It’s spring – honest! Even though many of us have not been out and about as much as we would like or as much, perhaps, as we normally would this time of year, the days and weather are starting to line up better with the calendar. That means spring cleaning. While many of us who have been cooped up at home for several weeks might have gotten a head start, this is the time for some deep cleaning around the house.
Many of us probably have the same thoughts about the church, especially since we have been out of our building for several weeks. I know that there are folks who are anticipating doing some intense cleaning in the building, beyond the seasonal sprucing up. I know that there are several who are ready to take on the flower beds and other tasks that have been waiting through the winter months and through the stay-at-home order. But before we all start rolling up our sleeves and getting busy with the building, let’s make sure that we’re focused where we need to be.
As I sit here writing, we’re not yet through the stay-at-home order, which is anticipated to end by May 1. There is a lot more talk about easing the restrictions on businesses and gatherings, although it seems to be a foregone conclusion that our everyday interactions will remain cautious for the next several months, if not a year or longer. While I know that many of us are looking forward to the day when we are able to gather together in our building, I hope that we all understand that things are not going to be the same, and I hope that we will not put any effort into forcing things “back to normal.” While that doesn’t mean that I expect or plan everything – or even anything – to change dramatically, it does mean we should approach our return to “normal” with a focus on where we are going and not where we were.
We should take note of Israel’s return to Jerusalem after their exile in Babylon. As we read through the historical and prophetic books of the Bible written after the exile – Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi – we can see the dangers of getting back to normal. If we lay out the timeline of Israel’s return from these accounts, we find Israel, again, struggling with their faithfulness to God.
Initially, the first wave of people who returned to Jerusalem went to rebuild the temple, but they soon lost their focus and stopped building the temple and started building their own homes. God was not pleased, telling the people in Haggai 1:4, “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” They were more focused on getting back to normal than getting back to God.
As we anticipate returning to normal, let’s make sure that we’re focused on keeping up God’s temple and not a building. Let’s remember a key difference between Israel and the Church: their temple was a building; we are God’s temple. While the people of Israel rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, God is building us into his temple on Jesus as our foundation, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:21, 22: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19 that each Christian is God’s temple and that all of us together are God’s temple in 1 Corinthians 3:16. Certainly, our building and property could use some spring cleaning, but let’s make sure we’re keeping up the temple by taking Paul’s advice from 1 Thessalonians 5:11, “Encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”