Temples or Tents?

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;                                                                                                            I Corinthians 6:19

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.                                                                                                                  II Corinthians 5:1

What is the best way to honor God as a Christian community? Is it better to build a temple or a tent?

Interesting that when God was trying to manifest himself to the ancient world, he told the Israelites to build a temple. That temple would be a manifestation of the presence of God on earth. The Israelites of old were the carriers of the “God message” to a heathen world. That is, there is one God, and he is to be worshipped above the many false gods that were around. The Israelites were to be witnesses of the True God to world lost in idolatry.  However, when Jesus came to earth, he was the fulfillment of that promise- God was now literally present on earth.

It seems that we are drawn to building temples. When Jesus was manifested in glory at the Transfiguration, Peter wanted to immediately build three memorials on the mountain- one to Jesus, one to Moses, and one to Elijah. Peter was overcome with awe and his first reaction was to build a memorial.

Nice thought, but Jesus wanted a more flexible witness. He planned to send his Holy Spirit into the world to invade the hearts of people. The memorial would not be bricks and mortar, but our bodies to serve as the temples of the Holy Spirit.

Paul called our bodies mere tents which house our Spirit. I am thinking that the best response to proclaiming God to a fallen world is pitching our tents where people are- not building temples that people must try to find.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be flexible witnesses, tents where you can dwell and be seen by others, Amen

Everyday Stuff

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8 (KJV)

As we enter Thanksgiving week, I thought it would be a good time to re-run this blog from last November. I hope it reaffirms our faith in the goodness of everyday kindness all around us…

The police officer who pays for groceries for a vagrant instead of arresting him. The minimum wage clerk at McDonalds who pays the bill for a customer who forgot her wallet. The first person in line at a Starbucks drive-thru who pays for the person’s order behind him, setting off a chain of events of people paying for the person behind them. The teacher who buys school supplies for her students who cannot afford them. The truck driver who stops to change a flat tire for a stranded motorist. The line of people at the blood bank giving life-saving plasma. The volunteers who go to California to help fight forest fires. The outpouring of support after a natural disaster.

Should I go on? Not enough room in the blog. These events happen EVERY DAY. There are actually too many instances of giving and sacrifice to be documented here. These events typically do not make headlines. Maybe because they are too commonplace and we take them for granted. Maybe they do not fit the narrative of sensationalism that our news cycle craves. Whatever the reason, we must not lose sight of this aspect of our human character.

It is important to celebrate these little daily exercises of goodwill and humanity. Take heart my dear readers, goodwill and kindness abound, it just gets shut out of the headlines. Keep up your silent and important everyday deeds that help your fellow traveler on this earth.

That is what we need to keep in mind to stay focused on what our country, indeed every country needs. These things are what makes America great. Let’s not let that knowledge slip into the background too far.

Prayer: Lord, you have created us to live in community and to bear one another’s burdens. Help us to remember that wonderful aspect of your creation, Amen

Growing Up

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men”                              Luke 2:41-52

As we approach the Christmas season (yes, this is happening, and I like it 😊), we see this story of Jesus as a young boy. He was part of a family who loved him, and he was just a boy, still growing up.  

This passage is well known, authored by Luke, who apparently had Mary as a source for his writings. His is probably the most intimate look at the family life of Jesus. Luke records in this passage the story of Jesus staying behind at the Temple to learn more from the Rabbis. Indeed, Jesus probably shared some great insights with them as well, prompting them to say that they were “amazed at his understanding and answers”.

Yet later in the passage, we find Jesus giving a curious answer to his mother who was very worried about the whereabouts of her son. Jesus responded to her, essentially, that she should have known that he needed to be in his “father’s house”.

Just because Jesus is the Son of God, we expect him, at age 12, to be different than every other 12-year-old that we know. We perhaps expect that he should have been profound and knowledgeable about everything, including human relationships. Yet we find that he did not understand the heart of a mother at that tender age. She was, understandably, angry and scared about what happened to her son. When Jesus gave his response to her, it seems to show lack of understanding of her emotional response.

The last verse shows the answer to this. Jesus, as a 12-year-old boy, still needed to learn some things. He was indeed the Son of God, but he had also chosen to set aside this divine nature, and subject himself to a fully human experience. This meant that he had to learn some things about human emotions and human relationships. The last verse confirms this, stating that he “…grew in wisdom and stature…”

We are all in the process of growing, hopefully till the day we die. Jesus was an example to us once again that submission to authority produces character and growth in the hard areas. Imagine how difficult it must have been for Jesus to set aside supreme knowledge, and omnipotent power in order to be with us and experience the human condition. What love he has for us!

Prayer: Father, your plans are higher than our plans, your ways higher than ours. Thank you for the plan of sending Jesus to be with us, and to give his life for ours, Amen.   

How Jesus Sees Us

 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?”  They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

John 4:27-30

A favorite story of mine from the Bible is the story of the “Woman at the Well”. Here, Jesus encounters a woman who had been an outcast in her own village, and she ended up having a chance (inspired) meeting with Jesus at the well. You likely know the story. My favorite takeaway is that after Jesus spoke with her and she became aware that this was the awaited  Messiah, she hurried back to the village to share the news.

Remember now that she likely was not “Miss Popularity” in that village. After all, she came alone to the well at noon, which was not the cultural norm. She was alone for a reason I am guessing.  Yet here she is, telling people in her Samaritan village that this Jew that she met at the well is the Messiah.

And they listened to her.

So, here was a woman who was a bit of an outcast, telling her story with so much excitement and fervor that people were moved by her. While she did not likely see herself as worthy, and the villagers saw her as a five-time loser in the marriage department, Jesus saw her as an evangelist.

So, we need to define ourselves not by our own sometimes jaded opinion of ourselves, but we need to see ourselves through the eyes of Jesus.

Prayer: Lord, help us to see others as you see them, Amen

Honest, But Is It True?

As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens the wits of another.                                                                     Proverbs 27:17 (Names of God Bible)

I spoke with a client recently and she shared with me that sometimes when she looks in the mirror, she sees a woman who is not competent, not confident, and one wracked with doubt and guilt. She said, “I am just being honest with how I feel”.

I told her that I appreciated her candor and honesty. I reminded her, since I have known her  through counseling periodically over several years, that much of her guilt is actually her anxiety about her children. She wonders if she has done enough to prepare them to be launched into the world. I could honestly assure this client that she has been a great single mother, and if anything, tries to overprotect her kids.

I also told her that her honesty was a wonderful character trait, but that just being honest does not make those thoughts true. Yes, she is being honest about how she feels, and she has a right to her feelings. Yet that does not mean that what she feels is the truth. Sometimes we need the feedback of others to validate- or dispute- thinking that may be faulty.

We all have feelings, and they are valid for us, but we also need the courage and humility to bounce those feelings off trusted people who can speak truth into our lives.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be honest with ourselves, and also seek truth, Amen

A Story of Forgiveness

All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.                           Romans 5:20-21 (The Message)

I had the opportunity recently to share a story that a client shared with me many years ago. This is a story of the need for self-forgiveness, and it is as true and needed today as it was back then. Here it is with the name, of course, a stand-in for the actual name…

Lisa came into my office one day and said that she needed to share her story. She had been a prostitute and addicted to drugs, and one day presented at an emergency room overdosed (she presumes). She barely remembered how she got to the ER, but she vividly remembered the vision she had.

She said that you hear of people who are dying say that they are drawn to a light, perhaps a bright light. She continued, “I was not drawn to any kind of light. In fact, I was falling quickly into a deep and scary dark pit. As I was falling, I heard a voice say to me, ‘If I sent my son to die for you to be forgiven, how dare you not forgive yourself!’

With that, she found herself hovering over her own body lying in the ER bed. Soon after, she was revived, and eventually recovered. However, she was so impacted by this vision that she committed that day to make a new life. She had been forgiven, and started to work on forgiving herself- the hardest task she had ever encountered.

She related this story, which I clearly remember to this day although she shared it with me maybe 25 years ago. Hers was a life of suffering and sin, washed clean by a God who loved her. He only asked her to forgive herself, because he already had.  

Self-forgiveness is hard, but it is essential if we want to live a life free of shame. God sent his son for that very reason, so it is our job to accept his grace and forgiveness, even if we do not understand it.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for grace, even if we do not understand it, help us not to reason it, but to accept it, Amen  

Bananas

You will notice that the variety of bodies is stunning. Just as there are different kinds of seeds, there are different kinds of bodies—humans, animals, birds, fish—each unprecedented in its form. You get a hint at the diversity of resurrection glory by looking at the diversity of bodies not only on earth but in the skies—sun, moon, stars—all these varieties of beauty and brightness. And we’re only looking at pre-resurrection “seeds”—who can imagine what the resurrection “plants” will be like!                           I Corinthians 15:39-41 (The Message)

I know what you’re thinking. What in the world is up with a headline titled Bananas. Well, bananas illustrate an important biological fact. The bananas that you eat are likely Cavendish variety bananas. In fact, about 99% of all exported bananas are now the Cavendish variety. That was not the case 100 years ago when the Gros Michel (Big Mike) was the predominant variety of banana that hit the export market.

Why does that matter you say? Well, about 50 years ago or so, a fungal infection overcame the Gros Michel variety, and it was found that the Cavendish variety was able to withstand the fungal plague that has all but eliminated the Gros Michel variety. The good news for banana lovers is that the Cavendish variety seems to have immunity to that killer fungus.

Except, now maybe it doesn’t.

Here is where the point of the story emerges. The Cavendish variety has been bred so that it is actually reproduced by cloning itself. It is genetically so lacking in diversity that it has no resistance to menacing predators that might now come along. It is so inbred, that if that certain fungus attacks the Cavendish, we are out of bananas! Current research indicates that the nasty fungus that devastated the Gros Michel may now be able to attack the Cavendish variety also. Lack of diversity tends to doom life forms that are not diverse.

God’s plan for diversity is an insurance that there is a healthy response to diseases and predators that would overwhelm highly inbred life forms. That is just the way it works. We humans tried to get “pure stock” (the eugenics debacle of the late 19th and early 20th centuries), by naming some races inferior, or some people as “defective”.

God’s plan is for the marvel of diversity- accepting that differences in nature work for the good of preserving life.

Prayer: Lord, you have given us the beauty of diversity in your creation. Help us to truly appreciate it, Amen

The Eyes Have It

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!                                                                                                                          Matthew 6:22-23

Interesting passage of the Bible which deals with the eyes. It discusses, I think, the importance, both physically and metaphorically, of how we use our eyes. In the earlier passage, Jesus had discussed the ways that we look at wealth. Is it our primary focus, or is our primary focus how we treat other people?

I just heard a podcast about the learning abilities of wolves and dogs. It seems that both wolves and dogs rely heavily on the eye contact of the trainer to learn. The experiment they did involved how well both wolves and dogs learned cues about how to find food. (The wolves won, by the way) The point again drove home the fact to me that eye contact is extremely important in human relationships. Holding good eye contact for communication is an important tool in learning solid communication. We read a tremendous amount into non-verbal communication, like eye contact, to determine warmth and the credibility of other people.

As a counselor, I really like to make as much eye contact as is comfortable with my clients. Virtual counseling can be a challenge in this new remote telecounseling environment, (but that is the subject for another day). I read a lot into eye contact. I look at when people give it, and when they withdraw it. We can tell if someone is “with us” by virtue of the eye contact and other non-verbal cues we get from them.

Jesus in this Matthew account, states that our eyes are the “lamp of the body”. What he meant was that, we read intent and virtue into how we meet other peoples’ eyes. The old saying “the eyes are the window into the soul” likely came from this Bible verse. Indeed, as humans, we rely on cues such as eye contact to validate what we hear. If there is a disconnect between what we hear, and the non-verbals that we see, like eye contact, we will likely rely upon the eye contact as the cue we believe.

I will have more to say on this subject in future blogs. In the meantime, consider how much you value eye contact to determine the sincerity of the person to whom you are talking. We humans require complex mechanisms to communicate, but then again, so do dogs and wolves.

It seems like eyes are indeed the “lamp of the body”.

Prayer: Father, give us eyes to see the important things in life, Amen.

Permission

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.                                                 II Corinthians 3:17

I recently discussed with a client the idea of considering some changes in her holiday traditions. Her family situation is changing, and she was wondering out loud if she had the “permission” to make changes in these traditions because her mother had recently passed away, and she wanted to maintain these traditions for her mother’s sake.

As we discussed this, I suggested that the one standing in the way of giving permission for these changes was her, not her mother. I knew that she had been very close to her mother, and that her mother would just want the best for her daughter after she had passed. The client readily agreed to this and saw that, if she could shed the lingering sense of guilt that had been self-imposed, she could actually make a choice for herself in this situation.

The choice is absolutely under the control of my client, and I wanted her to see that she had the freedom of that choice. It was not her mother or anyone else who might judge her choice- it was her.  

Traditions and rituals are important to us. They are reassuring, especially in a time of uncertainty. We do have the choice to make new traditions also. Changing circumstances cause us to re-evaluate those choices that we have routinely made. Empty nest, the death of family members, etc. all cause us to re-think those time-honored rituals and traditions.

I am all about tradition- I am a guardian of traditions. Yet, changes happen, and we adjust to accommodate those changes. So, as we approach the holiday season, take a look at your family traditions. By all means, maintain important connections which those traditions celebrate, but be aware that changes are allowable- if you give yourself permission.

Prayer: Lord, you have made us to value family honoring traditions. Help us also to see our freedom in how we mark them, Amen

Goldilocks

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.                                               Psalm 19:1 (KJV)

Just right! That was the exclamation of little Goldilocks as she entered the house of the Three Bears. Goldilocks had tried out the porridge, and the chairs, and the beds of the Three Bears, and she would always find one too hard or too soft, or the porridge too hot or too cold. She would always land on one that was “just right”.

That is how astronomers and astrophysicists describe the conditions of the earth for the sustenance of life. The Goldilocks Effect. Other planets are too hot, or too cold, or just too toxic to sustain life. In all the universe, we only know, at this time, one planet of the billions out there that can sustain life. Our little old Earth- it is just right.

It is not a cosmic mistake or some crazy coincidence that Earth is the planet of life. The confluence of events that needed to happen for life to be sustained on Earth was a God-ordained miracle. If the angle of the Earth’s tilt varied much off of the mean of 23.5 degrees, life could not be sustained. If our distance from the sun was greatly different than the average of 93 million miles distant, we would boil or freeze, depending on the difference.

So, when we say, as does the Bible, that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and made intentionally, and with purpose, we speak the truth.   

So, at times we may feel insignificant and wonder about where God is in this world. He cared enough to create this place which is just right for life. What we do with that life is up to us. God gave us all the conditions that we need to live that life.

Prayer: Lord, we are amazed at this unique creation, which includes little old us! Amen