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A Rebuild in the Ruins

God’s not done with his people.


(Read Amos 9:8, 11-15)

When I came to Wheaton, 45 years ago, downtown Wheaton was just one more struggling downtown in the Rust Belt. Carlson’s art supplies drew shoppers, but many storefronts stood empty. The window at the big corner store, Sandberg’s, showed men’s ties covered in Cubs logos, but faded to a sickly blue from hanging there for years.

Where Shane’s Deli stands, there was an old Cock Robin, where they served ice cream in small square cubes, so you could get two scoops without the top one falling off. Well, the shape was novel, but the ice cream was not worth noticing, and then Cock Robin got boarded up.

At West and Front, near the train station, there was an empty lot, littered with small chunks of concrete. The only signs of a car dealership that had closed. Spiky weeds pushed up through the gravel and broken glass.

In downtown, you felt this sense of futility: People don’t come here anymore. They drive by--on their way to Stratford Square or Danada.

Today, if you and I go downtown, sidewalks that were once empty are now packed with people. The sidewalks had to be widened for them all. You can take your pick of gourmet ice cream: Kimmer’s, or Graham’s, or Kilwin’s.

Forty-five years ago, where Egg’Lectic stands, there was Round the Clock snack time, which made Denny’s look upscale. I once killed a fly buzzing our table with my menu. Today, Hale Street is packed with people dining under a huge white tent strung with party lights, enjoying dinner at Altiro, Moveable Feast, Burger Social, Gia Mia, Il Sogno, Hale Street Cantina, or Yia Ma’s. There are 10 more options right around the corner.

Where there was an empty lot, littered with concrete and broken glass, stands Waterford Place, handsome brick condos for people to call home. People want to live in downtown Wheaton.

Can you see in my description of Wheaton, the before and after, the ruin and the rebuild? Well the same thing is happening Amos 9. This description reveals something important to us. This picture of ruin and rebuilding tell us an essential truth about how God works with his people, which includes us.

These two pictures are given by God to his people, to give us hope. We need them right now. I have a feeling that we, who are Christians in America, will need these pictures more than ever.

It’s pictures just like this—a rebuild from the ruins—that Amos gives as his final message. He says on behalf of God: “I will bring my exiled people of Israel back from distant lands, and they will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again. They will plant vineyards and gardens; they will eat their crops and drink their wine.”

In fact, Amos says, “‘The time will come,’” says the Lord, ‘when the grain and grapes will grow faster than they can be harvested.’” So much beauty and abundance and promise and hope.

In Amos, all of these pictures jump out. They’re startling. No one sees them coming. Because so far, everything Amos has said to God’s people are hard words like these: “You can’t wait for the Sabbath day to be over … so you can get back to cheating the helpless. … you enslave poor people for … a pair of sandals.”

Amos warns, because of how they ignore God and don’t care about the poor, and as our passage says, “I, the Sovereign Lord, am watching this sinful nation of Israel. I will destroy it from the face of the earth.”

That’s what you expect from Amos. God keeps his word. After Amos dies, around 745 BC, the Assyrian armies move in, and just as Amos had said, “homes both great and small [are] smashed to pieces.” That’s the ruins.

“But.” God adds this powerful little word: “But.” Wait for it … “‘I, the Sovereign Lord, am watching this sinful nation of Israel. I will destroy it from the face of the earth. But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,’ says the Lord.”

Destroy this toxic culture, yes. But destroy my people? Never. Discipline them, yes. Completely destroy them, never. In fact, there will be a rebuild. After the word of judgment, God promises in Amos 9:11, “I will restore the fallen house of David. I will repair its damaged walls. From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.”

God pours out his heart with unconditional promises. Beautiful promises. To give his people hope. I believe that we, as the church in America, need to take in these promises. Let’s look at two of them.

The First Promise—Discipline but not Destroy

The first promise God makes to his people is the one we’ve just been hearing: “I will discipline my people, but never completely destroy them.”

When God brings judgment, his heart is not to wipe out, it’s to wash clean. God doesn’t tear down the old, creaky house with mold, just to leave a bare lot. He promises to build something better.

We see God working this way with his people many times. When God allows the Assyrians come and reduce Israel to rubble, in order to cut out the cancer of his people, he does not destroy his people. In fact, many people in Israel run south to Jerusalem, and Jerusalem grows five times bigger. They have to build a larger wall and find a new source of water, and Hezekiah leads the people in a national revival.

That’s why, years later, when Jesus as a newborn is dedicated at the Temple, who prophesies over him but Anna—a woman who is descended from the people who fled south to Jerusalem and became part of God’s rebuild.

Just as God promised, he will never completely destroy his people. That’s good to know, because we live in a time where you don’t have to be a prophet to see that the church in America is not doing well.

Russell Moore, the editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, just released a book titled, Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America. In the book, he calls out many things deserving God’s judgment, like: The #ChurchToo sexual assaults and all the cover-ups; refusal to move forward on racial justice, Christian nationalism, and more.

Tish Harrison Warren asked Russell Moore: “So with all this dysfunction that you are speaking about in evangelicalism, why are you still an evangelical Christian?” Moore responded, “I think the fragmentation that’s happening to the evangelical movement right now is actually a necessary precondition for renewal.”

Fragmentation now, in order for renewal to come. In other words, the noise and mess we hear and see now, is God doing a tear-down; but he is going to build something better. We must hold on to this promise that God speaks through Amos, “I will discipline my people, but never completely destroy them.”

The Second Promise—From Ruins to Rebuilding

The second promise is this, “From the ruins, I will rebuild, and you will rebuild.”

Amos 9:11 says, “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David. I will repair its damaged walls. From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory.”

Listen to God’s promises:

  • I will restore.
  • I will repair.
  • I will rebuild.
  • I will restore.

God says, “I will restore the fallen house of David. I will repair its damaged walls.” Yes, enemies from Assyria and Babylon will break through, they’ll batter with logs thicker than telephone poles. But God promises to close up those holes. And he does, and you can read about that in the Book of Nehemiah.

But notice this: We get to be part of God’s rebuild. In verse 11, God says, “I will rebuild.” And in verse 14 he says, “They” (meaning God’s people) “will rebuild their ruined cities and live in them again.” God’s saying, the people who repent and trust in me will always have a future. I will rebuild, and they will rebuild.

We get to be part of the rebuild. Each one of us, in our own way. Whatever your life situation, you can Ask God, “Where are you rebuilding? And how I can join you?”

Jim Bachor lives in Chicago, and in March and April 2013, his neighborhood, as usual after a winter, was covered with potholes. Jim said,

Crews come by and do this temporary fix, but the potholes never seem to stay fixed. And there was a pothole in front of our house. So it just dawned on me. I have this passion for mosaics, and I have this pothole that needs a more permanent fix.

So I went out one night in May of 2013. [Night because] I’m too old to be arrested. I’ve got twin boys! My next-door neighbor was my lookout: I said, “Let me know if the cops come by or something.” And so I just installed the mosaic. Took a couple hours.

Since then, Jim Bachor has filled over 30 potholes in Chicago with beautiful art. Some show flowers, some popsicles, and one of my favorites has these words: “NOT A POTHOLE ANYMORE.”

Why does Jim Bachor do it? “Everybody hates potholes. You’re walking down a nasty asphalt street that’s pockmarked with potholes. And then you happen to see tulips, where there shouldn’t be any. It’s that little bit of unexpected joy.”

Friends of the Savior, I think of all of you. Some of you, you’re filling in the potholes in students’ understanding. Others, you’re filling in the potholes in people’s social skills or relationships. Some of you, you fill in the literal holes in people’s plumbing or in lines of code. All these things that people need for a flourishing society.

All of us together here at Savior: I feel that part of our call is to fill in a pothole or two in the American church. Now, speaking only for myself, I think we live at a time when the church in America is not healthy. I feel this shaking, a rumbling, in the church, and I believe God Is starting to discipline his people. For all I know, God may even be working on a tear-down. But whatever comes to the church in our day, we find hope and courage in God’s words through Amos: From the ruins, I will rebuild, and you will rebuild.


Many believers have followed God in a time and place where they were part of things going to ruin, and they joined God in a rebuild.

Take Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor in Germany when his country got a new leader. It was January 1933, and two months later, the new chancellor passed a law

that said, “If you have Jewish parents or grandparents, you cannot serve in any job in the government.” By June, if you were married to someone of Jewish background, you couldn’t get a government job or keep one, either.

Next, Hitler said, “We have all these small church denominations. We should bring them all together for unity and coordination.” He did that, and appointed a bishop over them. So by July, you couldn’t serve as a pastor if you—or your spouse—had Jewish blood.

By November, there was a packed rally in Berlin, where the new German Christians came together. These believers wanted their country to be great. To get back to a pure Germany. Speakers at their rally spoke out for things like: Firing all pastors who are not on board with National Socialism, and taking out of the Bible the Old Testament, because it’s so Jewish.

Five months later, in May 1934, Christians who didn’t like this new direction, including theologian Karl Barth, met and signed a protest document called The Barmen Declaration. It became the foundation of what was called the Confessing Church.

As of 1935, here’s how it lays out, there are 18,000 Protestant pastors in Germany. Three thousand of them are, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, part of the Confessing Church. They call themselves “intact churches.” But the same exact number, 3,000 pastors, are part of the German Christians. The Confessing Church calls these “destroyed churches.”

In between, like a giant lump on the bell curve, are 12,000 pastors. They can’t decide. Or they won’t pay the price.

Starting that same year, if you are from a Confessing Church and want to go to seminary, you are no longer allowed to attend any German university. So Dietrich Bonhoeffer looks ahead and realizes, “We need leaders for the next generation of the Confessing Church.” So he starts a new kind of seminary.

He finds an abandoned private school in a town called Finkenwalde, and creates a seminary that is also like a monastery and a summer camp. Students pray together every day, read the Bible, do chores—as well as take breaks for sports or at night, sing Negro spirituals Bonhoeffer learned during his time in Harlem, in New York City.

They also attend lectures Bonhoeffer gives. Like ones on the Sermon on the Mount about the cost of discipleship. He warns his students against “cheap grace.” This idea that because God loves us we don’t need to repent or sacrifice or suffer for others.

Two years later, in 1937, the Gestapo forces the seminary to close. But in a way, they come too late. Because some of Bonhoeffer’s students, like Eberhard Bethge, survive the war and lead the church well in the next era.

Bonhoeffer’s lectures get put into a book called The Cost of Discipleship, which sells millions of copies and is still reminding God’s people, all over the world of the costly grace of following Jesus, of living in solidarity with the victims of heartless societies.

I’ve wondered how Bonhoeffer could find hope to keep rebuilding in the middle of so much being ruined. He tells us: “Christ builds the church. … We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are the times of collapse are for him the great times of construction.”

So, whatever ruins we American Christians may find ourselves in, let’s look up and take fresh hope from the promise of God to his people: From the ruins, I will rebuild, and you will rebuild.

God’s discipline digs deeper than we think, but his restoration rises higher than we imagine.

Kevin Miller is pastor of Church of the Savior in Wheaton, Illinois,

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