We have made it to the last week of our series called Rise & Build. This series has been different…almost to the point of being crazy different. And I’ve loved it.
We’ve celebrated some huge wins for our church in this series. We heard from one specific family about the wins that are happening in their family, and it was awesome. And that’s just one family. There are a ton of other families who can tell similar stories.
We’ve served in this series. Last week, we didn’t even meet here. Instead, we spent last Sunday serving our community. And it was amazing. Seriously. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of our church. One of our core values is saved people serve people, and last week proved that it goes beyond words. We don’t just say that saved people serve people. We actually believe it. And we actually do it. If you missed last week, I just want to tell you, you missed something really, really special. And anybody who was part of it would totally back me up on that.
And now today, we’re wrapping up this crazy series. And we’re wrapping it up by going big. You’ll see what I mean as we get into this.
Let’s pray and then we’ll dive in.
This series has been centered in the Old Testament book of Nehemiah. As we saw earlier in this series, Nehemiah had a vision to rebuild the walls around the city of Jerusalem. The walls had been destroyed when Jerusalem was under siege, and now that the Israelites had returned from captivity, the walls of the city were in ruins. And without walls, Jerusalem was wide open to more attacks. It was an incredibly serious and dangerous situation.
But God gave Nehemiah a vision to rebuild these walls. And in Nehemiah 2, Nehemiah cast that vision to the Jewish people.
In verse 18, 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 cast this huge vision to the Israelites, and their response is what gave birth to this whole series. They said, “Let us rise up and build.”
But not everybody was on board with this whole idea. There were outsiders who didn’t want to see the walls of Jerusalem rebuilt.
Look at the next verse. “But when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite servant and Geshem the Arab heard of it, they jeered at us and despised us and said, “What is this thing that you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?” (Nehemiah 2:19, ESV)
These guys were totally opposed to Nehemiah’s vision. They didn’t want to see the Israelites rise to political and military prominence again. They wanted the walls of Jerusalem to stay down, because a weak Jerusalem was very good for them. And we’ll see a little later just how serious this threat became. But today, we’re going to focus on how Nehemiah responded to this.
Look at the next verse. Nehemiah wrote, “Then I replied to them, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” (Nehemiah 2:20, ESV)
I absolutely love this response. And this verse is where we’re going to camp out for our entire time today. There is so much here in just this one verse. So let’s start unpacking it.
Look at the first thing Nehemiah said. “The God of heaven will make us prosper…”
Nehemiah’s vision was under attack. The Israelites were being ridiculed and threatened. And the first words out of Nehemiah’s mouth were, “The God of heaven will make us prosper.”
Now, look closely at what he said. We can’t miss this. Nehemiah didn’t say, “God might make us prosper.” This wasn’t a wish.
He didn’t even say, “God can make us prosper.” Because it’s one thing to believe in your head that God can do something. But believing that God will do something is very different, isn’t it?
Nehemiah didn’t say, “God might make us prosper.” He didn’t even say, “God can make us prosper.”
Nehemiah said, “God WILL make us prosper.” This wasn’t wishful thinking. And it wasn’t just head knowledge or cognitive belief. This came from the core of Nehemiah’s soul. This encompassed his head and his heart, and it extended all the way to the depth of his soul. Nehemiah knew that God would come through. He knew that God would make them prosper.
Now, this was big. Really big. The project was huge. The obstacles were massive. Their enemies were everywhere.
But in the face of it all, Nehemiah said, “The God of heaven WILL make us prosper.”
It was big, but Nehemiah believed for the big.
And that’s where we are here at Connect. We’re committed to believe for the big! We’re not content to stay put or to stand pat. We serve a big God, so we absolutely believe He will do big things. We’re not afraid to believe for the big.
I don’t know if you’re aware, but this past week was one of the greatest weeks of the year. Starbucks brought back their pumpkin spice this week. And yes, I’ve already had one, because I’m an American.
One thing about Starbucks that has always intrigued me is the words that we use when we go in there. You will use words at Starbucks that you’ll never use anywhere else. In fact, if you did use them anywhere else, people would think you’re a weirdo. But if you use them in Starbucks, you’re totally normal.
For example, think about the sizes of the different drinks. Anywhere else in the world, you’ll order a small, medium, or large, right? Not at Starbucks. When you’re at Starbucks, you order a tall, grande, or venti.
But now, that’s not even the end of it. Venti used to be the biggest drink you could buy. But now, there’s a size on Starbucks secret menu.
Now, if you want a caffeine overload that won’t let you sleep until next Tuesday, you can order a trenta. No joke. You can pretty much dive into this cup and drink your way out.
Here’s the thing that really hit me this week. How many of us really believe for the big? How many of us really believe that God can, and God will, come through big in our lives? God has trenta-sized power. He has trenta-sized blessings. But a whole lot of us expect a tall instead of a trenta. We’ve allowed our circumstances or other people or our own doubts to cause us to stop believing for the big.
Here at Connect, we completely reject that way of thinking. We’ve got a trenta-sized God, so we’re not settling for just tall expectations. We’ve got trenta expectations. We aren’t afraid to believe for the big.
And I’m putting my money where my mouth is. As your pastor, I’m standing here today to tell you that I believe for the big. I believe that God WILL make us prosper. This isn’t a wish. This isn’t a dream. This is rock solid faith. God is up to something here at Connect. God has started something amazing here, and God always finishes what He starts.
That’s exactly what Paul told us in the book of Philippians when he wrote, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6b, NIV)
How many of you are a starter, but not necessarily a finisher? You start a project, but then when you really get into it, you get a little tired of it. Maybe you get a little bored with it. And so you start a different project. And then the same thing happens again. And this cycle just continues, until you’ve got 20 projects started, and none of them are even close to being finished.
That’s how some of us operate, but we need to understand that this is NOT how God operates. God is a finisher. He finishes what He starts. He has started a good work in us, and He’s going to finish what He started.
But now, check this out. This hit me like a 2×4 this week when I was working on this message. Check out the link between what Paul wrote in Philippians and the verse that Nehemiah wrote that has been the centerpoint for this whole series.
Paul wrote, “…he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6b, NIV)
Nehemiah wrote, “And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:18b, ESV)
God has started a good work in us, and He has promised to finish it. And what’s our response to that? We strengthen our hands for the good work that we have to do. God is doing a good work in us as we rise up and build the good work that He has called us to do.
It’s a partnership. Everything we are and everything we will be is only from God and only because of God. But our response to that is to rise up and build. We pursue the good work that God has called us to do while God continues to do a good work in us.
St. Augustine said it this way. “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.”
This is what happens when you believe for the big. You pray. When you believe God for big things, it will drive you to your knees in prayer. But it will also get you moving. You can’t just sit around if you’re believing for the big. You’ll get moving. You’ll get to work. When you believe for the big, you’ll pray like it depends on God and you’ll work like it depends on you.
That’s exactly the approach that Nehemiah took. Go back to what he said. “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build…” (Nehemiah 2:20a, ESV)
Nehemiah absolutely believed that God would make them prosper. He never wavered. He never equivocated. But he also knew the role that he and the people had to play in making the vision become a reality. So he said that God WILL make us prosper, and we his people WILL arise and build.
Something that’s really interesting when you read the book of Nehemiah…Nehemiah never prayed for God to rebuild the wall. I would have been tempted to do that. I would have been tempted to pray, “God, Jerusalem really needs a wall. And these are your people living in this city, so God, in your power and in your might, rebuild this wall.”
That’s probably what I would have done. And be honest…that’s probably what you would have done, too. But that’s not at all what Nehemiah did.
Nehemiah never prayed for God to rebuild the wall. Instead, he prayed for an opportunity to rebuild it himself.
Pray like it depends on God. Work like it depends on you.
One of our core values here at Connect is listen to God and do what He says. Both sides of this coin are represented in this statement. We know that only God can fulfill our vision and mission. So we’re desperate to hear Him. We’re desperate to hear His voice. But when we do, we’ll obey. We’ll listen to God, but then we’ll do what He says. Pray like it depends on God. Work like it depends on you.
In fact, our leaders are going to do just that. We are meeting next month to start laying out our 2020 Vision. We want to hear from God. We want to follow where He is leading us, not just for the remainder of 2015. Or even for next year. We want to see where He is leading us for the next five years, and beyond. We’re going to pray. We’re going to listen. Because we don’t want to take a single step that God hasn’t directed us to take.
We are believing God for big things. And just like Nehemiah, we believe that God WILL make us prosper.
For example, we’ve got a little less than 200 people here today. But another of our core values is found people find people. We were lost, but by the grace of Jesus, we are found. And as found people, we’re out to find more people.
That means that we aren’t called to be a nice little church where everyone always knows everyone. We’re not supposed to be people who think “the church is just getting too big,” because, “I don’t know everyone anymore.”
You know what I want to say to people who say stuff like that? We’re a lot more concerned about people knowing Jesus than knowing you.
And by the way, if you’re in a Connect Group, then you are forming deep relationships with people in the church that are going to be there no matter how big we get. And a few deep, strong relationships are way more valuable than a bunch of shallow relationships where you know everybody’s name, but you really don’t know anything else about them.
So we’re a little less than 200 today. But we’re not content with that. Does the number 300 scare you? Does 500 intimidate you? Does 800 just seem insane to you?
I’ll tell you this much…it doesn’t scare us. You know why it doesn’t scare us? Because we believe what Nehemiah said: “the God of heaven will make us prosper.”
“Yeah, but the church shouldn’t be all about the numbers.”
Yes, it absolutely should. Because every number has a name. Every number represents a person that God loves more than we’ll ever understand. Every number represents a person that Jesus died for. Every number represents someone who God is pursuing. Every number represents someone that Jesus wants to rescue. The church should absolutely be all the numbers.
I saw a study a couple of years ago that said that 2/3 of Clermont County residents claim no religious affiliation at all. 2/3. Right here. In conservative, Bible belt Clermont County. 2/3 of people claim no religious affiliation at all. And even that number is a really conservative estimate. The religious affiliation of the remaining 1/3 is about as sweeping and broad as it could possibly be.
At least 2/3 of people in our county have no connection to God whatsoever. They have no knowledge, no relationship with, no connection to Jesus at all. And I’m not okay with that. And I love being part of a church that is not okay with that. And we’re out to do something about that. And that means we’re believing for the big.
In his book called Visioneering, Andy Stanley wrote, “God-ordained visions are always too big for us to handle. We shouldn’t be surprised. Consider the source.”
I don’t know exactly what our Vision 2020 will look like yet, but I do know this. It will be way bigger than us. Our vision will always be bigger than our abilities. It will always be bigger than our budget. It will always be bigger than our current circumstances. But it won’t be bigger than our God.
We’re believing God for big things in our church. But this goes beyond the church. This extends into our individual lives. So let me ask you, what big things are you believing God for in your life?
In his book called The Circle Maker, Mark Batterson wrote, “Bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less. If your prayers aren’t impossible to you, they are insulting to God.”
What big things are you praying? What bold prayers are you praying? Where are you believing for the big in your life?
“But Mike, you just don’t understand. You don’t understand the obstacles. You don’t know what’s standing in the way. There’s just so much going against me that this just seems impossible.”
Nehemiah would understand that. His vision to rebuild the Jerusalem walls faced heavy opposition.
We already saw how his enemies came and ridiculed the vision to rebuild the wall. But then it went beyond just mocking and ridiculing. It eventually got flat out dangerous.
Skip ahead to Nehemiah 4. Starting in verse 1, Nehemiah wrote, “When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria [Notice that we’re not just dealing with a critic anymore. Now we’re dealing with an enemy who has an army. That changes things pretty dramatically.], he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices?
Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!”
Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders.
So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart. [What’s the first thing that Nehemiah and the Jews did when they faced opposition? They prayed. And then right after they prayed, they worked. In fact, Nehemiah said they “worked with all their heart.” Pray like it depends on God. Work like it depends on you. But that wasn’t the end of it. Things got worse.]
But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. [This meant that the Jews were completely surrounded by enemies. Sanballat and the Samarians were coming from the north. The Arabs from the south. The Ammonites from the east. And the people of Ashdod from the west. Nehemiah and the Jews were completely surrounded by their enemies. And look at their response.]
But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.
Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.”
Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.”
Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” [Nehemiah and the Jews had come to a critical point. The threats from all their enemies were wearing the people down. The wall was only about half built at this point. There was a ton of work left to do, and the obstacles just seemed insurmountable. There was a huge temptation to just give up. Anytime you are believing God for something big, there will come a point where you want to give up. There will be a point where you are ready to throw in the towel, because the opposition just seems too great.]
Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows.
After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
When our enemies heard that we were aware of their plot and that God had frustrated it, we all returned to the wall, each to our own work.” (Nehemiah 4:1-15, NIV)
Whenever you’re believing God for something big, you are going to run into opposition. If there is no opposition, then no faith is required. If it’s all easy, then you really don’t need God to come through.
When you believe for the big, opposition is guaranteed. It might be an obstacle that you can’t seem to overcome. It might be a person who constantly criticizes and tears you down. But whatever it is, you will be opposed when you believe for the big.
But that’s when we echo what Nehemiah said, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome…” (Nehemiah 4:14b, NIV)
No matter how great your obstacles are, your God is greater. No matter how awesome your opposition appears to be, your God is more awesome.
We believe that here at Connect. We absolutely believe that God is setting us up for something far greater than anything we’ve ever seen before. We know that the hand of God is on us. We believe that the God of heaven will make us prosper. We’re believing for the big.
But that same thing that is true in our church is true in our lives and in our families. How many of you are believing for the big? You’re facing something that is much bigger than you, but you know that it’s not bigger than your God. You remember the Lord, who is great and awesome. You’re believing for the big.
If that’s you, then here’s what we’re going to do. This is different. And it might take you a little out of your comfort zone, but that’s ok. If you’re believing for the big, I’m going to pray over you today. If there’s an obstacle or opposition that you’re facing and you just don’t know what to do but you believe that God does know what to do…if you’re facing a trial or a crisis that has knocked you to that mat but you believe that your God is still standing tall…if there is anything in your life where you are waiting in expectation for God to come through…if you are believing for the big, I’m going to ask you to stand up in just a minute. That’s all you have to do. Stand up so I can pray over you.
And by the way, it doesn’t even have to be about you. If you’re believing God for something big in the life of your kid, or your spouse, or your friend, stand up. Stand up and declare to God that you are believing for the big for them.
Now, if that doesn’t describe you, don’t stand up. This isn’t meant to shame you in any way. I promise. No one will think any less of you if you stay seated. Don’t stand up just because you feel peer pressure.
This is for those of us who are praying and waiting and expecting and believing for the big in our lives or in the lives of the people that we care about. If that’s you, would you stand up right now?
You’re taking a stand of courage, and conviction, and faith. And I want to pray over you right now.
There is power in prayer. And if you’re really struggling, if you want to believe for the big but life has just about beat that desire out of you, we’ve got people who would love to talk and pray with you afterward. They’ll be out by the fountain in the foyer, and they’ll spend all the time it takes with you if you need someone to come alongside you today.
We are people who believe for the big, and the reason why is simple. Because we have a big God. In fact, we have a God that is bigger than death itself. Jesus came to our world as God in the flesh. And He died on cross to pay the price for our sin. His death sets us free from all our sin. And then three days later, He rose to life again. And His resurrection to life gives us a new life.
And if our God is bigger than death, then He is bigger than anything we are facing in life. So let’s all stand and let’s celebrate that right now.
Nehemiah said, “Don’t be afraid of them. [Whatever your obstacles are, whatever is standing in your way, however insurmountable the odds seem to be, don’t be afraid of them] Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome…” (Nehemiah 4:14b, NIV)
Whatever you’re facing, your God is greater. He is more awesome than your obstacles. He is bigger than your burdens. He is more powerful than your problems.
He has declared war on your worry. He can annihilate your anxiety. And He can give you peace in the middle of your pain.
He died for you to forgive you. He defeated death to give you life. He did everything to rescue you, and He sure as heck isn’t going to give up on you now.
So let’s blow this place up in worship right now!