An Australian travel writer at the beginning of a six month tour of Canada was checking out the Vancouver Hilton, and as he paid his bill said to the manager, asked, “By the way, what’s with the Indian chief sitting in the lobby? He’s been there ever since I arrived.”
“Oh that’s Big Chief Forget-me Not,” said the manager. “The hotel is built on an Indian reservation, and part of the agreement is to allow the chief free use of the premises for the rest of his life. He is known as ‘Big Chief Forget-me Not’ because of his phenomenal memory. He is 92 and can remember the slightest detail of his life.”
The travel writer took this in, and as he was waiting for his cab decided to put the chief’s memory to the test. “ello, mate!” said the Aussie, receiving only slight nod in return. “hat did you have for breakfast on your 21st birthday?”
“Eggs,” was the chief’s instant reply, without even looking up, and indeed the Aussie was impressed. He went off on his travel writing itinerary, right across to the east coast and back, telling others of Big Chief Forget-me Not’s great memory. One local noted to him that “How” was a more appropriate greeting for an Indian chief than “ello mate.”
On his return to the Vancouver Hilton six months later was surprised to see ‘Big Chief Forget-me Not’ still sitting in the lobby, fully occupied with whittling away on a stick. “How?” said the Aussie to the Chief, who again did not stop to look up.
“Scrambled,” said the Chief. (quoted in “Dream Team” by Paul Decker)
Now, that’s a great memory!
Don’t you wish you could have that kind of memory? I know I do -I wish I didn’t have to ever use the phrase, “Sorry, I forgot” or (as I’m sure some of you would agree with me for yourselves) even hear it spoken to me!!
Come to think of it, we all like to be remembered don’t we? How many of you can recall a childhood experience of team picking or group picking where there would be two assigned people given the task of picking their teams from everybody one at a time. How many of you recall wanting to be among the first picked! You wanted to be remembered. How many of you have ever sat in at a banquet or appreciation dinner where people are being lauded for their accomplishments and you hoped and wished that you get remembered for what you have done. Or maybe you hope your spouse remembers you when its your birthday or anniversary or other special occasion?
It’s interesting the lengths that some people will go to be remembered. Throughout history there are stories of incredible men and women who have their names recorded because of something they did that caused them to be remembered. I don’t know if many of you saw a documentary on Michael Jackson that was done a couple of years ago. It was a time when our family had two channels on TV because we didn’t have cable and we kind of got stuck watching it. However, I remember one thing that stood out after all the things that were said during that interview, Michael made the statement, “I want to live forever”. He clearly did not even want to think about death. Aside from the obvious reasons that might fuel that desire there is another that I believe could be seen in the way Michael behaved when surrounded by adoring fans. In one section of the documentary Michael is visiting a zoo with his two young children with what was supposed to be a small private group of people. However word got leaked of his visit and he and his entourage are quickly engulfed with swarms of paparazzi and people vying for an opportunity to see Jackson. What stuck out was the fact that Jackson thrived on the attention. He seemed to enjoy the attention so much that he even apparently forgot about his children who were dangerously close to being harmed by the mob. I believe Jackson wants to live forever because he doesn’t want to die and be forgotten!
Being remembered is something that consumes a very large part of our consciousness.
I also remember reading an issue of the Pentecostal Testimony that carried the theme of “Influences” and a big part of the publication contained stories/testimonies of people remembering those who had a big impact in their life. A common thread describing this impact in each of these stories was how certain individuals led others to Christ and/or helped them to mature and grow in their faith and they are remembered because of their selfless acts.
Being remembered in this way is of greater value than being remembered because you can break 10 eggs by bending your fingers backwards as I saw on an episode of Guinness World Records. But the truth is people are often remembered for the frivolous or bad things as much as the good things.
The Bible is full of names of people God has made sure were written down so that they would be remembered. He chose the different individuals to include in His written Word – people who were remembered for things that shouldn’t be done and people who were remembered for things that are of value – all for the purpose of telling His story and leaving an example for us to follow (or not follow!).
Today as I read Nehemiah chapter three you’ll notice that there are a lot of names. Let me set the context for why we find these names in today’s text before I read it:
In the first two chapters of Nehemiah you’ll learn that our major character (Nehemiah) had left the Persian palace of King Artaxerxes, where he was the trusted cupbearer, and with the king’s blessing, returned to his nation’s capital, Jerusalem, to repair and rebuild its walls.
When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, after a through evaluation, he successfully passed on his vision to complete the walls to the people who lived there. He was able to do this because he established a link between what God was doing through him and what God was in the midst of doing for their history. Nehemiah demonstrated to the people that God had been working behind the scenes for their benefit (recall the king’s blessing on Nehemiah’s venture). This proof of God’s thumbprint awakened the dormant faith of the people and now they were ready to be a part of something God had His hand on.
So, as we come to chapter 3, we discover that the building has begun. Here in this chapter is faithfully recorded by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the names of those that worked on the wall. They are recorded because God wants them to be remembered. They are Jerusalem’s dream team. They came together and pulled off what others thought would be impossible. God makes sure that they are remembered for their accomplishment in fulfilling His purpose.
Today I want to highlight to you in Nehemiah 3:1-32 seven approaches to re-building the wall of Jerusalem that ensured its success. In doing so I believe that you’ll discover as I did the key to being successful in the plans the Lord sets out for your life and the life of WPA. How do you want to be remembered?
First, let’s look at Nehemiah 3 (read text 3:1-32)
I. The first approach is PRIORITY.
Nehemiah 3:1 (NIV)
1 Eliashib the high priest and his fellow priests went to work and rebuilt the Sheep Gate. They dedicated it and set its doors in place, building as far as the Tower of the Hundred, which they dedicated, and as far as the Tower of Hananel.
The first verse shows us that…
Any work for God must begin in the spiritual center.
We see here that the Priests didn’t sit on the sidelines when it came to this work.
They committed themselves to the work and joined right in.
What is also significant here is that the very first place that is worked on is the Sheep Gate.
This is important to note because this gate is the closest to the temple.
It probably took its name from the animals that were brought in for sacrifice.
Since the Sheep Gate is mentioned first, the idea of “Put God first” is reinforced.
The priority is thus established.
The spiritual center for worship is to be protected.
This is true for each one of us as well today.
Just your presence here communicates your desire to protect your spiritual center.
You are here to worship and feed your soul.
You are establishing what your spiritual priorities are.
II. The second approach is UNITY.
Nehemiah 3:2,4-5 (KJV)
2 And next unto him builded the men of Jericho. And next to them builded Zaccur the son of Imri. …. 4 And next unto them repaired Meremoth the son of Urijah, the son of Koz. And next unto them repaired Meshullam the son of Berechiah, the son of Meshezabeel. And next unto them repaired Zadok the son of Baana. 5 And next unto them the Tekoites repaired;…
We see here that…
Work for the Lord is accomplished shoulder to shoulder.
Did you notice what is repeated through the text?
Repeatedly, throughout the text, the words “next to them” appear.
These are people working together, side by side, with the same purpose.
They are building a wall together…
Note also the variety of backgrounds found amongst the people that Nehemiah draws from in building the wall.
Personally, I would have looked for the construction types. You know the guys…
They have big arms, sleeveless shirts, hard hats over a ponytail and a tattoo or two.
That’s who I would have picked.
Here, however, we find that Nehemiah brings along a great variety of people to accomplish the task: priests, goldsmiths, perfume-makers, merchants, and district rulers.
As they build next to each other, they build each other up and demonstrate how absolutely indispensable unity is.
Each person’s portion of the wall comes together with someone else’s portion and they must meet together.
They must match.
This is so much a lesson we need to learn in the church.
For note this…
We will never get beyond how well we are getting along.
If we are not united by a biblical purpose, we will nit-pick, gossip, argue and fight and we will not accomplish God’s agenda. Unity isn’t getting rid of our agenda it’s aligning our agenda with GOD’S. Unity happens when what God wants is worth more than what we want.
III. The third approach is INDIVIDUALITY.
Nehemiah 3:11 (NIV)
11 Malkijah son of Harim and Hasshub son of Pahath-Moab repaired another section and the Tower of the Ovens.
Nehemiah 3:14 (NIV)
14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors and bolts and bars in place.
See here that…
Work is done by distinct individuals.
I have pointed us at verses 11 and 14 because we have two different people with the same name.
The building was not done by people that were identical and could be stereotyped.
No, these were different kinds of people that worked in harmony.
Also note 3:12…
Nehemiah 3:12 (NIV)
12 Shallum son of Hallohesh, ruler of a half-district of Jerusalem, repaired the next section with the help of his daughters.
Shallum and his daughters are mentioned here. They are respected and honored. This was not exclusively men’s work. This was for all that had a stake in what was going on.
Keep in mind that I’m not talking about individualism here – in other words the idea that the individual is more important than the whole – but I’m talking about their individuality – the idea that each person brings important qualities to the whole that makes them of equal value to each other.
Let us also note at this point that since we are all different, we need organization.
Cooperation needs coordination.
This is so true in the church as well. Just as it was back then, we have contrasting personalities, complementary abilities, and distinctive abilities. Because of this, each one of us possesses a certain dignity. What each one of us has to offer has value.
IV. The fourth approach is GENEROSITY.
Nehemiah 3:13-19 (NIV)
13 The Valley Gate was repaired by Hanun and the residents of Zanoah…14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. … 15 The Fountain Gate was repaired by Shallun son of Col-Hozeh, ruler of the district of Mizpah. … 16 Beyond him, Nehemiah son of Azbuk, ruler of a half-district of Beth Zur, made repairs …. 17 Next to him, the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum son of Bani. Beside him, Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district. 18 Next to him, the repairs were made by their countrymen under Binnui son of Henadad, ruler of the other half-district of Keilah. 19 Next to him, Ezer son of Jeshua, ruler of Mizpah, repaired another section, from a point facing the ascent to the armory as far as the angle.
Work is done by those willing to sacrifice.
As you look at this section of people, note that they were all out-of-towners. Some of them traveled 15 – 20 miles. This means that there was little or no immediate benefit to them if Jerusalem’s walls were repaired. Yet they showed up for this sweaty, back-breaking work.
They had their own fields to cultivate. They had their own farms and places of business to be maintained. They had families to care for. Yet, they willingly left them for a period because of the greater cause. They were people of sacrifice and generosity.
Through the centuries, the church has been built on those that have sacrificed and were even willing to work behind the scenes. They were ready to do anything to further God’s agenda. They did it whether it was cleaning, catering, repairs, visiting, or literature distribution. Whatever needed to be done, they set aside other cares, and exhibited generosity. The church continues to need sacrifice and generosity today. In fact, the church is paralyzed and unable to accomplish its purpose without it.
Here’s the cool thing – I have found that whatever you sacrifice in obedience to the Will of God, He takes care of!
V. The fifth approach is NOT PRIDE but HUMILITY
Remember the Dung Gate that I referenced earlier? Notice who it was built by again…
Nehemiah 3:14 (NIV)
14 The Dung Gate was repaired by Malkijah son of Recab, ruler of the district of Beth Hakkerem. He rebuilt it and put its doors and bolts and bars in place.
Now take note of some people mentioned in reference to the section of wall between the Fish Gate and the Old Gate…
Nehemiah 3:5 (NIV)
5 The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.
Work for God is not accomplished by those filled with self-importance.
Verse 5 is intriguing because it is the only negative in the chapter. The leading citizens of Tekoa knew the need of Jerusalem, but they refused to help. The text tells us that they did not put their shoulder to the work. Pride kept them from it. They wouldn’t stoop this low. They were too important.
But do note this…
All that are recorded in this chapter are positively reported except for these people.
They are remembered forever for their failure.
And it is a lesson to us as well…God notices the goof-offs. We must remember that pride is a cruel enemy.
Proverbs 3:34 (NIV)
34 He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble.
James 4:6 (NIV)
6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5 (NIV)
5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
Pride inflates our self-importance, makes holiness impossible and, thus, we are unable to fulfill God’s plan for us.
VI. The sixth approach is RESPONSIBILITY.
Nehemiah 3:28-30 (NIV)
28 Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29 Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house. Next to him, Shemaiah son of Shecaniah, the guard at the East Gate, made repairs. 30 Next to him, Hananiah son of Shelemiah, and Hanun, the sixth son of Zalaph, repaired another section. Next to them, Meshullam son of Berekiah made repairs opposite his living quarters.
Work for God is completed by those that are determined to give their best.
Nehemiah gave out assignments wisely. He encouraged many of the people who wanted to help, to work opposite of their residences. Interestingly, it was an opportunity to protect ones’ own reputation. Their work would have a direct impact on their own homes, so it had better be good. No one would want his or her present work to bring future embarrassment.
Sometimes, our search for a ministry opportunity is not so far away. It is the wall right in front of our homes. It is the people that God has already brought into our life. It is our family. It is the people we live around. It is the people that we work with or go to school with. So be careful not to be looking elsewhere when the wall in front of you is in disrepair.
Be responsible for what God has already given you to do.
VII. The seventh approach is INTENSITY.
Nehemiah 3:20 (NIV)
20 Next to him, Baruch son of Zabbai zealously repaired another section, from the angle to the entrance of the house of Eliashib the high priest.
Nehemiah 3:27 (NIV)
27 Next to them, the men of Tekoa repaired another section, from the great projecting tower to the wall of Ophel.
Now note that the…
Work for God is finished by those that are willing to go the extra mile.
Earlier In this chapter, you may recall that Meremoth, Meshullam and the Tekoans all finished one part of the wall. What they didn’t do at this point was brush off their hands and clothes and say, “We’re done.” No, they looked for more opportunity. They were eager to do God’s work and went the second mile.
In verse 20, Baruch is also mentioned as one that is zealous to accomplish the building of the wall.
He was enthusiastic. He was on fire. He had passion.
There is a tale told of that great English actor Macready. An eminent preacher once said to him: “I wish you would explain to me something.” “Well, what is it? I don’t know that I can explain anything to a preacher.”
“What is the reason for the difference between you and me? You are appearing before crowds night after night with fiction, and the crowds come wherever you go. I am preaching the essential and unchangeable truth, and I am not getting any crowd at all.”
Macready’s answer was this: “This is quite simple. I can tell you the difference between us. I present my fiction as though it were truth; you present your truth as though it were fiction.”
(G. Campbell Morgan, Preaching, p. 36. )
Let me tell you this…
The church still needs people with passion of every age. People who believe in the truth, live in the truth and proclaim the truth with passion.
The church is looking for people that look to see what needs to be done and are willing to put feet on it.
The church needs people that will not settle for what has been, but for what needs to be done!
All of theses approaches to rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem together demonstrate that…
1. We must have the courage to be a team.
God has not called on us to act rashly and do our own thing when doing His work.
He has called us to coordinated cooperation.
He calls us to have the courage to set aside our preferences, our desires, our hurts and our pride so that the team will succeed.
He needs people that will commit time, talent, and treasure to complete the task.
You have to admire Nehemiah here, for he takes a disorganized, unmotivated, and uninspired people and turns them into an army with a mission.
You know, Nehemiah teaches us many lessons about leadership.
One of them is that…
2. We must recognize that visions from God are bigger than us.
It has been said, “If you can do this job yourself, then your vision is too small.”
You have to appreciate Nehemiah’s “can do” attitude.
But you must realize his source.
He is confident about God’s agenda and God’s call, so he moves forward, even though it is huge.
By gathering the team together, though, he teaches us that…
3. The church is not designed for loners.
Whether you are a leader or a follower, the principle still applies.
We are not meant to do anything alone.
God has designed the church to function together.
We need each other.
Of course there may be some of you with a “longer” bent and I’m not saying to you that you aren’t welcome in the church of Christ. What I am saying is that by its very nature, those in the church are in it together. No matter how much of a “loner” you may be, you are still created (along with all of us) for community.
4. We are designed to do this together.
Paul calls it being part of the body of Christ (Ephesians 4) This means you have a place! This means as a part of His body you will be remembered – that you have value that you are important.
This long list of names recorded in Nehemiah…
It shows us that God is a great believer in putting names down.
It also means that God has not forgotten our names either.
You may feel obscure and unimportant, but God does have a place for you.
He has a strategic place for you at the wall.
God has a job for you to do in the church that matches up perfectly with what He has wired you to do.
You belong on this team.
No more loners.
It’s time to have courage, be on the team, and build what God would have us build – His kingdom together.