The leaders of the people were living in Jerusalem, the holy city. A tenth of the people from the other towns of Judah and Benjamin were chosen by sacred lots to live there, too, while the rest stayed where they were. And the people commended everyone who volunteered to resettle in Jerusalem. Nehemiah 11:1 - 2 (NLT)
Chapters 11 and 12 of Nehemiah have another imposing list of unpronounceable names. I was tempted to skip these chapters, but I am rather stubbornly committed to preach to you all the council of God. And, if God put these names in Holy Scripture, and preserved them for more than two millennia, they are important. So we will investigate them.
The backdrop for this event is God’s people returning from 70 years’ captivity in Babylon. The walls of Jerusalem had now been re-constructed, and the temple restored. The rulers dwelt within the city, but the rest of the population – the common everyday folks lived in other surrounding cities. Nehemiah knew that a city must have a population to have an economic and emotional vitality. So he instituted a voluntary draft to repopulate Jerusalem.
What I mean by voluntary draft is that you really didn’t have to move to the city if you decided against it. All the citizens were considered, and when the “flip of the coin” chose someone he had the right to decline.
As Nehemiah proceeded, people were chosen – and then responded positively or negatively about going to live inside the city walls as Jerusalemites. Those who said “yes” became “voluntary draftees” – new citizens of the old city.
The people came from all walks of life, social strata and vocational backgrounds.
Now, this has much to say to a church like ours, and about a home like yours. We are a melting pot – northern, southern, young and old. We have professionals, medical, hard-working skilled people, and management. There are homemakers, hunters, pacifists, dog and cat lovers and haters. We are a varied bunch.
We are also alike – we are voluntary draftees into the family of God, joined together by invitation and sanctification.
This morning I would like us to see a few defining statements about personal ministry, and the sacrifice we all have in common when it comes to serving God on His terms.
Ever since God told Adam to tend the garden of Eden He has been calling people to do things. Sometimes He speaks loudly and clearly. In the case of Nehemiah’s repopulating Jerusalem, the idea of flipping the coin was very specific. It very seldom landed on its edge and stayed there. It either fell with your side up or not. Flipping a coin however is not a great way to determine God’s will for your personal ministry.
One thing is certain – with the world in the state in which we now find it: hunger, poverty, loneliness, disease and lost people everywhere, there is plenty of ministry to go around. How do you know if God is singling you out for a ministry?
You may be drawn to a certain type of ministry. If dealing with lost people face-to-face is exciting to you (exciting, not scary), then evangelism may be that to which God is calling you. On the other hand, you may be more suited to helping put a roof over someone’s home. What some would call a natural inclination may be more like the evidence of a supernatural gift.
One of the reasons we lay hands on ministers is the affirmation of the church body that this person has been gifted to that particular ministry.
Not all people have the same gifts; not all people have the gift they think they have.
Gifts are like the tools in the toolbox; as I shared with the children, you should use the tools you’re given, not someone else’s…but you should use it!
In some way we do that with our Nominating Committee report when we elect folks to ministry positions; we affirm their suitability for that ministry.
There are times when God just drops a ministry into your pathway and you have no choice but to know this is it!
God did that with Paul. Paul just knew his calling was to persecute that crazy cult called Christians – those followers of Jesus. Then came the Damascus Road, a blinding light and Jesus turned Paul’s world upside-down. What he thought was his calling became the very opposite of his real calling.
God doesn’t do that blinding light thing with everyone – and many of us miss God if we’re not paying attention. The key is to know that God does single us out for ministry, and it is our business to listen very carefully in prayer.
This is because…
In the list(Chapter 12) of brave men who were selected to live in the city, two of the tribes mentioned were Judah and Benjamin. These two tribes really have a checkered past. At least one of Judah’s children in the Patriarchal days was born of incest. This child, named Perez, became known as one of the mightiest warriors of the nation.
The tiny tribe of Benjamin also had a record of sexual sins, including rampant homosexuality. From Benjamin came two Sauls – one, the first king in Israel; the other Saul later had his name changed to Paul.
After Paul got over being blinded on the Road to Damascus, he started churches all over the known world and wrote more of the New Testament than anyone else.
Two tribes – horrible pedigrees; God used them for His purposes anyway!
We have some tribes here today that may have gotten a rough start like Judah and Benjamin. Starts are only that – the beginning; it is how you finish that counts!
A North Carolina favorite son, basketball great Michael Jordan, always looked kind of uncoordinated when he lunged to steal the ball from an opponent – but when he drove down the court to the basket, there was a man who could finish with style!
Friend, God is not interested in your pedigree – where you got your start, who your Daddy might be, or what degrees and honors the schools wrote on your sheepskin. God is after your heart – that’s what will determine how you finish!
These three statements are connected, layered one on top of the other:
ü God DOES ASK…He wants you to serve.
ü He doesn’t care about your history…He wants to know your heart’s desire is to serve Him…
Responding to God means you come to the point where He can have anything you’ve got; it comes to the point where you release everything to God – past, present, future – all of it.
It requires sacrifice to serve God. Anita Burnett, a friend in Greenville, Florida, where I served as pastor years ago, sent me a story that illustrates the point:
A Sunday School first grade class teacher asked her young charges, "If I sold my house and my car, had a big garage sale and gave all my money to the church, would I get into Heaven?" "NO"! the children all answered.
"If I cleaned the church every day, mowed the yard, and kept everything neat and tidy, then would I get into Heaven"? Again, the answer was "NO"!
"Well," I continued, "then how can I get to Heaven?" In the back of the room, a 5 year old boy shouted out, "If you wanna go to heaven you gotta be dead!"
That’s how it is with God – He doesn’t use you unless you are willing to be dead – to sin and self!
Dying to self means coming to the point of giving it all up to God, starting with who you are, and your future.
Let me allow author and pastor Leith Anderson describe what that kind of humility and dying to self is all about:
Several years ago I was visiting Manila and was taken, of all places, to the Manila garbage dump and saw something beyond belief. Tens of thousands of people make their homes on that dump site. They've constructed shacks out of the things other people have thrown away. And they send their children out early every morning to scavenge for food out of other people's garbage, so they can have family meals. People have been born and grown up there on the garbage dump. They have had their families, their children, their shacks, their garbage to eat, finished out their lives, and died there without ever going anywhere else, even in the city of Manila. It is an astonishing thing.
But Americans also live on the garbage dump. They are missionaries, Christians who have chosen to leave their own country and communicate the love of Jesus Christ to people who otherwise would never hear it. That is amazing to me. People would leave what we have to go and live on a garbage dump. Amazing, but not as amazing as the journey from heaven to earth.
The Son of God made that journey, and he knew what he was doing. He knew where he was going. He knew what the sacrifice would be. He journeyed from heaven to earth on a mission to save the human race.
God called those missionaries to reach people in the Philippines. In responding to
God’s call, those missionaries gave it all up.
They went to the garbage people for God.
It is a hard thing to sacrifice. But the joy of sacrifice is in knowing that the sacrificial journey Jesus made when He came from heaven to earth is the promise of the journey He is preparing for us to go from earth to heaven.
¶ He calls us to that too. He wants voluntary draftees.
¶ Our pedigree means nothing in that too – only our heart for Him.
¶ And, although He is the one doing the calling – it is up to us to respond.