Tag Archives: Act

The Church’s Blueprint

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You shall further command the Israelites to bring you pure oil of beaten olives for the light, so that a lamp may be set up to burn regularly.
Exodus 27:20 (NRSVCE)

I was raised attending a Methodist church that many would describe as “high church.” The sanctuary was designed to reflect the ancient churches of Europe complete with stained-glass and a pipe organ. In the center was an altar raised so that one had to ascend to it. Above the altar hung a giant cross and from the cross hung what appeared to be a candle holder, but was actually an electric light bulb that was always illuminated.

In today’s chapter of Exodus, God continues to give Moses very intricate and detailed plans for the traveling temple that the Hebrews will build for worship and sacrifice. Todays chapter describes the altar on which sacrifices would be burned and an oil lamp that would be placed outside the entrance to the Most Holy Place where the Ark of the Covenant was held. The lamp was to burn continuously, an eternal flame.

You can probably see where I’m going with this. An altar? A lamp that burned continuously? Those were front-and-center elements of the church in which I grew up. And yet, when I became a follower of Jesus (in contrast to simply being a member of my church) and I read Jesus’ actual words, I found it interesting that Jesus never gave instructions for church buildings and altars and choir lofts and pipe organs. Nowhere in all the letters of Paul, Peter, James, and John are there Exodus-like instructions for the construction of a church, cathedral, basilica, sanctuary, altar, or an eternal flame.

In part, this is because the followers of Jesus were originally part of the Hebrew tribes and they continued to worship in the Hebrew tradition. But, as Jesus’ followers fulfilled their mission to take the message of Jesus to the world, the Hebrew believers became outnumbered by the non-Hebrew followers. Many of the letters that make up what we call the New Testament address the division and the conflict that followed. Nevertheless, the Jesus movement had no church buildings for the first three hundred years, though there were gathering places. It was only after the Jesus Movement became the institution of the Holy Roman Empire in the fourth century that churches were built for all the citizens of the Roman Empire who dutifully obeyed Emperor Constantine and signed up to become members of the new state religion: Christianity.

The Roman Empire then built churches, cathedrals, and basilicas and borrowed the basic elements of all the religions they knew including altars, lamps, candles, and incense. Fast forward 1700 years and we who belong to Christian institutions around the world continue to think of “church” a the local building where we sign-up for membership and gather to worship.

I can’t help but be reminded of the words of Jesus that I quoted in yesterday’s post in which He said that He would “destroy the Temple and raise it in three days.” That was the point of yesterday’s post, and the further I get into the description of the Hebrew Tabernacle the clearer it comes into focus for me. Jesus never gave His followers blueprints for building the church because the church was never meant to be a building. Jesus didn’t tell His followers to go to church. He told them to be the church.

Jesus promised to be wherever two or three believers gathered, which makes worship possible anywhere.

Jesus never gave instructions for lighting candles or having an eternal flame because He called followers to be the Light of the World through their acts of love for others.

Jesus never gave instructions for an altar because with His death the ultimate sacrifice had been made, once-for-all.

Jesus never talked about the designs for the central location where His followers would gather because the mission was not about gathering, but dispersing to bring God’s Kingdom to earth and to bring Light to dark places.

Please don’t read what I’m not writing. A central meeting place for believers to gather and worship is a no-brainer. Jesus prescribed the sacraments. Music, liturgy, and traditions of worship began with Jesus and the Twelve and were part of worship for believers meeting in homes for hundreds of years.

In the quiet, however, I find myself feeling adamant about a few key points. Jesus didn’t ask me to go to church, but to be the church. An altar is not a table in my local church sanctuary, it’s my life itself at home, at work, and wherever I happen to be carrying my cross and sacrificially giving myself to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. The eternal flame is not a 40 watt light-bulb hanging over the altar in a church, it’s the Light of Christ that is supposed to shine through my words, actions, and relationships with others.

I’m back to where I ended yesterday’s post. Not bricks-and-mortar but flesh-and-blood.

If there was a blueprint Jesus provided for design of the church, it would look exactly like me.

Want to Read More?

Simply click on the image above or click here to be taken to a page with a simple photo index to all posts from this series on Exodus.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

It is Well

Be careful to obey all these words that I command you today, so that it may go well with you and with your children after you forever, because you will be doing what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.
Deuteronomy 12:28 (NRSV)

Thinking back to childhood, there stand out a few examples of when I chose to blatantly do what I knew was wrong. For example, there are a couple of instances of petty theft on my pre-adolescent rap sheet. One of the forays into criminal conduct resulted in swiftly getting caught and punished. You could say that I got away with the other instance, though the lingering pain of a guilty conscience and the self-recrimination may have been worse punishment than if I had simply been caught in the act. I eventually chose, of my own free will, to come clean and pay my debt.

Those early experiences taught me that there is a peace of soul that comes with simply doing what is good and right. No one is perfect. I have my blind spots and I make poor choices — willfully and regularly, I’m afraid. I have learned , however, that life is certainly less anxious when I daily endeavor to live, speak, and act out of a respect for others and a desire to do the right thing. Sleep comes more easily and the day is experienced with a greater fullness of joy when my conscience is clear.

In today’s chapter Moses urges obedience to God’s commands “that it may go well with you and your children.” While I certainly believe that God blesses His children, I also recognize that there is a natural “going well” that occurs simply as a consequence of doing the right thing.

I cannot control all of the circumstances of life around me. I cannot control what others think, say, and do. I can, however, control my own thoughts, words, and actions. And, if I do things the right way then life, for the most part, tends to go well.

chapter a day banner 2015

featured photo by jsrcyclist via Flickr

An Epic Production; A Bit Part

2012 12 USP Joseph Backstage Grovel LR

All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
Ezekiel 17:24 (NIV)

Ezekiel’s prophetic parable in today’s chapter is specifically related to the political circumstances of his day. Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem and carried off her royals, nobles and promising young talent back to Babylon. A royal family member, named Zedekiah, was set on the throne as a political puppet of the Babylonian king. But Zed had his own ideas and conspired with the Egyptians to deliver Jerusalem from Babylonian control. Today’s chapter is Ezekiel’s prophetic prediction of Zed’s failure and downfall.

Two things struck me this morning as I read the chapter this morning and considered the regional intrigue of Ezekiel’s day.

First, I am mindful of the Israeli Prime Minister’s controversial address to the U.S. Congress earlier this week and the reality that the political intrigue of that region of the world continues 2500 years later. The Israel of today has its capital in Jerusalem, the same capital city destroyed by the Babylonians in Ezekiel’s day. The Egyptians to whom Zedekiah pled for help remain a nation to this day. The ancient Babylonians are today’s Iraq. The Assyrian empire of Ezekiel’s day is today’s Iran. The names are slightly changed, but the peoples and the players are the same as are the regional power struggles and conflict. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Second, I was struck by God’s word through Ezekiel that there is a divine plan being worked out in all of this. God can bring down the powerful from their lofty heights and raise the lowly to positions of prominence. All the world’s a stage and there is a Great Story being played out amidst the proscenium of time. We are part of the same production.

All of this makes me and my silly little troubles feel small and insignificant. And yet, Jesus reminded us that there are no small parts. I may be a bit player and an extra in the chorus of this epic production, but the costume department considers me important enough that  every hair on my head is numbered and the Producer/Director knows my name. I have a part to play, as small as it may be and as insignificant as it may seem. It starts with loving my neighbors as I love myself, and acting accordingly.

Chapter-a-Day John 5

The healing of a paralytic by Jesus, after Mar...
The healing of a paralytic by Jesus, after Marten de Vos, ca. 1585, from the Bowyer Bible. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When Jesus saw him and knew he had been ill for a long time, he asked him, “Would you like to get well?” John 5:6 (NLT)

It seems like such a silly question to ask a paralytic sitting by a pool that, as the legend goes, had miraculous healing powers.

“Do you want to get well?”

I’ve found this to be one of the most haunting questions in all of scripture, because it cuts right to the heart of my motives, my desires, and my true willingness to act on them. What I say I want and what my life and actions reveal that I want are daily revealed to be two different things.

“Do you want to get well?”

I do, but maybe I’d rather be sick than have get a job. I like the attention and sympathy I get from others, and the disability check is nice.

“Do you want to get sober?”

I do, but tomorrow after I finish off this last bottle.

“Do you want to work?”

Yes! Are you kidding?! I’ve been searching for months, but I can’t find the job I want (the one that pays me a lot of money, gives great benefits, and doesn’t demand too much of me).

Do you want to know God?”

I do! But, I kind of want a God that fits my lifestyle. I don’t want to be uncomfortable or have to deal with guilt or anything like that. I want to know God, just as long as it’s all positive. You know, answering my prayers and blessing me and loving me and all that stuff without expecting too much of me.

 

I find it interesting that today’s chapter starts with a physically crippled man and ends with spiritually crippled men. Jesus asks the paralytic about his motives and heart desire about getting physically well, then His act of healing reveals the motives and heart desire of those who say they wanted to get spiritually well – but refused the One God had sent who was standing in their midst.

Today, I’m thinking about all of the things I say I desire … but don’t act accordingly. God, forgive me. It’s a good day to make a change.

Ham Buns and Potato Salad Downloads

Photo Pete Zarria via Flickr

Sometimes you have no choice but to go home.

When Thomas Prins was 18 his hometown of Hebron, Iowa (population 318) was boiling in  a scandal that was never resolved. He packed his bags and left for college in New York City. He went to school, found unexpected success as a writer and never looked back.

Twelve years later, after his parents lose their lives in a tragic auto accident, Thomas has no choice but to return home. The town prepares for the funeral and the local residents are atwitter that “Tommy” is coming home. With his return, heat is turned up on the old scandal which has quietly simmered in the town’s collective conscience since his departure.

Ham Buns and Potato Salad is a play about going home. It’s about grief and hope. It’s about confronting our past and stepping into our future. It’s about small town quirks and human frailties. It’s about fear and love and grace and forgiveness.

I’ve received requests from those who’d like to read the script and so I’m making it available for download in a PDF format along with a low-tech MP3 recording of an informal table reading of the script (in the event you’d rather listen than read). In addition, this post will remain as a page on my blog. Simply click on the “Ham Buns and Potato Salad” link in the header of my blog’s homepage for quick access. Feel free to pass it along if you know of anyone who’d be interested.

The Skinny on the Play

Ham Buns and Potato Salad is a full-length play in two acts.
Ten Characters:
Five Adult Males (Ages 30-60)
Four Adult Females (Ages 30-60)
One adolescent female (Age 12)
All action takes place in one setting and can be performed with minimal set.

All copyrights and production rights for Ham Buns and Potato Salad are held by the author. The downloadable script and corresponding audio recording are intended for private individual perusal and/or listening. They may not be copied, produced, performed or broadcast without the expressed, written consent of the author.

Please direct any questions or requests to tomvanderwell@gmail.com.

Downloads:

Ham Buns and Potato Salad.pdf

Ham Buns & Potato Salad Reading.mp3 (1 hr 40 minutes; 45 Mb)

Please note that the MP3 audio recording is of a table reading of the second draft of the script. Changes to the script were made after this reading.  Be advised that the audio version will not match perfectly with the PDF (but it’s close!).

Chapter-a-Day Mark 5

SimpleShe had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched his robe. For she thought to herself, “If I can just touch his robe, I will be healed.” Mark 5:27-28 (NLT)

It is sometimes amazing to me how simple and small an act of faith can be. The simple touch of the robe, the act of forgiving someone, the simple muttered prayer, the random act of kindness, the simple decision to turn away from that which will be bad for me, or the simple step forward in the right direction. I sometimes make things out in my mind to be much bigger, harder, and more complex than they really are. In doing so, I paralyze myself or justify procrastinating the very simple act of faith I should take.

Today, I’m determined to be mindful of recognizing, and faithful in carrying out simple acts of faith.

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Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 51

Critic. "Listen now, you who know right from wrong,
   you who hold my teaching inside you:
Pay no attention to insults, and when mocked
   don't let it get you down."
Isaiah 51:7 (MSG)

Take a stand, and someone will inevitably crawl into position 180 degrees away.
Speak truth, and voices will always whisper in mockery.
Do the right thing, and those who did nothing will mercilessly critique your performance.

Were it not for individuals who persevered on lonesome paths against long odds in the face of tireless opposition, the world would be a much darker place.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and doyle saylor