Monday, May 08, 2006

Sacred Spaces? (A Divided Life? Part 2)

I am continuing to think about distinctions that we as believers (and myself personally) have often made. We talked last time about the distinction that has commonly been made between "time with God" and the rest of our day. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that God is more interested in us being aware of His presence all of the time than in us focusing on Him for 15 minutes, 30 minutes or for 1 hour of our day.

The next distinction that I would like us to talk about is the idea of "holy places" or "sacred spaces" (I love to rhyme!). In the body of Christ we have "church sanctuaries", "Christian retreat centers" and something we even call "the holy land". I know that during my childhood, I was always commanded not to run in the "sanctuary". During my time as an associate pastor, I have myself said "Isn't it great to be in the house of God today?". For a good part of my life, I thought that God was like the grouchy old neighbor in some movies I have seen; you better make sure not to mess up His flowers or track mud on His carpet or else! God's "house" sure was not a very enjoyable place to visit!

I would be willing to venture that many children who grew up in this type of atmosphere are now adults who have separated themselves from the experience we call "church". Was this simply because they were rebellious, and not willing to conform to "God's truth"? For many,I think not. Maybe, just maybe, it never really was "God's house" or "God's flowers" that we were protecting. Maybe God doesn't really care that much about owning a house or having the perfect landscape.?!

It seems that this line of reasoning led to the persecution (and ultimate death) of some of the first believers. Steven, the first Christian martyr, said something about the idea of a "house for God" that helped lead to his death:

"However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. 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?'"
Acts 7:48-50 (NIV)

The Jewish people and leaders were so upset about these and other comments that Steven made, that they ultimately ended up stoning him to death! My, my, aren't religious people touchy?:) A young man by the name of Saul (we know him better as Paul) consented to Steven's death. Yet, we find him later saying essentially the same thing:

"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands."
Acts 17:24-25 (NIV)

Paul went from worshipping in a "holy place" to declaring that there is no such thing as a man-made "house for God"! So, if God doesn't live in our buildings, where does He live? Well, I think you know where I'm going:) Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:16

"Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?" (NIV)

The reason that the veil in the temple was torn in two was so that God could move inside of us (boy, when God checks out, He sure does it with a bang!)! We are the temple! We are the "holy place"! God doesn't live in wood, brick and mortar...He lives inside of us!!! I was talking to a friend about this last week and he told me a funny story. He said that a pastor heard a member of the church correct some kids for chewing gum in the sanctuary. He corrected the member by saying "Don't you mean that the sanctuaries are chewing gum?"

It seems to me that the idea that a building can be "God's house" is very stifling to a believer's growth in Christ. Instead of recognizing the fact that we are the temple God longs to dwell in, we endeavor to get out of bed to meet in a cold, uninviting building that doesn't say a whole lot of good things about the Father's character. For many, these times are not enjoyable, but rather, non-optional, weekly pilgrimages that will somehow earn us brownie points with God. Sometimes we act as if Jesus never came. It's as if we are still trudging along under the Old Covenant. We go to the "holy place", listen to the "holy man" and give our "holy sacrifices" (tithes, etc).

One of the things that seems to have set the early church apart from every other religion and belief system is that they didn't have a temple, they didn't have a priesthood and they didn't offer sacrifices. They were not trying to keep their God happy; instead, they were basking in His joyful love for them! Instead of meeting in grand cathedrals that spoke of the "majesty of God", they met in simple homes that spoke of the intimacy of a loving family with a loving Father. If what the Father really wants is a family, wouldn't a regular old home be a good place for His kids to get together? I don't know of many families that get to know each other in a theater:) Maybe instead of building "holy places" for God, we should build up God's holy places (which just happens to be us)!:) What do you think?

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