It’s not popular to be a Christian. We’re often portrayed as villains and fools on the screen. I suppose on some level we are because we’re people and people often get it wrong. There’s also a strong vein of cynicism running through every group-think on media which has rescinded all permission to give anyone the benefit of the doubt. So in combination of these two factors alone, it is not popular to be Christian at all.
In fact I’ve heard a lot of talk in the last year about how we’re all living in a “post Christian” society. A couple hundred years ago just being born in a western culture meant you were automatically a Christian, born and baptized. That is no longer the case in western culture. Most polls keep count of how much denominational numbers are shrinking, not growing. It’s not surprising when you consider the squabbling leadership of denominations. There is a lot of debate about fringe hot button issues that have nothing to do with the gospel or spreading the gospel. I can see why a phrase has been coined for what has happened in the Church at large and how it fits in society.
Sometimes I survey the state of the Church and it breaks my heart. Much like the heart of Nehemiah when his brother brought word to Babylon on the state of Jerusalem. “And they said to me, ‘The survivors who are left from the captivity in the province are there in great distress and reproach. The wall of Jerusalem is also broken down, and its gates are burned with fire.’ So it was, when I heard these words that I sat down and wept, and mourned” (Neh. 1:3-4 NKJV) To me, God’s living temple – the Church – seems to be in distress, broken down and burned.
I recently gave a talk at the re-launch for women’s ministry in my church. I spoke on being rebuilt, taking scripture from Jeremiah and Nehemiah to support what I felt God had placed on my heart for those dear women. Upon reflection, I realized the same message could be said for God’s downtrodden temple.
First and foremost I believe God still loves His bride, the Church. “The LORD has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you. Again I will rebuild you, and you shall be rebuilt, O virgin of Israel! You shall again be adorned with your tambourines, and shall go forth in the dances of those who rejoice.” (Jeremiah 31:3-4 NKJV) This is a promise for Jerusalem, given at the time of their defeat to Babylon some 70 years before Nehemiah. I believe it is a promise that still stands for the current people of God, the Church.
God loves us with an everlasting love. An everlasting love is strong and unchanging. It will not grow cold with time or lessen with disappointment. It is everlasting. Even in our “post Christian” distress, God loves us.
Not only does God love us but He invites us into relationship. “Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.” He is drawing us to Himself. Whether we are in a time of blessing or a time of trial, or a mixture of the two, God is using these times to draw us closer to Him.
Lastly there is a promise, “Again I will rebuild you, and you shall be rebuilt … and go forth in the dances of those who rejoice.” While we are pursuing a relationship with God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit we will be rebuilt. The promise in Jeremiah begins with relationship language and it is only after the relationship is active that the rebuilding comes into the picture. Being rebuilt is a byproduct of relationship. It is through relationship with God that our joy is restored and we are again enabled to join in with those who rejoice.
I can’t help but wonder if Jeremiah might have been referencing the Deuteronomy commands about tithing and festivals and rejoicing before the LORD. Through a restored relationship we are again free to rejoice and party with God. (For more on this, see previous post Rejoice.)
Mike Pilavachi has a brilliant talk on Nehemiah where he works his way through the opposition Nehemiah faces as he rebuilds the walls of Jerusalem. He makes the essential point that our enemy is not creative and he always uses the same strategy we see laid out in Nehemiah’s story. So whenever we are trying to rebuild something or do anything for God at all, we can expect the same pattern of resistance to come up against us.
The pattern is this:
- Mockery, “But it so happened, when Sanballat heard that we were rebuilding the wall, that he was furious and very indignant, and mocked the Jews.” (Neh. 4:1 NKJV) Sanballat mocked the Jews in front of his other political friends and encouraged them to join in. Nehemiah’s first response was to pray, “Hear O our God, for we are despised; turn their reproach on their own heads” (Neh. 4:4 NKJV) He carried on building.
- Direct Attack, “When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the Ashdodites heard that the walls of Jerusalem were being restored and the gaps were beginning to be closed, that they became very angry, and all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion.” (Neh. 4:7-8 NKJV) Sanballat rallied his cronies and planned to attack with the intention of bringing confusion. Nehemiah heard of the planned attack and again turned to prayer. Then he came up with his own plan of counter-attack. He split up his men into teams of two: one to build and one in armor with weapons to watch the back of the one building.
- Compromise, “When Sanballat [and company] heard that I had rebuilt the wall, and there were no breaks left in it … that Sanballat and Gesham sent to me, saying, ‘Come, let us meet together among the villages in the plain of Ono.’” (Neh. 6:1-2 NKJV) Nehemiah sent letters back saying he wouldn’t be distracted from his work. This exchange happened a few more times until Sanballat threatened to send a letter to King Artaxerxes saying that Nehemiah was only rebuilding the wall to set himself up as the new king in Jerusalem. Nehemiah responded with a letter back calling them out on their crap. He also spent time in prayer for strength. Nehemiah carried on and finished the walls and the gates. (For the whole story read Nehemiah 4-6)
To sum it up, when you pursue a relationship with God, and take a step in obedience; or find yourself in the process of being rebuilt. You can expect the following: mockery, direct attack with confusion, and distraction with compromise.
Take heart. The same things that help you build your relationship are also your defense. In the bible you find the truth of your identity in Christ so you can withstand any ridicule. Prayer and speaking the Word help you to stand fast in the face of direct attack. Prayer and knowing the Word in your heart help you to set aside distractions and refuse compromises so that you are able to stay single-minded in your walk with the LORD.
Like Nehemiah, we can always turn to God in prayer and seek perspective and direction when there is adversity in our lives. Like Jerusalem we will be rebuilt, as individuals and as a Church. The end of the story is that we, God’s living temple, are loved with and everlasting love and God is rebuilding us and we will be rebuilt.
“A: Culture vs Community (Mike Pilavachi at SoM) Mike Pilavachi” Catch The Fire Toronto Youtube channel. 2012