Nehemiah 13: 15 In those days I saw in Judah people treading wine presses on the sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys; and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of burdens, which they brought into Jerusalem on the sabbath day; and I warned them at that time against selling food… 23 In those days also I saw Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; 24 and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples. 25 And I contended with them…
Cultural drift of a people departing from the ways of God typically happens slowly, over a period of years – as was the case in Nehemiah’s day. It’s not likely the people just decided one day to openly defy God by working on the Sabbath and/or taking for themselves wives from other nations. It just sort of… happened. And the cultural outlier became the cultural norm, to everyone’s detriment.
People often think I’m too old-school. They roll their eyes at me because I believe the same thing has been happening in the West in general, and the U.S. in particular, for a long time. And it’s not a good thing. Where we were once a culture that encouraged participation in religious institutions (churches, synagogues, and such), doing so now is often considered backwards, out-dated, or simply a waste of time. There are lots of reasons for this, much of the blame lying with the very religious institutions that once benefitted from this cultural norm.
As the leader of a local church, this passage has me thinking about how the church should respond. I don’t intend to be “Bullhorn Guy” harranguing people on the street and telling them the end is near (not that this is incorrect, it just doesn’t work). Instead, I’m thinking of how we Christians might provide for others an example of a way of life worth imitating.
Religious observance. Sabbath rest. Peace-making. Loving neighbor. Serving others. Being generous. Forgiving. Asking forgiveness. Patience. Mercy. Community. Grace. These are the things that drew the interest of non-Christians in the earliest days of the church because they were (and are) life-giving to everyone. People were not argued or debated into the faith, but were loved into it. It was a form of community that simply… worked. Why? Because people found Christian community to be life-giving in a way that other forms of community were not.
Which leads me to some questions:
1. How is the broader culture drawing you away from a Christian way of life?
2. If you are part of a local church, why do you participate? How does it give you life in a way other things do not?
3. How might the Lord be encouraging you to invite others into that life with you?
Lord Jesus, your ways are not just “right”, they work. Your ways give us life when other things do not. Give us grace to resist the cultural influences that take us away from you. And build into us a life others might see as worth imitating – not because we are a perfect example, but a living example. We ask this in your precious, holy name. Amen.