I shared during vision casting in January on the key theme verse for 2021: Isaiah 43:18-19 A New Beginning!
Vision 2021 is not a totally new vision for ROLC. We have been building the church all these years according with the missions: “Make disciples, build godly families and pastor Punggol”.
What is clear however, is that ROLC is entering into a new phase of church growth in a very uncertain period. We are navigating in unchartered water. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he believed COVID-19 would not disappear, but instead “remain with humankind and become endemic”. How we operate as a church, how we connect with the community, how we do our ministry will all have to be transformed to stay relevant.
And as we advance and take possession of the lands, new visitors and families will join us through our outreach. As such, ROLC need to increase our capacity. Our Sunday service is already in maximum capacity. Our focus this season, is on NorthShore and to grow 3 worship services.
Lessons from Book of Nehemiah
As I share about the new beginning and what God is going to do, I am totally confident in God; he is all powerful, knows what He is doing and will do what He says.
Nevertheless, I am aware of the daunting task ahead. How to reach out to NorthShore & Punggol Coast and grow 3 worship services with so few of us and so little resources in our hands? However, we are not the first people to stand before a challenge and wonder if it can be done. Let’s turn to Book of Nehemiah and see what lessons we can learn from there.
Nehemiah is remembered as a great leader, God’s builder who rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and governor of Jerusalem. Book of Nehemiah tells the story of what happened after the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC. After 70 years in captivity as prophesied by Prophet Jeremiah, two waves of exiles under Zerubbabel & Ezra have returned to rebuild the temple and to re-establishing the Jewish state. The Persians were in power and the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes was a Jew named Nehemiah.
Look at Nehemiah’s task. Nehemiah was a cupbearer who had to guard the king’s cup carefully and would taste the drink before serving it to ensure it was safe. One day, Nehemiah was a cupbearer and the next day he was the governor of Judah and managing a mega-project. He has neither the skill or the experience of a builder or in organising people. Where to find materials required to rebuild the walls and broken gates? How to motivate the people who have been back in Jerusalem for years but were discouraged, and never have the heart or desire to rebuild the broken walls. Not to mention the many enemies surrounding the ruined city that do not want the Jews to rebuild. Nehemiah probably would have also asked himself why he volunteered for such an impossible job!
Let’s go to Nehemiah chapter 1:2-4. Nehemiah hears the bad news that even after many years, the returning exiles had not yet rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. The people, remnant back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace! In summary – Remnant! Ruin! Reproach! A city without a wall is defenseless and no city at all. Nehemiah was concerned for the safety and welfare of God’s people as well as zealous of God’s reputation and glory.
Nehemiah was devastated enough to weep, to fast, pray. The worst sin toward our fellow creature is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that’s the essence of inhumanity. Nehemiah was not indifferent but deeply concerned for the welfare of the Jewish people as well as the reproach to God. Do we care enough of God’s matter or indifferent? Do we have spiritual burden in our heart regarding God’s matter?
In Chapter 2, we see the gracious and divine hand of God moving! V5. Nehemiah not only wept and prayed but had the faith to ask. “Send me!” “Let me rebuild the broken walls”. When we have a spiritual burden, we must pray and ask God either to take the burden away or use us to do His work.
The divine hand of God is clearly evident. The Persian King Artaxerxes, not only gave permission for Nehemiah to go, but provided all resources (V7) and help for the project. God can even anyone, including a pagan King in his overall plan. Proverbs 21:1 The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turned it whithersoever he will.
And so, Nehemiah goes to Jerusalem, surveys the broken-down walls, calls the people together, and addresses them V17. “Let us rise up and build.” The people responded: “Let us start rebuilding.” So, they began this good work.”
Similarly, God’s gracious hand is also upon us. Will you say? We tried that before and it didn’t work!? or “we are happy the way things are; don’t rock the boat by trying to change things”? Or would we reply “Let us start rebuilding.” And, begin this good work.”?
Nehemiah Chapter 3 is essentially a description of who built the wall and which section of the wall they worked on. It may seem boring and repetitive but there are much we can learn from. Key words: rebuilt, repaired, restored occurring more than 40 times.
Nehemiah 3 is about unity and teamwork. We tend to think of unity as the absence of conflict. If we didn’t throw anything at each other or shout at each other today, does it mean there is unity? Unity is not the absence of disunity but must be the visible expression of love and relationship. We see unity when we work together as a team.
1. Leaders must lead by example (V1) if they expect others to come alongside them and work toward the goal. Eliashib, the high priest, is the spiritual leader of Israel and any Jew reading the account would be shocked. This wasn’t priestly work; this was the work of the common man. Yet the high priest used his consecrated hands to do manual labour shows that he considered the work on the wall to be a ministry to the Lord. Eliashib, as the leader, set the tone that this effort was worthy of everyone’s involvement. Eliashib also enlisted the other priests to work at the Sheep Gate.
2. God uses all kinds of people. 38 individual workers are named and 42 different groups are identified in the chapter. Each was assigned a place and task. And though there was much diversity, the result was unity.
Consider the differences that existed within the workforce. There were people of all ages. We read of fathers and sons working together, and even fathers and daughters (v. 12). The high priest and regular priests worked alongside the people. People from all walks of life laboured side by side like the rulers (vv. 14, 15); goldsmiths (vv. 8, 31, 32); temple servants (v. 26); perfumers (v. 8); and merchants (v. 32). Workers also came from different cities (Jericho, Tekoa, Gibeon, etc.) and people with varying abilities. Some repaired gates, others repaired doors, others worked on locks, while others did the brick-and-mortar work at the walls. Regardless, God uses all kind of people.
But the most important ability needed is availability! Are we available? Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well!
3. Side by side—working together. Notice the frequent use of the expression, “next to him” or “after him” or “next to them”. The idea here is that the people worked together—not just in the same place, but in cooperation. This shows us how works of great magnitude are accomplished in “small pieces”. There was a place for everyone, and a job for everyone to do. Working together means they coordinated the project so that all the parts fit together with no gaps in between the walls. In the church, it is not enough to have a bunch of independent workers or pastors doing their own thing. We must work together in supporting the overall vision of the church.
4. Some people will not work (V5). Tekoa was a town about 11 miles from Jerusalem, and their people travelled to Jerusalem to assist in the work. What a contrast between these people and their nobles! The Tekoites built in 2 different places on the wall (V5 and 27), while their nobles refused to bend the neck and work even in one place.
Perhaps the nobles had a sense of superiority that kept them from joining in, they felt like the work of repairing the wall was beneath them. Are we like the Tekoa nobles who choose not to participate for whatever reasons? How sad! A warning in Nehemiah 2:20 “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will start rebuilding, but as for you, you have no share in Jerusalem or any claim or historic right to it.”
Let’s not miss the grace of God upon our life. Esau sold his birthright for a bowl of porridge. Even though Esau sought the blessing with tears later on, he could not change what he had done (Hebrews 12:17).
5. Some people do more work than others (V4&21, 8&30, 11&14). We see that some builders did more than one section of the wall. These builders having finished their job, wanted more and went to work somewhere else! Great followers are tireless workers who don’t compare what they do with others. If they have greater skill or efficiency, they just use it to do more for God! They don’t draw lines. This is my job, this is yours. There was no “I’ve done my part and I’m not doing any more!” We must do as much as we can as long as the Lord enables us.
6. Some people work zealously (V20). Baruch, son of Zabbai “earnestly” (zealously) repaired the walls of Jerusalem because he knew it was God’s city and it was God’s work. His repairs were for the glory of the living Lord. “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might” (Eccl. 9:10). Enthusiasm is contagious! All of us need to check ourselves … especially church leaders, pastors and church workers whether we are still passionate or hot for God? Lazy workers not only rob themselves and the Lord, but they also rob their fellow workers.
The Results – Burdens are Lighter, Work goes faster.
In summary, Nehemiah 2:18 – Without the gracious hand of God upon us, we can do nothing. Next, the people must respond and replied, “Let’s start rebuilding.” So, they began this good work.
Nehemiah 4:6 So we rebuilt the wall to half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.
Nehemiah 6:15 They began the good work, they worked with all their heart, they completed the repair in 52 days! What an amazing feat, it only took the people 52 days to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. This was accomplished because everyone was working together to make the burden lighter and work goes faster.
In closing, we are entering into our next phase of our church growth; the walls are in front of us. I have no doubt that we have all the different skill sets, the abilities and resources required to complete the work assigned to us. Are you available? Can we count on you to work side by side? We need not fear because when God’s gracious hand is with us, nothing is impossible if we respond as one.
Let us start rebuilding! Let’s begin this good work!
Tung Weng Him
6 June 2021