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Mosaic Spokane

It's Your Wall!

It’s Your Wall

Message#5 of Rebuilding the City—Renewing the Soul

Nehemiah 3:1-32

October 26, 2014

 

Walls are great…especially in the winter…even if their made of ice!  (PowerPoints of walls, winter and ice hotel)

If we had lived in anything but the 19th to 21st centuries, and lived in a city or village anywhere in the world, walls would have been considered great year round. (Carcassone, France)

If you lived in the Netherlands, you might have lived in the walled cities of Naarden or Bourtange.

Then there is Nördlingen, Germany. It’s a city whose stone buildings were made from rock taken from the crater in a local graphite deposit that was created by a meteor impact some 14 million years ago (or so say geologists). The stone buildings in Nördlingen contain millions of tiny diamonds – part of the 72,000 tons of them created in that crater upon impact.

Or you could still live today in the walled city of Kawloon, Hong Kong...

…or one of the 11-story mud brick tower houses inside the walled city of Shibam, Yemen. They were built in the 16th century A.D. by hand, without concrete or steel reinforcement! (Not where I’d want to be in an earthquake!)

We’re in chapter 3 of Nehemiah today, an O.T. book whose story revolves around the desperate need God’s people had to rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem.

This week when I sent out a weekly Mosaic email, I talked a bit about various walls I’ve had personal experience with in different parts of the world. I happened to mention visiting the Berlin Wall in 1977, 12 years before it was torn down. One of our brothers, Chuck, wrote back and said his encounter with the Berlin Wall was life-altering. He happened to witness a 21 year-old man attempting to escape East Berlin over the wall. The man was shot and killed on the spot by the East German guards within sight of Chuck.

Most walls are built to keep people out. Communism and penitentiaries are about the only two walled places in our world that try to keep people in. That in itself should tell us something profound about the nature of atheistic communism! But I digress.

Last week we left Nehemiah and the people of God in chapter 2. Nehemiah had just told the rather demoralized and apathetic residents of Jerusalem how “the hand of [his] God…had been upon [him]” since he had heard of their great need to rebuild Jerusalem’s wall.

We discussed how important it is for us to be telling and hearing about how God’s hand is at work…the God-sightings and encounters we may be seeing that help everyone listening to be encouraged and strengthened to step out in faith.

Had any this week?  (Share)

 

So chapter 2 ends with the people of God responding to Nehemiah’s testimony of God at work in his life with a shout of “Let us rise up and build.” And Nehemiah adds the commentary, “So they strengthened their hands for the good work” (vs. 18).

Well chapter 3, if we were to read it straight through today (which I won’t), might sound a bit like a litany of names and places for which we have no real points of reference or understanding. So rather than encourage your fertile minds to wander, I want to point out several important things that Nehemiah includes that have real significance for us as we rebuild our city by rebuilding souls.

Look first at the last verse of chapter 2, vs. 20. Nehemiah is responding to the false accusations of the opposition. The opposition, which will always exist even when you are trying to better people’s lives, was spreading rumors that Nehemiah was rebelling against King Artaxerxes by rebuilding the walls. Here’s Nehemiah’s response:

“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.”

Notice the divine-human teamwork here. God’s job is to make us prosper…to give us the resources and the ability to change the world. Our job is to be his servants who “arise and build.” We must provide the sweat-equity in this kingdom building while God provides the capital and materials.

            How could Nehemiah be so confident that God would “make them prosper”? After all, Jerusalem had been destroyed precisely because of God’s judgment upon the sins of his people. The wall had been in ruins for better than 150 years at this point. Wasn’t he trying to turn back the disciplining hand of God on the Jews?

            Faith that God will do something must not come out of thin air or our own mind games. People-changing faith…city-changing faith…must come out of the nature of who God is and the promises He gives us.

            Nehemiah knew that though God had promised judgment over the disobedience of His people, he had also promised restoration and revival when they turned back to Him (Deut. 30:3; 2 Chron. 7:14; Is. 1:26; Jer. 27:22; 29:14; ). God’s nature of absolute justice and everlasting love produced promises of discipline and promises of restoration. The promises or restoration were just as available to the current residents of Jerusalem living every day around the rubble of Jerusalem as they were to Nehemiah living in Susa in captivity.

            So what made the difference?

            The same thing that makes the difference today between people who languish in their circumstances and people who triumph over their circumstances.

  • IF we are immersed in the Word of God and it abides in us, we’ll know God is working to prosper our kingdom efforts.
  • IF we are deeply involved with God in prayer, talking over the things that must change, the people who need to see God’s power rescue and redeem their lives, then we’ll develop confidence in God and faith that trusts Him to move mountains…or build walls.

But when we’re not in God’s Word and His Word is not in us, when we’re not wrestling through the devastation of our land with Him in prayer, we’ll be like the residents of Jerusalem—complacent, apathetic, used to the rubble and destruction around us. This is why fervent prayer and searching of God’s word that applies directly to what God’s heart is for our city, His church and our nation is vital to seeing God move mountains.

APP: We’re going to be embarking on a faith-intensive journey here starting next week. It’s going to take all the faith we now have and much more that God must build into us over the next year. Maintaining the status quo at Mosaic won’t get the job done. Only a growing faith in God combined with hard, dusty, painstaking work is going to see us into the next step of seeing downtown become one of the best places in our city to encounter Jesus Christ.

So I plead with you: be reading and studying God’s word with an eye to finding both His heart and His promises about transforming souls and this city this year.

AND heed God’s call that I know He is nudging every one of us to answer to learn to PRAY more passionately and fervently for the rebuilding of those souls in this city.  

THEN we will be able to say with Nehemiah, “The God of heaven will make us prosper…”

But the second part of Nehemiah’s confidence rested on the will of the people around him. “…and we his servants will arise and build….” Chapter 3 is all about that “arising and building.” So what do we have to learn about our part in rebuilding the city and souls?

Vs. 1—“Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate. They consecrated it and set its doors. They consecrated it as far as the Tower of the Hundred, as far as the Tower of Hannel.”

            The question naturally presents itself, “Why did Nehemiah start with the priests and their Sheep Gate when it came to talking about all the hundreds of people who jumped into this rebuilding work?”

First, I think the spiritual leaders of any city, any church, any family, any friendship are the ones who are pivotal to the momentum of any divine endeavor. If we are the spiritual “priests” of our city, this downtown, your family are not the ones chomping at the bit to get to the work of rebuilding lives first, the endeavor will lack spiritual drive. Spiritual drive is THE most important component of spiritual rebuilding. The old adage, “Speed of the leader; speed of the team,” also applies to any spiritual endeavor, particularly those requiring great effort and sacrifice.

Secondly, the Sheep Gate was that gate through which the blood sacrifices were brought into the Temple. It was the gate closest to the Temple. The ongoing relationship of the people of God to God himself through the sacrifice of the Lamb of God is THE most important “gate” in terms of rebuilding our city or a single soul. What we are trying to do first and last is draw people closer to God. We’re not most concerned with building better businesses or better non-profits or better housing or more jobs. Those things will be impacted and will improve IF transforming and rebuilding the souls of people happens first.

In the expansion of ministry we have on the drawing boards through an upcoming relocation, if people’s relationship with God is not primary, we are simply helping people feel better about life on their way to hell. But if leading people to the Lamb of God who both takes away their sin and offers them life abundant and eternal is the first and foremost “gate” we are always building here, this city will truly be transformed and rebuilt.

While we’re on the subject, the fact is, there is NO OTHER CHURCH in Spokane like Mosaic seeking to do what Mosaic is trying to do in the core of our city. That doesn’t make us better but it does make us unique. No other church has the mixture of commuters to downtown residents that we do…or the cross section of socio-economic makeup we do.   No other church has a vision or plan to reach out to the downtown residential community with the Gospel of Christ. No other church is seeking to develop ministries that reach the city-center youth, that develop job-producing and work-training businesses, that reach into the youth music and entertainment culture or develop a ministry hub for multiple Christian non-profits.  

Thirdly, the fact that the religious leaders were the first to “consecrate” the work of moving bricks and mortar, sawing beams and setting doors tells us something about the sanctity of regular, manual labor in the work of the kingdom.

But the really big story here is the breadth of involvement by the people of God in the work to be done. Thirty-eight individual workers/leaders are mentioned in this chapter while 42 different groups are identified. Friends, the work of the church is for every child of God, not just a handful of leaders. God’s call to build the kingdom is for all of us!

D.L. Moody, that great evangelist and preacher of the 19th century in Chicago commented on the challenge in the American church when he said, “A great many people have got a false idea about the church. They have got an idea that the church is a place to rest in…to get into a nicely cushioned pew, and contribute to the charities, listen to the minister, and do their share to keep the church out of bankruptcy…. The idea of work for them—actual work in the church—never enters their minds.”

I’m SO grateful Mosaic is not a church like that. Well over half of you can be found in any number of ministries both here at Mosaic and in other places across this city. If we’re truly Christ followers, we’ll be on the move in this city, working shoulder to shoulder with other followers of Jesus. Any kind of work that is done to Christ, for Christ and for His kingdom building is “consecrated” work.

Look at vs. 2—“And next to him [Eliashib] the men of Jericho built.” Wait a minute. You mean there were non-Jerusalem people working on this wall, Jews from other cities who traveled miles, perhaps days, to lend a hand? Precisely. People from numerous cities in Israel are mentioned throughout this chapter, some 4 or 5 miles away from the project, some 15-20 miles away. Commuting into a place of ministry work is nothing new! Some of us walk to Mosaic every week. Others take the bus. Some of you drive in 5, 10 or 20 minutes. God continues to assemble a team of people to reach the core of this city that comes from all over the city.

            I’ve observed something about churches downtown. There are only a few workable models. There is the mission-type church that requires a whole lot of other churches and Christians in the city to support it as a mission point (like City Gate). Most of the people in that church live downtown. That kind of church won’t survive without most of its support coming from other churches and Christians who don’t call City Gate their church.

            Another model of church here is a commuter church. First Presbyterian would fit that type where over 95% of the people don’t live downtown. The new Mars Hill Church will probably be that kind of church if they follow the Mars Hill pattern of church plants.

            Then there are churches on “life support” usually from their denomination. Their congregations are shrinking and unable to support the work enough financially to have it be self-sustaining. So the denominations are funding their survival and ministries. First Covenant and Central United Methodist down the street here would be that kind of church.

            Then there are what we might call ethnic churches—Calvary Baptist Church that is predominantly African-American and Pilgrim Slavic Baptist Church that is totally Russian with services held in Russian.  

            Then there is Mosaic Fellowship, the Higher Power Church that meets here on Saturdays and Orchard Christian, churches whose members mostly commute in but who have a solid percentage of local residents (10-30%). We’re the only self-sustaining churches targeting specifically people in these neighborhoods.

            But our “commute” here to rebuild this city is not the farthest. I know a few new church plants in this city that have started by people God has called to Spokane from Montana or California or Texas. God is stirring something here in this city. He’s assembling a team of people who have a heart for people not yet a part of God’s family. And if He’s stirring that as far away as Texas, He’s certainly stirring the church of Spokane to build His family in this city…and I believe He’s calling on every one of us to step into this work.

Vs. 3 tells us that the rebuilding of Jerusalem involved both new building and old renovation. “The sons of Hassenaah built the Fish Gate. They laid its beams and set its doors, its bolts, and its bars. 4.)And next to them Meremouth the son of Uriah, son of Haldoz repaired. And next to them Meshullam…repaired.”

            Most true rebuilding of a city requires that we do some new construction while also using some old materials and structures. What is true in the physical is somewhat metaphorical for the spiritual rebuilding necessary in Spokane.

Why have so many older, established churches downtown either closed their doors or moved out of the community? Simply put, because their congregations either wandered away from the life-changing Gospel of Christ and thus had nothing of power and transformation to give to people OR they lost the ability to adapt their ministries to a changing demographic in the core. The latter would involve a failure to build a new vision of church that was not the typical “come-and-watch” attractional model of many churches today but rather the “come-and-serve” missional model.

If God were to drop the yellow-brick church up the street in our lap as a gift tomorrow, it might solve our space challenge. But it would not solve the need for engagement with and service to our city that is probably more difficult to do out of a church building then out of some commercial space downtown. Too many 19th and 20th century church buildings make 21st century urban ministry difficult to impossible. That’s why we’ve turned down offers to consider existing church buildings downtown. You can’t do ministry in them 24/7. They were designed for larger crowds a handful of times a week, not a continuous flow of people all week long.

Successfully renewing souls as we rebuild the city will require some “new building” of ministries, too. Ministry models are built, grow and fall into disfavor. If we are going to really reach the next generation of Spokane with the Gospel, it’s going to take some new “building” by some fresh workers. As will to change as I may be, I simply won’t be able to make some of the changes that will be needed in the next 5 years in ministry in downtown. That’s why we need the Millenials and Gen-Y’ers to not just hang around but to step up and into new ministry models. I’m praying that God will raise many of you in the younger generation up to do some building of ministries in Spokane that we have yet to see. It’s why we must be building side-by-side every section of the “wall” of ministry in our city.

It’s at this point in chapter 3 that we encounter a rather sad commentary. Vs. 5 reads, 5 “And next to them the Tekoites repaired, but their nobles would not stoop to serve their Lord.”

It’s not clear from the original Hebrew whether the end of this sentence should refer to the Lord God or to Nehemiah as their “lord” in this endeavor. In one way, it doesn’t matter. Because Nehemiah was obviously moved by God to lead the people, rejecting his leadership was pretty much like rejecting God’s leadership. And if this text means to tell us that these nobles failed to serve the Lord, the purpose or cause was the same: failure to be humble enough to do the hard work of rebuilding.

            Is there work in the family of God that you think is beneath you? Duties at home that you won’t “stoop” to do in service to God? We all have certain things we are better at, certain gifting that benefit the Body of Christ best when we’re exercising them in the power of the Holy Spirit. But that should never become an excuse for sitting on the sidelines because we think something is beneath us. I’ve found that the people who are willing to do the unsung, unglamorous work of the ministry are those for whom God later opens up larger fields of ministry. Those things that are sometimes “done in secret” are the very things God loves to reward most.

What a contrast these “nobles” were from a truly gifted group of people who had no trouble putting down their finer instruments of artistry to pick up dirty shovels and trowels. Vs. 8--Next to them Uzziel the son of Harhaiah, goldsmiths, repaired. Next to him Hananiah, one of the perfumers, repaired, and they restored Jerusalem as far as the Broad Wall.

            I don’t know what perfumers were like in those days but I don’t exactly have a mental picture of body-builder, tough guy, biker sorts of men when I think of perfume-makers. But then I may be wrong.

            Here were people probably far more gifted than the “nobles” who did what needed to be done. They were the artisans who could have had real excuses. “I can’t work in the dirt. It could ruin my hands and then what would happen to my livelihood? All that dust could dampen my sense of smell, and then where will my profession be?” But instead they set the gold and perfume aside, took up the tools and got busy.

            APP: Sometimes, in the kingdom building ministry, it can be difficult to find just the right fit. We may feel like our skills are under-utilized.

  • If you’re in the medical field, how do you put those skills to work in the church week after week?
  • If you’re an attorney and the church isn’t suing someone every week, J where do you fit into Kingdom ministry?

Or maybe, even if there is a ready fit of your gifts or expertise like in music or teaching or administration or helps, what is done in the church might feel like an inferior level of output. You may actually be more competent than someone in charge.

But in the Kingdom of Christ, it’s all about becoming like Jesus in His humility. It’s supposed to be all about putting someone else’s interests and concerns ahead of your own (Phil 2). It’s about setting aside the garments of superiority and taking up the towel of service to wash the feet of others as Jesus did, if that is the need (John 13).

            Don’t let your level of proficiency or skill keep you from humble service.

            Don’t fall into “the trap of the nobles” where your pride gets in the way of your service.

            Instead, learn to step into the gap in whatever capacity you are needed, especially “gaps” that call for the humility of Jesus in a world of pride.

  • It’s not about showing off your craft; it’s about working in Christ’s humility.
  • It’s not always about finding the perfect fit in ministry but becoming the mature servant in the Kingdom.

That kind of heart may lead to some surprising, out-of-the-normal-box sort of ministry. Take a look at vs. 12.

“Next to him Shallum the son of Hallohesh, ruler of half the district of Jerusalem, repaired, he and his daughters.”

In a less-than-perfect world and church, God is going to sometimes call us into very untraditional roles. What is the traditional norm may be set on its head in order that things of greater importance actually happen. For instance…

  • In missions, is it more important to wait for men to step forward so we can have men leading Bible translation or church planting teams OR is it more important to get the Gospel into the hands of lost people by whatever godly saints possible, be they men or women? We as evangelicals are not the most consistent when it comes to women in ministry. We may believe that God has called men to lead in their home as husbands or in the church as teaching pastor elders. Yet the evangelical foreign missions movement of the last two centuries has often been built on the backs of single women missionaries. Take women out of many of the critical roles of cross-cultural ministry and we would have a greatly diminished church universal.
  • Closer to home, in most of our local church ministries…even here at Mosaic…I think there are areas and types of ministries where men should not be assuming it is a women’s job (such as teaching and helping with children’s ministry or youth discipleship). Likewise, there is nothing biblically speaking to keep women from doing much of the ministry of the church whether in evangelism or discipleship.

Women often feel marginalized in the Christian church due, not so much to biblical mandates, as to patterns of tradition we’ve developed through the years. And we all know how Jesus feels about human traditions that take precedence over divine mandates and heart.

            So women, don’t hold back. Don’t wait for some man to stop and ask you. Make your availability known. Step into the gap of building the kingdom of God. You will find that your step of faith and service is written down in the annals of God’s history for all eternity.

One final call from God to us in this passage. Notice what happens multiple times in this passage. No less than 5 times we are told some of the people “repaired opposite/beside” their own homes.

[Vs. 10--10 Next to them Jedaiah the son of Harumaph repaired opposite his house.

Vs. 23--23 After them Benjamin and Hasshub repaired opposite their house. After them Azariah the son of Maaseiah, son of Ananiah repaired beside his own house.

Vs. 29--29 After them Zadok the son of Immer repaired opposite his own house.

Vs. 30--After him Meshullam the son of Berechiah repaired opposite his chamber.]

God has placed every one of us where we live, whether in a downtown residence building or a neighborhood in Airway Heights. We’re not there by accident. We’re there to “build” the kingdom in that neighborhood, in that building, that dorm, that block. If God spiritually renewed the souls of some of your neighbors, rebuilding His church in your neighborhood, what might that look like? What would God want you to do with those neighbors? With those who have yet to encounter Jesus Christ and surrender their lives to him?

            Praying for people God has placed next to us is one of those “wall-building” ministries we are ALL called to in the Kingdom. Keep praying for the broken walls of non-Christians’ lives. Keep looking for ways God wants you to build up the hearts and lives of people right beside you. When our city experiences true spiritual rebuilding, God is going to use us to help rebuild people closest to us both geographically and relationally.

So here are some things I’d like you to think about doing or starting to do this week.

1.)    Do you know the names of your neighbors? Dorm mates? Near neighbors at work? Classmates? Start there and start praying regularly for God’s work in their lives. And when the opportunity permits, let them know you are praying for them and find out what is on their heart.

2.)    Has God spoken to you today about laying down your pride and stepping up your humble service? Don’t just shrug it off and go about things as you always have. Step forward. Talk with someone in an area of ministry God is nudging you towards. Talk with one of the pastors or ministry leaders here at Mosaic. Request a consultation with one of us to help you get into the work of rebuilding lives and this city. Don’t let your ability or lack of ability stop you. Don’t let tradition or gender or pride be a barrier. Ministry in the Kingdom of Christ is for EVERY follower of Jesus. What part of God’s Kingdom wall are you building? Invite someone who is looking for a place to join you. Where would you like to build?

3.)    Our city’s spiritual reconstruction starts with our own soul? Do you need to “repair the Sheep Gate” of your life by coming to the Lamb of God who alone can take away your sin and exchange it for abundant life in Him? [Call to faith in Jesus Christ.]                      

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY & APPLICATION

1.)    Walls help keep some things/people out and some things/people in. What are some of the “walls” you have built in your life to keep unwanted things or people out? Why? How effective have they been? What “walls” are you building to keep things or people in your life?

2.)    The phrase “made repairs” is used 34 times in this chapter. What do you think needs repairing in a.) your life, 2.) your family, 3.) the church in Spokane, and 4.) our city? What repairs are you most passionate to work on? What are you doing to make repairs currently?

3.)    The building material Nehemiah and the people used was a combination of old rubble and new timber. What sort of “rubble” in your life might God want to use to do some rebuilding? What new resources or people has He brought into your life that He might want to use for new purposes?

4.)    If we’re talking about having a part in building the Kingdom of God, what part of that project are you most interested in? What gifts and skills would you most like to employ in that task?

5.)    When have you experienced God asking you to do some work in the Kingdom outside of or “below” your expertise? What compelled you to do it? Are you currently willing to step into some place of need in building God’s kingdom regardless of expertise?

6.)    Building the kingdom involves all kinds of people working side-by-side sometimes doing strenuous work. Who has God placed you next to in the business of building the church? What are you learning working close to them? What has been challenging and why?

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