The impossible happened. The unthinkable became reality. They knew they were God's people, and they were. But they were also selfish and materialistic. They worshipped, but they just went through the motions. They did what God commanded, but not with their hearts. Their faith was in themselves and their identity. With all their hearts they believed, "God will not let anything bad happen to us."

A powerful empire invaded their country. This mighty, ungodly empire laid siege to their capitol city (2 Kings 24, 25). Their city fell, their world crumbled, and in time the whole nation became prisoners of war in a foreign land.

About seventy years later, their conquerors fell, and a new empire with a new king came to power. He told the surviving prisoners of war and their descendants that they could go home. He encouraged them to return, to rebuild their temple, and to worship their God (Ezra 1). But only 42,000 people returned (Ezra 2:64). There was nothing to return to. The temple had been destroyed. The buildings had been burned. The city had been rubble for over 50 years. And there was no safety: the wall that protected Jerusalem had been destroyed.

  1. Later, a small group of men traveled from Jerusalem back to the land of captivity.
    1. Nehemiah, who was one of the king's personal servants, visited these men.
      1. He eagerly asked about conditions in Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1).
      2. He was told that things were horrible.
      3. The city was still in ruin, the walls were useless, and the gates had been burned.
      4. There was no protection for the people who had returned, and they were hated by local enemies.
    2. Upon hearing this news, Nehemiah prayed, and his prayer is one of the most touching prayers in the Bible.
      1. "You are the God who keeps His promises to those who love and obey You.
      2. "Please give special attention to my prayer.
      3. "I confess that I and my ancestors have been sinful, corrupt, and disobedient.
      4. "You warned us through Moses that if we acted in these ways that You would scatter us throughout the nations.
      5. "But You also promised if we repented that You would gather us together again in the place that You cause Your name to dwell.
      6. "Please, when I go before the king today, help me be successful."
    3. Nehemiah literally took his life in his hands by going before the king with a sad face (Nehemiah 2).
      1. The king asked why he was sad, and Nehemiah explained the horrible conditions in his homeland.
      2. The king asked, "What do you want to do?"
      3. Nehemiah replied, "Let me go to Jerusalem and rebuild its walls."
      4. The king gave him permission to go and gave him all the necessary letters to do that job.
    4. The book of Nehemiah explains how enormous the job was, how difficult the work was, and how many crises Nehemiah and the people faced.
      1. But, with great difficulty, they succeeded.
      2. They succeeded for two reasons.
        1. Nehemiah had great faith in God, and he used his faith to build faith in the others.
        2. They did it for God, and not for themselves.

  2. This congregation is one of the most generous congregations that I have ever known.
    1. It has been a privilege to be a part of you for over a year and a half.
      1. I have never worked for a congregation that had so much ability.
      2. I have never worked for a congregation that had so much potential.
      3. I have never worked for a congregation that gave so generously in so many ways to sustain such a wide variety of efforts and works.
    2. Every week that I am a part of you, I become more and more aware of how powerfully we can yet serve God's purposes.
      1. God has given us many unique opportunities.
      2. We can serve God's purposes in many unique ways.
      3. I constantly pray that God will use me to help that happen.

  3. We are blessed with a group of highly motivated, highly committed, extremely generous members in this congregation who are committed to touching other nations with the powerful message of Jesus Christ.
    1. They have been doing this effectively and creatively for years.
      1. When our mission group leaves for Guyana next week, this will be the eighth year that a group from this congregation has gone to Guyana to combine medical mission work with evangelistic work.
        1. In those eight years, 105 members of this congregation will have spent a week in Guyana doing that work.
      2. If my information is correct, members of this congregation have been involved in teaching and preaching efforts in twenty nations outside the United States.
    2. As of this day, there are almost six billion people in our world.
      1. Since 1996, 95 out of every 100 births occur in less developed countries.
      2. The population of the U.S. is 270 million people.
    3. These capable, motivated members committed to teaching people of other nations are not intimidated by seemingly impossible challenges.
      1. They are not intimidated by disease, or illiteracy, or language barriers, or poverty, or the enormous challenges of cross-cultural communication.
      2. They are not intimidated by unfriendly governments, or political red tape, or ethnic barriers, or racial hatreds, or tribalism.
      3. They are not intimidated by individuals or by groups who have the wrong motives in befriending us or who seek to exploit us.
    4. The work of a missionary is very unusual work.
      1. It is the hardest work I have ever done because it presents the most complex challenges and demands that I have ever encountered.
      2. One stage of mission work is enjoyable beyond description: that is the explosive response stage when people are eagerly converted.
      3. Another stage of mission work is commonly agony.
        1. When few of the new Christians read, when few have any Christian concepts, the process of helping new congregations grow toward spiritual maturity is an incredible challenge.
        2. The growth can be so slow, and the need can be so great, that it is agonizing.
      4. Mission work is hard work, demanding work, and expensive work, but we are not about to abandon it.

  4. We are in the process of bringing together another group of highly motivated, highly committed, very generous members in this congregation who are committed to touching Fort Smith with the powerful message of Jesus.
    1. This group is coming together right now in the congregation.
      1. The inner city work, C.U.RE. which is an aid program for those who have experienced a disaster in this region, our newcomers and visitors ministry that is just taking form, and our youth work are just a few expressions of this group.
      2. This group wants to touch the lives of people in this city and in the surrounding area with the reality of Jesus.
      3. This work is also hard.
        1. There are people who take advantage of us and use us.
        2. The challenges are enormous--you have to learn how to reach out, how to be real help, how to do more than just make an effort.
      4. There are times when this work is exciting.
        1. To see a person come to the point of discovery and repentance is exciting.
        2. Nothing is more exciting than seeing someone who had no hope find hope in Jesus.
      5. But there is the same agony in this work, the same challenges of helping people grow toward spiritual maturity.
    2. Just like the challenges of mission work, reaching out through Christ to our own society is hard, demanding, expensive work, but we are not about to abandon our society.

  5. In the name of the God who gave us Jesus, in the name of Jesus who died for us, in the name of God's Spirit who lives within us, in the name of the mercy that is saving our souls, I challenge each of us to rise to our highest level of commitment.
    1. Our society desperately needs Christians who care.
      1. It desperately needs Christians who will be lights by the way they live.
      2. It desperately needs Christians who will show people another way of life.
      3. It desperately needs Christians who will model the life that produces hope instead of despair.
      4. We dare not abandon our society!
    2. There are some things I know from actual experience.
      1. I know how desperately missionaries need the right tools.
        1. I know those tools often take very unusual forms.
        2. But when a missionary has the tools he needs, it creates opportunity.
      2. I know how desperately a congregation in this nation needs the right tools.
        1. I know those tools also take some very unusual forms.
        2. But when a congregation has the tools it needs, it creates opportunity.
    3. Help us get the tools we need.
      1. Help us use them powerfully and effectively when we get them.
      2. Help us do this without significantly increasing our indebtedness.

Nehemiah was a man of great faith. His first great work of faith was rebuilding an enormous rock wall. Building a rock wall does not sound very spiritual. But it was. Building that wall created enormous spiritual opportunity. One of the great renewals in Israel began because that wall was built.

Building a Family Life Center may not sound very spiritual. But what we do after we have that building will help create the greatest spiritual opportunities we have ever had. It will be one important step in producing spiritual renewal.

A more relevent issue in our lives is the tearing down of the wall in your life that separates you from God. Do you have enough faith to show people hope who live in despair? Do you have enough faith to tear your wall down? Will you trust the God that gave life to His crucified and buried Son? You can tear down the wall. Remove it today. Then God can give you life. Does that involve being baptized? Does that involve a need of our prayers?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 31 May 1998

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