This is the transcript/notes from a sermon preached at MainStreet Covenant Church on November 13, 2011, as a rally cry to mobilize a community to join us in furthering the mission of MainStreet in Mound. This was the 3rd monthly preview service before beginning regular weekly worship in 2012.
Nehemiah chapter 3 is misleading if taken on it’s own. In reading chapter 3, one gets the impression that the project rolled along smoothly as each person does their part. However, chapter 4 continues the narrative and gives us a more in depth look at how the project really went forward, and more importantly, how Nehemiah and his crew overcame many obstacles and harsh opposition!
Chapter 4 takes us to the front lines, like the movie Saving Private Ryan, and with shaky camera and real-life danger, gives us the detailed account of the rebuilding project. We find that this task was no walk in the park, but rather a feat of great courage, requiring gutsy determination, wise leadership, unity among the builders, a deep faith in God’s protection and a willingness to “work with all their heart” from sunrise to sunset.
This was a difficult message for me to prepare, as this chapter is chock full of innumerable insights for living — too many to unpack in one morning. For an entire month I’ve been swimming around in chapter 4 of Nehemiah, wrestling with where to focus my message today.
*What is the main message God wants to challenge us with today as we sit here in a senior community center, curious to learn more about what this new church, MainStreet, is all about?
(1) For starters, we could spend time talking about Nehemiah and the builders were being threatened and rough-housed by a band of no good thugs — like playground bullies calling names and making threats. (Photos) We could talk about how following God in a godless world will often bring us into conflict and we should be prepared to face ridicule and scorn for the sake of Christ. For instance, in v.1-3, we see the tactics of Sanballat and his thugs:
1 When Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry and was greatly incensed. He ridiculed the Jews, 2 and in the presence of his associates and the army of Samaria, he said, “What are those feeble Jews doing? Will they restore their wall? Will they offer sacrifices? Will they finish in a day? Can they bring the stones back to life from those heaps of rubble—burned as they are?”
3 Tobiah the Ammonite, who was at his side, said, “What they are building—even a fox climbing up on it would break down their wall of stones!” (1-3)
“Belittled their qualities (feeble Jews), derided their ambitions (Will they restore their wall?), mocked their optimism (Will they offer sacrifice? i.e. of thanksgiving and dedication when the wall is rebuilt), lampooned their enthusiasm (Will they finish in a day?), undermined their confidence (Can they bring the stones back to life?) and magnified their problems (those heaps of rubble — burned as they are).” (R. Brown)
Notice another progression in this text: the more headway the builders make, the more angry and fierce the opposition gets. In v. 1 Saballat is angry. But look at v. 7-8.
7 But when Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites and the people of Ashdod heard that the repairs to Jerusalem’s walls had gone ahead and that the gaps were being closed, they were very angry. 8 They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it. (7-8)
The enemies started out with merely verbal assaults on God’s people and the work. Now they are plotting to come and physically fight against to stop God’s work from going forward. There’s a powerful truth here that we need to remember: When we’re trying to the right thing, trying to walk the narrow road Jesus call us to; don’t be surprised if things get more difficult and painful before things start to get better.
God is always moving toward the broken places, Jesus is always storming the gates of hell, so the closer we, Christ followers, get to God in our lives, the closer we’ll be to the center of the storm.
With this in mind, MainStreet is doing a 4-part series on the basics of Spiritual Warfare so we can be prepared for battle this winter as we get closer to grand launch.
As the children in Narnia discovered, Aslan is by no means a safe or tame lion; but he is good. Those children would have avoided many risk-filled adventures and dangerous escapades if they would have never entered the wardrobe. Likewise, we would all be safer if we steered clear of the front line of God’s mission in Mound — but we would also miss out on a spectacular ride! But this is not the main point I want to make today.
(2) Or, I could draw our attention to how Nehemiah responds to his enemies in v. 4-5.
4 Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. 5 Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. (4-5)
Notice how he resists “getting even”, seeking personal revenge, entering into their childish shouting match, calling them his own choice names, sending nasty emails or defaming their character on their Facebook wall, or broadcasting a nasty campaign ad, or the like. Rather, Nehemiah goes directly to God with his pain and anger. He follows the teaching found in Romans 12 that says: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.“
Q: How often do we take the place of God in passing judgment or seeking revenge?
Billy Graham nailed it on the head when he said: “It is God’s job to judge, it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, and it is my job to simply love others” — and Jesus tells us that includes our enemies and those who persecute us. But that’s not the main point I want to make today.
(3) We could have a rich discussion about how the Evil One will use negative messages to paralyze us from doing God’s word, how we can easily begin playing and replaying an audio track in our mind that tells us lies and leads us away from God’s truth. Notice the negative energy and demoralization setting in among the builders in vv. 10-12:
10 Meanwhile, the people in Judah said, “The strength of the laborers is giving out, and there is so much rubble that we cannot rebuild the wall.” 11 Also our enemies said, “Before they know it or see us, we will be right there among them and will kill them and put an end to the work.” 12 Then the Jews who lived near them came and told us ten times over, “Wherever you turn, they will attack us.” (10-12)
We should all ask ourselves if we have a negative track playing over and over in our minds, inducing fear, preventing us from taking the action we need to take, telling us lies about who we are, and what we’re being called to do. The Bible tells us to ”take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Although this is one of the most important topics we could ever talk about, and we’ll tackle it another day, it is not the main point I want to make today.
(4) We could spend much time talking about the second half of this chapter how Nehemiah strategically reorganized the builders, armed them, and prepared them to face the coming attacks of the enemies.
13 Therefore I stationed some of the people behind the lowest points of the wall at the exposed places, posting them by families, with their swords, spears and bows. 14 After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.” (13-14)
Notice how Nehemiah posts guards at the “exposed places” on the wall, those places most vulnerable to attack. We could ask God to help us identify the “exposed places” in our own lives, our own hearts, our own families, our own marriages — and begin to protect and rebuild them to avoid further pain and destruction. This would be a great topic worth exploring in depth, but that’s not my main point today, either.
(5) I’ve very tempted to spend time talking about Nehemiah’s sharp two-pronged approach to facing life’s challenges as believers found in v. 9.
But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat. (9)
Note that Nehemiah both (1) prays to God for help while also (2) taking action and doing his part. How often to we fail to hold these two in balance — prayer and planning, God’s role and our role. Many of us, faced with a great challenge or obstacle, simply wait for God to act unilaterally. We pray for God to magically make everything better without us taking any action ourselves.
We pray for healing in our marriage but we refuse to go to counseling.
We pray for a job but we don’t fill out the applications and do the necessary networking.
We pray for healing but we don’t go to the doctor.
On the other hand, many of us are more prone to bear down and try doing it all on our power and end up leaving God out of the equation altogether. Nehemiah models the proper balance with his team of builders as we’re told they “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (v. 9).
All these lessons and more could be explored in this rich chapter of scripture.
- But, alas, I want to explore a more foundational question I’ve been wrestling with the past couple weeks as I’ve been preparing for today. The question springs forth from one solitary verse we skipped over so far — verse 6:
6 So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
My question, or rather questions, are these:
WHAT MOTIVATED PEOPLE TO RALLY AROUND THIS PARTICULAR CAUSE?
WHY WERE THEY WILLING TO WORK WITH ALL THEIR HEART?
WHAT MADE THIS CAUSE WORTH SACRIFICING SO MUCH FOR?
WHAT MADE THIS CAUSE WORTH ENDURING SUCH HARSH OPPOSITION AND THREATS — EVEN RISKING THEIR VERY LIVES?
WHY WAS THIS CAUSE WORTH FIGHTING FOR?
Here is a list of some of the sacrifices these enthusiastic builders made for this cause:
- They faced public ridicule and endured attacks on reputation and character
- Many left families back home for over two months
- Many left jobs & duties back home, sacrificing income to help
- Many left their families exposed to attack back home while the men were in Jerusalem
- The builders invested excruciatingly long hours, working from sunrise til starlight, and standing guard all night
Here’s the big question for today:
WHAT CAUSES DO PEOPLE FIGHT FOR TODAY?
Two examples come immediately to mind. First, people all around the United States are participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement now in its third month. People are motivated by perceived injustices to build temporary encampments on government property, hold rallies, demonstrate in the streets, risk opposition and arrest. People are getting hurt (and killed) in this cause to reform certain economic frustrations. The point: People believe in this cause, and are worth sacrificing much time and energy for.
A second example, and closer to home, the recent Westonka School Referendum bond and levy vote has aroused much passion and commitment these past weeks. People feel so strongly about this cause (for and against) that there are signs in almost every yard, people have build entire websites to share their message, people are creating and sharing emotionally appealing YouTube videos, sending mass emails to everyone they know, going door-to-door with their message, handing out pamphlets and door knob hangers. People are writing incessantly into the local papers, spending a lot of money on mass-mailings, and doing everything they can to get their neighbors to the polls to vote. What passion this community has for the cause of public education, and property taxes!
So, we can read Nehemiah chapter 4 and draw inspiring principles to live by. But I think we would all miss the main point if we stopped there — though that’s a good place to start.
Instead, today, I believe the question we’re all faced with as we admire the passion and determination of Nehemiah and the builders of Jerusalem’s wall, is this: Where is God trying to build today, and how can we apply ourselves passionately to His cause?
I believe I can say with full assurance, based squarely on the clear teaching of Scripture, that there is no greater cause on earth than being part of God’s global project of saving souls for all eternity! This is the the call of the church — both as a worldwide body and its local expressions. As Paul says,
“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” (2 Cor. 5:20)
FRIENDS: God is reclaiming the Westonka commmunity, and raising up a new church at MainStreet to be His agents of transformation and renewal. Our mission is nothing less than impacting every corner of this community for Christ — it’s schools, businesses, organizations, and neighborhoods!
All the while we thought we were merely telling Nehemiah’s story, we were actually telling our own story. It’s the story of a young pastor and his wife, upon seeing the broken down spiritual condition of a city, moved courageously toward the brokenness in faith. Like Nehemiah, we’re trying our best to rally a community to “rebuild” the church in this city.
Today, we stand poised to continue this work with confidence that God will bring us through whatever obstacles, challenges and opposition we may face.
Here’s why this cause is worth fighting for:
- Mound hasn’t had a new church since 1948 — over 60 years!
- Existing churches are in decline, and struggling to reach (especially younger) families
- An estimated 2,000 Westonka residents leave on Sundays to worship in other towns (1,000 at Westwood alone)
- Westonka youth are falling through the cracks, few connecting at existing churches
- Most students make decisions for Christ before age 18…
- In 2005-07 the Revolution Teen Ministry proved that local youth could be reached by thinking outside the box and inviting students into something fresh and new.
The Westonka community can rally around the issue of school bonds and levies, going door to door, putting signs in every yard, creating websites to get the word out, making YouTube videos to promote the cause, filling the newspaper with letters and pleas, and urging one another to make their voice count…
But will God’s people in the Westonka area be equally as passionate and committed to rising up to be the church, to further Christ’s cause and impacting lives — not just with a better education without leaky roofs — but affecting lives for all eternity?
Here’s an email message I received recently from a mom reinforcing the need to launch a church that will in turn launch a new youth ministry in Mound:
May God continue to bless your work and our families in the community. My daughter and 2 other MWHS students she knows who still follow Christ @ MWHS feel the destructive forces of the evil one every day. They are finding it lonely being a Believer in that environment. So different this year without weekday evening Teen MainStreet Revolution to encourage and equip them…I’m standing in the gap and do my best to encourage them to shine bright in the mission field of MWHS….Pray that some of the lost will find their way (back) to Mainstreet Church on Sundays.