Saturday, June 27, 2009

"For you yourselves are that Temple..."

I started off my run today planning on doing my regular route, which takes me through the winding trails of EKU and up and down the hills on campus. My runs usually last about 45 minutes, and I was prepared for that, but God had a different plan for me today, and so He took me down a road that I had never run, kept me going for 2 hours, and spoke to me of things I feel called to share here.

It was warm today, and I started running about 10 a.m., so by the time I was halfway through, it was getting to be really hot. The sun was beating down on me and I hadn't planned on running for 2 hours, so I was low on water. I was thirsty and tired and knew I had a while until I made it home, so I stopped on a corner where I saw a church up on a hill off the road a bit. I figured the church would have a drinking fountain and would offer some cool air for me to rest in for a moment. I ran up the hill and started to go in, but the doors were locked.

The fact that the doors were locked didn't surprise me. My home church locks its doors throughout the week too, as well as most other churches throughout America, I'm sure. So no, I wasn't surprised, but I was disappointed. Disapointed and sad. And standing outside the locked doors of that little church, I felt God's sadness surrounding me too.

I had to ask myself; what could possibly be so valuable in a church that we would deem it worthy enough to lock our doors and communicate a message of "do not enter?" Are we, those who call ourselves the church, called to offer our services and facilities and resources only on Sundays from 9-12 and 6-8? It seems to me that the weekdays should get high priority because that's when people who don't normally attend would wander in. Having unlocked doors only on Sunday is, in a way, us saying, "we're here for the congregation and those who show up on Sunday. The rest of you will have to find what you need elsewhere."

While I was thinking about all of this on my way home, I ran past 2 other churches that are in the process of being built, and the sight of them also made me sad. Why? Because they are big and beautiful and built to draw the eye, but because of that very beauty, it seems inevitable that when they are completed they will lock their doors just like all the rest in order to keep their beauty secure.

But God does not live in temples made of stone. God lives in the body of the church. And why does God live among us? To draw others in. We are not here so that we can be the best club of Christians, building beautiful buildings to show off to the world, available to those who come to church on Sunday and believe the right things. We are here to cry out to the world the message "Come, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and He will give you rest." Who will come if the church is empty and the doors are locked? Is there anything for them to come to other than "christian talk" and worship songs. Is there anything practical for them here in this place?

Sometimes showing people that God is the living water of life is best communicated by actually supplying literal water to those who are thirsty. And not supplying it on a schedule. We need to be able to say, "come whenever your need arises." We need to always be ready with open doors and open arms. The function of the church needs to focus more on the unbelievers of the world just as much as those who already believe, otherwise, what's the point? We all get together every week to congratulate ourselves for how far we've come?

A teacher that I learned a lot from told me that in Jesus' day, the pagan temples were not only amazingly beautiful, but they offered practical things to the people like water, food, health care, fire, etc. They were not only a place of beauty, but a center of care and provision.

In this atmosphere the early church was born and blossomed, but how did they manage against all those massive temples of stone? I think they multiplied because they brought people in by their love for one another and their love for others. Their community and brotherhood was their temple. Their willingness to welcome others and care for each other was their stones.

What the church of today needs to get back to is caring for others. We need to start bringing people in not by the beauty of our buildings or the eloquence of our speakers, but by our kindness and our resources. In truth, to make a church radiant only requires the welcoming in of the spirit of God and the presence of Jesus, and we do that by gathering together in love. We are one body. We are His temple. People gathered together in humility and kindness, offering the same to the world.

The first step to getting there? Unlock the doors.

Rabbi Jesus, we long to follow after you and live in your way. You came to seek and save the lost and offer rest to the weary. May you give us the strength and the wisdom to do the same. May our temple of brotherhood rise up in communities all around this world, drawing others in through the beauty of Your love among us. May you not only unlock the doors of our churches and our homes, but those of our hearts and our minds as well. Bless us Rabbi, that we might do your work, and do it well.
And thank you Rabbi, for always being there when we have need. I bless you for your faithfulness and your unceasing availability, for always being there when we call.

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples built by hands. And He is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else."
- Acts 17: 24-25
"Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one's head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?
Is this not the fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the chords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not the share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter--- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?"
- Isaiah 58: 5-7
"Neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work.
Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him; for God's temple is sacred, and you are that temple."
- Excerpts, Paul's letter to the Corinthians (Chapter 3).
"For I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Hosea 6:6
P.S. God is in the cool breezes that blow on a hot day.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Remember the Lord

As I read through the books of the Old Testament, I am struck by how many times it calls us to REMEMBER. God constantly warns and requests that we "pay attention" and look back to our history in order to stay in line with His will and commands.
I also notice that so much of the Jewish faith involves signs and symbols pointing back and reminding its people of things that God had done for them. Many times Israelites, after God had worked in their lives in some way or rescued them from harm, would erect "standing stones," which basically are big stones set up in the place where the miracle or blessing occured in order that no one would forget the thing that God had done there. (Other examples of this remembering through symbols include the Mezuzah, which Jews place on their doorframes so as not to forget the daily call of God for living out Shema (see here for more info), and the many Jewish festivals each year that allow them to look back and remember the ways that God has blessed them and carried them through history).

Although the symbols and the festivals and the traditions are beautiful in themselves, they are not signifigant alone. They require the "telling" or the "witness" that goes along with them, something else that the Jews have put much importance on. So much of Jewish history made it this far because fathers passed down stories to their children and continually reminded themselves and the generations that followed all the things that God had done for them. The five books (Torah), presumably written by Moses, contain much history that Moses never saw or experienced, but that he knew, because of the great oral tradition of the Jewish people. More than anything, this sharing of history and the telling of what God has done is the real "standing stones" of the past, for they are what point heavenward and remind us of the Glory that God is due.

Today, our standing stones are not rocks put into the ground, but our lives in general. We ourselves are each a standing stone, pointing to God (or something else). The way we live and the things we share and the people that we give credit to are the rocks in the ground of our 21st century. We are our own witnesses. God has given you your story for a reason, and He not only wants, but demands, that you share it.

And so I look back on what God has done in my life, and the ways that He has protected me and brought me forward, the ways that He has disciplined and strengthened, the times that I have failed and that He has picked me up and set me on my way again, and I remember.

I remember that God has been there beside me for every breath and every moment, and that anything good in my life is because of something that He has poured forth in me. I remind myself that without Him, I am nothing, but with Him, I am radiant, redeemed, forgiven. I remind myself of HIM. And when I look back and realize, truly, all that He was to those who went before me, and all that He is to me in this day, I cannot help but turn my face heavenward and pour forth thanks and blessing on Him who blesses.

Thank you Lord, for your incredible grace poured forth on us. Thank you for listening to us when we pray to you and for guiding our steps. Thank you for being our refuge, and hiding us in the shadow of Your wings. Thank you for always giving us enough, and for all the times you give us more than we need. Thank you for the strength you grant in hard times, and the peace that you offer every moment. Thank you for your incredible redemption, the beauty of this world you allow us to live in, and the constant reminders of your love and grace all around. Thank you for your sense of justice, but also your mercy. Thank you for always allowing a remnant to surive, and for not giving up on us. Thank you for allowing us to know and follow your incredible, loving, life-giving son, and for not only his death, but for his life here, and for showing us through Him, the way to live it. Thank you, Almighty God, for being so big but speaking to us still, for preserving your Word for us and allowing us to understand it in a small part. Thank you for always bringing us back to you.

Thank you Lord, for being a God who ALWAYS keeps His promises; for being a God of faithfulness.

Help me, every moment, to be a standing stone to you and your Glory; to allow my story and my life to point heavenward, always reminding us of your incredible grace.

You are God alone.