Tag Archives: Building

Not Bricks and Mortar, but Flesh and Blood

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands.”
Acts 7:48 (NIV)

I remember going to church as a kid and being taught a certain reverence for the sanctuary of our church. It was a classically designed sanctuary with an altar that sat on a dais at the back. Over the altar hung a giant cross and from the bottom of the cross hung an old-style lamp which was “the eternal flame.” Just in front of the altar was a lectern that sat on one side from which the scripture readings and announcement were made. On the opposite side was the pulpit which was larger, and stood higher.

As children we were taught that this santuary was special. This was where you went to worship God on Sunday. There was sacredness attached to the room, the altar, and the pulpit. You were to be quiet when you were in there. No running. No playing. Don’t go near the altar unless Reverend Washington is up there serving communion.

After I became a believer and began reading God’s Message for myself, I came to realize that the entire notion of a “sacred” church building was never a part of Jesus’ paradigm. Jesus never asked his followers to build buildings. Quite the opposite. Jesus said, “I will destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days.” With His death, resurrection, and the subsequent pouring out of Holy Spirit, Jesus did away with the old notion that there was a physical building that would be the center of worship. The “church” Jesus came to build is not made of bricks and mortar, but of flesh and blood.

A time is coming,” Jesus said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.”

In today’s chapter one of Jesus’ early followers, a man named Stephen, is dragged before the Jewish religious authority, called the Sanhedrin, in the Temple in Jerusalem. This is the same council who convicted Jesus and gave Him a death sentence just weeks earlier. Stephen, in his defense, walks the religious leaders through the Great Story from Abraham to Joseph to Moses to the Kings and to the prophets. He tells of Solomon building the Temple where he, himself, was now standing. Stephen then says to religious authorities:

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

“‘Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
What kind of house will you build for me?
says the Lord.
    Or where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things?’”

This morning I’m thinking about sacred spaces, and enjoying the memory of being a kid and finding out that the “eternal flame” that hung over our church’s altar was simply a 40 watt light bulb that sometimes burnt out and had to be replaced by the custodian.

Having a physical building for believers to gather, worship, and create community is a great thing. I just never want to lose sight of the truth that Jesus never intended “the church” to be a building down the street. When Holy Spirit indwells me as a believer my flesh and blood becomes “the church” because God is within me, one with my spirit. I am sacred space. “Don’t you know,” Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” So, “the church” is wherever I happen to be. It’s wherever two or more believers gather together.

I don’t go to church. I am the church.

Encouragement Needed

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’
Zechariah 8:9a (NIV)

In just a month or so, Wendy and I will be celebrating three years that we’ve lived in the house we built here in Pella. This morning I was thinking back to those months between August 2014, when we broke ground, and the end of February when we moved in. It seemed like an eternity. I was not prepared for all of the decisions that had to be made and the endless fussing and fretting over the most seemingly insignificant decisions.

The process did seem long and endless at the time, but the truth of the matter is that the building of a complex, multi-level, multi-room structure in six months would be nothing short of miraculous to those Zechariah was addressing when he wrote today’s chapter sometime around 500 BC. The “remnant” of exiles who returned to rebuild Jerusalem with its crumbled walls and broken down Temple were looking at not months, but long years – even decades of painstaking, back-breaking toil.

The rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple began in 536 BC but was abandoned two years later. It was picked up again fourteen years later and went on for another five years before it was eventually rededicated. The rebuilding of Jerusalem would continue for another 70 years.

Today’s chapter reads like a message of encouragement to the people facing the arduous task of continuing the work while in the depths of frustration at the rebuilding process. Through Zechariah, God encourages the people to imagine how great it will be when the work is completed and families of all generations are filling the city streets from children playing freeze-tag to old people leaning on their canes and reminiscing about the “old days.”

The truth is that whether we’re ancient Hebrews facing years of toil to rebuild our capitol city or a modern day couple standing in Lowe’s wondering if the project will ever be completed, we all sometime need encouragement to keep pressing on. The Apostle Paul consistently told the followers of Jesus, to whom he wrote the letters making up most of the New Testament, that he was writing to encourage them. He told them to encourage one another and reminded them  that their love, prayers and gifts were a tremendous encouragement to him. Paul was carrying out the task of building the church, not a building made of wood and stone, but a much messier task of building a living, breathing organization of diverse, flesh-and-blood people into a cohesive whole.

This morning I’m reminded that we all need encouragement on this life journey. It’s an important ingredient to any project, relationship, or process. Even God knew that the people of Jerusalem needed a shot in the arm, and today’s chapter is a record of the encouragement He sent through His prophet, Zechariah.

From time-to-time we all need others to encourage us and we, in turn, need to be on the lookout for those who could use a dose themselves. Encouragement is simple gift to give: a kind word, a postcard that takes you five minutes to write, a thank you note, a prayer, or a hug and sincere “Hang in there.”

Need a little encouragement today? Consider your reading of this post a divine appointment. Hang in there, my friend. Press on. Keep going. I know it may suck right now but I believe that your faith and grit are leading to good things ahead.

A Radical Shift in Paradigm

“We will not neglect the house of our God.”
Nehemiah 10:39 (NIV)

Over my journey I’ve worshipped in many different places. Growing up, there was a lot more emphasis that people placed on the church building itself. I still remember the Methodist church where I grew up. The area of that altar in the sanctuary was considered hallowed ground along with the “eternal light” that hung above it (which was a light bulb I’m quite sure needed to be replaced on occasion).

As I grew in my understanding as a follower of Jesus, I began to recognize that the special attachment Christians placed on their particular house of worship fell into two camps. The first camp were those who considered their local church building to be some kind of holy place that was, itself, sacred because it was a church. The other camp considered their local church special because the community of believers had built it together. It was communal space for worship and they wanted to take care of it.

In the days of Nehemiah, the temple where they worshipped was a holy place. It had been designated such by God when He gave the plans to Moses and called for its eventual construction. When Jesus came, however, the paradigm changed radically. Jesus made it clear that the times they were a changing. When confronted by the Samaritan woman at the well about where you should worship, Jesus replied, “But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter.”

With the pouring out of Holy Spirit into the hearts of every believer, our bodies themselves became the temple. Our worship center became wherever we happen to be at any given moment. The focus shifted from bricks and mortar to flesh and blood. We may appreciate and tend to our local church building because we want to be good stewards of the communal worship space, but the church building is not hallowed in and of itself. It’s when I and my fellow believers bring Holy Spirit in with me to worship that makes it a worship center.

Today I’m thinking once again about my body being a temple of Holy Spirit, a vessel in which God dwells. It lends a more intimate meaning to the commitment made by the folks in Nehemiah’s day: “I will not neglect the house of God.”

Guess I’m working out today.

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Vision, Design, Measurement, Reality

Wendy Sold on Bos LotGreat Room

[God] took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. 
Ezekiel 40:3 (NIV)

In the past year, Wendy and I had a completely unexpected idea to build a  new house, purchased the lot, hired a contractor, worked on a design, watched it being built, and moved in. The reality of it still makes my head spin. From hair-brained idea to a new home in twelve months.

The result of this is that Wendy and I have spent the better part of a year using rulers and tape measures to size up drawings, blueprints, floors, walls, lot lines, doorways, driveways,  closets, counters, fireplaces, sinks, etc., etc., and etc. It’s a necessary part of building a new custom designed house. And, I’ll be happy never to do it again!

I had an eery feeling of deja vu this morning as I read of Ezekiel’s vision. After 39 chapters of doom, gloom, violence and judgement the theme of Zeke’s messages takes a huge turn. We have to remember the context from which he is writing. The city of Jerusalem had been sieged and destroyed, along with Solomon’s glorious temple by the Babylonian army. Ezekiel was taken into exile to the land of his enemy where he and his fellow expatriates can only grieve their home and their temple that lies in ruin. Perhaps we should expect him to have a doom and gloom outlook.

Starting with today’s chapter, however, Zeke’s final visions take on a new twist. From here on out his visions are about the restoration and rebuilding of a new city and a new temple. Today his vision is of a heavenly contractor, ancient tape measures in hand, who takes him on a construction tour to measure out the new temple which will be built. Measurement after measurement after measurement of walls, doors, floors, etc., etc., and etc. It’s part of the process of building something new.

Today I’m thankful that the “vision” and “measurement” phase of our new home is over and we are experiencing the reality of it. I’m thankful for the experience of being led through the whirlwind process of unforeseen vision to fulfillment and reality. The experience encourages me to have faith in the larger visions, plans and blueprints God reveals for this life and this world.

The Right Craftsman for the Job

The Temple
Model of Solomon’s Temple

King Solomon sent to Tyre and brought Huram, whose mother was a widow from the tribe of Naphtali and whose father was from Tyre and a skilled craftsman in bronze. Huram was filled with wisdom, with understanding and with knowledge to do all kinds of bronze work. He came to King Solomon and did all the work assigned to him. 1 Kings 7:13-14 (NIV)

I come from a family of individuals skilled in construction. My great-grandfather started as a young man making small wooden dowels (used instead of nails) in the Netherlands. When he came to America he did construction and eventually owned a hardware store. My  grandfather taught shop. My dad and my brothers are also skilled craftsman in their respective mediums. I, however, am not skilled when it comes to construction. I know my way around a tool chest, and I can capably handle minor repairs and things. I have learned over time, however, that when it comes to major renovations or repairs that I will save myself a lot of time and frustration by hiring a skilled craftsman.

Wendy and I have been watching our house being built, and I have been marveling at the craftsman as they ply their respective trades. I have so much respect for those who do these things well.

I thought about this as I read about Solomon searching out the best craftsman to work on the bronze for his palace and the temple. He wanted it done right, and he wanted it done well, so he found the best craftsman for the job. This same principle applies to spiritual gifts and God’s work. To each person is given certain gifts for the equipping and building up of the Body of Christ and for the work of love to we are called. When we use our respective gifts then things are done right, and done well. When we have people plugged into the wrong activities for their gifts, the result is struggle and frustration.

Worthwhile Things Take Time

From thought to reality in less than a year.
From thought to reality in less than a year.

[Solomon] had spent seven years building [the temple]. 1 Kings 6:38b

Worthwhile things take time.

In the nearly 50 years of my lifetime I believe the greatest change in our culture has been the speed with which we live our lives. Our technological age has pushed the envelope of speed in nearly every area of life.

When I was a kid, I delivered the afternoon edition of the Des Moines newspaper on four square blocks up Madison Avenue from Lawnwoods Drive to Lower Beaver Road, south to Douglas Avenue and then back up Lawnwoods catching the side streets of Garden, Seneca, and Fleming Avenues in between. There were two papers printed each day back then to get more news out to the public faster. News traveled at the speed that my eleven year old feet could carry it in Chuck Taylor high-tops.

My "Paper Route"
My “Paper Route”

When I got home, I read the newspaper myself. I was always fascinated by the small “blurbs” that newspaper editors used to fill space on the page. “Blurbs” were small articles just a sentence or two long. Usually, it was a news story from the far reaches of the world that had little relevance to anyone in Des Moines such as a massive earthquake that struck a remote province in China.

Today, my phone would notify me of that same earthquake minutes after it happened with links to photos, videos and eyewitness reports. Suddenly, everything that happens is newsworthy and we are aware of everything that happens in an instant. Everything happens faster than before. Things get old quicker. Things are obsolete almost as quickly as you purchase them. Fads come and go in a day (remember the “Harlem Shake?”).

Today, I’m thinking about Solomon’s seven year effort to build the temple, and thinking about the house that Wendy and I are watching emerge from a vision in our heads to reality in less than a year. I’m thinking about some of the great building projects of history that spanned generations, and I wonder what it was like for a craftsman to dedicate his whole life to a building project that he knew he would never see completed.

I love all that that technology has afforded us. I love that I can have a coffee date with Taylor in Scotland via FaceTime. I love that Madison can text me from whichever airport she happens to be in at any moment and I can instantly communicate with her from anywhere. And yet, I am aware that having the world at our fingertips 24/7/365 has not made us better people, nor wiser, nor more satisfied.

Worthwhile things take time, but we increasingly steal time from our lives in search of worthwhile things.

 

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From Bricks and Mortar to Flesh and Blood

English: The Second Jewish Temple. Model in th...
English: The Second Jewish Temple. Model in the Israel Museum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.” Luke 21:5-6 (NIV)

 

Along my life’s journey I’ve gathered with fellow believers to worship God in all sorts of places. I’ve been in schools, community centers, football stadiums, convention centers, hospital chapels, homes, parks, and lean-to sheds. I’ve also worshipped in beautiful cathedrals of historic value, prayer towers, and multi-million dollar state-of-the-art facilities.

 

The truth is, I don’t really care that much where I worship. As with other works of art, I appreciate all the beauty and meaning that architecture can express. Yet, as with all works of human expression, there is a subtle human tendency to shift our focus from the Creator to the created work. All my life I’ve witnessed people attach to church buildings a sacredness that actually runs counter to a fundamental teaching of Jesus.

 

Jesus’ death and resurrection ushered in a major spiritual shift that Jesus hints at it in today’s chapter. Before Jesus, the center of worship and the symbol of God’s presence had been wherever the ark of God was [cue: Raiders of the Lost Ark Theme]. At the time of Jesus’ teaching, that central location had been the temple in Jerusalem for almost a thousand years, ever since King Solomon had built the original on that spot. Jesus, however, taught that after His resurrection the Holy Spirit would be poured out and would dwell in (or in-dwell) every believer. It happened 40 days after Jesus’ resurrection (you can read about it here).

 

With the pouring out of Holy Spirit, the shift of worship moved from a central location (the temple in Jerusalem) to, as Jesus put it, “wherever two or three are gathered in my name.” The temple was no longer a building made with human hands. The indwelling Holy Spirit transforms our very bodies into the temple of God. Paul wrote to Jesus’ followers in Corinth:

 

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?

 

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?

 

The implications of this shift are profound. Jesus says to His disciples that the temple in Jerusalem with all its history, importance in God’s story, and splendorous beauty is simply nothing more than bricks and mortar than will end up on the rubble heap of history. [Note: That very temple was indeed destroyed some 40 years (or one generation) later in 70 A.D., fulfilling Jesus’ prophetic words.] Worship is no longer to be centered in a building but in believers gathered together, and that can happen anywhere. God’s Holy Spirit is not located in this or that place where we must make a pilgrimage to visit. When we invite Jesus into our hearts and lives, the Holy Spirit indwells us and transforms our very own bodies into a mobile temple that we take with us wherever we go 24/7/365.

 

Today I’m grateful for the beautiful facilities where I get to regularly worship, but I am even more grateful that Wendy and I can worship anywhere and anytime with any other believer. God is not confined to a building, but present wherever we gather and acknowledge His presence.