Welcome to a brand new series here at Connect called Rise And Build. My name is Mike Edmisten. I’m the pastor here, and I’m so glad that you’re here with us today because we have been looking forward to this series for a long time. There are going to be some amazing things that happen over the next four weeks.
This series is based in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. That’s not one of the more familiar books of the Bible, but it is an incredible book with an incredible story. So let me set the stage for us before we jump in.
The book of Nehemiah tells about what happened to the Israelites after the Babylonian captivity. They were returning to Jerusalem, but the walls of the city had been destroyed when the city was overthrown. Now, that was a really big deal. In this time period, a city without walls was a sitting duck. If Jerusalem wasn’t fortified with walls, the Israelites were as good as dead. They would easily be attacked and conquered again. You really can’t overestimate how serious this situation really was.
And that’s where we meet a man named Nehemiah. And as we’re going to see today, Nehemiah wasn’t content to leave things as they were. God planted an intense vision in him to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. And God has planted an equally intense vision in us to build up His church. We’re not content with where we are. So we are coming together to rise and build.
Let me pray for us as we kick off this series.
Nehemiah had a vision to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem. But it was a massive project. It was obviously bigger than anything he could do by himself. So he gathered the Jewish people to lay out his vision.
Check it out in Nehemiah 2. Nehemiah wrote, “Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.”
And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18, ESV)
Nehemiah cast the vision for this huge project. And I love the way the people responded. In fact, their response is what inspired this whole series. They said, “Let us rise up and build.”
But look at how Nehemiah cast that vision. He told them of all the work that had to be done, but he also focused on how God had already been working.
He said, “And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good…”
Before the building began, Nehemiah recognized what God had already done and what God was already doing.
To really understand that, you’ve got to know what had happened that had brought Nehemiah to this point. So let’s check it out. Back up just a little bit in the book of Nehemiah, starting at the end of chapter 1.
Nehemiah wrote, “I was cupbearer to the king.
In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”
I was very much afraid, but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”
The king said to me, “What is it you want?”
Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”
Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.
I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?”
And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.” (Nehemiah 1:11b-2:8, NIV)
Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king. That meant that he was the wine taster. And now, before some of you are like, “He got to taste wine for a living? Sign me up!” you need to know what the job was really all about. The cupbearer was there to protect the king from assassination through poisoning. So when the cupbearer brought the wine to the king, he would always taste it before the king would drink it. If nothing happened to the cupbearer, the king knew the wine was safe.
That was Nehemiah’s job. And his vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem would cause him to have to leave his job for a long time, which could have easily upset the king. And upsetting the king was not something that you wanted to do. If you made the king angry, he could have you killed on the spot. Nehemiah was risking his life by pursuing this vision that God had given him. And he wrote that he was very much afraid. But he prayed and God blessed him. Not only did the king give him permission to go, but he gave him letters and assistance for the project. The king really went above and beyond anything that anybody could have expected to help Nehemiah. And Nehemiah said that it’s all because the gracious hand of God was on him.
And that brings us back to the point when Nehemiah cast this rebuilding vision to the Jewish people. Nehemiah wrote, “And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18, ESV)
Nehemiah was casting the vision to rebuild the walls, but he also recognized all the wins that God had already given him.
And that’s we’re going to start in this series. We’re going to be casting a vision for the work that God has called us to, but we also recognize that God has given us a ton of wins already here at Connect. And today, we’re celebrating those wins.
And as we were talking about how to celebrate the wins that we’ve seen at Connect, we realized that there is a better way to share it than me just standing up here telling you about it. We wanted to share a story of a win, and we wanted to let our people tell it.
So we sat down with one family here at Connect and shot a video detailing the win that has happened in their family. Here’s their story.
As I watch that video, all I see are wins. There are wins all over the place in the Schuttes’ story. And we need to celebrate those wins as a church family.
Think about all the wins that happened in their story. It started with Sports Camp. If you’re new to Connect, you might not know that every summer, we host a free sports camp for kids in our community. And for a whole lot of people, that is the very first touch they have with our church. A lot of you are part of Connect now, because of Sports Camp. And obviously that is the Schutte’s story, too.
But think about everything that went into that win. Think about every single person that had a hand in that win.
If the Schuttes hadn’t been warmly welcomed on that first night at Sports Camp, they may have never come back. Jamie talked about being impressed with how organized it was. If our Sports Camp director, Julie Bach, and her team had not spent hours and hours and hours leading up to Sports Camp to make sure the event was organized and excellent, the Schuttes may have never come back. If our coaches and runners and security team and huddle coaches and our snack time had not been so upbeat and excited and welcoming, the Schutte family may have never come back. Just think about how many people had a hand in this win.
And then, when the Schuttes came to their first Sunday at Connect, there were more wins that happened. They came in apprehensive. Especially Joe. My buddy, Joe, basically walked in thinking, “Just give me a reason to run.” Some of you had that same thought they first time you came to Connect. For some of you, today is your first Sunday, and you’re having that same thought right now. We get it. And you know what? It’s ok. But our hope is that your experience mirrors what the Schuttes experienced.
Jamie talked about how people on our Connect Team greeted them, made them feel welcome and at home, but didn’t suffocate them. They felt welcome, but not overwhelmed. And if the people on that team hadn’t been on their game that day, the Schuttes may have never come back. Huge win.
There have been wins through Connect Kids. Jamie said that their kids “absolutely love church.” How many of you grew up in church where this was NOT the case. Your parents took you to church, but you definitely didn’t love it. That’s the way I grew up. But as a pastor, one of my convictions is that my kids will have a better experience. I want my kids to love their church. And they do.
And to hear Jamie talk about what her kids are learning and how they are growing and how they love their church…that’s a huge win. And our Kids Director, Tish Carwell, and every single person that volunteers in Connect Kids has had a hand in that win.
Think of all the wins that have happened through our Connect Groups. Joe was pretty skeptical, again. But through the love and the community that have developed in their Connect Group, everything has changed. And I loved the way Joe described it. It’s a group of people who have a vested interest in each other’s lives.
Here at Connect, one of our core values is that growth and authentic community happen best in small groups. It doesn’t happen best in this environment. It doesn’t happen best when we’re sitting in rows. It happens best when we’re sitting in a circle. When we can talk and share and pray together. It happens best when you have a support system of people who have your back, no matter what you’re going through.
And a lot of you are experiencing that. If you’re not in a Connect Group, you don’t have to wait. We can plug you into a group today. Just see Brian Morrissey after church. Brian leads us in worship every week, but he also oversees our groups.
But if it hadn’t been for all the work of Brian and all our Connect Group leaders, the Schuttes would have never experienced this win. They wouldn’t be going deeper in their faith and in their relationships here at Connect.
But you know who brought about the ultimate win? God did. We echo what Nehemiah said. All these wins happened because the hand of God is on us for good. And when the hand of God is on us, wins happen.
The ultimate win came last Saturday when Joe fully surrendered to Jesus and was baptized into Christ.
The gospel wins. When the good news of Jesus is preached faithfully, there are wins. When the people of a church are authentic and real as they follow Jesus…when they freely admit that they’re not perfect, and at times, they’re just a mess…but when they keep their eyes on Jesus…there are wins.
And that’s why our very first core value here at Connect is it’s all about Jesus. We are not perfect. We are so far from it. Heck, I’m the pastor of this church, and there are times when I feel like I’m the most messed up person in this room. But it’s not about me. It’s not about any of us. It’s all about Jesus.
And when it’s all about Jesus, then Jesus brings about the wins because they are wins for His kingdom, not ours.
I told you last week that our family recently went to Mammoth Cave. There are dozens of different tours that you can take at Mammoth Cave. We went on the historic tour, which I later found out is the most popular tour at the cave. The tour covers two miles in two hours. And we just had a blast.
It was so interesting to hear about the history of the cave. For example, people used to use candles to burn their names into the cave. And because there is no weathering that happens inside the cave, the signatures will conceivably last forever.
This is one of the signatures that I took a picture of. In 1839, some dude named Newton wrote his name in that cave. And his name will presumably be there forever.
A little later on in the trip, we decided to take a family selfie in the cave. But remember that we’re in a cave, so it was pretty dark. And you aren’t allowed to use a flash in the cave.
So here’s how it turned out. This is our cave selfie. We were all in that picture. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
But you know what I started thinking? These two pictures from the cave really illustrate two different ways that churches can operate.
In this picture, it’s all about the name. This guy wrote his name on the cave, so everyone would always know that he was there. He made this beautiful cave all about him.
It’s tragic how many Christians have taken this very same attitude in the church. They want it to be all about them. They’ll put their name on things. They want their recognition. They want influence and power. They want everything to be centered around their preferences and their desires. It’s all about them.
But then there’s this picture. I promise that this is a picture of my family. But you can’t see us. And that’s exactly how things should operate in the church. We’re all in the picture, but you really can’t see us too well because it’s not about us.
When someone walks into Connect, all we want them to see is Jesus. We’re ok to be in the background. We’re ok if we’re in the dark, as long as Jesus is in the light. We’re imperfect. We’re flawed. We will fail. So why would we want people to see us? We want them to see the One that is perfect. Who is flawless. Who will never fail. If you want to know why we always say, “It’s all about Jesus,” that’s why.
If it’s all about Jesus, then it’s not about us. And that will always be the heartbeat of our church here at Connect.
And here’s how serious we are about that. There’s a card under your seat. That card is about our serving day that’s coming up in a couple of weeks on September 6.
On that day, we are NOT meeting here at the hotel. Instead, we are going to meet in the morning for a very brief service at the Batavia Township park. And then, we’re going to go and serve our community. We’re going to be doing yardwork for some elderly folks. We’re going to be working at an organization called The Caring Place. We’re going to be serving meals at the Ronald McDonald House. We’re going to be all over the place serving.
What kind of church does that? What kind of church just goes and serves, and expects absolutely nothing in return? A church that’s all about Jesus. This day is not about us. It has nothing to do with us. This day is all about serving. It’s all about ministry. It’s all about love. It’s all about Jesus. And it’s going to be awesome.
You don’t want to miss this. Trust me. So if you’re planning to be part of it, just take a minute right now and fill it out. You actually have my permission to fill it out while I’m talking. It’s really ok.
After the service, there will be a box at the Connect Center. Just drop your card in that box as you leave and we’ll be in touch about getting you plugged in for our Rise and Build Serving Day.
I can’t wait for this day. I know that we’re going to have a ton more wins to celebrate from this day, because it’s just one more instance where it’s all about Jesus and it’s not about us.
That’s the heartbeat of our church. We have a Savior named Jesus who died in our place, for our sin. We are so imperfect, but Jesus was perfect for us. We could never make ourselves right with God, but Jesus did it for us. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the price for our sin in full. There’s nothing that separates us from God anymore. We are forgiven. We are free. And it’s all because of Jesus.
And if you haven’t surrendered to Jesus yet, we’d love to talk with you and pray with you about that today. We’ve got some people that will be out by the fountain in the lobby right after church. And they are there to talk with you, to listen to you, to serve you in any way that they can. If there’s anything we can do to serve you, please don’t leave without talking with them.
It all comes back to this from the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah wrote, “And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17-18, ESV)
The hand of God is on us. We have experienced so many wins. This is the most blessed season we’ve ever had here at Connect. It really is. God is pouring out blessings on us by the gallon.
And you know how we respond to that? “Let us rise up and build.” We’re not going to just sit on these blessings. We’re not going to waste this opportunity. We’re going to rise and build. We’ve got more work to do. We’ve got more people to reach.
There are more lives to be changed. There are more families to be healed. There are more addictions to be broken. There are more marriages to be saved.
There are hopeless people who need hope. There are broken people who need wholeness. There are sinful people who need a Savior. And until every single one of them meets Jesus, we’re not going to stop.
It’s like this last song says. We won’t be shaken. We won’t be silent. We won’t be broken. And you know why? Because our God is for us! Let’s stand and let’s celebrate that right now!