2020 has been a year of many challenges, from the economic sector to our medical services, we have witnessed an uptick in joblessness, evictions, and homelessness. The coronavirus, which is an evil in and of itself, exacerbated an already vulnerable society, pushing people who were close to economic collapse to a point of financial instability, loss, bankruptcy, and eviction. Our city has experienced a transformation in how it is seen, from a thriving mini-metropolitan center of commerce to a delicate structure vulnerable to collapse at the slightest touch.
If the church were ever in a position to help, this is it.
Pastor Matt Joy reads from the book of Nehemiah, an old testament person of interest who was raised in exile and later given the responsibility to rebuild his city, Jerusalem.
Context reveals that the city of Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and the remaining Jewish citizens were either reserved for the sword, famine, pestilence, or, exile in Babylon.
The Bible relates to us that a few prophets survived the destruction of Jerusalem, some, held the office and calling of prophets before Jerusalem was destroyed, like Isaiah. Jeremiah witnessed and wrote about its destruction. Some preached while in exile in Babylon like Ezekiel didl, while another prophesied and ministered to the Jews towards the end of their 70-year exile, as Daniel did.
Though Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians and then the Jews led into exile by this same nation, they were later subjugated to serve the Persians once the Medo-Persian empire conquered Babylon.
So in seventy years of servitude, subjugation, slavery, and humiliation, the Jews were given the opportunity to return to their native town, the prize of their hearts, to rebuild. And it is here that associate pastor Matt Joy reads from.
“In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was before him, I took up the wine and gave it to the king. Now I had not been sad in his presence. And the king said to me, “Why is your face sad, seeing you are not sick? This is nothing but sadness of the heart.” Then I was very much afraid. I said to the king, “Let the king live forever! Why should not my face be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ graves, lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?” Then the king said to me, “What are you requesting?” So I prayed to the God of heaven. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers’ graves, that I may rebuild it.” And the king said to me (the queen sitting beside him), “How long will you be gone, and when will you return?” So it pleased the king to send me when I had given him a time. And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, let letters be given me to the governors of the province Beyond the River, that they may let me pass through until I come to Judah, and a letter to Asaph, the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the fortress of the temple, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall occupy.” And the king granted me what I asked, for the good hand of my God was upon me.”
Pastor Matt Joy speaks about us stepping outside of our comfort zone, an area where we are usually comfortable with our lives, the structure of our jobs, the steadiness of our perspective, and the outcome of our efforts.
But seldom does one grow in such an environment of perpetual safety, unchanging winds and without the fruit of arduous labor and risk.
My Story: Vulnerabilities and Risks Rewarded by God
I sure remember the time we set off to pray about where our family should head next. My wife and I set off to pray about the possibility of moving away from sunny Florida. We were no more than fifteen minutes away from sandy beaches, lived in an affluent community, surrounded by wealthy families in a city where one could grow tired of counting Bentley’s, Rolls Royce’s, Ferrari’s and MacLaren’s.
But we were struggling. I had gone to school, I had done my part, had a job, but we were still in a position of loss and instability and we had set our hearts to seek God, to pray, to humble ourselves, to fast, to remove ourselves from a place of emotional and physical stability to hear from God on what steps to take next.
And I remember a minister approached me and relayed to me that it was time for my family to pack its bags because we were going to move soon.
Mind you, I didn’t have enough money at times to fill up my gas tank so the thought of moving, nevertheless moving outside of the country was too far fetched and too impossible of a reality to conceive of, but we were being pushed out of our comfort zone. We were pushed so hard some people thought we were nuts and immature about the decisions we were making.
And strangely enough, that is always the response of people who do not understand God’s hand in your life. They will question your intentions, your motives, the results, the risks, the possibility of loss, the possibility of being alone, vulnerable, isolated, afraid, humiliated, and ultimately abandoned.
But that’s exactly where God wants us to be in our faith for us to grow!
Don’t listen to the unspiritual and at times far too spiritually immature musings of people you consider friends because they’re there to stall you, halt your progress, and paralyze your faith.
Not too long after that minister had spoken to us, we were in Sao Paulo, Brazil, enjoying life, liberty, and churrasco with family, awaiting my visa approval so I could enter and reside in Canada.
I remember, through tears, arriving in Calgary, Alberta, attempting to rent a car but not having enough money to do so, and a friend from the other side of the world reaching out to pay for our rental car so we could drive from Calgary, almost 250 kilometers north to reach our new home and family, in Wetaskiwin, a town just south of Edmonton.
From setting our hearts to prayer, fasting, and humbling our lives at the altar of God, entering his gates with confidence not because of anything we had done but out of a resolute reliance on His word that we needed to hear Him speak about our next steps in life brought us to a place of the utmost vulnerability and of utmost risk.
We didn’t have the dime to fly to Brazil, the dime to live and eat while there, the dime to travel to Canada, the dime to rent a vehicle to travel from Calgary to Edmonton, the dime to buy our first car, the dime to move into our first rental space, the dime to fix our car once it broke down leaving us stranded, nearly 80 kilometers from home in the dead of winter, (which by the way, the parts that broke down were on recall so it was fixed for free!), and we didn’t have the dime to buy a newer car to replace the first problematic one and we didn’t have the dime to afford rent when my wife was let go of her job, whilst being pregnant with our second child, and the sole income of our home, because I hadn’t received my work visa yet.
We didn’t have the dime. We didn’t have it.
We were vulnerable.
God operates in these areas very much.
From random gifts of food, cash, assistance, help, and emotional support we built. And by we I mean God built for us.
He handled our life, through our vulnerabilities and struggles, I managed to find a job no more than a week after my wife was let go because my work permit had arrived in the mail around the same time.
We were blessed by the church we served in, blessed in serving, blessed in our sacrifice and commitment, blessed by gifts and help, blessed with friendship and mentorship.
We took the risk. In fact, God closed so many doors for us in Florida that we were pressed to pray and seek Him, and He pressed us out of Florida to Brazil where we had a month-long vacation, to prepare us for an arduous start of a new life in Canada.
And today, I can gladly say that we are still relying on God. Our vulnerability is not a sign of reluctance, weakness, or cowardice but a sign that our lives and our future are in the hands of God.
Nehemiah Took Action.
Pastor Matt Joy emphasizes how Nehemiah, in this precarious situation, did not shrink back from revealing his heart to King Artaxerxes, who in all honesty, could have had his cupbearer turned away, arrested, or killed for attempting to rebuild a city hundreds of kilometers away. But perhaps the King took a fondness to Nehemiah. Trusting a cupbearer was like trusting someone with your life. The cupbearer would test a drink before the king did, just in case it were poisoned or tainted by something harmful. If anyone died it would be the cupbearer before any harm could come to the king. Seeing how a Jew was given this position in a Persian kingdom was a way to care more so for Persian citizens and view Jewish ones as disposable.
But here, the king, having such proximity and comfort in Nehemiah and noticing his downcast nature asks him, “What’s wrong man? Why are you looking so sad today?” Paraphrasing, of course.
Can you imagine, standing before the highest king of the land, the ruler of nations, the leader who destroyed the untouchable kingdom of Babylon and subjugated its leaders to servitude or death? Can you imagine being asked by such royalty what was wrong in your life?
How would you respond?
Nehemiah, giving honor to King Artaxerxes did not falter or stammer, he laid honor where it was due and then relayed to the king that his heart was broken and he was vulnerable because his city, Jerusalem, had laid in waste for 70 long years, and he wanted nothing more than to go there to repair its gates and its walls.
Can you imagine such a request?
I’m sure the political, economic, cultural, social, and religious ramifications were all on the table. Who would the Jews serve, to whom would they pay tribute, whose traditions would they follow and what customs would they adhere to? Who were they worship? How would the monotheistic religion of Abraham stand while the polytheistic deities and systems of Persia reigned supreme?
Nehemiah was not plagued by fear regarding these things. He simply asserted that which was in his heart, that which was on his mind, and what brought him sadness.
King Artaxerxes then asks the unthinkable of his servant, the cupbearer, “What are you requesting?”
So many of us need to understand that when the time comes for us to be presented with this question our hearts need to be centered on the will of God and not on the will of men.
When given such an opportunity to change the course of history we need to be in total subservience to a higher court, a higher calling, a higher voice so we do not answer and produce a nefarious institution, laws, policies, teachings, and programs that create avenues on which evil individuals thrive and the vulnerable in our communities become their victims.
When we stand before rulers, kings, leaders, prime ministers, presidents, managers, bosses, supervisors, and whatnot, and when asked, “What are you requesting?” Our response should be aligned with the heart and will of God.
“So I prayed to the God of heaven.” – Nehemiah
Before answering, before speaking a word, before setting forward to commit we must humble ourselves before God and seek His counsel.
Nehemiah’s humility awarded him not only a grant to return to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls and gates, but also granted him safe passage through a war-torn kingdom, and the supplies necessary for him to accomplish his work.
When we seek God, in our most vulnerable state, we accomplish God’s mission on earth.
Not because of anything we’ve done or because we deserve it, but because, as Nehemiah states, “the good hand of my God was upon me.”
Pastor Matt Joy calls us to lay our lives at the mercy of God, in a state of complete vulnerability, to pray for our city and when asked by our magistrates, local authorities, and entities what it is we want we can say, without hesitance, since we are in complete connection with God and under His hand, that we want to help the vulnerable, feed the hungry, house the poor, seek out the destitute, lead the vagabond to safety, protect victims, and bring our city to a state of awareness that we are here on a mission from God!
Like Nehemiah, we must be honest, vulnerable, transparent, and we must seek God before giving anyone an answer.
I’ll leave you with these questions Pastor Matt Joy asked of the congregation. Think about them, perhaps, as Pastor Matt said, you may be the Nehemiah your city needs. There are broken walls, gates, people, and hearts that need repairing and fixing and you may just be the servant God uses to help them. Pray and seek God. Pray, seek, wait, and do. Commit.
Questions to Consider
Am I walking in the will of God for my city?
Is the hand of God upon what I am doing?
Am I lifting my heart to God before opening my mouth to kings, neighbors, and communities?
Am I seeking God to change the king’s (mayors, governors, representatives) heart on local issues?
Does my care and concern for my community lead to commitment and action?
Am I feeding my fears or feeding my faith?
How can I show love to people in my community who are in pain right now?
Faith in Action
Pastor Matt Joy finished his message with an ask of the church, that they help in partnering with the local Mustard Seed project to assist those in need, who need food, supplies, and housing. As economic woes increase, joblessness increases, evictions, and homelessness increases, and possible domestic abuse cases are on the rise the church is in a position, like Nehemiah was ages ago, to seek God and assist a neighbor.
Please help and serve, where you can today. For those in Edmonton, below is a link to the Mustard Seed website where you can help, donate, and restore hope to the hopeless.
Where you can Build A Bridge in our city. To honor Christ by serving His children.
Take a risk and change the world.
Thank you and Godspeed