Welcome to the second week of our series called Rise And Build. My name is Mike Edmisten. I’m the pastor here, and I’m really glad that you’re here with us today, because in this series, we’re really dialing in to who God wants us to be and what He wants us to do as a church.
We’re not going to waste anytime today. I want to go ahead and pray for us and we’ll get after it.
This series is based in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. Like we talked about last week, God gave Nehemiah a vision to rebuild the walls around the city of a Jerusalem. And Nehemiah cast that vision to the Jewish people.
In Nehemiah 2, 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 2:18, ESV)
Nehemiah had a huge vision to rebuild the walls that had been destroyed around the city of Jerusalem. Like we said last week, in this time period, if a city wasn’t fortified with walls, it was wide open to be attacked and conquered. The Jews had just returned from captivity, and if no walls were built around Jerusalem, it could easily happen again.
So God planted a vision in Nehemiah to rebuild the walls. And Nehemiah cast that vision to the Jewish people. He told them how the hand of God had been on him. And he told them of all the work that needed to be done.
And I absolutely love the response from the people. They said, “Let us rise up and build.”
And here’s what I see in that statement. When God’s hand is on us, it means that there will be more to do, not less. When God’s hand is on us, it means there will be more work to do. When God blesses us, those blessings come with greater responsibilities.
In other words, blessings aren’t couches to sit on. Blessings are work boots to strap on.
When you read Scripture and you see that someone was blessed by God, it always meant that they had more work to do. It always meant that something more difficult was in front of them.
Think about it. Noah found favor with God. And what did it get him? “Hey Noah, build a boat. A flippin’ big boat!” God’s blessing meant a lot of work for Noah.
Moses was blessed by God. And what did he get? He had to lead a bunch of whining, crying, complaining brats through the wilderness for decades. Some blessing, right?
Scripture tells us that Mary was highly favored by God. And because of that, she had to carry a son, even though she was a virgin. And in that culture, pregnancy outside of marriage was absolutely scandalous. She endured ridicule. She was ostracized. She was made an outcast as she carried the Son of God in her womb. How would you like that blessing?
And then, there’s Jesus Himself. Speaking of Jesus, God the Father said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11b, NIV)
Jesus found complete favor in the sight of God. God the Father was totally pleased with Jesus. And what did it bring Him? A cross. Jesus was crucified so He could be the perfect and final payment for our sin.
You see what we’re getting at here? Blessings aren’t couches to sit on. They are work boots to strap on.
When God blesses us, it automatically means that there is more work ahead of us. And it will be hard. Blessings don’t mean we get to walk down easy street. Just the opposite, actually. The more blessed we are, the more difficult the road will be to walk.
But we were never called to play it safe and we were never called to take it easy.
God’s hand was on Nehemiah and the Jewish people. He had blessed them and was going to continue to bless them. But the blessing meant that they had work to do. And so their response to God’s blessing was, “Let us rise up and build.”
Now think about that in the context of the church today. They knew the hand of God was on them, and they didn’t say, “Let us sit down and study.”
They also didn’t say, “Let us stand up and sing.”
They said, “Let us rise up and build.”
But the problem is that, for a lot of people in the church today, sermons or songs have become the sum total of what the church is to them.
Some people really dig the sermon. In fact, they wish that the band would cut a song or two. Some might even wish that the band would cut all the songs altogether so we could get to the sermon. They want to sit and study the Word of God.
Others people want to stand and sing and sing and sing. They get a little annoyed when the pastor preaches for a while. They think, “If he would cut that sermon down, we could sing a few more songs.”
We’re all wired to connect with God differently. And it’s good. It really is. Some of us like to sit and study God’s truth. Others of us like to stand and celebrate God’s truth. And it’s all awesome. But it’s not the totality of the church’s mission. The truth that we study and celebrate has to translate into action.
When Nehemiah presented the people with this huge vision, they didn’t say, “Let us sit down and study.” They didn’t say, “Let us stand up and sing.” They said, “Let us rise up and build.”
So let’s break that statement down into its two parts. The first thing the people said is, “Let us rise up.”
“Rise up” gives this picture of upward movement. We’re not sitting. We’re not even standing. We’re moving, and we’re moving in an upward trajectory.
It’s kind of like this video.
Now, I know that video caused some heartburn among some football fans here. It wasn’t from your beloved Bengals. But believe it or not, we do have some Falcons fans here at Connect. But we’ve also got Steelers and Patriots fans here, which just proves that Jesus really can save anybody.
But anyway, why in the world did we show that video today? Because the Atlanta Falcons’ tagline is “Rise Up.” And that video gives you the exact feel of what it means. When we rise up, we come together. The narrator on that video said, “Here’s an idea. Let’s talk about how we’re all the same. How we live. How we love. It is on Sunday that we are all the same.” If you didn’t know that this was a commercial for a football team, you would swear that he was talking about the church! I mean, they even had a gospel choir sing “Rise Up” at the end of the video.
It seems like a football team has grasped the concept of “rise up” a lot more than the church has. But I’ve got bad news for Falcons fans. The whole concept of “rise up” was written in the book of Nehemiah, over 2,400 years before your football team began. A football team didn’t give birth to this idea. God did. And He did because His purposes are a whole lot greater than winning a football game.
We are the church, and rising up is our only option, because God has higher plans for our church than we do. God’s dreams for our church are bigger than our dreams for our church. God’s vision for our church is greater than our vision for our church. But unless we commit to rise up, to move forward, to climb higher, we’ll never realize what God actually wants to do in us and through us.
So if we actually do want to realize our God-given potential, what do we do? We build. We rise up and build.
In other words, we strap on the work boots and we start to leverage the blessings that God has given us. We get to work.
Now, there is a key difference between us and the Jews in the book of Nehemiah. They were building walls to keep enemies out. We are building doors to invite lost people in.
And that’s why our church has the focus that it does. And it’s why we have the core values that we do.
Core values like focus on the outsider, not the insider. To put it simply, we don’t exist for ourselves. We are not here for us. We are here because of our mission. And our mission is about reaching those outside of Christ and connecting them with Him.
I love the way William Temple put it back in the 1940s. He wrote, “The church is the only society on earth that exists for those who are not its members.”
But somewhere along the way, we lost our way. Somewhere, somehow, the church started to exist for itself. The church lost the urgency of its mission. The church morphed into a spiritual club for insiders, and outsiders weren’t welcome.
Here at Connect, we are all about recapturing the mission of the church, so I want to say this loud and clear. If you are not a Christian, you are welcome here. If you don’t believe in Jesus, you are welcome here. If you are seeking the truth, but you just aren’t sure about all this church stuff, you are welcome here. If you have been burned by Christians in the past and you feel hostile toward Christianity, you are welcome here.
None of that scares us. None of that intimidates us. None of that offends us. We are here for you. And everything we do, we do with you in mind.
We echo the vision that Andy Stanley cast for his church in Atlanta. We want to be a church that unchurched people love to attend.
We don’t just want unchurched people to like our church. We want them to love it. So if you’ve ever wondered why we play the music we play, that’s why. If you’ve ever wondered why we dress the way we do, that’s why. If you’ve ever wondered why we do anything we do, that’s why. We want unchurched people to love to attend our church. Because if they love to attend our church, they’ll keep coming. And if they keep coming, they’ll keep hearing the gospel. And if they keep hearing the gospel, they’ll eventually respond. They’ll find freedom and hope and life in Christ.
So if you’ve ever wondered what makes us tick here at Connect, that’s it. We focus on the outsider, not the insider. And we will never, ever apologize for that.
That’s why when people have a problem with us, 9 times out of 10 it’s church people. Church people don’t always like what we do. Church people don’t always like what we stand for. And that’s because a lot of church people don’t want unchurched people around. Because when lost people start coming to a church, things get messy. Because they don’t speak the language. They don’t dress the right way. Heck, they might not even vote for the right political party, and we can’t have that in our church.
Well, at Connect, we can. And we do. The church people that make up Connect Christian Church are a different breed of church people. We actually believe that we don’t exist for us. We love it when unchurched people come to our church. We understand that they will bring their baggage with them. We know that things will get messy. And we’re ok with that, because we aren’t here for us.
We exist to connect people to Jesus Christ by leading them into a growing relationship with Him. Our first core value is, it’s all about Jesus. But another core value is to focus on the outsider, not the insider. We understand that’s not all about us. And when people understand that it’s not about them, they become servants.
That’s why another one of our core values is saved people serve people.
If I really believe that it’s not about me, then I will be a servant. If I’m not serving, then somehow, in some way, I really do think that it’s about me. But serving empties me of that. It empties me of pride. It empties me of self-centeredness. It empties me of me.
In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote, “You see, we don’t go around preaching about ourselves. We preach that Jesus Christ is Lord, and we ourselves are your servants for Jesus’ sake.” (2 Corinthians 4:5, NLT)
That’s our heartbeat here at Connect. It’s all about Jesus. We don’t go around preaching about ourselves, because it’s not about us. It’s all about Jesus. And because it’s all about Jesus, we serve. Not for our sake, but for the sake of Jesus. We serve because we want people to see Jesus. That’s why saved people serve people.
And that’s why we’re so excited about next Sunday. Next Sunday, we are not meeting here at the hotel. Instead, we are going to gather at the Batavia Township Park for a very brief service, and then we’re going to head out to serve all over our community. We’ll be doing yard work for some elderly people in Felicity. We’ll be serving at the Christian Help Center in Batavia. We’ll be working at “A Caring Place” in Withamsville. We’ll be serving meals at The Ronald McDonald House in Cincinnati. We’ll be all over the place serving. And you know why we’re doing it? Because saved people serve people. That’s why.
This is not about us. It has nothing to do with us. And that’s exactly why this is such a great opportunity. We can get pretty comfortable here in our service, can’t we? When the lights go down and the band heats up, it’s pretty easy to focus on everything that we’re getting out of it. And don’t get me wrong…we want you to connect with Jesus in every single service that we have. We want that for you. But at the same time, church has to be about more than what you get out of it. It has to be about what you put into it. And we’re so serious about that that we’re not even going to show up at this place next week. Instead, we’ll be living out this core value: saved people serve people.
But even when we are here worshipping together, this core value holds true. Saved people serve people. Every time we get together, we can take steps to make sure that it’s not about us.
You can serve in any number of ways here at Connect. We really talked about that in-depth a couple of weeks ago. You can serve on our setup team, media team, Connect Team, video team, Connect Kids team, security team, etc. There are a myriad of ways you can serve here. And when you serve, you are ensuring that it’s not about you.
When we gather to worship, we also give. We take up an offering every week here at Connect, and we make no apologies for it. Now, if you’re just here checking things out, we don’t expect anything from you. We are here for you. We hope you get something out of your experience today.
But for those of us who are partners here at Connect, we give generously. It’s part of the commitment that we all signed as partners. We give generously, whether we give online or in person here at church.
When we get serious about giving, we are getting serious about making sure that it’s not about us. Think about it. The benchmark in the Bible for generous giving is the tithe. Giving 10% of your income back to God. If you’re giving 10% of your income back to God through the church, you are making a very strong statement that it’s not about you. You are living out the saved people serve people value.
When you give here at Connect, you are funding our mission. You are helping us connect people to Jesus. And I don’t just mean here in Clermont County. You are helping people meet Jesus on the other side of the globe. See, we don’t just keep the money that is given here at Connect. We turn around and give it away. Because of your generosity, people in India are meeting Jesus. Just think about that.
And then, think of the difference you’re making locally. We also have an awesome partnership with The Christian Help Center in Batavia. Because of your generosity, kids from struggling families in our community went to school with new clothes and backpacks this year. And when they come home, there will be a nutritious meal on the table. Families all over Clermont County are blessed through The Christian Help Center, and we are proud to partner with them.
So if you think that when I talk about giving it’s just because “the church just wants my money,” you couldn’t be more wrong. We talk about giving, first and foremost, because it’s Biblical. If you are a Christ-follower and a partner here at Connect, the tithe is the benchmark. And in case you’re wondering, God came up with that. Not me.
But the other reason we talk about generosity here at Connect is because of this core value: saved people serve people. So many people are served when we are generous. When those offering baskets are passed down your row on Sundays, that is one of the most important moments of the service. When we are generous, we are servants. And that will always be at the center of who we are at Connect. Saved people serve people. It’s not about us. It’s all about Jesus. That’s why we focus on the outsider, not the insider.
And that’s why found people find people.
Like I said, the Jews in the book of Nehemiah were building walls to keep enemies out. We’re building doors to bring lost people in.
In Psalm 73, Asaph wrote, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.” (Psalm 73:28, NIV)
How many of us just love to be near God? For example, you come to church, and you are refreshed. You are energized. You’ve been in God’s presence, and it has been good.
Asaph would say that it is too good to keep it to yourself. He said, “It is good to be near God.” And in the next breath, he said, “I will tell of all your deeds.”
When you love something, you talk about it. For example, if you see a great movie, what do you want to do? You want to tell other people about the movie. When you discover an awesome new restaurant, you post on FB about it. You tell your friends about it. You want to talk about it.
When we find something that we love, we are just driven to share it with the people in our lives. But for some reason, there seems to be a disconnect when it comes to our faith. A lot of us have a much harder time talking about our faith or our church.
But the plain fact is that if you love something, you talk about it. And this is no different. It’s more intimidating, but a lot of the time, we put that pressure on ourselves. You don’t have to be able to preach to share your faith. In fact, you know one of the most powerful evangelistic things you can ever say to someone? “Would you come to church with me?”
I’m telling you, there is power in that simple question. Would you come to church with me?
First of all, you’re inviting them to come WITH YOU. You’re going to be there to walk through the experience with them. Once we’ve been in the church for a while, we tend to forget how intimidating it is for someone to walk into a brand new church.
I had a really good reminder of that a couple of weeks ago when our oldest son, Ryan, started middle school. The week before school started, Ryan and I went over to the school and we walked through his entire schedule. We walked from the front door to his first classroom, and then we walked to every single room on his schedule. And then we went back to the front door and we did it again. And then we went back to the front door and we did it a third time, just to make sure he could find his way around on the first day of school.
Because the thing was, neither one of us knew where we were going. I had never been inside the middle school before, and Ryan had only been there briefly. We were figuring everything out on our own. And looking at it through brand new eyes was a completely different experience. We noticed places where they could use some extra signs, but none are there. We had to find our own way. Now, the school staff that is there everyday doesn’t even think about that. They don’t think about, “Man, we could use another sign here.” But when you see it through brand new eyes, it’s a completely different deal.
Here’s the thing…every single week, someone is coming to Connect, and they’re seeing it through brand new eyes. They’ve never been here. And even though we go overboard with signs and our Connect Team goes the extra mile to welcome people, it is still intimidating to come into the situation and see it through brand new eyes.
But when you say, “Would you come to church with me?” that changes everything. Your friend knows that you’ll be there to walk through the entire experience with them. That puts them at ease. And when someone feels comfortable, they’re a lot more open to the gospel message.
And that’s what we’re all about. We’re all about Jesus and the freedom that He brings. It is good to be near God, and we just can’t keep that goodness to ourselves.
That’s why we are found people who find people. We were lost in our sin, but because of what Jesus did for us through His death and resurrection, we are found people. And as found people, our calling is to find other people. To build doors that lost people can walk through and find freedom, hope, and life in Christ.
That’s the kind of church that we are. And that’s the kind of church that we want to continue to build. And that’s why we will rise up and go to work.