September 22, 2019

Nehemiah 2:1-6

It was a warm sunny day in Houston, Texas, on September 12, 1962. John F. Kennedy stood before 40,000 people in the Rice University football stadium to deliver a speech that helped launch American astronauts to the moon.

Most Americans were not convinced that we should embark on such a bold endeavor or believed that it was even possible.

But that day, John F. Kennedy began winning people over to the idea that it was possible.

“But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic?” He even threw in a bit of humor and asked, “Why does Rice play Texas?”

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade,” he said, “and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

“It is for these reasons that I regard the decision last year to shift our efforts in space from low to high gear as among the most important decisions that will be made during my incumbency in the office of the Presidency.” (President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962)

Some of you are old enough to remember this speech. Others of us are too young, and some of you were not even born.

What was it about going to the moon that connected with the American people in these famous words of John F. Kennedy?

In delivering this speech, President Kennedy tapped into the spirit of the American people that nothing is impossible if we can dream it, and God blesses it.

At the very least, he lit the fuse of excitement which eventually blasted the rockets that sent men into orbit and finally landed them on the moon.

America has always been a nation of dreamers, risk-takers, adventurers, and people who remain excited about the prospects of the future.

We have had our share of those things which have squelched excitement and threatened the optimism that the American dream is possible for another generation.

We’ve had slavery, Civil War, two World Wars, a depression, over a half dozen other major wars, recessions, presidents assassinated, Jim Crowe Laws, a major attack on New York City and the Pentagon.

Last year we had 35 school shootings. This year we have had over 250 mass shootings.

We have had natural disasters that have claimed entire towns and left thousands homeless.

Our lawmakers cannot solve our immigration problem.

We have the most incarcerated people in the world.

Our infant mortality rate is the highest of any modern nation in the world.

Even 45 years after the Civil Rights amendment was signed, we still act as if we don’t have a clue how to live together as racially diverse people.

I could fill up my sermon time with reasons that would douse our excitement about the future and why the future will only disappoint us. But that would make me a pessimist.

I would not trade places with the way things were the year I was born, 1962, the year John F. Kennedy gave his “We choose to go the moon speech.”

In spite of all that was wrong with America at that time, John Kennedy chose to be an optimist. He decided to speak about possibilities.

Fourteen months later, he was dead.

His brother Bobby took up his brother’s optimism.

He was an advocate for the poor and his words about racial healing resonated with blacks and many whites.

America needed to hear this message coming from a politician because we surely were not hearing it from many pulpits.

Most of the pulpits of America preached what the people in the pews wanted to hear on the issue of Civil Rights. There were few prophets among white preachers regarding racial issues.

Four years and six months after President Kennedy was assassinated, his brother Bobby was shot.

Two months before that, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated as well.

Different men, for various reasons, killed these messengers, and by killing them, they hoped to kill their movements and silence their voices.

They hoped that the excitement and the seeds of optimism they dropped in the ground would die with them, but that didn’t happen.

While the country tilted briefly toward fear and uncertainty, it righted itself once again.

The words of President Kennedy proved right: He said, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

When Martin Luther King, Jr. stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial in March of 1963 and gave his famous, “I Have a Dream Speech,” that speech was a speech that sent out its own ripples in the African American community and among many whites who believed that the Jim Crow laws were immoral, that our nation could become a nation where every person was treated equally and given the same rights regardless of the color of his or her skin.

As we have studied these men of history, we are all aware of their flaws.  Yet they possess traits that are desperately needed today.

One of those traits is the ability to inspire others to see the possibilities of tomorrow and not be satisfied with the status quo when we could be so much more.

I wonder if a biblical figure named Nehemiah inspired any of these men.

Nehemiah was a Jew that had been carried away from his home in Jerusalem after King Artaxerxes, King of Persia destroyed it.

Nehemiah could have become just another name lost with the pessimism of all the exiled Jews.

However, Nehemiah maintained a positive attitude.

He proved himself valuable and became the cupbearer to King.

The lesson Nehemiah teaches us is that even if life deals you a rotten hand, don’t pitch a pity party for yourself.  Instead, make the most of every opportunity. Turn lemons into lemonade.

If you cannot change the circumstances you are in, then make the most of yourself where you are. Bloom where you are planted. That’s what Nehemiah did. Because he did that, it placed him in a position he could not have anticipated.

In the course of his work, he learned that the Jews left behind in Jerusalem were in a bad way. The walls of their city had been torn down, and their gates were burned.

They were subjected to looters and wild animals.

When Nehemiah heard about this, it upset him. He sat down and wept. For many days he mourned, fasted, and prayed before God.

After Nehemiah’s time of fasting and praying, the possibilities of the future became much clearer to him. He believed Jerusalem could become a safe city again if they could get their wall rebuilt. He thought he could engineer such a thing, but how would he get relieved from his service to the king to be able to help?

When you are presented with a problem for which you have no solution, what do you do? Nehemiah fasted and prayed.

What if we looked at our problems the way Nehemiah looked at Jerusalem?

What if we began we fasting and praying?  What if we looked at the possibilities and not just at the size of the problem?

If we look around us, anywhere we go we are presented with a culture that does not believe in placing the Lord as a priority.  The walls that used to be around Sunday as a sacred day are broken down.  The walls that used to protect the family are broken down.

These broken walls affect the church.

No ministry of the church will grow if we are not thinking, praying, planning, and looking for possibilities.

Nehemiah knew the wall to Jerusalem had to be rebuilt, and he knew he couldn’t just sit at home.

But how would it be possible for him to leave his job as the cupbearer to the king? He made his problem a matter of prayer.

Every problem for the Christian should start with prayer. That’s the reason we are in our 100 Days of Prayer as a church right now.

Prayer prepares our hearts, so when God opens doors for us along the way we will be ready to spring into action.

God prepared the way for Nehemiah.  The king took notice of his body language and asked him the reason for his sadness.

Nehemiah didn’t even have to initiate the conversation. The king asked him what was wrong.

God gave Nehemiah the courage to bring the matter before the king. Nehemiah explained the plight of his people, and he asked the king to allow him to leave and assist them.

Not only did the king allow him to go, but the king gave him the needed resources to rebuild the city wall and city gates.

God will prepare the way for you if you will pray and ask God for guidance through situations that you face.

Is there something in your life that God is setting before you to do, but you cannot see your way through it?

Then set aside some time to fast and pray.

Allow God to show you how you are to proceed. There is a way. If God is leading and if God is in it, there is a way.

God wants us to watch Him show out. God wants us to have enough faith to believe that he will supply what is needed.

As a church, God is waiting to see if we want to be a Faith Soaring church. God wants to know if we’re going to be pew-sitters or pew packers.

“The prophet Jeremiah wrote: “Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You (Jeremiah 32:7 NIV).

The goals that are being set before us for the years ahead are bold, but if God is in them, there is a way to achieve them.

So Nehemiah made his way to Jerusalem with materials and a plan of action.

When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he gave an inspiring speech to those that were going to be working on the project.

He said to them: “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding” (Nehemiah 2 17-18 NIV).

So, they began this good work.

When a need is presented, we should go to our knees.  Then there comes a time to get off our knees, and we put our faith into action.

You can be sure that when you do this, there will be opposition.

The evil one doesn’t like faith in action.  He will always test our resolve.

Jesus pulled away from the crowds to spend some time fasting and praying.  He was making some decisions about the course his ministry was going to take.  Before Jesus even completed his fasting and praying, he encountered opposition to his decisions as Satan tempted him use his power for selfish reasons and to receive the praise of the people without any suffering.

It is a reminder that the evil one will do everything to derail our efforts to serve the Lord. Why would he not test our resolve?

Why would he allow it to be easy?  He doesn’t want us to realize the possibilities that God has laid before us.

When opposition came in building the wall, Nehemiah devised a plan where some guarded while others worked.

His plan worked. The walls around the city were rebuilt in a remarkable 52 days.

Going to the moon is such a proud achievement in American history that the opposition to the project is almost forgotten now.

We cannot as quickly forget the struggle of blacks to achieve equal rights during the Civil Rights Movement because we still have racial tensions in our country today, reminding us that we still have work to do.

There is always opposition when we are reaching for new heights, laying out new possibilities, and especially when we are seeking to expand God’s kingdom.

As we seek to do God’s will as a church and expand our facilities so that we can reach more people for Jesus, we would not be a Baptist church if we had 100% of our people on board with that vision.

But if we want to get as close to 100% as possible, we have a strong clue of how to do that in this Nehemiah story.

Nehemiah risked his relationship with the king on behalf of the people of Jerusalem.  Going to Jerusalem had everything to do with serving God and helping the people of Jerusalem. The mission to go to Jerusalem was not about himself.  In fact, he wasn’t even going to get to enjoy the benefits of his work.  Once his job was done, he had to return to his job with the King of Persia.

Even so, Nehemiah set his heart on helping the people of Jerusalem.

Our hearts must be set on helping and reaching the people of Jackson County.  The possibilities we are talking about as a church are seeing people come to faith in Jesus.

Nehemiah loved the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and his neighbor as he loved himself. There was nothing about building that wall that made his life more comfortable, but it made the lives of those people better in Jerusalem.

As we pray, God always helps us know the things we are striving for are possible and worth our time, money, and efforts.

Two questions are always worth asking:

  1. Do our efforts have the Kingdom of God implications?
  2. Do our decisions center around God and others and not just ourselves?

Whether we are building a wing of the church, a new part of our business, a new relationship, a healthy marriage, these are good questions to follow.

If we ever stop thinking about the possibilities that lie before us, then what we are saying is that we are satisfied with where we are and what we have.

It’s very difficult to imagine that God would have us take such a position when the world needs to know Jesus.

Photo Credit: