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Hitting the Bricks

Hitting the Bricks

#2 in the Nehemiah series, Fresh Beginnings

January 16, 2011

Touching Base Question:  What do YOU look for in a church?  What are you ready and willing to do to see that kind of church become a reality?

One of the things I’ve discovered through the years being a pastor is that everybody comes to the church with different expectations…even atheists

ILL:  There was an article in the Houston Chronicle in March 2006 titled “Why this Atheist is a Christian (sort of).” It was written by Robert Jensen a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin. He begins his essay with:

  • I don’t believe in God.
  • I don’t believe Jesus Christ was the son of a God that I don’t believe in, nor do I believe Jesus rose from the dead to ascend to a heaven that I don’t believe exists.
  • Given these positions, this year I did the only thing that seemed sensible: I formally joined a Christian church.

He goes on to say that his decision was not at all a theological one but a move to engage himself and others politically and morally. 

That’s why I like to ask people who are looking for a church or new to our church, “So, what are you looking for in a church?”  And if I’m really feeling bold, I’ll follow that question up with, “So what are you willing to DO to see that kind of church become reality?

We’re in the book of Nehemiah for a few weeks as we launch into this new year.  It’s a great book about leadership, about spiritual warfare, about building and building up God’s people. 

      But this year, I want us to see that it is also a great book about what it takes to develop strength and health as a person and as a church.  It’s a book that highlights some key components of any of God’s people’s spiritual strength and vitality.  There are certain spiritual practices/disciplines that are illustrated in this book that are essential to the development and growth of God’s people. 

REVIEW:  What are “spiritual disciplines” or “spiritual practices”? 

Spiritual practices are things we can do that enable us to experience more of God.  I like to think of them in 2 general categories:

            Practices of Engagement       Practices of Disengagement

      Prayer                                                   Silence

      Bible reading/study                              Frugality

      Fellowship                                            Solitude

      Giving                                                   Fasting

      Serving                                                 Rest

      Confession                                            Submission                      

All of these things can be means by which God grows and builds us up personally and corporately (as a whole church). 

Last week in Nehemiah 1 we saw Nehemiah receiving an honest assessment of what life was like for the Jews who had been allowed to return to Jerusalem from being in captivity in Babylon.  The report was not encouraging.  In fact, it left Nehemiah mourning, fasting and praying for quite some time.  But, as we saw last week, taking an honest look at the state of our lives or the state of the church is one of the first steps toward letting God give us His vision of a better future. 

In today’s passage from chapters 2 & 3, we see Nehemiah moving from personal prayer and waiting on God for direction to action that changes the course of the whole nation.  Let’s start in 2:1.  (Read 2:1-9)

1 In the month of Nisan in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, when wine was brought for him, I took the wine and gave it to the king. I had not been sad in his presence before, 2 so the king asked me, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart.”

   I was very much afraid, 3 but I said to the king, “May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?”

 4 The king said to me, “What is it you want?”

   Then I prayed to the God of heaven, 5 and I answered the king, “If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favor in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my ancestors are buried so that I can rebuild it.”

 6 Then the king, with the queen sitting beside him, asked me, “How long will your journey take, and when will you get back?” It pleased the king to send me; so I set a time.

 7 I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? 8 And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. 9 So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters. The king had also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

After 4 months of pretty intense praying about what needed to be done to improve the personal condition and public reputation of God’s people in Jerusalem, Nehemiah had a plan.  It was a plan that was God-sized.  But the plan involved lots of people and lots of hard work by God’s people.  Nobody would be working harder than Nehemiah.  For him, seeing God’s plan for His people come to fruition would require a change of job, a change of residence, a change of country, a change of lifestyle and a thousand other changes. 

Successful building up of the people of God and city of God would not only require some specific actions on Nehemiah’s part; it would also require certain actions by virtually everyone in Jerusalem who wanted to see life get better and their city become what they had dreamed it could be. 

APP:   Interestingly enough, the same things are required of any child of God today who wants to grow in Christ personally and see their church grow up in Christ.  Sharpen your pencils because I’m going to point out 4 things that we will be required of each of us IF we are interested in growing in Christ this year either as an individual AND as a church.

#1.  Successful building of our own lives and God’s church will require that we know what we want and that what we want is really what God wants.    

      Notice 2:4“The king said to me, “What is it you want?”  Nehemiah didn’t answer like so many of us when we’re sad about something, “Oh, I don’t know.”  No, God had clearly put some things in his heart that God wanted done.  Look at verse 12“I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem.” 

      Let’s be honest:  we’ve all got lots of desires and longings “in our hearts.”  The problem is, many of them are put there by our flesh or our selfish natures or by the culture and world we live in.  A few of them are put there by God. 

ILL:  Advertising is basically trying to plant, water and nurture a desire in our hearts for something someone else wants us to want badly enough for us to part with our hard-earned cash in order to get it. 

      God, on the other hand, wants to put in our hearts desires to do things that build us and the people around us up in Jesus Christ.  He puts in our hearts desires for things that will build the Kingdom of God, now my own private kingdom.  The hard part is discerning which desires of my heart are put there by God and which have been put there by my flesh, the culture or Satan himself.  

      This could be a whole sermon in itself—talking about how we can know what God has put in our hearts in terms of longings and desires verses our own selfish or misguided longings.  It constantly surprises me how difficult it can sometimes be to wisely discern between those two. 

      Let me just leave TWO words of counsel that come from this text about discerning what God has put in our hearts to do. 

      First, if it is something God is stirring in your heart, it will be  in agreement with God’s word.  Nehemiah had plenty of clear direction in the Scriptures that this captivity of God’s people was only supposed to last 70 years.  It had already been 160 years since the first captivity.  He knew Jerusalem was to be the city where the rest of the world could look and see what God was like.  His growing heart for the welfare of Jerusalem was obviously a reflection of God’s heart for Jerusalem already revealed in the Scriptures. 

      Secondly, I’ve found through the years that when God gives a vision, a longing or a calling to do something in his kingdom, we will not only find our hearts longing more and more for it but if it is God’s moving, it will always be something that will require greater faith and greater personal growth

      For Nehemiah, the man with a pretty cushy government job, do you think that in his own flesh he would have loved the idea of leaving his secure, well-paying, high-ranking government job so he could make a dangerous journey to a devastated city (Jerusalem) to do a job that everyone had failed at for the last 100 years—rebuilding the city?  That’s not something our flesh would long for.  It required more faith than he was exercising in the prosperous city of Susa…and it required more personal growth in a whole host of ways than he had made in his whole life to that point.  That’s a pretty sure bet that what you are feeling as a longing to do is not of the flesh but of the Spirit. 

So that’s the first application truth here today:  #1.  Successful building of our own lives and God’s church will require that we know what we want and that what we want is really what God wants.    

APP:  Take a moment right now and do a little personal inventory. 

  • What do you find yourself longing for in terms of serving in God’s kingdom, God’s family, the church?  Write it down.
  • Now ask…
    • Is it in agreement with what you know about the word of God? 
    • Is it going to require more faith?
    • Is it going to require personal growth, possibly greater difficulty and challenge?

#2.  The second thing this passage speaks to us about if we are going to be successful in building up our own lives and God’s church is that we must accept the fact that progress will always encounter opposition. 

Nehemiah 2:10“When Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about this, they were very much disturbed that someone had come to promote the welfare of the Israelites.” 

      One of the errors we often make is to assume that life will be easier if we are doing what God has called us to do.  I’ve found that the opposite is usually the case:  life is usually harder and more challenging the more I walk by faith and the more I seek to serve God and his people. 

      Christianity is not a lazy-man’s religion.  It is not an escape from hardship.  It is the road less traveled because it is steeper, narrower, harder and more isolated than the broad and well-traveled road of self.  But it is the only road where we will encounter God in all his fullness and experience what it is like to do things in His power and strength. 

#3.  If we’re going to be successful in building God’s kingdom and our personal lives in Christ, we will have to learn to adjust our plans to the realities around us while never abandoning God’s call and vision. 

Read Nehemiah 2:11-15

11 I went to Jerusalem, and after staying there three days 12 I set out during the night with a few others. I had not told anyone what my God had put in my heart to do for Jerusalem. There were no mounts with me except the one I was riding on.

 13 By night I went out through the Valley Gate toward the Jackal Well and the Dung Gate, examining the walls of Jerusalem, which had been broken down, and its gates, which had been destroyed by fire. 14 Then I moved on toward the Fountain Gate and the King’s Pool, but there was not enough room for my mount to get through; 15 so I went up the valley by night, examining the wall. Finally, I turned back and reentered through the Valley Gate.

Story

Example #1:  When Charlie and I were first praying about a new church in Spokane, he shared with me the passion God had placed in his heart for years about reaching the younger generations.  We talked about wanting a church that was genuine, not institutional. God had put in our hearts a desire to see a church were people would leave their masks at home and just be what they genuinely are rather than pretend to be something they weren’t the rest of the week. 

Charlie shared with me his vision for a church that would meet in an environment that was more familiar to non-churched people, particularly younger people.   I remember that we drove around town and Charlie pointed out possible nightclubs and bars he’d been thinking about.  It’s been over 3 years since then and God has finally opened the door for that part of the vision to be launched—doing church in a nightclub.

Example #2:  When we started Mosaic, we thought God wanted us to target the 20s and 30s generations.  For a variety of reasons, that’s not what God has been adding to Mosaic or what we’ve attracted over the past 3 years.  We’re more an intergenerational church.  Downtown is more intergenerational setting.  We’ve had to adjust to the realities of where God said to go.  

Successful kingdom building will require that we continually adjust our plans to the reality of our surroundings while never abandoning God’s call and vision. 

APP:  Is God asking you to adjust your expectations about something without losing your anticipation about the calling? 

  • Has God called you to marriage or raising a family, given you the heart and vision for it, yet the realities aren’t unfolding exactly according to what you had in mind?  Are you willing to face the realities and adjust your plan to address those realities? 
  • Has God called you to do something in His church and kingdom yet the realities of church life or this city or this fellowship are calling for you to make some adjustments? 

#4.  Here’s the one above all others I want you to remember:  The 3 Musketeers would be in order here.  What was their motto?  One for all and all for one. J   

To build a healthy, safe and thriving community of God’s people requires a coordinated team effort by virtually everyone.

Nehemiah 2:16-18

16 The officials did not know where I had gone or what I was doing, because as yet I had said nothing to the Jews or the priests or nobles or officials or any others who would be doing the work.

 17 Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in: Jerusalem lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, and we will no longer be in disgrace.” 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and what the king had said to me.

Nehemiah 3:1ff  This whole chapter is consumed with the names of over 35 men and  13 groups of people who dedicated themselves to rebuilding Jerusalem.  God takes note of men and women who take His work in this world seriously.  I’m not talking about priests and elders and pastors and clergy.  I’m talking about the everyday God-follower who puts his or her shoulder to the work.  God’s work uses ordinary people.

Sure, some priests (3:1,22,28) and Levites (3:17, 18) were involved in this wall project.  But the vast majority of leaders and workers were ordinary folk

  • “men of Jericho” (3:2),
  • “men of Tekoa” (3:5),
  • “men from Gibeon and Mizpah” (3:7),
  • “goldsmiths” (3:8, 31, 32) and
  • “perfume makers” (3:8),
  • “ruler[s] of districts and half-district[s]” and
  • their “daughters” (3:12,14,16,17,18),
  • “temple servants” (3:26,31),
  • “guards[men] of the gate” (3:29), and
  • “merchants” (3:31,32). 

It didn’t matter their career or trade, their gender or age.  Everybody was “hitting the bricks.” 

To build a healthy, safe and thriving community of God’s people requires a coordinated team effort by virtually everyone.

It’s not enough for the people of God to simply gather together, hang out and form a holy huddle.  They had been doing that for 80 years and Jerusalem was still a disgrace!  More than 50,000 of them had been hanging out in and around Jerusalem after they returned from the Babylonian exile in 738 B.C.  Yet little to no progress had been made in strengthening the city and bringing it to a place where it was God-honoring instead of God-disgracing.    

To move forward required the vision of God-blessed leaders and the hard work of most of God’s people.  In fact, there is one interesting little observation in 3:5 where God notes who was unwilling to “put their shoulders to the work.”  It was “the nobles of Tekoa.” 

God not only notices who steps up but also who steps out!  The nobles of Tekoa are singled out for “dishonorable mention” because they couldn’t apparently be bothered with such menial labor (3:5).  But the “men of Tekoa”, the average guys, are mentioned twice by name as repairers of two sections of wall (3:5 & 27), something unique in this entire chapter. 

That says to me that even when there is poor or non-existent leadership, where people are passionate for the glory of God, they just won’t let that stop them.  In fact, rather than sit around grumbling about what weak leaders they had, they jumped in and did twice as much as the average worker. 

APP:  The first question every one of us needs to ask as a result of this is about our own personal commitment to “building God’s city.”  I’m not talking about Jerusalem or some physical city here on earth.  Today God’s people are scattered all over the earth in virtually every country of the globe.  But we are still called to build.  Every one of us has been given spiritual gifts by the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 12, Eph. 4) to build up the Body of Christ.  Every one of us is a part of this new “house” God wants built called the church (I Pt. 2:5). 

            The question is, “What part of the wall are you building?”  What part of the church are you building? What part of God’s kingdom are you investing in?  I believe that God puts desires to build His family in the hearts of every one of his children just like he put it into the heart of Nehemiah to do the work of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.  I wonder how many other people God had given that vision and call to who just sort of ignored it…or thought it too impossible…or weren’t willing to step out in faith and take the risk? 

            Chapter 3 gives us a good clue as to where God wants most of us to do some of the “building” of His family.  Look at the text.

  • 17 Next to him, the repairs were made by the Levites under Rehum son of Bani. Beside him, Hashabiah, ruler of half the district of Keilah, carried out repairs for his district.
  • 23 Beyond them, Benjamin and Hasshub made repairs in front of their house; and next to them, Azariah son of Maaseiah, the son of Ananiah, made repairs beside his house.
  • 28 Above the Horse Gate, the priests made repairs, each in front of his own house. 29 Next to them, Zadok son of Immer made repairs opposite his house.

Nehemiah tells us that many of the workers made repairs either in front of or very near their own homes.  That’s also where God intends every one of his children to build His church—right where we live and work and study and play.  That’s why we all must see our own neighborhoods as our mission field, our own web or relationships as well as the neighborhood God has placed us in as a church. 

Over the past three years, God has “put in our hearts” here at Mosaic a work to do in His church here in Spokane.  It’s the vision, the plan, the spiritual blueprint for what we believe He wants this church, Mosaic, to do.  We’ve tried to simplify it down to something most of us (with limited memories) can remember. 

  • It’s on the mosaic heart that is up here in front of us every week:  Experience…Connect…Engage.  We believe we are called to 1.)  “Experience God” in everything we do.  We believe God wants us to 2.)  “Connect with one another” through meaningful, life-changing fellowship.  And 3.) We are called to Engage the world around us in life-transforming ways. 
  • It’s on the Mosaic web site and in your bulletin every Sunday with these 3 words:  Fill…Mix…Pour.  Great metaphor for those who love to cook or work with cement.  Everything we try to do here fits into one of those three words. 
    • FILL:  This has to do with experiences that fill our lives with the person of Christ and the truth of His word.  We talk about a “Fill Group”.  Those are small groups that meet in homes or offices that are primarily designed to fill us with a growing relationship with Christ by filling us with his Word.  Those ministries and groups have a strong Bible component to them.
    • MIX:  These are ministries and groups that come together around a common interest.  It may be a Men’s group that meets to hold each other accountable for sexual purity.  It may be a women’s group that meets for prayer.  It may be a ministry group that seeks to equip struggling parents with their parenting…or married couples with their marriages. 
    • POUR:  These ministries and groups are built around service to God’s people and our world.  The team going to Nicaragua is a “pour” team.  Worship teams, City Gate and Cup of Cool Water serve teams, outreach teams to our neighborhood, leaders in the Alpha Course—they are all pouring out their lives for the sake of others and the Gospel. 

If our individual lives with Christ and God’s church as a whole is going to be built up as God longs for it to be, then each of us will need to put our shoulders to the work.  We’ll each need to pick up a spiritual shovel of some sort and get engaged building God’s kingdom. 

            Coming to worship gatherings like this week by week are wonderful.  But they are rather tame in comparison with what God does with us when we step out in faith, roll up our spiritual sleeves and actually put our own time and talents to work building God’s church in some way. 

APP: 

  • What’s the section of spiritual “wall” that God has put in front of you?  Your neighborhood?  Your group of friends?  Your place of work? 
  • Where is the spiritual wall of your life weakest?  Do you need to be in God’s word more?  Do you need to start or become part of a group that addresses a deep need in your life?  Is God putting it in your heart to step out and serve in some way, some place that will build the kingdom of God this year?

OFFER:  There are a number of staff and ministry leaders at Mosaic who would be thrilled to help you in that process if you don’t know where to begin. 

  • Ask for a consultation with one of us using the Communication Card in the bulletin.
  • Call or email me or any of the staff to make an appointment. 
  • Step out and become committed to one of the FILL, MIX or POUR groups at Mosaic.

But whatever you do, don’t ignore His voice.  Don’t stifle His whisper.  Let your heart feel His call.  Rise up and build. 

God is always “putting in our hearts” things he wants us to step forward into.  What is it that God is asking you to do?  Where is He inviting you to serve, to step forward in a way that makes his church and his glory your actual priority?  You’ll be blessed in this life and eternity when you do.

Amens

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