Presence

glory templeThe glory of the Lord entered the temple through the gate facing east.
Ezekiel 43:4 (NIV)

According to the ancient writers, the “glory” of God came in the form of a cloud. It began with Moses on the mountain, continued to reveal itself this way when the Israelites fled Egypt and wandered in the wilderness. The cloud of God’s glory went before them and when they pitched their portable temple known as the Tabernacle, the cloud of glory filled it. When Solomon’s permanent temple was completed, the cloud of glory filled the temple and was so thick that the priests had a hard time seeing to do their sacrificial duties.

This morning as I ponder this descent of God’s presence in the temple, I am reminded of many contrasting weekly gatherings of my fellow Jesus followers. Some Sunday mornings can feel rather empty. It’s not that it isn’t worthwhile or that good things aren’t happening in the worship, it just feels like we’re going through the routine motions. Jesus promised that wherever two or three believers gather, He would be present. I have found, however, that much like His chronicled appearances after the resurrection He sometimes chooses not to reveal himself in quite the same way.

There are times, however, when I have physically felt the presence filling the room. It is not prescriptive and there is no formula for making it happen. I have come to observe that God cannot be tamed or placed in a box of our making. I know that may sound crazy and subjective to some. There many special moments I can recall, however, when I have felt God’s presence fall and fill the room in a special way just as Ezekiel describes.

Today, I’m thankful for the promise of Jesus’ presence whether He remains quietly present or whether He makes His presence known in powerful ways. I seek Him however He chooses to reveal Himself.

“Haves” and “Have Nots”

temple curtain tornSo he measured the area on all four sides. It had a wall around it, five hundred cubits long and five hundred cubits wide, to separate the holy from the common.
Ezekiel 42:20 (NIV)

We talk a lot in our culture about the “haves” and “have nots.” With a presidential election gearing up, we’re going to have plenty more inundation of pundits and politicos barking and bantering about social equality, racial equality, financial equality, and gender equality.  I believe the never ending struggle within to place ourselves above others, to suppress others, and to criticize and belittle those who look, think, act, and believe differently is evidence of what took place in the Garden of Eden. It is first and foremost a spiritual problem.

Religion also has its share of “haves” and “have nots.” The reality is that organized religion has proven over history to illustrate the very thing it says it’s trying to resolve. The sin problem manifests itself acutely in the very people and institutions who try to address it. We see a hint of the issue in today’s chapter.

The temple was arranged, by design, with areas for the “holy” and the “common” or “unholy.” Over time this separation of the “holy” from the “unholy” created social strata which resulted in all sorts of social issues. The Jews of Jesus’ day were notorious for taking on a mantel of holiness which publicly covered the darkness in their souls, and placing themselves above others. Jesus reserved his hottest, most righteous anger for the most religious people:

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You burnish the surface of your cups and bowls so they sparkle in the sun, while the insides are maggoty with your greed and gluttony. Stupid Pharisee! Scour the insides, and then the gleaming surface will mean something.

“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You’re like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it’s all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you’re saints, but beneath the skin you’re total frauds.” Matthew 23:23-28 (MSG)

It was this problem that Jesus’ came to address. The parable of the Good Samaritan is core to what Jesus was about, which is to actually, tangibly love those who think, speak, look, act, and believe differently. To love even those who hate you and consider you their enemy. To place others ahead of ourselves.

In the Hebrew temple was a giant curtain that hid the “holy of holies” from the “holy place.” It was a place where only the high priest was allowed and only on certain occasions. Three of four of Jesus’ biographers (Matthew the tax collector, John Mark, and Dr. Luke) record that when Jesus died on the cross that curtain in the temple split right down the middle. No more separation. No more religious “haves” and “have nots.” Jesus came to be the sacrificial lamb, to pay the penalty for our sin, so that holiness would be available to anyone who wants it – not based on what we do or don’t do, say or don’t say, think or don’t think, but based on Jesus simply making it available as an undeserved gift.

It is what we do with that gift, or rather what it does in us, that makes the difference.

Temple Considerations

A drawing of Ezekiel's temple as described in the final chapters. A. Wall (40:5, 16–20) B. East gate (40:6–14, 16) C. Portico (40:8) D. Outer court (40:17) E. Pavement (40:17) F. East inner court (40:19) G. North gate (40:20–22) H. North inner court (40:23) I. South gate (40:24–26) J. South inner court (40:27) K. Gateway (40:28–31) L. Gateway (40:32–34) M. Gateway (40:35–38) N. Priests’ rooms (40:44–45) O. Court (40:47) P. Temple portico (40:48–49) Q. Outer sanctuary (41:1–2) R. Most Holy Place (41:3–4) S. Temple walls (41:5–7, 9, 11)T. Base (41:8) U. Open area (41:10) V. West building (41:12) W. Priests’ rooms (42:1–10) X. Altar (43:13–17) AA. Rooms for preparing sacrifices (40:39–43) BB. Ovens (46:19–20) CC. Kitchens (46:21–24) (source: NIV Study Bible, Zondervan)
A drawing of Ezekiel’s temple as described in the final chapters. A. Wall (40:5, 16–20) B. East gate (40:6–14, 16) C. Portico (40:8) D. Outer court (40:17) E. Pavement (40:17) F. East inner court (40:19) G. North gate (40:20–22) H. North inner court (40:23) I. South gate (40:24–26) J. South inner court (40:27) K. Gateway (40:28–31) L. Gateway (40:32–34) M. Gateway (40:35–38) N. Priests’ rooms (40:44–45) O. Court (40:47) P. Temple portico (40:48–49) Q. Outer sanctuary (41:1–2) R. Most Holy Place (41:3–4) S. Temple walls (41:5–7, 9, 11)T. Base (41:8) U. Open area (41:10) V. West building (41:12) W. Priests’ rooms (42:1–10) X. Altar (43:13–17) AA. Rooms for preparing sacrifices (40:39–43) BB. Ovens (46:19–20) CC. Kitchens (46:21–24) (source: NIV Study Bible, Zondervan)

Then the man brought me to the main hall and measured the jambs; the width of the jambs was six cubits on each side. Ezekiel 41:1 (NIV)

The political and religious geography of modern day Jerusalem is complex. An important center to three of the world’s major religions, it can be a dizzying mishmash of faith, culture, religion, and politics. This also makes it arguably the world’s most perpetual political hotspot.

I was in Jerusalem near the Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall,” which is located at the base of the Temple Mount. The wall is a section of stones which were part of a retaining wall that supported a large expansion of the temple mount by Herod shorty before the time of Jesus. The Hebrew temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. After the muslim conquest of Jerusalem in 637 A.D. the el-Aqsa mosque and Dome of the Rock were built on the site and remain to this day. Political tensions at the time meant that the mosque and Dome of the Rock were closed to non-muslims (though we were grudgingly allowed by muslim authorities to climb an adjacent rooftop and look over the area).

The temple, as envisioned by Ezekiel in these final chapters, has never been built as described. This leads many Jewish and Christian teachers to believe that it will, someday, be built. At one end of the Western Wall complex is a visitor’s center which is dedicated to planning for and the rebuilding of the temple once again. Many Christian scholars read the breadth of eschatological (study of the end times) material and believe that the temple will be rebuilt before the end in fulfillment of what has been written.

I stood at the Western Wall among a throng of Jews and Christians, looking up at the muslim complex which towers above it, and the stairway (blocked and barricaded at the time) that leads up to the temple mount. It was hard for me to fathom a shift in the political and religious stalemate which would allow for the rebuilding of a Jewish temple.

This leads me back to the mystifying subject of prophecy and the end times. I have come to understand that prophetic visions, dreams, and metaphors are layered with meaning, and it can be almost impossible to see and clearly comprehend all the layers.  This morning I have more questions than answers as it relates to these things and confess that the on-going textual blueprint of Ezekiel’s temple vision seems to hold very little meaning for my Monday or the week ahead.

And so, I am thankful for the chance to visit Jerusalem and gain personal context for these things. I am trusting that all things will work together towards prescribed times and events. And, I am praying that I may not be so distracted by theological rabbit trails that I neglect more important matters of fulfilling the command to love God with all I’ve got, and to love others as I love myself.

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.

Shame-less

source: fabbriciuse via flickr
source: fabbriciuse via flickr

They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. Ezekiel 39:26 (NIV)

I reached a point as an adult in which I realized that for much of my life journey I had been plagued with an underlying sense of shame, 

Shame (noun) \ˈshām\ a painful emotion caused by consciousness of guilt, shortcoming, or impropriety.

I felt a constant sense of being “less than” some sort of ubiquitous “should be.” I had a friend and therapist who once asked me to place a label to the core pain I felt deep in my spirit. After pondering the question for a week or two the answer I came up with was “not enough.”

This led me on a journey of learning more about shame. There is healthy shame and there is unhealthy shame. Like our appetite for food, healthy shame is a necessary part of a balanced life. Shame for our honest mistakes and shortcomings motivates us to check our behavior and make positive changes. But, appetites unbridled lead to unhealthy places. Shame that is unchecked and out of control leads to all sorts of negative consequences like negative self image, depression, seeking to cover our nagging negative feelings in unhealthy ways, and etc.

I came to realize over time that I was not alone in my struggle. Most people, whether they realize it or not, grapple with an underlying sense of shame. I have come to the conclusion that unhealthy shame is a very natural part of the human condition after The Fall. My discoveries led me to a time of study, introspection, and change. I began catching myself when my thoughts were given over to shame. I started consciously allowing myself to be affirmed in an active counter balance to my destructive self talk. As a result, I have I’ve found myself in much healthier places over time.

Today’s chapter is a continuation of the prophetic foreshadowing of the end times that began in yesterday’s chapter. I found it interesting that one of the restorative spiritual promises God gives is that the people will, in this climactic conclusion, “forget their shame.” I look forward to the Day when I can completely forget my shame.

Until then, I will continue on in my struggle to keep unhealthy shame in check, one day at a time.

Foreshadowing and Climax

Megiddo Valley of Armageddon

You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. Ezekiel 38:15-16a (NIV)

The prophetic messages of Ezekiel in today’s and tomorrow’s chapter are part of a curious and mysterious niche of theological study known as eschatology, the study of prophecy and the end times. The vision and message in today’s chapter calls out a leader named “Gog” of the land of “Magog” from the “far north” who will gather a multi-national coalition of armies to march on Israel in a massive battle.

Most scholars agree that these chapters parallel the vision of John (Revelation 16) who names the location of this gathering of kings for a final great battle: Armageddon. The valley of Armageddon near the ancient town of Megiddo is in northern Israel which is now the site of an on-going archaeological study and a tourist center. I had an opportunity to visit several years ago and that’s the valley of Armageddon behind me in the picture above.

As fascinating as these prophetic matters are to ponder and discuss, I have come to a few conclusions about them along my journey. First, I have known many people who become so obsessed with these prophesies (it can be like solving a massive, unsolvable puzzle) that they get lost in it. I don’t quite see the point of getting so distracted by trying to understand these things that we ignore more important and current matters.

Second, in any story the idea of foreshadowing is to hint at what is to come in the climactic chapters without giving it away. As author of the Great Story being told in history, I think God intended these foreshadowing prophesies to give us a hint of climactic events to come but never intended us to actually understand all of these matters with certainty. No author wants us to know the details of the climax until we actually get to that point of the story.

Finally, I have come to believe that these foreshadowing prophetic messages are there to remind me that there is a bigger story being told in this life. When encountering the daily headlines and the ebb and flow of international events, I take solace in faith that things are being played out toward a prescribed chapter. We are not yet to that point of the story. And, I’m okay with that.

Cubs Win!

Document-Cubs vs. Padres Sat Apr 18 2015 Tom Vander Well Page 1

Document-Cubs vs. Padres Sat Apr 18 2015 Tom Vander Well Page 2

I’ve been enjoying watching the Cubs and scoring the games in this early season. Really nice win in extra innings. Though the bullpen blew the “W” in the 9th, the story-line thus far this season has been the young team’s ability to come through late. They didn’t give up, and ultimately got the job done.

It’s early, but nice to be two games above .500 and just one game behind the “evil empire” in St. Louis. Today was Kris Bryant’s first major league hit and RBI. It’s always fun to watch when you just might be witnessing a little moment in baseball history.