by Jeff Bogue
Nehemiah 3 is where God starts to record those who rebuilt the wall. Nehemiah spaced [the workers] along the wall of Jerusalem; and to my count, somewhere between 55 and 60 groups of people were working on the wall at once. They rebuilt the wall in 52 days.
Walls in the ancient world meant more than protection. The city that had the greatest walls showed it had wealth, influence, and military might. More than that, the walls were symbols of authority – who ruled and who defined the worldview of that particular region.
In Nehemiah 1:4-9, he prays, “I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the Lord of heaven.
“Then I said, ‘Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who kept his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commands, let your ear be attentive and your hearts open to hear the prayers your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.’”
“I confess the sins that we Israelites, including myself and my father’s family, have committed against you.
“We have acted wickedly toward you. We have disobeyed the commands, the decrees, the laws that you gave your servant Moses.
“Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you were unfaithful (emphasis added), I will scatter you among the nations, but if…’”
Two big words that are circled in my Bible.
“‘…but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are in the farthest horizons, I will gather them there and bring them to the place that I have chosen as a dwelling for my name.’” (NIV)
Nehemiah wasn’t sad that the country had lost its standing in the world’s stage. He wasn’t upset the military was downsized or that physical things were in ruin.
What broke his heart was the physical display – the outcome of God’s people no longer responding to God’s call. He wept because the God that he loved, that he followed, and that he was giving his life to was being humiliated by the behavior of his people.
He cast that vision when he led the people back to Jerusalem. So when they went to build, they weren’t just trying to save their skin, they weren’t just trying to survive in a hostile land. They were on a mission from God for the glory of God to make famous the name of God.
Now, we, being dispensationalists, know that the Church in Israel is dif- ferent. The kingdom today is different than Israel – the people of God are the Church.
Our passion is reminiscent of the passion of Nehemiah. The priests and the people who came with him would have felt the same. They would have been willing to risk, work, and give to the kingdom of God.
Today the people of God are the Church and the kingdom is the kingdom of Christ, but we want to build it. We build for His name; we build to align our hearts for His cause and His calling. We build for His glory.
There is not one person in this room who wouldn’t say, “I want the name of Jesus to be lifted high. I want to build the kingdom of God. I want to serve my Lord.”
When we look at our fellowship and its present state, it is not a question of motivation. As a whole, speaking generally, we would say, “I want in. I want to build the kingdom of God. I love Jesus.”
I don’t believe it’s a question of why. It’s a question of what.
What do you do? How do you rebuild a wall in 52 days?
How do we build the kingdom of God? When we think specifically about our global network of churches, how would we do that? What would it take and how would we interact with each other?
This is where the conversation of sharing comes in.
I reach my hand to you; you reach your hand to me. It’s beyond a network; it’s beyond the global Church of Jesus Christ. There’s a tribe, a history, a relationship.
If we’re going to build the kingdom of God as a fellowship of churches, the first thing that we have to do is recognize and confess our sin.
Nehemiah prays that the people have sinned; “I’ve sinned.” He started with the positioning of his heart.
“God, I want to be used by you; but I have broken your heart. Would you forgive me for it?”
Personally, I need to confess my sin. We know and understand that, but as a fellowship, we must confess and repent of and walk away from our corporate sins.
What do corporate sins look like in a fellowship?
They’re sins of arrogance. They’re sins of jealous envy, personal agendas, bitterness, independence, pride, hoarding of resources and people, desires to be recognized, to have fame for ourselves, and a lack of gratitude. The list could go on and on.
I have committed every one of these sins against you. In 21 years, I am the chief of sinners. I’ve watched you get a plaque and wondered why it’s not mine. I have been able to help you and decided not to. I can be incredibly independent.
I sin, and we sin.
If we’re going to trust each other, and we love each other, and God is going to do something supernatural through us, we must yield our hearts to God and to each other.
Here’s the second thing. If we’re going build the kingdom of God and see God show up in supernatural ways, we have to realize we cannot work alone.
I dream that we take the elephant in the room, put a bullet in its head, and kill it.
What’s the elephant?
“My church is bigger than your church. My method’s better than your method. This is the cutting edge; that’s an old-fashioned edge. If you wanted to do it right, you would do this way, etc.”
I have a dream that we stop competing and start completing one another.
There are 37 houses in my neighborhood. Five of them that I know of are believers. One of the five go to my church.
I pastor in the greater Akron area where there are approximately a half a million people, live in a state that has tens of millions of people, and a country that has hundreds of millions of people. So, if thousands go to my church, I haven’t even made a dent.
I can’t get the people in my own neighborhood to follow Jesus. Why in the world do I think that on my own I can do everything?
I can’t evangelize my neighborhood, Akron, Ohio, the United States, or the world. I’m [pastor of] the biggest church [in the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches].
Why do I think that I have the best method?
I don’t know how to reach poor people in apartment buildings. My church is in LeBron James’s neighborhood. I don’t know how to start house churches.
I don’t know how to reach Chad. And, by the way, they’re better at church planting than all of us.
I need my family.
If I am going to do something great for God, it’s a ridiculous idea that I would somehow know how to do that on my own. Why would we be snotty with each other about how God has gifted us? Isn’t He the One who knit us together anyways?
Our brothers and sisters in C.A.R. are taking bullets for Jesus, and we would argue over something petty.
I have sinned, and I will not do it again. I don’t care how you do it or who is the biggest. I just want to affect the world for Jesus. I don’t want people to go to hell.
Here’s the next thing. We must give and we must receive. If we have something to share with our family, share it.
Here’s the other side.
We must receive.
If somebody’s better at it, who cares? Learn.
If you have a need and you know some- one has an excess, ask, because they’re not going to know.
Refusing to give and refusing to receive are both expressions of pride. Let’s humble ourselves.
If you have it, I want it; and if I have it, it’s yours, because I want to make the name of Jesus famous. You’re my family, my tribe. I’m assuming you want to do the same thing.
If we want to build the walls and see God do something supernatural through us, start with the heart. We have to confess our sin. We’re going shoot the elephant. Kill it and grill it. You have to learn to give; you have to learn to receive.
Here’s the last thing. If we want to do this together, we need to take pride in our tribe.
I have been guilty of this, and I don’t want you to be. I have taken for granted what God has given us, more than once. I don’t want to take that for granted ever again.
Do you understand who we are and what God’s doing?
We are inventing new well pumps. We have one of the best youth conferences in the world. We have an incredible mission: Encompass. Find another mission that’s more cutting-edge. We have world-class schools in Grace College and Seminary. They’re phenomenal.
We have cutting-edge church planting networks. Find another fellowship [that is] planting churches with the creativity and the rapid success we are. Nobody’s thinking that way. It’s happening all around us.
We have seasoned pastors who know what they’re doing, and you know them. They’ll make themselves accessible to you.
We have loyalty and passion from young pastors. They’re all over the place and they love us, they love who we are. They want to be involved in making the name of Jesus famous.
We have an unapologetic com- mitment to the Word of God, the inspired, authoritative, complete Word of God. It’s something that we can take pride in.
We have teammates from across the globe who are advancing the Gospel at biblical speed. Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Asia, all over the world, the Word of God is being proclaimed.
We have tested leaders who are willing to invest themselves in the young. If you’re 40 and under, there’s nobody holding on to the reigns of power.
One of the things that we should take pride in is that the generation above us has let go and said, “Let us mentor, let us teach, but you guys own it, you guys run with it. Make it your own.”
We have something unique. We have something special that we can take pride in.
Above all, we have a no-lose guarantee from the Creator of the universe. The Church is going to advance. The gates of hell are going to fall. We’re going to win. The name of Jesus is going to be proclaimed.
We have a mission, we have a cause, we have a plan, we have a passion; and if we take all that and wrap it into unity, I am extremely confident in the outcome.
Take pride in your tribe. We have something special oriented around God’s cause, God’s calling, God’s mis- sion, God’s Word, God’s plan, and together we’ll make the name of Jesus famous.
I trust you. I believe that you want the name of Jesus to be made famous. I believe if we take all that God has given us, we love each other, and we share, then we can change the world.
Editor’s Note: Jeff Bogue spoke at the final Celebration during FellowShift, the national conference of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, July 17-21, in Washington, D.C. This article is based on that challenge. Jeff is a graduate of Grace College, Grace Theological Seminary, and Master’s International School of Divinity. He is the senior pastor of Grace Church of Greater Akron, a multi-site Grace Brethren congregation of more than 7,000. He and his wife, Heidi, have six children.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of GraceConnect. If you’d like to receive the magazine, mailed directly to your home at no charge, click here.