This morning we continue our study of Nehemiah. So far we have seen Nehemiah’s response to the hopeless situation in Jerusalem. Her walls were destroyed, her gates burnt and useless. She was no longer the place God called her to be. She was no longer a light in the darkness. And yet, within God’s people there burned a hope, a fierce belief that God would turn things around. That Jerusalem would one day be rebuilt, restored, renewed.
Nehemiah heard and obeyed God’s call to lead his people to restoration. His first response was prayer. Then he asked the king for permission to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. After it was granted, he went to Jerusalem to see the situation for himself. The task was enormous. It would require incredible cooperation to succeed. Within days, the plan was in place, the work was divided among those in the city, and people from Jericho and Tekoa also came to help.
Nehemiah knew the stories of Jerusalem’s glorious past. But rather than lamenting, rather than hoping that by doing what had been done before—somehow the walls would be rebuilt, he saw what needed to be done, and he started work.
Springdale Christian Reformed Church has a glorious past. A church plant from Holland Marsh CRC in the 1950’s through immigration growth, population growth and evangelism, she grew, out grew her old building and filling this one.
But we are no longer living in that glorious past. We no longer have the numbers we once had. Members are still leaving. Our focus is not on that past. We cannot permit ourselves into thinking that if we simply did things the way they used to be done, things will come back to the way they were.
Just as the walls wouldn’t repair themselves, the gates wouldn’t arise out of the ashes, we cannot expect those who have left to suddenly come back.
What I do know is this. Just as God had a glorious future for Jerusalem after the exile, God has a glorious future for Springdale CRC.
Nehemiah and the residents of Jerusalem had a monumental task before them: building the walls and gates was hard enough, having to do it all with weapon in hand, ready at every moment to defend themselves added an incredible burden. Similarly, we too have a monumental task before us.
If Jerusalem needed two things: walls and gates, we need two things also: evangelism and discipleship. Evangelism happens from within, of course, we have children and teach them the gospel of Christ. But member birth rate is too low to sustain growth from within. We need to reach out.
We also need to reach in. That people are still leaving our fellowship is a result of a specific lack in discipleship. We’ve been good at teaching doctrine and truth, not as good at teaching how to love one another when we disagree and when there is conflict. I count myself as one who is also at fault in this.
So what are we doing? To address the first task, evangelism, we’ve boldly embarked on a new endeavour. After 65 years, we’ve voted to change our name to Westside Community Church. A team of volunteers is working on the steps necessary for the name change, the first step was accomplished by the Friday after the congregational meeting when Mr. Loopstra registered Westside Community Church as our trade name. We are officially Springdale Christian Reformed Church operating as Westside Community Church.
Some of the other steps to come involves replacing the existing sign with a taller structure having electronic display ability, a new logo, a membership class, spiritual gifts assessment class, evangelism training, small group ministry emphasis and more. It is this last one, the small group ministry emphasis that is so important. It is how we can disciple better.
Sanballat and Tobiah resented Nehemiah’s interference and leadership. Sanballat’s anger incensed him to ridicule, mockery and derision. Tobiah claimed their efforts were useless, if a fox ran on the wall, the whole thing would fall apart.
In 1998, I studied in Israel as a course at Calvin College. In parts of the city, they have excavated Nehemiah’s wall. A fox couldn’t have knocked it down. More than 2 millenia later, it remains. Their efforts were not wasted.
As members of Christ’s body, our efforts will not be wasted. Statistically, congregations our age are closing their doors every day. But that doesn’t have to be our future. Christ is calling us, inviting us to do the work he has called his body to do in every generation since the beginning, evangelism and discipleship—living as Christ calls us and is recreating us to live.
Statistically speaking, not everyone here is on board with the plan. Like Nehemiah, I’m an outsider, I’ve only been here 4 1/2 years, some of you have been members your whole life. Some might be thinking thoughts along the lines of Sanballat and Tobiah. Some might be thinking of ways to halt the work, though not as aggressively as Sanballat and Tobiah, I hope.
Human opposition isn’t really the main threat. The main threat is Satan. He doesn’t want to see Westside Community Church achieve the glorious future God is calling her to. He is working, as he always does, from within, trying to tear us apart. He uses words to hurt and to tear down.
We need to arm ourselves. Not with swords, spears and bows, but with the armour of God, described for us in . Let me paraphrase. First of all we need to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. We can’t do this on our own strength, we need to pray. We need to put on the full armour of God so that we can take our stand against the devil’s schemes. We aren’t struggling against each other. We aren’t! Truly our struggle is against the rulers, the authorities, the powers of this dark world, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. We need to stop the temptation to make this about people, about one another, it’s not, it about the devil’s schemes. Put on the armor of God so that when the day of evil comes you may stand, stand your ground, and after everything, stand. Stand firm with the belt of truth around your waist. With the breastplate of righteousness in place, with your feet fitted with the gospel of peace, ready to act, speak and share. Using the shield of faith which extinguishes all the flaming arrows of doubt sent by the evil one. Put on the helmet of salvation and take up the sword of the Spirit, God’s Word. Pray, pray, pray in the Spirit.
Sanballat and Tobiah may have thought they were listening to God. I know that Saul from Tarsus thought he was obeying God when he was trying to destroy the church. It is possible to align ourselves with Satan, while believing we’re aligned with God.
This is why we must pray the words of . In our prayers, we must invite the Lord to search us and know us, to show us if there is any wicked ways within. Invite him to search you, to lead you and to guide you. He will reveal sin. Confess it. Repent, that is turn away from it and don’t be that person anymore. Turn toward Christlike living.
Bless and do not curse. Build up, do not tear down. Even when there is disagreement, there can be peace, there can be grace, there can be love, there can be friendship. We are, together, members of Christ’s body. He’s the great reconciler. He took us, when we were God’s enemies and made us brothers and co-heirs with him. What can he do among us? He can heal and forgive.
That’s the hard work. That’s the hardest part of all of this. Are you willing to put the hard work in? Are you willing to forgive others the sins they’ve committed against you? Are you willing to seek forgiveness where forgiveness is needed? That may require seeking out people who are no longer attending this fellowship. Don’t wait. Act. As far as it depends on you, live at peace with each other. If there isn’t peace, offer it, do whatever it takes to bring peace, as far as it depends on you means seeking to make things right with all your effort and strength. Don’t worry about how you’ll be received, make the effort to bring peace—as far as it depends on you.
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Knowing that you, we all together belong to Christ, knowing that the Holy Spirit has brought us and is building us together as this local congregation, this local body of Christ, are you willing to stand and work? Are you willing to trust the Holy Spirit as he leads us into a new glorious future? If so, then I ask you to please stand up. If you are willing to follow God’s leading for this congregation. Stand up right now. If you are willing to put on the armor of God and defend against the work of the evil one. Stand up. And after you have done everything, stand. As an expression of your faith, stand. Amen.
If you are willing to do this, I ask you to please stand up. If you are willing to follow God’s leading for this congregation. Stand up. If you are willing to put on the armor of God and defend against the work of the evil one. Stand up. And after you have done everything stand. As an expression of your faith, stand. Amen.