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Rebuilding for the Future

Nehemiah 4:1-6

 

Sometimes churches spend too much time talking about what we need to do and not enough time doing what needs to be done. Sometimes we seem to value planning and discussing more than we value doing.

Have you seen those excellent television commercials advertising the Royal Bank of Scotland? In one of them, a group of people is eating in a restaurant when one of them starts to choke. One man says, “Isn’t Jacobsen choking?” Someone else says, “I’d definitely say Jacobsen’s choking.” The first fellow then says, “I know exactly what to do. I saw it in the movies once. It’s called the Heimlich maneuver.” That launches the diners into a discussion first of how to pronounce “Heimlich” and then how to perform the maneuver. Of course, all the while Jacobsen is choking. Finally, a man from a neighboring table comes over and successfully performs the maneuver on Jacobsen. Then the announcer says, “Less talk — make it happen!”

Now, I’m not downplaying the importance of deliberate, constructive, and thoughtful talk. Good planning is necessary. But if someone is choking to death talk won’t save his life; action must be taken. I am convicted that the future of this church is directly connected with our willingness to take action to help those around us who are choking to death.

They are choking to death on their sins. They are choking to death on their poverty. They are choking to death on their lifestyles. They are choking to death on their loneliness. They are choking to death on their fear. They are choking to death on their materialism. They are choking to death on their emptiness. They are choking to death. It’s time for our church to engage in less talk and in more action. It’s time for us, with the Lord’s help and guidance, to make it happen.

In other words, it’s time to implement our ministry plans. Can we do it? Yes, we can, if we follow some guidelines that emerge from the book of Nehemiah.

We can implement our ministry plans if we have a mind to work (Nehemiah 4:6).

The people, despite the taunts of enemies, worked hard on rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. Nehemiah reported, “So we rebuilt the wall, and all the wall was joined together to half its height; for the people had a mind to work.” More literally, the verse says “for it was the heart of the people to work.” They were committed to doing the work; they put themselves into it whole-heartedly.

Do we have a mind to work? Are we putting our hearts into what the Lord has placed before us? Now, I’m not one to try to get people to take more and more responsibility onto themselves. I heard a report this week that said the number one contributor to one’s susceptibility to a cold virus is stress; I don’t want to make you sick by causing you to work too hard at church! I also resist the notion that the more work you do for the church the more points you score with the Lord.

The fact is, though, that we have a large and important mission before us. The fact further is that if every member of the body will function as he or she should, there will be less overwork for the few who are presently required to be overly faithful. What do we need you to do? We need more of you to commit yourself to one of our ministry teams. We need more of you to invite people to come to church. We need more of you to be willing to be trained to be teachers. We need more of you to help us in our Interfaith Hospitality efforts. We need more of you to commit yourselves to praying daily for your church and for our community. You might think of other needs. When you boil the matter down to its essentials, we need your commitment.

We can implement our ministry plans if we deal with the rubbish that is in the way (Nehemiah 4:10).

After the work was half-finished (Nehemiah 4:6), the people began to say, “The strength of the burden bearers if failing, and there is too much rubbish so that we are unable to work on the wall.” Notice that the people began to notice and to complain about the rubbish after they had done half of the work.

We are in the middle of some important things. We are in the middle of establishing the Team Ministry approach. We are in the middle of trying to establish a community center across the street. We are in the middle of trying to put our ministry to students on solid footing. We are in the middle of trying to become more hands-on in our missions efforts. It is when we are in the middle of the work, when the work starts getting hard, when we can almost see the goal line but not quite, that we start noticing the rubbish that is in the way.

In the case of 5th century B.C. Jerusalem, the rubbish was from the remains of the wall that had been torn town when the Babylonians had destroyed Jerusalem 140 years earlier. Some rubbish lies around for a very long time! And sometimes it needs to be cleared away and sometimes it needs to be worked around.

All of the rubbish with which the Jews had to deal was not physical. None of ours is.

They needed and we need to deal with the rubbish of fear. The people of Nehemiah’s time were afraid of the situation in which they found themselves. They were also afraid of the threats of their enemies to do them harm.

With what fears do we need to deal? Perhaps we need to deal with the fear of failure. Some of us may be thinking that even our best efforts will not lead to positive results. Remember, though, that one way to overcome fear is to take action. To express fear without trying to help address the fear-provoking situation is not helpful. As I said earlier, we need less talk and more action. When you think, “I’m afraid for the future of our church,” let your next thought be, “What can I do to help in this situation?” and let your next step be taking some action to help! Fear should mobilize us and not paralyze us.

They needed and we need to deal with the rubbish of adopting idealism rather than realism. Irrational fear says, “Things are so bad that there’s nothing we can do” and that leads to inaction. Irrational idealism says, “Things will be ok if we’ll just have faith, even if we don’t do anything.” If we aren’t careful, we’ll fail to deal with reality and instead attempt to live in fantasyland and if we do that, I suspect we won’t live happily ever after.

The people of Nehemiah’s time knew that they were threatened by enemies. Nehemiah told the people, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the LORD, who is great and awesome . . . ” (Nehemiah 4:14). We need to hear those same words; we also need not to be afraid and to remember that the Lord is great and awesome and that, as the Bible affirms over and over, He will help His people.

But look at the rest of the statement that Nehemiah made to them: “ . . . and fight for your kin, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” And Nehemiah organized the people to defend themselves. Irrational rationality says, “We can take care of ourselves without the Lord’s help.” Irrational idealism says, “The Lord will take care of us so we don’t need to do anything.” Faithful realism, which is what we need, says, “The Lord will take care of us so let’s do what we can do to deal with the situation as he would have us to do.”

We can implement our ministry plans if we rally together and stay vigilant (Nehemiah 4:20).

Nehemiah told the leaders and the people, “The work is great and widely spread out, and we are separated far from one another on the wall. Rally to us wherever you hear the sound of the trumpet. Our God will fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:20). Again we see the truth that we can trust the Lord to help us but we still need to do our part. The other truth we see is that, despite our individual ministries and separate concerns, we are finally all in this together. The people had their own work to do on various parts of the wall, but when a threat arose, they were to come together and fight together for their common cause.

God has given each one of us a calling and a responsibility for fulfilling our calling in his church and in his world. Moreover, he has given us the gifts and abilities to do what we are called to do and the responsibility to develop and exercise those gifts and abilities. Our church really needs for every one of to take our calling and responsibility seriously. It is important that we individually identify and exercise our gifts.

We must remember, though, that we are all in this together. The trumpet is blowing and it is time for all of us, young and old, male and female, long-time member and short-time member, bold and shy, out front person and behind the scenes person, to rally together. There is so much to do and there is so much that we can do if we will just do it together.

Some of us have not yet found and filled our place on a Ministry Team. We need you now. We need people who are called to work with children to join the Children Ministry Team, who are called to work with youth to join the Youth Ministry Team, who are called to work with Preschoolers to join the Preschool Ministry Team, who are called to evangelism to join the Outreach Ministry Team, and who are called to visit the sick to join the Hospital Ministry Team. Plans for the Community Center are coming together; great ministry opportunities are going to present themselves there. We need to band together behind that ministry. The trumpet is blowing; we need to rally together. We are going to be offering more and more opportunities to get involved in ministry to the people all around us. We need to step out and to get involved.

And we need to be vigilant. Nehemiah told the people to stay inside Jerusalem all the time so that they could work by day and stand guard by night; they always stayed on ready, clothed and with their weapons in their hands (Nehemiah 4:21-23). In the New Testament, Jesus told His disciples always to be ready for His coming and in the meantime to do what they were supposed to do. Paul called his churches to be on the lookout for the return of Christ but to be vigilant about their ministry in the meantime.

We also need to be vigilant. In all days — and especially in these days — we need to stay alert, to stay committed, and to stay focused on the great ministry that God has given us to perform.

People all around us are choking to death. They need less talk from us and more action. It’s time. The enemy is at the gates. This community is in need of God’s love and grace. There is no time but the present. The trumpet is blowing and it is time to rally together. God is with us but he expects us to make it happen. Are we willing? Will we show it?

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Michael L. Ruffin is Pastor of The Hill Baptist Church in Augusta, GA.

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