After the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes in Christchurch New Zealand, many old church buildings were badly damaged. Over 2-5 years, most were rebuilt. Some used remaining structures, but they also incorporated better designs that were more earthquake resistant. Trauma specialists say it often takes 2-5 years for communities to rebuild after collective traumas such as earthquakes, bushfires, or pandemics. Over the recovery period, a community typically goes through four phases:
• A heroic phase in the early stages when we feel like we can overcome anything.
• A disillusionment phase when loss, weariness and frustration can overwhelm.
• A rebuilding phase when we learn to adapt to the changed circumstances.
• A final wiser living phase when we learn to live better.
Similar phases of rebuilding can be seen in the lives of the people of Israel as they returned from exile in Babylon and Persia to the city Jerusalem that had been destroyed by invading armies many decades earlier. We hear parts of this ancient story of rebuilding and restoration in the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah which we are reading together as a church in our daily bible reading programme this month.Rebuilding Jerusalem
After defeating the Babylonian empire in 539 BC, the Persian King Cyrus allowed the exiled people of Israel to return to their city. Not everyone undertook this risky journey; but there were at least three successive waves of rebuilding over 80-100 years as some responded to the ancient prophecies of a return from exile (Jer 25:11). They took up the challenge to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem.
The first wave of returnees rebuilt the Jerusalem temple under the leadership of Zerubabbel. You can read how they responded to the promises of God and the encouraging words of the prophets in the books of Zechariah and Haggai. Almost 100 years later, Ezra and Nehemiah took the prophecies and ancient promises of God seriously for themselves and their generation. For this study, we will focus on Nehemiah.
Nehemiah had a responsible job as the cupbearer for the Persian King Artaxerxes. When Nehemiah heard that the walls of his ancestral city had not been rebuilt, he was broken hearted. So he prayed and fasted—praising God, confessing the sins of his people, and claiming God’s promises. For five months he prayed and “reminded” God of his covenant of love and his ancient promises to restore Jerusalem (Compare Neh 1:5-9 and Deut 30:4).5“LORD, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments … 8 “Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, 9 but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the farthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my Name.’ Neh 1:5, 8-9Step Up and Build
After those five months, in an amazing turn of events, King Artaxerxes allowed Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem and lead the people of Israel in rebuilding the city walls. The King even provided resources to help Nehemiah in the project. Like any rebuilding following a disaster, the project went through different phases. The people began enthusiastically, but their enthusiasm flagged when they faced opposition. However, with the encouragement of the promises of God and their leaders, they stepped up and completed the task. In the middle of the rebuilding phase and in response to opposition, Nehemiah stood with his people and declared ““The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.” The phrase “arise and build” is translated different ways. It literally means stand up and build, but given they had to build a wall I think a great way to translate it is “STEP UP and BUILD.” That courage to step up and build in the face of opposition and resistance came from a deep confidence in the promises of God birthed in prayer.Rebuilding Our Lives in Christ
The experiences of the people of Israel can be instructive as we also rebuild our lives as a church community following the challenges of the last few years. One of the greatest lessons is the importance of standing strong in the promises of God when we face opposition or feel discouraged. As believers in Christ, we have even greater promises to stand on as we “step up to the wall” and work together to rebuild God’s church. God is building his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18). We are building on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus himself as chief cornerstone (Eph 2:20). The devil has come to steal, kill, rob and destroy but Jesus has come that we might have life and live to the full (John 10:10).
As a church we have a vision built on Christ and his promises of fullness of life. That vision is also, I believe, a prophetic promise founded in God’s word that we can claim boldly and confidently for our church as we continue rebuilding together. We call it our FULLY ALIVE vision. In one sentence it can be summarised as “We see CityLife Church as a spirit-filled movement where each person is becoming fully alive in Christ so that every city overflows with Kingdom Life.” That is a great vision to again build towards this year.Areas to Rebuild: Spirit Life, Shared Life and Kingdom Life
Each year and during the various seasons of the year we focus on different dimensions of our Fully Alive vision: these are the focus areas of Spirit Life, Shared Life and Kingdom Life. You could see them as mountains to climb or parts of our community life to rebuild.Spirit Life:
Each Person encountering Full Life in Christ. Last year our particular focus was on the Spirit Life aspects of the vision. We are a Spirit-filled movement; and we want each person to encounter full life in Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Our Inspire conference had that emphasis with its theme of Revival. We had teaching series focuses on the ministry, gifts, and fruit of the Holy Spirit; and our prophetic gathering in August was also a part of this. This year we will continue rebuilding in the power of the Spirit.Shared Life:
Each Person becoming fully alive like Christ as we share life together.
For 2023, the principal focus will be on our shared life as a church. Rebuilding community together was a priority need expressed by our church last year in the National Church Life Survey. So this year we will take steps towards rebuilding our shared life together through Life Groups, ministry teams, LifeTracks training, discipling team member and leaders, and serving on-mission together.Kingdom Life:
Each person bringing God’s Kingdom life to every locality. It is also important to rebuild Kingdom life, which is taking the good news of God’s Kingdom his love, peace, joy and salvation into every locality where we live and work. That will be a particular focus in 2024, but it is also an area we will continue to rebuild in different seasons of 2023.Take One More Step Together
We have also prayerfully identified one single initiative we believe we can all take which will help us step up and rebuild our community as we press into God’s promise of fullness of life in Christ. We are calling that single initiative --- TAKE ANOTHER STEP TOGETHER.
Psychologist working with communities in trauma say a very practical way of rebuilding after a crisis is to simply take one step at a time. So TAKE ANOTHER STEP TOGETHER means each person taking at least one step towards becoming fully alive like Christ this year. Steps will include any milestone along our renewed discipleship pathway. If everyone participates, then in 12 months our church will have taken 10,000 more steps together.
So what step could you take in 2023 together with others to rebuild community at CityLife Church? We have created an easy way for you to explore and discover what your next step might be in 2023. Simply go to our website and scroll down until you see TAKE ANOTHER STEP TOGETHER. When you find it start exploring your next step! Why not do it together as a Life Group?Highlighting Our Progress
Now for those of you who like counting steps here is another way of looking at TAKE ANOTHER STEP TOGETHER in 2023.
The table of information below lists various measurable steps people can take at CityLife Church towards becoming Fully Alive in Christ. Steps are listed by vision focus area and we have also highlighted the number of individuals in our congregation who took that step in 2022 and in January this year, along with the number of steps that could be taken in each area by the end of 2023.Steps Taken by our CityLife Church Community
|Focus Area to Rebuild ||Step Taken||Full Year 2022||January 2023||Target for 2023|
|Spirit Life||First Time Decisions||87||237|
|Visitors Looking for a Church Home||605||34||830|
|Spiritual Health Check participants||2202||1557|
|Gifts Inventory & SHAPE Interview||453|
|Life Tracks/Other Courses||428||52||1517|
|LG Members: New||502||32||480|
|New Ministry Team Members||802||54||340|
|Kingdom Life||Missional Stories||69||3||339|
|CI Team: New||6||33|
|Participants: 24hr Prayer during Prayer and Fasting||300|
|Going on a Short-Term Team||102|
|Missional Community Residence||4|
|Community Care New Clients||731|
|Overflowing Life||New Congregations||21||1|
|TOTAL STEPS TAKEN||5829||9299|
Now if you add up all the steps taken by our community in 2022, you find our church community took almost 6000 measurable steps together last year. This year we have so far identified 9299 possible steps that could be taken by the end of the year. There are almost 8300 people who regard Citylife Church, and we have over 1000 visitors coming new to CityLife each year. So we believe it is possible for us to take up to 10,000 steps together as a church this year in 2023. But remember the number is just a way of highlighting our progress. The key outcome we want to see is each person taking at least one more step towards becoming fully alive in Christ!Conclusion
Like Nehemiah, we are in a season of rebuilding as a church after the two-year pandemic period. I want to thank you all for continuing to step up and re-engage in church life as we rebuild. I think we are now well into the rebuilding phase; and we are rebuilding better. It will take us another year of patience, but the story of Nehemiah can encourage us. We all have times when we need to stand on the promise of God as we rebuild broken walls. So I encourage you as Life Group over this season to read through Nehemiah as part of our daily bible reading programme. Take courage from the people of Israel’s example at that time. Then start thinking about how you can again step up this year and serve alongside others to rebuild God’s church. What steps can we take together to become fully alive in Christ? It is time to STEP UP, STEP IN and STEP OUT as we build together with Christ in 2023.Life Group Discussion Questions
- Which phase of recovery from the challenges of the last three years do you think you are in as an individual? as a Life Group?
- How does the story of Nehemiah speak to you in this season of rebuilding?
- What part of the wall do you need to work on – Your Spirit Life, your Shared Life or your Kingdom Life in Christ and for Christ?
- Explore the next steps pathway on the church website together as a Life Group.
- What steps can you take together this year to rebuild that part of the wall in your individual and corporate lives?
- Identify one significant step you can take and share if you feel comfortable.
- Pray for each other and the church that we can each take another significant step this year