How to Live the Bible — Losing Your Sanctuary



This is the ninety-fourth lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.

See Mel Lawrenz’s book, How to Understand the Bible.

A survivor shuffles through the rubble of what used to be his home before a tornado pulled it apart into a hundred-thousand pieces. What was shelter is now a pile of broken boards and bricks. The man stands beneath empty sky where a roof used to cover his head. He stoops to pick up a family photo, bent and wet. “We lost everything,” he says, “absolutely everything.”

Tornado ruins illustration

We’ve all seen that kind of picture on television news. The camera is always attracted to desolation. But what we don’t see is the family in the weeks and months that follow as they try to reframe their lives after it has all blown to pieces. We don’t see what happens in a person’s heart when that sanctuary disappears, and the pieces fall apart.

It is hard for us to imagine what it must have been like for the Israelites to return to Jerusalem 50 years after it had been leveled by the Babylonians. Looking across the Kidron Valley they saw rocks and boulders strewn about, some of them still black with soot from fires their grandfathers had seen burning. Jerusalem lay silent, but in the sound of the wind one might have imagined the shouts of men, women, and children on that terrible day when the Babylonian soldiers breached the wall. But worse than anything else was the communal memory of the great temple of Solomon pulled apart wall by wall by teams of horses and ropes, looters scurrying away with bronze and silver and gold that they stripped away. It was not just a devastation that the people thought wouldn’t happen. This was something that couldn’t happen. Not the temple. Not if God was the kind of Lord he said he was.

What do you do when you’ve lost your sanctuary?

On that day, a younger generation of Jews who had grown up in exile on the fertile plains of the Tigris and Euphrates, looked at their ancestral home and contemplated their plans to rebuild. It was time to take a graveyard of rubble and make a new beginning. Time to put the pieces back together. It would take courage to do so. The surrounding tribes would rather Jerusalem remain a pile of stones than become a thriving community again. The enemies jeered. “Can they bring the stones back to life from the heaps of rubble?” But God had given Ezra the priest and Nehemiah the governor the vision and faith to proceed. Their words built the people up, and the people built the city. Ezra, the spiritual leader of the project, put it this way: “God has granted us new life to rebuild the house of our God and repair its ruins.”

Remarkably, they began with the heart of it. Before they had protective walls, before they had proper homes, they built an altar. Right there on the high plateau on the east side of the city, right out in the open and within plain view of their enemies, they built an altar as if to say, there is only one place to begin again; we must meet God in worship.

[to be continued] ___________

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Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.

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