Little Boxes on the Hillsides

IMG_1135So began an irreverent song in the 60’s, but as I walked back down the hill toward my house in the foothills today, a thought I’d had  earlier in the week driving home struck me again. What are the conversations going on in the minds of the people in these  custom and semi-custom houses? In reality, all they are is boxes.

Unvoiced perhaps, but perhaps subconsciously thought, going up from these boxes: “ My box is bigger than your box… My box sits higher up the hill than your box…. I’m glad my box isn’t down there below the river …My box is full of more stuff, fancier stuff than your box… My box makes me important… My box tells the world who I am and why I’m important…” and perhaps some voices  down below the  river: “I wish I had a bigger box up on the hillside … I deserve a better box than this … .” Surely, and true, many people may be grateful for the boxes they have, that they have a box lid over their  heads, that  they have a place to sit and eat and sleep.

Yet up here on the hillside (and even down below the  river)  nobody asks who the real lien holder on the land is, who holds your hill in his hands, who created the minerals in that mine far in the background, who can call in the loan at any time.

Genesis 1:1
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Psalm 33:6
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

Psalm 24:1
A Psalm of David. The earth is the LORD’S, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 50:10-11
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.

Job 41:11 Who has first given to Me, that I should repay him? Whatever is under the whole heavens is Mine.

Nehemiah 9:6
“You alone are the LORD. You have made the heavens, The heaven of heavens with all their host, The earth and all that is on it, The seas and all that is in them. You give life to all of them And the heavenly host bows down before You.

Haggai 2:8 —

” ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

John 1:3

Through Him all things were made, and without Him nothing was made that has been made.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God in your body.“

Colossians 1: 15-17 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in Him all things were created, things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. All things were created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.…

Walking down this hill that my mind and hand could never make, that no land developer or geologist or  architect or construction engineer could ever create from pre-existing molecules,let  alone from nothing. I bow in holy awe of the One who spoke, “Let there be earth,” shaped these hills, spun the earth to create day and night, gave me cells and DNA and breath and life, because without His Spirit and breath, I’m the same as the sand beneath my shoes.

“Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades! Never-ending, Your glory goes beyond all things! And the cry of my heart is to give you praise – from the inside out, Lord, my soul cries out to you… consume me from the inside out.” Be all you are in me,and how totally implausible is that for me to ask of God Almighty? I have no right to ask that, EXCEPT that through Jesus I am adopted into God’s family,called his own,  filled with his Spirit, loved, no matter  what  size or shape box i live in, how it is filled, how empty it may be, or who shares it with me.

And when I stand before Jesus, I wonder, will he ask me how big my box was, how much I had in it, how high on the  hill it sat? Or will he ask me  what I did with the time and the life and resources I had, all that He  gave me, while I was here? Will He ask,”Who did you love? How did you love? To whom did you reach out? To whom did you give a ride to their job? To whom did you give a loaf of bread? Whose child did you clothe? Who did you comfort in their grief? Who did you share me and my love with?”

“‘When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’”

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:38-40 NIV

Jesus speaks a sobering word as I sit in my box and  look out at  the boxes around me down the hill:

Matthew 25:15-29English Standard Version (ESV)

To one he gave five talents,to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.’  His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’  He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed,  so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’  But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed?  Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest.  So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.

I hope, I pray, I have answers for those questions that  will gladden the heart of God.

Lord God, I am eternally grateful for a roof over my head, a place  to sleep, food to eat,clothing to wear, family and friends  to love, and, improbably, for my very life, a  gift from you. Help me to manage all that you give me with love and faithfulness,  out of love for who you are and all you’ve already given: the priceless blood of your son Jesus as a  ransom for my life and soul, my righteousness, my life  forever with you in your house.

Coming home into my box, I fall on my face on the floor in reverent awe of the Holy One who created, differentiated, gave life to, and sustains it all and us all.

 

A”…BUT…” to pray: God Almighty, I may not have much in the sense of possessions, or I may have more than enough, BUT no matter what I have or lack, I have YOU as my Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Provision, Father,  Savior, Loving Lord,and that give me  value no one can take  from me. You say I am yours, and that alone makes me ___________________________________________________________________ and I thank you for your Spirit within me! Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and who can stop the Lord Almighty?

No Pigs in theTemple

As Simple as it Gets

A sacred space. So very different from the way 99% of our culture views the physical relationship between a husband and wife, a man and a woman in covenant, but I awoke literally to that understanding. When I spoke my covenant promise 45 years ago, I meant it and intended to keep it, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and health, for better or for worse, forsaking all others keep myself only unto him so long as we both shall live.” Many churches in the Christian community consider marriage a sacrament, right alongside communion and, for some, baptism.

Full Definition of SACRAMENT according to Merriam-Webster:

1a :  a Christian rite (as baptism or the Eucharist) that is believed to have been ordained by Christ and that is held to be a means of divine grace or to be a sign or symbol of a spiritual reality

directly from Latin sacramentum “a consecrating”; from sacred directly from Latin sacrare “to make sacred, consecrate; hold sacred; immortalize; set apart, dedicate,”

This I know is true from Scripture: when I received Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior, God’s Spirit then lives in me.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you. Romans 8: 10-11 NIV

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-10.

In its whole context, this passage reads:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:15-20

I’d been Christian a long time before I recognized the truth that, when we are joined with Jesus, our body becomes the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. In truth, our heart becomes a type of the Holy of Holies, the place in the physical Temple where God’s Spirit dwelt, the place where only a consecrated priest could enter at specified times to meet with God.

This lives, alive in spirit and I think in real, tangible truth, in marriage between two Christians. Even for two human beings who aren’t Christian, physical union creates a spiritual reality:

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24 NIV

Married to my husband, when we came together in the physical bond of intimacy, we created a spiritual bond as well, and a oneness in spirit even truer than the physical union. If our bodies were the Temple of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, then that union creates a sacred space where the Holy Spirit in him joined the Holy Spirit in me – a consecration, held dedicated, set apart, a means of divine grace – expressing a spiritual reality in physicality. That was God’s intent for marriage from the beginning of creation.

God’s Temple was meant to be and remain undefiled, a holy space set apart for man to meet with God. Nothing unclean was allowed in the Temple, particularly in the Holy of Holies. But enter the Greek Antiochus IV, the 8th ruler of the Seleucid empire centered in Babylonia and covering the eastern p[art of Alexander the Great’s former empire. He gave himself the surname “Epiphanes” which means “the visible god” (that he and Jupiter were identical). He acted as though he really were Jupiter and the people called him “Epimanes” meaning “the madman”. He was violently bitter against the Jews, and was determined to exterminate them and their religion. He devastated Jerusalem in 168 BC, defiled the Temple, offered a pig on its altar, erected an altar to Jupiter, prohibited Temple worship, forbade circumcision on pain of death, sold thousands of Jewish families into slavery, destroyed all copies of Scripture that could be found, and slaughtered everyone discovered in possession of such copies, and resorted to every conceivable torture to force Jews to renounce their religion. This led to the Maccabaean revolt, one of the most heroic feats in history.

What in the world does Hellenistic history have to do with marital intimacy? Simply put: no pigs on the altar. We bring pigs into the sacred space of our covenental union when we bring in corruption and loose standards from popular culture, when thoughts of being with anyone other than our marriage partner enter our minds, when we set any “unclean thing” before our eyes other than our spouse and the sacredness of that person’s body and spirit.

I always wanted to write, and decades ago I began composing a romance novel in my mind. I set out the slot, the setting, and the characters … until I saw the trap I could easily have fallen into. I could have created a male character, a hero so perfect in my eyes that the value, worth, and person of my own husband might have begun to diminish in my thoughts and eventually my heart. A pig on the altar. Immediately I dropped the idea. No one and nothing was going to take the place of my husband in my thoughts, affections, or body, period. He was God’s gift to me, God’s Spirit lived in him, and bringing anything else into our relationship was, to me, tantamount to bringing a pig into the Holy of Holies.

My husband regarded our bedroom as a space off-limits to our children. Even more off-limits were both of our bodies, reserved for each other alone, held apart, sacred, meant to be consecrated to each other alone.

Yes, sexual intimacy is meant to be pleasurable, enjoyable, even fun, but above all and surrounding all, sexual intimacy creates a sacred space between two people. I’ve found few in the world of online dating who believe this is true, but I know in the core of my being that it is meant to be so – a sacred space – by the One who created our sexuality to begin with. All you have to do is read the Song of Songs in the Bible to know that god didn’t create sexual intimacy to be something stuffy and ethereal; he meant it to be physical and spiritual at the same time.

Pigs in the Temple? Pornography: A pig in the Holy of Holies. Thoughts straying to anyone else: a pig in the Holy of Holies. Selfishness, or bitterness toward your spouse: a pig in the Holy of Holies. Sleeping around casually because that’s the way to know if you’re “truly compatible” with someone else: a pig AND a statue of Zeus in the Holy of Holies, your own and the other person’s heart and spirit as well as body. Adultery, or “just” an emotional relationship with someone of the opposite ex when you belong to someone in covenant: a herd of pigs, the swine that should be run over the cliff carrying the demons of ” okay if it isn’t touching and feeling” with them.

I need to learn to regard everyone I see as a repository for the image of God, every heart as a holy place, but I must reserve the Holy of Holies in my heart and body for the Holy of Holies in only one other vessel, exclusively. One sacred space, one place of consecration, held apart, honoring the God who created this place for two to meet with Him as one, out of honor for the Spirit in us each and both. together

Are you bringing pigs into your temple? Confess it as sin, cleanse the altar, dedicate yourself to God, keep your space sacred, and hold it as consecrated until you enter the sacred space of lifelong covenant.

A “…BUT…” to pray: Oh, Holy and righteous God, you created my body, my heart, my mind and spirit to be a vessel for your Spirit, sanctified, holy and set apart for you through Jesus first of all. Show me where I may have brought pigs into my temple by _____________________________. Show me where I may have desecrated my husband/wife by bringing ____________________________ into our union. Help me/us to consecrate this part of our lives again to you, give us joy in the holiness, and help us to ___________________________ to honor you, Holy Spirit, in the center of our union. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!No Pigs in the Temple.

No At-a-Distance Relationship

I simply can’t sit on my hands to worship or want an at-a-distance relationship with God.I have no criticism or judgment of people who feel comfortable in very traditional liturgical churches – and I do in fact come from a “Call to Worship, Responsive Reading, first-third-and-fifth verses of traditional hymns” faith background, but my deepening intimacy with Jesus puts such a passionate desire to connect with Him into my worship that I can’t sit down to sing or fold my hands in my lap. Out of town at a conference this morning, I attended a congregation of the denomination I grew up in. As familiar as it all was, and as wonderful as the people are, I couldn’t ignore the tugging in my heart to really receive from God in a powerfully personal way.

I cannot keep God at a distance, and I hope God isn’t comfortable with that kind of relationship with me, either. It hit me at a second service I attended today in a Full Gospel church, cut loose to get real and a bit wild with Jesus: I WANT a God who “gets in my face” and “messes with my business.” How else can I be changed, challenged to grow, transformed into the ME God created me to be and the ME I desperately want to be if He doesn’t get intimately involved in my life? Intimacy is messy and boundary-crossing and comfort-zone rattling. Frankly, I pray that the Lover of my soul loves me enough to not WANT me to remain less than the best and greatest I’m meant and created to be. I’ve touched the relentless longing and heard the passionate beat of God’s heart for me. Oh, to be loved by a jealous God who desires a vibrant relationship with me!

“Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear. Forget your people and your father’s house. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honor him, for he is your lord.”  Psalm 45:10-11

“Oh LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when i rise;you perceive my thoughts from afar . . . you are familiar with all my ways. . . You hem me in behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” Psalm 139; 1-5

And why would I want to? This is the God who spilled his own blood in agony to secure my relationship with Him forever!  Early last Sunday morning I was sitting wrapped in a comforter in a chair in the loft of my older son’s house, leaning into the dim light to read the Bible in my morning quiet time. Suddenly my six-year-old granddaughter crept up, crawled under the comforter with me, took my small travel Bible in her hands and began reading from Psalm 27: “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple, for in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his ta . .. .” She stumbled with the word, and I guessed “Tabernacle?”

“Yes,”Elsa replied. “Tabernacle.”

“Do you know what a tabernacle is?” I mused.

She did. “It’s the place where God lived.”

“The tent where the people worshipped Him in the desert,” I added.

“And,” she went on, not missing a beat, “I learned in chapel that it’s like God’s wings. God’s wings are soft and strong.” Those beautiful blue eyes looked up into mine and she snuggled closer.

“Hey Elsa, do you remember the shawl that you and Evan and I hid under the last time I was here?” I asked.  And what she said next so sincerely, innocently, frankly, took my breath away, the Word of God out of the mouth of a child: “Yes, and those knots on your shawl are so tight that nobody could untie them.”

The knots, representing every promise God made to His people, extended to us: so tightly promised that no way will God ever “untie” them!

“Hey, Elsa, you’re right, God is tight with us! You and I are ‘tight.’ ” I drew her closer in a fun wiggling hug. “Do you know what it means to be ‘tight’ with someone?” She shook her head, and I whispered,”It means nothing can ever come between our love.”

Why on earth would I want to keep a “respectful” emotional and liturgical distance from the God who wants to be so “tight” with me that His promises will NEVER fail: he’ll NEVER untie them!

So this morning I figuratively leaped into the lap of the King of Kings, held His hands and danced a little Salsa with him (Wasn’t that exactly what we were singing?) and invited Him – heck, implored Him –  to be”tight” with me, get in my face and mess with my business as much as He wants to and needs to, even when it’s uncomfortable like the ways He’s causing me to recognize and face my fear and impatience and submission issues, to grow me into everything He wants in me, for me, and through me.

So fair warning: even if I’m holding a hymnal and standing still next to you to respect the traditions in your worship . . . I’ll be dancing on the inside. A little Salsa on Sunday is a very good thing, so mess with me, Holy Spirit!

A “. . . BUT . . .” to move:   Oh, God, really I’d like to hide my issues of ____________________________ from You, BUT deeper still I don’t want to be held back and crippled by ______________________, made less than the best You want for me. So I give you permission to get in my face and mess with my ____________________________________.