Thursday, December 12, 2013

Series Blog Post #2: God Has Left the Building

Ezra 3:12: “But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.”
John MacArthur explains the weeping of the elders in this verse as being because the presence of God in His shekinah glory did not preside in this temple as it did in the previous temple built by Solomon. They saw a shell of God, and it made them cry.

            For us today this scenario could play out with a shekinah-less church that gets planted and grows as a counterfeit church, proclaiming a false gospel based on the philosophies and preferences (and sometimes downright atheism) of man. For what else can we call it but atheism when God is reconfigured into something He is clearly not and His Word is not taught or deemed authoritative in a church. As we’ll see in Ezra, the Israelites choosing to live in disobedience and alliance with the ways and worship of other gods puts their faith at risk of extinction, just as it does ours today.
It’s interesting to note the distinction between young and old in this verse. Just as God’s absence wasn’t apparent to the younger Israelites (who had never seen Solomon’s temple), God’s absence in a church or Christian movement—not through any fault of His, but because the church has dethroned Him—isn’t always obvious to the undiscerning, which often includes, but is not limited to, young adults.
The recent emergent church movement “re-imagined” and “radicalized” Christianity under the auspices of being “Christ-followers.” But when you look closely (and yes, I have read the guru, Brian McLaren), the whole movement’s purpose was to raise questions but not seek answers, thus sowing seeds of doubt. Man’s ideas about Jesus were at the center, not Jesus Himself. Not having an answer was deemed righteous. Having an answer: smug, dogmatic and fundamentalist. The goal was not to teach anything concrete, but to revisit everything via an ongoing, never-concluding “conversation.” Kind of like being on Talking Head’s Road to Nowhere.
Thankfully this movement seems to have faded out, as all nebulous bandwagons usually do. But where the emergent “missional” magical mystery tour ends, another bus full of eager discombobulators is sure to leave the station.
Which is exactly what happened to the Israelites. They started out strong, but by the time Ezra is on the scene 80 years later, the Israelites are back to the same old same old that got them into hot water with God in the first place, particularly with some of the men marrying foreign women. God’s law stipulated against such unions in Deuteronomy 7:2-3. So God was not only missing from the temple, He was missing from their lives, but by their choice, not His.
Some Christians have tried to dethrone God via power grabs that put man on the podium. Secularists have tried to remove God from every area of life. For the Israelites, the temple was the center of life! (which is why it irritated their enemies so much!)
Has God “left the building” in Christianity because we have sent him packing? Have we said we’re on His team, but put ourselves in charge? Have we filed for divorce from God the same way a friend of mine did her husband because, though she loved her husband, she was no longer “in love” with him? Do we care more about what top-selling Christian authors and conference speakers have to say about Jesus than what God has to say about Jesus? Does the corporate church revere the Word of God as Holy and as the first and final authority in all matters of life?

           The wisened returnees from exile knew exactly what it is like when God’s glory is present, and what it is like when it’s not. They knew what it means to have God leave the building. After all, they were the ones weeping.

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