And I said to the king, “If it pleases the king, and if your servant has found favor in your sight, that you send me to Judah, to the city of my father’s graves, that I may rebuild it.” (Nehemiah 2:5)
I am excited to see our Ladies Bible Class beginning a new study on the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Nehemiah was the first book I preached through as a series at Grace Church in 1995. It is the historical account of Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem which had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar over seventy years earlier during the period of the exile.
Every church needs a vision. A vision is the picture the congregation has as they think about both the present and the future. It is built upon a sense of shared identity, and gives a church focus as to priorities. But isn’t it presumptuous to think that we should cast a vision instead of just going with God’s flow?
It would be easy to equate Nehemiah’s vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem with something as simple as a church building project. But was God, or for that matter Nehemiah, concerned only about bricks and mortar? Seems to me that misses God’s larger purpose for Jerusalem and the history of Israel.
Centuries later, Jesus, after Peter’s profession that Jesus was the Messiah, declared to his disciples that he would build his church upon the rock of that confession.
We have a phrase on our weekly bulletin: Bearing witness to Christ with integrity and compassion. While that phrase does not spell out all the details of our church’s operations, it does paint a picture of who we are and how we hope to be seen. The three main functions of any church should be worship, nurture and evangelism. The question is, how are these three things characterized by the words, “bearing witness to Christ with integrity and compassion”?
Worship by its very nature is meant to be directed to God. For us to make it about “me”, compromises its integrity, yet how often we are prone to do that very thing when either the mechanics or style become our primary focus. The object of worship must always be God. The Bible defines the content of acceptable worship, and as such, the cross of Christ must always take center stage, because it is only through Christ that we have access to a holy God. And true worship must be offered from a sincere heart.
Nurture is really another word for “discipleship”. Discipleship means simply being followers of Jesus. Our calling as Christians is to follow Jesus, and our calling as a church is to help others follow Jesus. How can we do that? Well, Sunday school for starters, but Sunday school is only the tip of the iceberg. How about corporate prayer? How about small group Bible study? How about fellowship? What we’re talking about here is not just programs and mechanics, but relationship. It means sacrificial investment in each other’s lives. And that means setting an ethos that is reflected in that investment in each other’s welfare.
Evangelism means sharing the gospel. “Gospel” is the English translation of the Greek word euangellion, from which we get “evangelism”. Gospel means “good news”. We have good news to share with the rest of the world. Do we really believe we have good news to share or are we embarrassed and so keep it to ourselves? Perhaps it’s really a matter of faith.
Rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem was merely a means to an end – God’s glory and the welfare of his people. Jesus summarized the law by saying that we are called to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It seems to me that this pretty much defines “bearing witness with integrity and compassion. Is this our vision?
Pastor Tom Bridgman