Shovels and Swords Sermon Series


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There are few things more inspiring than being immersed in a story that depicts someone’s untamed passion, unmatched ingenuity and unconquerable will to build something. We are wired to build. We are instinctively driven to create and craft and cultivate. This is why stories that display that kind of plotline are adventures that inescapably draw us in. This is the story of Nehemiah. It is known to be one of the most profound leadership texts in history. It is a story of tears and blood and especially sweat. We intend to immerse ourselves in Nehemiah’s story. And in doing so, we will learn how to approach whatever it is God is calling each of us to arise and build. It is a call to pick up our shovels and swords, and be ready for anything.

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Nehemiah had heard the bad news that things were not good in Jerusalem. There was no wall. There were no gates. The remnant of people there were in danger. When he heard this news he wept and mourned and fasted and prayed. But what could Nehemiah do about it? He lived in Susa. He had a job in the king’s palace. He was a cupbearer. Last week we talked about our call to build something. We believe God wants us to be a part of building what He is building. The danger is that often we think being used by God will require us to be repositioned. We think we have to leave where we are and do something else. But we can learn from Nehemiah’s example. We should start with where we are. God didn’t make a mistake. He placed us where we are for a reason.


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The walls of Jerusalem were reduced to rubble. The gates had been torched. Because of this, the people living there were living in perpetual danger. But maybe God had a plan. It just so happened that the cupbearer to the most powerful man in the world was a godly Jewish man, named Nehemiah. Is it possible that this servant could somehow have influence on this situation hundreds of miles away? If he ever got the opportunity with the king, he would certainly only have one shot. That day did come. Was Nehemiah ready? He had prayed. But had he planned?

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It was a life or death risk. One conversation could have labeled him a traitor. He could have been tortured and executed. But God’s mission was on the line. Nehemiah needed to be wise and he needed to be bold. Have you ever had a situation that made you wonder where the line was between wisdom and overly conservative? Maybe you wondered when boldness becomes foolishness. Sometimes we can cover up our cowardice by calling it “wisdom.” And sometimes we can cover up our recklessness by calling it “boldness.” But a leader cannot succeed without both of those qualities. The story of Nehemiah calls each of us to be Wise and Bold.


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Everyone knows that you have to “look before you leap.” Before someone jumps into something it is critical that they know what they are getting into. But the same logic is true in most of our interactions. It takes discipline to listen before we speak. It takes great maturity to seek to understand before we challenge something. Nehemiah demonstrates his expertise in this area as he arrives in Jerusalem. He cannot single handedly build an entire wall. He must rally the people. And once again we can learn a lot from his superior leadership abilities. Do we investigate before we instigate?

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There is one thing common to every great movement or endeavor or effort. One thing that is always present. Sometimes a movement is planned, and sometimes it’s spontaneous. Sometimes it’s rallied around a leader, and other times it’s around an idea. Sometimes there’s a strong surging majority, and sometimes it’s the underdog that wins. But one thing is always the same. If what is being built is of any enduring value, there will be opposition! When it comes to building something worthwhile, we won’t just need shovels… we’ll need swords.


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In a chapter that would seem to contain little other than irrelevant details, there are two major lessons to be learned that can shape our understanding of God’s specific instructions for our lives and our leadership. Sometimes, we make the idea of seeking God’s direction more complicated than it has to be. Sometimes it is as simple as doing what is right in front of us, like the various inhabitants of the city who took it upon themselves to work on the section of the wall that was right in front of their homes instead of coming up with a more complicated construction plan. Another nugget that we find buried in this chapter is the idea that the nobles would not “stoop” to help with the construction even though the leader of the initiative, Nehemiah, was in there getting his hands dirty with everyone else. Leadership requires that we be willing to do what we are asking those we lead to do.