All right, ladies, ‘fess up. How many pairs of black shoes (boots included) do YOU have? Never mind the excuses of why you absolutely needed that third pair of spikes. The point here is that we like our choices, and when we’re tired of one pair, we can get rid of them (because, see, that’s when I like to buy them, once your shoes hit the second hand stores….okay, there, I ‘fessed up) and easily purchase another.
Unfortunately, that same “unalienable right” of choice—at least, that’s how we tend to see it in the 21st century—plays out in many other facets of our lives, and even more unfortunately, in our church relationships. We can attend a church for a few months, even go through the requisite classes to get our names on the membership roll call, donate our time and money, teach classes and VBS, and when someone offends us, (or just bores us) we leave.
It’s all right, there’s another church across town…several, in fact.
The Jewish people, returning from exile, didn’t have quite the plethora of choices we have. To count, they had exactly two: return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple (it had been summarily destroyed when they had been exiled 70 years prior), or stay back in Babylon. Many chose to return. And here’s what it says—
“In early autumn, when the Israelites had settled in their towns, all the people assembled in Jerusalem with a unified purpose.” *
The word “settle” indicates finality, putting down roots that will hurt if they’re pulled up, a decision (dare I use the word commitment?). To “assemble” makes me think of a jigsaw puzzle—to put it together properly, everyone working on it has to be following the same picture on the box to make the pieces fit. Otherwise, the original picture is, well, not the original picture.
Here’s the rub. God makes it pretty clear that unity is r-e-a-l-l-y important to Him. But the true unity that engenders true heavenly power comes in authentic relationship. And authentic relationship is something that doesn’t come automatically, nor easily. So BEFORE we choose to assemble with a group of believers to bring about that power of agreement and community, it is imperative that we settle in our hearts that this is where (and with whom) God has placed us.
First they settled, THEN they assembled with a unified purpose. The “settled” must always come before “assembled”.
Otherwise, the pieces won’t fit.
*Ezra 3:1 Tyndale House Publishers Inc (2008-06-01). The One Year Bible NLT (One Year Bible: Nlt Book 2) (Kindle Locations 25432-25433). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.