I went to Israel in May and I'm still untangling how it changed me. When we landed back in the States, one of our group members said, "It's like we just time traveled." Our flight from Newark, NJ to Tel Aviv, Israel was ten hours and we were met with a 7 hour time difference. For ten days we were at least one day ahead of the Western world, but centuries behind in history.
I went into this trip expecting a spiritual whirlwind experience. However, the trip itself was much more like a crash course in Israeli and Jewish history. I adjusted my mindset in a few days and found that coming home would be the start of the spiritual renewal in me. When you learn things like the name "Mary" doesn't exist in Hebrew and so it's in fact "Miriam" mother of Christ - and that Jesus' Miriam is reminiscent of Aaron's sister Miriam - the Bible becomes a beautiful mystery all over again. And when your eyes see the same sights as Jesus' eyes, this disruptive religion of Christianity takes on new life. Little realizations like Mary's undercover name have the potential to scare us: are there any core doctrines we are translating incorrectly? Is my Bible translation leading me astray? Can I even know God if I don't know Hebrew and haven't seen the landscape?
I rest in the fact that God isn't confined to one language. He speaks in dreams, pictures, visions, through music...etc. I have a Malaysian friend who is fluent in both Malay and English. I asked her if God spoke to her in both or one language. She said both depending on which language got across the idea best. What a sweet avenue into God's heart. I'm learning Sign Language in college...praying for the day that God speaks to me through it.
What's been dancing around in my head the most since I've returned has been the wonder of what it means that believers are now God's temple.
I can't relate to temples. I'm not even sure that America has anything remotely close to what the temple was for the Jews. The temples and synagogues were the epicenter of Jewish life because that's where God's presence was (quite literally at some points in history) and that's where the people had to go to connect with God.
In Israel, we visited the Wailing Wall. This wall is considered to be part of an old temple. Jews still congregate there today to pray and cry out before the Lord because that's where God's presence is for them. There's security when you walk in. A wide and sunbleached courtyard stretches far out from the actual wall with dividers standing between the men's side and the women's side. The wall itself is not all that large. But long enough for scores of Jews to press themselves against the massive stones in prayer. All along the wall, there are prayer papers snuggled into the cracks. A little more unromantic was the hundreds of white plastic lawn chairs and women backing away from the wall (it's disrespectful to turn your back on a holy place) and running into the chairs and little kids romping around.
A startling mix of reverence, normality, and bondage. Eerie music hovered over the atmosphere and I wondered what it was worshipping God for. I picked up a prayer paper off of the ground in hopes I could read it and pray for someone. We sat and watched and I prayed. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would make Himself known to each of the women and that God would reveal to them His son, Jesus, as the Messiah.
Many think of the Wailing Wall as sacred and holy unlike any other thing. Maybe I'm missing something, but I walked away thankful that when I don't know how to cry out, the Spirit in me does, and that no matter where my back is facing, God is still before me, beside me, behind me, and within me. If I believed God's presence was only in some holy places, I would pitch a tent and never leave. His presence is the craving of my life.
1 Corinthians 3:16, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?"
I lose words when I think about what it means that we - our bodies and spirits - are God's home. We are the temple He constructed from the beginning. He is only home and we are only home when we are together. He couldn't be in us for thousands of years after we sinned and the cross cleared the path for the Holy Spirit to come to a joyous homecoming and reunion. God has never been confined by space and time, but He clothed Himself with skin to blow away the sin that kept us from being his home. Still, we are not at our final and eternal home of Heaven. But our souls are eternal and are even now communing with God's Spirit within us.
The miracle of the cross cannot be thought on enough. Jesus' sacrifice was the gateway for the Holy Spirit to enter us. The shock of the resurrection; the joy of the Father as He sent His Spirit to journey home to our souls are things that I cannot turn my face from.
Believers today have never had to experience life without God's Spirit in us. We know little to nothing about the radical and timeless changes that Jesus instated. To be so brash, to be so bold, to be so generous with peace and freedom to dismember religion entirely and to name us His dwelling place probably sounded too good to be true at the time.
We can get angry when good things are given to us that we don't really believe we deserve. I wonder if that was part of the Pharisees' heart.
2 Peter 2:4 calls believers "living stones." A living stone is any stone that serves a purpose; that has a specific function and job for a building. Stones that aren't used for buildings and that remain part of the landscape are called "dead stones." 2 Peter 2:4 says, "As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." The thing about living stones is that they all were at one time dead. Choice and chiseling is what made them into living stones. Every stone had to be chiseled perfectly to serve its function well. The more specific the position of the stone, the more the chiseling.
Because we are named living stones, we can expect to be chiseled so that we can fit our specific function and purpose for every season of our lives. Our tour guide made this comment as he taught us about living and dead stones, "That pain is bad is unbiblical." Suffering - chiseling- is the crucible that transforms us from dead stones into living stones. Our guide also said, "There's always meaning in the pain. But meaning doesn't lessen the pain. It's just a guide to handle the pain well and with hope."
We can choose to remain dead stones. We can choose to not live out our identity as God's temple and living stones in His Church. We can choose to see pain as a thing to be avoided and feared. But we grievously cheat ourselves. We leave our souls dirty and unfit for the throne of King Jesus and continue wailing at a wall He set us free from.
Sometimes we feel distant from God. Could it be because of a weak hold on our identities as temples?
I listened to a sermon this morning by Matt Chandler about work and rest. He talked about the Sabbath and how it is actually a thing that God instated that denies us a spirit of self-reliance and grows in us a spirit of dependence on Him. Ezekiel 20:20, "Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” It's a sign to remind us who is God and who is definitely not God. The Sabbath is about identity. Chandler said over and over again, "Step into the privilege of your identity. God's not upset with you for falling short. He doesn't think that way: you do."
A temple isn't a place anymore, it's an identity.
The Sabbath is not a practice anymore, it's an identity.
A living stone is not just an analogy anymore, it's an identity.
These admonitions to take chiseling well, to wonder in amazement and be humbled that we are temples, and to step into our identities as living and not dead stones are not shame-filled requirements. These are privileges that we can take or leave. These are gifts that God gives us to remain under His wing. These are identities that protect us and motivate us. We don't have to become the temple, we already are. We have been for thousands of years now. We just have to live like it's true.
A picture says 1000 words. Here are some from the trip!
At Caiaphus' house. One of the places that Jesus was put on trial the morning of His crucifixion. These steps are the actual ancient steps where Jesus walked to the trial.
The Sea of Galilee! Fresh water and the prettiest seafoam color.
The Garden at Gethsemane. Some of these trees are the same trees Jesus prayed under.
Our tour guide - Arie - teaching us about dead and living stones.
Herod the Great's hippodrome at Caesarea. Also the Mediterranean Sea and ALSO a prison that Paul was kept in for two years (the structure to the left of the entrance).
What I've learned about what it means to be transformed into the image of Christ, be reconciled to Him, myself, & others, and how to be His disciple.