A Wall Around Chicago
A downtrodden city, rife with crime; citizens under duress and vulnerable to gangs of merciless criminals; no protection and victims of all sorts of vice, Chicago, Maybe, but the city I had in mind was Jerusalem around 400 B.C. Here was a town that was in ruins with few prospects for revitalization. Here was a city without hope. Yet, in the ruins of trodden-down Jerusalem we find a blueprint for a Biblical cure to the urban blight and broken-down walls of our own city. Tucked away in thes pages of scripture is an answer to Chicago’s problem with guns, drugs and gangs, the means to engage them and win.
To gain an insight into the underlying origins of this blueprint we have to look into the past and we do that by reading the historical narrative contained in book of Nehemiah. At the beginning of that manuscript Nehemiah, a Jewish cup-bearer to the great Persian king Artaxerxes, hears that Jerusalem, his ancestral city, has become a downtrodden blight on the countryside . Taking the challenge to heart, he sets about to correct that travesty. He prays and fasts for an answer. Finally, he petitions the Persian king for permission to go back to Jerusalem to repair its fallen and decrepit wall.
When Nehemiah returns to Jerusalem and sees the broken down wall for himself, he is grieved, but he doesn’t fall into despair. In order to reinvigorate the city, he has to first repair the walls around the city and establish a defensive perimeter that protects the city from its enemies. He assigns rebuilding efforts along various portions of the wall to different tribes or groups of people. The work is not without problems, however, as there are those who resist Nehemiah’s efforts. The repairers of the walls are forced to work with weapons at their sides in order to repulse hostile efforts to retard the work. Some adversaries, such as Sanballat and Tobiah, were satisfied, even happy, with the broken-down character of Jerusalem because it suited their purposes of domination and control. Civic instability and religious impotence furthered their ends. Their attempts to impede or sabotage work on the walls grew out of the realization that safety and security in Jerusalem would mean an end to their domination.
In spite of the apparently desperate condition of Jerusalem, God had a plan, not to mention a greater purpose for the city. He also had his man, Nehemiah. In retrospect we see how God acted in Jerusalem through Nehemiah, and we begin to understand the grander purpose for Nehemiah’s plan. Not only did it save Jerusalem, but the outworking of his purposes in Jerusalem have come down to us to provide hope and faith that God will similarly act in Chicago (as well as other cities) to abolish the evils underlying our urban nightmare. In the Book of Habakkuk (3:1-2), the prophet asks that God show him today the same miracles he demonstrated to his people in the ancient past. We echo those words as we ask God to act supernaturally in Chicago to end the nightmare of violence and bloodshed that plague our streets. We ask to see the miracles of yesterday played out again in our own day and in our own city. The Book of Nehemiah provides us with a blueprint for ending the violence and bloodshed. Just as in Nehemiah’s day, there are those who would subvert the laws for their own ends and keep us from rebuilding the city into the bastion of health and safety it should be. That being the case, how do we address gangs, drugs, guns, bloodshed, and violence? We take responsibity under God for rebuilding our neighborhoods, just as Nehemiah did, one stone at a time; all God’s people standing arm-in-arm to rebuild the city’s spiritual walls.
The blueprint is simple. Each community rebuilding the walls that protect its own neighborhood. There are thousands of churches in Chicago, each representing a portion of Chicago that needs repair. If each church can rebuild just their section of the wall, Chicago can be rebuilt in the image that God intended for it to take. You start like Nehemiah planned, in your own neighborhood, putting one brick in place at a time, but in this case, it’s one life at a time. God has placed us where we are for a reason and that reason is to bring renewal that will glorify him. We can take comfort in the fact that we are not alone in the fight. As members of the heavenly city we know that if there is an enemy surge in one area, reinforcements from another area can be brought to bear on the attack. Christians make up a huge percentage of the city and must leverage those numbers in the face of drugs, violence, and gang activity. As we do that, we can rest in the assurance that God is with us and empowers our efforts. Nothing is possible without that directive and power. Still, as in the case of Nehemiah, God sent people to do the work. He didn’t create a cyclonic wind to whip up the blocks and set them in place. He used people. The same is true in Chicago. While we have God’s blessing, no his mandate, in this effort, he still calls on Chicagoans to do the work. So hit the streets armed with the weapons of faith and see God in action. People say that this is too tall a task, that it can’t be done, that there are not enough resources, etc. They said the same thing to Nehemiah and even threatened to undo his work, but in the end, and with divine guidance, he finished the project ahead of schedule. Why should the same not be true for Chicago?
How do we show our commitment to this dramatic struggle? While we are committed in our hearts, is there a more visible way of demonstrating that commitment? Let me suggest that we pray for a special site, a place where God has us build an altar of remembrance to this effort. Perhaps the alter of remembrance should take the form of a wall. In Biblical times the men of God set up memorials to remind and instruct those who came later about what God did at the place where the momorial was set up. Again, I ask, why not in Chicago? C ould not Chicago churches join in this effort to rebuild our neighborhoods and commemorate it by joining with every other church in Chicago in laying a brick in a symbolic wall built on the spot God provides, a wall of protection and remembrance. We can build our own memorial wall for those who were victims of the violence, as well as those who stand up to rebuild in spite of naysayers and threats. We can build our Jerusalem wall as a tribute to the peace that is inherent in the name of Jerusalem, the “city of peace.”
I’d like to invite all those who would be part of this effort to join me in prayer and fasting for a place to build such a memorial, and in the meantime, to let those on this website know that you are committed to making this happen, committed to rebuilding the portion of Chicago that God has placed under your supervision. You are where you are because God placed you and your church there. May each of us begin to rebuild along the section of wall in front of us. So, whether your section of the wall is great or small, may God help you to be responsible for completing that portion of the wall, one brick at a time, one life at a time, one soul at a time, but knowing your efforts are part of the larger effort of building a spiritual wall in Chicago for all eternity.
As I come near the end of this blog entry, let me suggest that we go back and read the third chapter of Nehemiah. Think of the city as Chicago instead of Jerusalem. Place the name of your church or congregation in the space occupied by a group that rebuilt Jerusalem. By way of illustration let me place a few churches I am familiar in some of those slots. Willow Creek Chicago, for instance, would be one group rebuilding the wall of faith along the lakefront. Moody Church is an example of a group rebuilding on the near north side. New Life Covenant Church and Lawndale Community church can be seen rebuilding walls on the west side while Bryn Mawr Community Church and Salem Baptist church would be notable builders on the South Side. Go ahead, insert the name of your church in one of those spaces. There are hundreds of churches in Chicago and we must leverage those numbers to rebuild the spiritual wall around this city. Again, God didn’t send a mighty wind to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, he used his own people to do that. Similarly, I believe he wants to use his people in Chicago to rebuild this spiritual wall as a testament to the power of the gospel for transforming even the most difficult of urban centers. Can we stand together in this? Will your congregation be one of the groups rebuilding Chicago? Will you lay a brick representing your church in our own Jerusalem wall memorial? Let me know.
In closing let me share the following thought which captures the essence of our challenge:
“Some people say, “God will never ask me to do something I can’t do. I have come to the place in my life that, if the assignment I sense God is giving me is something that I know I can handle, than it probably is NOT from God. The kind of assignments God gives in the Bible are always God-sized. They are always beyond what people can do, because he wants to demonstrate his nature, his strength, his provision, and his kindness to his people and to a watching world. This is the only way the world will come to know him.”
I would suggest to you that this is one of those “God-sized” projects. Are you on board?