Temple of God

In the Old Testament, the Israelites twice built a temple to God in Jerusalem. The temple was the place where God resided. He made his home in Jerusalem. In fact, during the time of the prophets, the people, even though living outside of their covenant obligations, believed that God would not allow the Babylonians to sack Jerusalem because of the presence of the temple. The prophets make it very clear that God was more interested in his people repenting than in saving his earthly dwelling.

The temple, as the house of God, was a place where many people worked diligently to maintain the temple in a way befitting the mighty and powerful God of Israel.  This was a place where the sacrifices required in the Book of Leviticus were performed. The temple was a very special place. In fact, the Israelites mourned the fact that the second temple was not as grand and majestic as the one originally built by Solomon, the one destroyed by the Babylonians. They mourned the fact that the current house of God was less befitting the God of Israel.

The New Testament clearly emphasizes the fact that the people of God are now the dwelling place of God because by our baptism the Holy Spirit has taken up residence within us.  By reflecting on the way the ancient Israelites understood the temple and maintained it, we can learn a lot about how we should be treating our bodies as a dwelling place of God.  We can learn a lot about mourning the fact that it is less than perfect, and balancing this grief with a knowledge that God is working with us to perfect his dwelling; he is working to make it and us a proper home for him. In return, he will make us a home with him. Our inferior house will be replaced with the most magnificent of houses when we our joined with God in perfection.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit picturing the ancient temple in Jerusalem. Feel free to google images depicting the temple. Imagine the people preparing sacrifices, laying out the bread of presence, managing the candles, and otherwise tending to the comforts of their God and creator. Spend some time with the Spirit reflecting on your own temple. How well do you care for God’s residence? What more can you do to make him feel comfortable and at home? Spend some time jotting down some notes from your time of prayer, and make some commitments related to doing a better job of treating your body as the temple of God.

In Him,

dw

Temple-Bearer

This morning, I find myself reflecting on one’s personal being as the temple of God. In the Old Testament, the Israelites had to endure the discomfort and dangers of the road to travel to Jerusalem several times a year in order to worship God in the temple. New covenant living has a component of us being able to worship God interiorly, and also as being ones who takes God to others. We reverse the trend from the Old Testament. We make God more accessible to his people.

As I ponder this, I think about a world transformed because people encounter God through us. Of course, this is misleading because the goal is not to be God to others, but to make present the indwelling Holy Spirit to everyone we encounter. In other words, by allowing the loving nature of Jesus to shine forth through us, we have the ability to be instruments of God’s salvation to others. Not the means of salvation, just an instrument, a tool.

As I ponder this statement further, the question of how comes to mind. How do we allow Jesus to shine fourth through us? My current thoughts lead me to believe that we need to invite the Holy Spirit into each and every encounter we have every moment of every day. This is something that is seemingly impossible, but it is something that we should endeavor to make a habit. I suggest that we start each day with a general prayer that covers each of our encounters. We invite him into our entire day, and ask him to be in each and every encounter of our day.  However, this is just the stopgap  approach. The overall goal is to work towards forming a habit of  inviting him into each encounter with others. The stopgap covers our current failure to be perfect in this endeavor. 

When I ponder the Holy Spirit shining forth through us, I see people who seek to excel at maintaining peace even when these encounters with others bring negative feelings to the surface.  I see people who affirm others by treating them with dignity, even when society or circumstances say that they are unworthy.  I see people who put the needs of others before themselves, or at least at the same level as self.  I see people who are prayerful before, during, and after these encounters. People who are apologetic when they are less than perfect in their endeavors to be temple-bearers. People who through their post encounter reflections critique their performance and continue to seek ways to improve their openness to and manner of being temple-bearers. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit asking him to help you be a better temple-bearer to those you encounter today. Ask him to help you build a habit of inviting him into each and every encounter you have throughout your life.  Ask him to further enlighten you to his presence within. Of course, if you are in need of your own encounter with a temple-bearer, feel free to pray for this as well. Jot down some notes from your time in prayer; notes about what you learned and/or some thoughts on how you can improve upon your life as a bearer of the temple of God Most High.

In Him,

dw

Jesus’ Baptism

Today, many Christian denominations celebrate the baptism of Jesus. It is interesting to read the four Gospels and note the differences. Who sees the heavens torn open? Who hears the voice of God? Does John appear to recognize Jesus? None of these questions or the answers thereto have much bearing, but it does make for interesting reading.

One of the important factors about Jesus’ baptism is him being submerged and coming up out of the water. Many commentators believe that he allowed himself to be baptized in order to sanctify the water for future baptisms. One might even say that he sanctified the new earth. Another reason is that Jesus is the way, and he shows us our proper response to his calling; a proper practice for all disciples.

Another interesting fact is that in the last couple of centuries, there has been a lot of comparison of modern beliefs to those of the early church. One of the points of note was that over time the focus of baptism moved away from the idea of dying and rising with Christ and became about induction into the church. I don’t know about other denominations, but the Catholic Church has recognize both points as important, and has expended energy re-focusing baptism so that both aspects are highlighted. 

Why is it important to view baptism as an act of dying and rising with Christ? I think Paul says it best when he says I live no longer I, but Christ in me. Gal 2:20. There is a brand new focus on the direction of our life when we see ourselves as having died with Christ. We live no longer for self. We live in connection with the indwelling Holy Spirit. This is important too because John testified that Jesus would baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. Thus, the tie between life in the spirit and baptism is strong.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering your own baptism. Does it reflect for you the idea of dying and rising with Christ? How does this impact your walk with Christ? What is the role of the spirit in your spiritual life?  How does your life emulate the life of Christ? Jot down some notes about where you are doing well in this regards as well as some ideas for improvement.

In Him,

dw 

The Wedding at Cana

This morning, I read a part of a sermon by Faustus of Riez, a 5th century bishop.  In his sermon, he pondered the wedding at Cana and he connected the water and wine to the old and new covenant. The water was good; the wine better. Likewise, the old and new covenants. 

He explained that the old covenant was an outward discipline and the new covenant as full of grace. This begs question, what is grace? How does it differentiate the old and new covenants? I think a part of the answer lies in Jeremiah who prophesied that the new covenant would be within us. Jer 31:33. So the new covenant is internal. We know that through baptism, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us, and I suggest that this presence is what grace is all about. In other words, grace is the Holy Spirit working within us.  It is God in three persons working in and around us.  

The old covenant was imperfect because it was up to humans, who are imperfect, to live it out. In the new covenant, God corrects this imperfection by placing his own spirit within us.  When we turn internally, it is like the servants who brought ordinary water to Jesus. By turning internally, we give him permission to change us into wine. When we give him our all, he shores up our weaknesses, and through grace, our efforts are perfected.

Of course, the problem with this is that our efforts to give our all to him are likewise imperfect. It is for this reason that we call our spiritual life a journey, because it is through experience and reflection on experience, that we come to learn and to understand how to better rely on him. In effect, our afterlife will be without sin because by then our reliance on him shall be perfected. In the here and now, we learn to live perfectly in the afterlife.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit seeking wisdom about your own spiritual walk. Do you live the old covenant? Have you allowed him to change you, who are like ordinary water, into the best of wines?  Have you encountered grace in a way that helped you avoid occasions of sin? Talk to him about where you are in this process. Ask him to show you new and better ways to rely on him. Ask him how you can be like the servants, who brought the vats of water to Jesus, so that you too can be changed. Feel free to bring Mary into the discussion because she was the one who instructed the original servants on how to achieve the intended result. While Mary has passed over, she is still an active part of the Body of Christ; she is still there to mentor us through the process.

In Him,

dw 

A Gift Befitting A King

This morning, we celebrate the Epiphany, the arrival of the three wisemen in the Holy Land. The wisemen go first to the palace. Until this morning, I was under the impression that they were simply seeking directions; however a reflection I read earlier suggested that the wisemen went to the palace because that is where they expected the king to be. Instead, they found him lying in a manger. They found him in a humble abode. Despite Jesus not living up to their expectations of a king, they treated him as one by paying him homage and offering him gifts worthy of a king.

Unlike the three wisemen, we know that this king is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He is the one who showed great power and might by delivering the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and, on their behalf, conquering the Holy Land. Because we know who he is, our response should be even greater than that of these three men.

What gifts are befitting a king such is this? What can we give a king who holds everything in the palm of his hand? I think of the story of the little drummer boy, and how his gift was a humble song. This is a great example of a gift befitting a king such as this. We can give him the gift of our littleness. In fact, we can give him all of the parts of us that respond to him like Herod who plotted against him and sought to kill him. By recognizing our littleness before him, we give him to opportunity to fashion us into one who can give more perfect homage and praise to the king of Kings.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit reflecting on your own response to this king. Likely, you will find yourself responding to him in ways that recognize his divinity and kingship, and at other times responding as though he is a threat to your own rule. Spend some time talking to the Holy Spirit about the areas where you need perfection. Ask him to enter in to these places, and to heal all the places where you resist him. While you are at it, spend some time praising him for the ways in which recognize him as king because it is only through his grace that any part of us can properly respond to him.

In Him,

dw

Feast Day of Mary, Mother Of God

Over the years, I have had several people ask me why I call Mary mother of God. In my experience, this question stems from a misunderstanding that the title is intended to elevate Mary’s status instead of on the recognition of Jesus as God.

When we look at Church history, we see that this issue came to a head in the fifth century. There were those who were pushing for Mary to be called Mother of the Messiah, but at the same time, there was a great dispute about Jesus’ divinity. 

The Bible itself does not prophecy a divine Messiah. The Messiah was just a person anointed by God. Thus, one could say that David was a Messiah, as were all of Israel’s kings and some priests and prophets.   Based on this understanding, Jesus could have been simply a very special man, like Moses, like David.

The problem with this is that our salvation had to be accomplished by Jesus, who was both divine and human. One who is simply man, could not offer the proper sacrifice. The perfect sacrifice was by one who was both. 

By claiming Mary to be the mother of God, we cement the understanding that Jesus was divine. We wash away any doubt that Jesus was just a special person, a special man chosen by God. We conclusively state our belief in the divine nature of Jesus.

So, today many celebrate the woman who gave birth to a divine human who came to save us. However, this focus on Jesus is not intended to diminish Mary’s special place in the heart of the church. Only Mary was specifically created for the task of being the mother of God. She is the ark of the new covenant.  One need only look at the language in the book of Exodus which laid out the design specifications for the ark of the original covenant to understand just how special is the womb of Mary.  Her example of humbly accepting this task from God deserves recognition and respect. 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering Mary as a mother of God. Does this title cause you discomfort? The Holy Spirit is the source of Truth, so ask him to enlighten you on the truth of Mary’s role in the church, and how she was not a human like other humans. By this I simply mean that she was specifically created for a specific purpose.  Ask him to help you have a proper respect for the one to whom Jesus was obedient, for Jesus perfectly lived the original covenant, which required him to be obedient to his parents. We see this obedience in the story of the wedding of Cana where Jesus did as his mother requested, even though he hesitated at first. Feel encouraged to sit with any tension between what you have been taught and where the Holy Spirit might be leading. Ask him to clear away any untruth in your previous teaching, and even in regards to anything I might be saying.  Ask him to open you to any Truth you have yet to fully see.

In Him,

dw 

Almighty God

I have made a decision to go back in time by studying how the people in the ancient church practiced spirituality. This morning, as I pondered Clement of Rome’s letters to the Corinthians, written around 90 AD, I was delighted to see that not much has changed. Of course, I am not quite halfway through his prose, and there is likely more to learn.

In Clement’s message to the Corinthians, he encouraged the reader to emulate the Saints. Of course, at such an early point in church history, the Saints were predominantly characters in the Old Testament. He talked of Moses’ humility before the burning bush when he said, “who am I, that you sent me? I am a man of feeble voice and a slow tongue.”  He focused on David, who prayed for a clean heart, and recognized a bruised spirit as a worthy sacrifice.

In addition, Clement encouraged the people to find peace in meditating on the greatness of God’s creation. He encouraged them to the look at the universe, and all that it holds. Let’s think about this for a moment. During his time, the world was really no more than the territory under Roman control. They believed the heavenly bodies were in the sky; within the atmosphere. 

The universe has expanded greatly during the last 2,000 years.  God’s creation is much greater than that which brought Clement and others such joy. We know that the heavenly bodies extend light years beyond the atmosphere. We know that Earth is not the only planet in the universe. We speculate that there may even be additional life out there. Planets come in all shapes and sizes. The stars are suns in other galaxies. The sun and moon are no longer believed to circle the earth. We know that the earth is round, and yet things can stand at the bottom of the world and not fall off.  Gravity is an amazing thing! Let us not forget the microscopic world that has been discovered, things like atoms, viruses, bacteria, and even smaller things than these. 

What is it that we learn from meditating on God’s creation? We learn of God’s goodness. He is good because he has given all of this to us. He created multiple layers of creation for us to explore. Our quest to understand nature is handed on from generation to generation, and yet thousands of years into science, we have yet to run out of things to explore and study. In this, we can see the vast knowledge and power of God. 

To ponder creation is to know God. When we come to know him, we come to know ourselves. We come to understand just how dependent we are on God. We start to understand our place before God. We start to understand the gravity of what happened in Eden when Adam Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. We see how this story teaches us of human nature, and our desire to elevate ourselves to the level of God. We see how feeble are attempts are at being godly because his strength, power and might are far beyond us.  The greatest of human weapons cannot hurt him. He is beyond us, and yet, he loves each of us more fiercely than any person has ever loved us. How amazing is that? 

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit pondering God’s creation. Look at it from several different angles. Consider the mighty power of God. Ask the Holy Spirit to perfect your understanding of who you are before God. Ask him for the gift of humility. Spend some time thanking and praising him for spending time with you in prayer, and jot down any important highlights from your time in prayer.

In Him,

dw 

Paying Him Homage

This morning, I read a reflection that indicated that Herod’s order to kill the male children in Bethlehem was an act of homage to Jesus. I had to step back from this statement to ponder what it meant. To me, the word homage is synonymous with worship, and Herod’s murder of innocent boys was not an act of worship.  

As I stepped back to ponder this, I came to understand that the Greek word used in the Biblical passage related to Herod and the three wisemen was proskyneō, which is a verb that means to kiss a hand in reverence.  In fact, the word has the connotation of a dog licking the hand of its master.⁠1   The word has to do with respect for one of greater authority.  

We know that Herod was not an official king of Israel. He was from an aristocratic family that had converted to Judaism roughly 50 years earlier.  He was appointed by the Roman government, and was definitely not of the line of David.⁠2 Thus, when the three wisemen tell him that the anticipated king of the Jews had been born, he was thrown into such a frenzy that he ordered the death of many innocent boys in the hopes of killing the threat to his rule.  Thus, while Herod’s actions were not respectful, they definitely recognized Jesus as one of equal or greater authority. He felt threatened by one who’s authority to rule was greater than his own.  

When we ponder the inappropriate homage Herod pays Jesus, many of us will see ourselves in this response. Our actions may not be as severe as ordering the death of children. At the same time, we do not want to be the dog licking the hand of the master. That is a crass way of saying that we want to be our own authority. We want to be our own king. A great deal of the spiritual journey is recognizing our resistance to his rule, and learning to surrender to the king of kings. It is through a growing sense of humility that we make progress in our efforts to bow before him; we allow our will to be bent in favor of his authority. It is in coming to see the truth of our littleness before his greatness that our humility grows. Humility cannot grow if we cannot see our own inappropriate acts of homage.

Spending time with the Holy Spirit reflecting on your own reaction to Jesus. How do you pay him homage? Can you see evidence of a similar reaction to Jesus? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you both how you pay proper homage and where your actions might be more akin to that of Herod. Find the tension of your own internal war related to recognizing Jesus as king. Do not allow shame to keep you from reflecting on the truth. The Holy Spirit wants to perfect your acts of homage and worship. He can only do so if you stand in his light. We do not like to see our flaws, so we create defenses. On top of our personal defenses, the devil works to blind us to truth because if we allow the Holy Spirit to heal them, he has less opportunities to trip us up. As you see where your homage is less than perfect, sit with this truth in the presence of the Holy Spirit. Look upon him as a child with a broken toy, and seek his assistance in fixing what is broken. Pray for the openness to allow him to be your King. 

In Him,

dw 

anImage_2.tiff

1 https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4352&t=CSB.

2 L. I. Levine, “Herod the Great (Person),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 161.

Operation Falling in Love

This morning, I spent a great deal fo time pondering the spiritual life. Many of you are likely not surprised by that. Still, it is something I find myself doing regularly. The more I ponder human nature, and our attachment to selfish desires, the more I realize that we cannot live a holy life in this lifetime without falling deeper and deeper in love with God. We cannot be the best version of ourselves without falling head over heels in love with God.

As I think about my own spiritual walk, I see more clearly how it is rooted in selfishness. I want eternal life. I cannot deny that this selfish desire does not it impact my response to the Christian message. I want to do the right thing, and because I am a person of Christian faith, this driver likewise taints my spiritual life. I look at all of the effort I have put into dying to self, and realize how infrequent and how shallow my efforts. 

The more I take these issues to prayer, the more I realize that perfection of me as a person can only happen if I fall deeper in love with God. God is love. Therefore, the greater my love for God, the more God-like I become. The more I fall in love with God, the more pure my intention towards living the Christian life. In other words, the spiritual life will never reach the highest heights without an ever growing love of God. 

Of course, this leads to the question, how does one fall in love with God? I think this happens in a multitude of ways. However, I think all ways are rooted in the truth of the relationship between creator and created. Human behavior wants to bring God to our level. The truth is, he became one of us. He is one of us. However, he came to raise us up to his level. He came so that we might be one with God. The more we dwell on God as one of us, the less emphasis on becoming him. Therefore, pondering the nature of God is a way of increasing one’s love of God. By getting to know him, we cannot help but fall in love with him.

Another way we fall in love with God is in pondering human nature. In particular, our individual nature. I think true Christian joy comes in a deeper and deeper recognition of the horror of our sinful nature. It is so easy to get caught up in the fact that we are sinners, and we will always be sinners. There is a built in capitulation when we accept this as fact. It is just something that is. We can learn a lot from Teresa of Avila, who was horrified at her behavior when she caught herself gossiping. Her horror  helped her to fight against this behavior. I think most of us shrug it off as something we all do. Because we all do it, it is acceptable behavior. If it is acceptable, we do not throw sufficient energy at the problem to fix it. 

When we approach God with a greater awareness of the horrors of our sin, we open ourselves to an incredible prodigal son type experience. When we approach God with true repentance and contrition, we experience the greatest love of all. We experience mercy. By sitting in this love and mercy, we truly start to fall in love with God. In our encounter with the God who is love, we don’t rationalize our behavior, but we take it to him, and he helps us to learn from it. He helps us to heal the things within us that cause us to sin. Throughout this entire process, which happens over and over again during our lives, we fall deeper and deeper in love with God.

Send some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing the depth of your love of God. Because it is impossible for a human to attain perfect love in this life, there is always room to improve. Spend some time seeking guidance from your advocate, the Holy Spirit. Ask him how you can improve. Ask him to  show you ways of deepening your love of God. Spend some time praising God for his greatness. Spend some time seeking a deeper awareness of the horrors of sin, of your sin. Ask him how you can use the truth of both his greatness and your weakness to increase your love of God. Jot down some notes on how you can go about improving your relationship with God. Thank him and praise him for being with you during your time of prayer.

In Him,

dw

St. Stephen, Martyr

In Acts of the Apostles, we read about St. Stephen preaching the Gospel, and how he angered the people who did not want to hear truth. When they raised up against him, he lovingly accepted their response. He lovingly submitted himself to death. He trusted in God.

This ability to forgive others so quickly, even in the act of violence against oneself, is something that is rarely seen. Our world is full of anger, and being able to forgive others quickly is a trait that is desperately needed. I know that when I started practicing this trait while driving, I started realizing how much more peace I have when I quickly forgive others who drive in a way that I feel puts me at risk. The Holy Spirit has encouraged me to recognize that I have probably done similar things to other drivers over the years. This has helped me to have even greater compassion for those driving around me. 

We likewise need to see more forgiveness internally. Many of us have done things that we are not proud of. We have done things that we regret. It is easy to hold these things internally, but we need to forgive ourselves. We need to recognize that God forgives us. If he can, then we need to be able to do so as well.

Spend some time with the Holy Spirit today pondering your own relationships. Are you holding grudges against those who have not treated you with respect and dignity? Are you angry with yourself for something that you did or should have done? Do you have anger in your heart? If you find that you do, ask the Holy Spirit to enter into this emotion. Ask him to help you find peace and forgiveness for the situation that comes to mind. If you find yourself unable, even though you desire it, ask the Holy Spirit to continue helping you until you are able to do so.

In Him,

dw