, but yet that experience shaped and molded him and took him deeper in his relationship with Christ. I know it did for me. I still have the names of a couple teachers in my head that I will pray for from time to time now. It's just another picture of being intentional with our growth.

But it's not just simply service oriented things. You could sign up and take Christianity 201 the next time that Steve Hill offers it. It's a six-week elective that talks about and focuses on ways that you can be more intentional about growing deeper as a follower of Jesus. You can take sermon notes. You can go on-line and listen to whole sermons. Because if you are like me, I sit here and I listen to Chuck, and I think, man, that was profound, or, boy, that addresses this area of my life and I need to work on that. Those are my "aha" moments. But the week starts, and then all of a sudden I get busy, and a lot of times I just let those slide on by. But if we take the time and take 30 or 40 minutes to relisten to something, well, then we can have that issue resurface for us and we can work to adjust it. We can be involved in a discipleship group or a bridge community which many of you I know are. People are trying that out, and that's wonderful. You can invest in some books that will teach you and guide you in how to read and study the bible on your own at a more deeper level.

But yet it's not just the cognitive either. It's not just the service with your hands. It's not just the service with your mind. It's both of them together, because we are called to love God with all of us, with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

So we come back to the book of Nehemiah once again. And I would encourage you to read through it. It's not going to take that long. It's about 13 chapters long, I believe. And when you read through it, you will see many references to the king, referring to the kings of Persia, and it would be easy to think that it was the king of Persia that was enabling all this stuff to happen. But in Chapter 2, Verse 8 Nehemiah says that the hand of God was upon me during this whole time. So really God is the one working behind the scenes, and he is using humans to do his will, which sounds a lot like what happens today.

But Nehemiah refers to the king of Persia over and over again. In Chapter 2, Verse 5 he goes to the king and makes the request to go back to Jerusalem. In Chapter 2, Verse 7 the king gives him a letter. That letter allowed him to pass through the Persian empire without any difficulties and gave him the authority to carry out the rebuilding of the walls. He had to present that letter in Chapter 2, Verse ?. He was stopped, and so he presented the king's letter saying, hey, you know it's okay that I can do this. Here is my proof.

And my question this morning is, who is our king? Who did we sing about as our king? Who did we sing about earlier? Jesus. Here we have this pagan king empowering Nehemiah to do all this stuff, and we have the king of kings and the Lord of Lords is who we serve. And what has he empowered us to do?

In Matthew Chapter 28 starting in Verse 16, after his resurrection the disciples are gathered around him on the mountain. Some of them bow down to him. Some of them are worshipping him. And Jesus says, "To all authority has been given to me," because he is the king. Before him one day everybody will bow. And he says, "Therefore, go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, teaching them to obey all things, and I am with you always until the end of this age."

And my question is, how can we go and make disciples if we are not intentional disciples ourselves? How can we go and teach them to obey all things if we don't know what all things are? Back to my example is how could I have been there for my friends when they had lost loved ones when I wasn't intentional about my own spiritual growth, because I had nothing to offer them spiritually at all?

This was shared by Keith Ehresman amongst the elders and staff here from an article. It's reflecting on some work that Willow Creek has done in the past. Willow Creek is -- I mean, they are doing marvelous things up in the Chicago area, and this is not bad against them. This is their own pastor reflecting on this. He says the mistake that they made was simply trying to get people in the door and tracking people instead of teaching people to grow deeper and being more committed disciples of Jesus. And he said, it used to be that the height of salvation was not the beginning, not getting someone saved, but at the end when they stand before God and he rewards them for walking the journey on a straight and narrow path.

And the walking is known as discipleship, the working out of their salvation. It's the working out of salvation that requires discipline, obedience, perseverance, adjustment of schedules, whatever it takes, as we serve our king. And that desire to serve is fueled by a hunger for our God. Will you please stand with me as we sing.