Things break. Things wear out. They get old and stop working. They get damaged and have to be fixed or replaced.
Over the weekend a ferocious wind storm molested our city. 90 mile per hour winds. Three days later parts of our city are still without electricity. Cheryl and I walked through our park last night. Entire trees were toppled or snapped off at the base like a #2 pencil. On my way to church I passed at least three homes with huge trees puncturing their roofs – even a brick home with a crushed exterior wall!
Where do you begin to remake things? Do you fix it? Do you throw it out and start all over? Can you do anything with it all? Depending on the scope of damage, you just stand staring with your mouth open till you can wrap your mind around it all.
Welcome to RE-
It’s a new thing here on PBR. In the weeks ahead RE- will become an entire series of blog-post bible studies exploring what happens when things break down and have to be RE-made. If there’s one thing I hope RE- shows us it’s this: God is a relentless creator. He cringes when his stuff gets trashed and can bring as much power and ingenuity to re-making as he did to creating in the first place. And we’re the ones who benefit the most. We can’t forget that we are one of the biggest reasons RE- has to happen at all! Humanity is a sort of natural disaster, let’s be honest. At 90 miles per hour we can do a lot of damage in a short amount of time without even knowing it!
In each of these studies, we’ll look at God doing a work of RE-. God remakes, restarts, renews, replaces, revives, regroups, redirects. He never gets his thing out-trashed by us or Satan. He is stubbornly resourceful. Hopefully we’ll see why God is this way and appreciate anew his patience and wisdom. Maybe we’ll see something of ourselves in these studies. Humanity has it seems an endless proclivity to wreck things. We damage things a lot, but God renews his grace, invites us into his remaking and refuses to abandon us.
So where do you begin remaking something that’s been totally trashed? In scripture there are countless RE- moments. RE-01 is a classic – but maybe not the one you’d think of first. I’ll try to keep RE- fresh for readers. It would be easy peasy to lunge for something like The Flood – everything gets flushed and God starts over with Noah. Let’s start somewhere else.
Israel: a broken nation.
Almost everyone instantly knows who it was that rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem once God called his people out of exile. Nehemiah, humanly speaking, was the project manager for revitalizing the city in the midst of haters and trashers who scorned Israel’s rebirth.
Restart before Rebuild.
Sixty-ish years before Nehemiah arrived on the scene a much more humble (and more foundational) initiative was started by Joshua and Zerubbabel. Not the famous Joshua, BTW. Almost no one gives these two the seat they deserve at the table of salvation history. Their passion was the soil Nehemiah’s vision would grow out of. But they weren’t rebuilders. They didn’t care about walls, water or waste! Local trashers didn’t distract them. Their idea of remaking Israel was to restart the entire worship-calendar of God’s people. “If we restart our worship life, everything else can follow from that.”
The Altar first.
At this point, I’d like to pass you off to the narrative itself. Ezra-Nehemiah is a book in the Old Testament we usually think of as two books. It’s one. Ezra records when and how the exiles first make their way back to their homeland and their capital city. Below you can get a clean copy of the Ezra 3 Manuscript. You inductive bible study fans will know exactly what to do with this. Download. Print. Grab your highlighters and colored pencils. Tear into it and see what you find.
Here are a few pointers to guide your eyeballs:
Look for interesting words. Words or ideas that repeat. Look for contrasts, opposites, strong differences. Use a highlighter, pens, colored pencils. Scribble everywhere! If something is a road-block, identify the barrier – what questions does the passage leave you with? Write those in the huge margin on the right.
As you get started, put yourself into the story:
1) What would your life be like if due to some disaster or cultural displacement, you weren’t allowed to go to church each week, or celebrate Christmas, or Easter, or gather with other Christians for prayer or worship? No Christian radio. No on-line church. What would that do to your faith year after year, after year?
2) Suddenly you were given complete religious freedom again, but all the churches in your city were left in piles of rubble. You are free to assemble, but you have no place to go. What would you need in order to restart your life as a community of worshiping believers?
Find a friend or small group – print them a manuscript and get together around Ezra 3. In the next post, RE-02 we’ll pick up with the process and learn more about RE-starting from God’s formerly exiled people. Meanwhile email me if you need help getting started. I’ll post RE-02 in about a week.