Posted in Christianity, Faith

Crafted Glory: A Lesson From Solomon’s Temple

 

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The temple was magnificent, clothed in precious metals, high above the city, the very best that man could create in honor of an immortal, all-mighty God. Imagine the morning sun rising to its zenith, glinting off the gold and silver and bronze that had been hammered and polished until it gleamed. In a city that had known nothing except rebellion and blood shed, the uncertainty of a hostile world despite their powerful King David, how different it must have been to face each day with this overpowering symbol of God’s sovereignty, an ever-present promise of the peace and prosperity that marked the reign of the wisest king the world had ever known.

Reading the story of King Solomon’s completion of the temple this morning, I was struck by the challenges to human nature the building of the temple must have presented to its many craftsman. So many people had to be employed to contribute to the work that it took 3600 foremen just to oversee all the builders hand-working stones in the quarry to be carted to the building site. The temple itself rose from the ground in a kind of reverent silence.

Hiram the bronze worker made an 11,000-gallon bowl they called a Sea. Statues of bulls served as the pillars to hold it up. He crafted pomegranates to give ornament to the temple. He must have worked from the first light of each day until he could no longer see even by candlelight each night, and yet his work, as well as the others, was not completed for seven long years.

When your God gives you the skill to create that which will be worthy of representing Him to your peers, how do you not at first quake at the fear of failing Him and later, as you see the beauty of what He enables you to create, keep yourself from feeling a surge of pride bordering on obsession to perfect what glorifies Him and at the same time shines a reflective light on yourself as well?

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I admire the humility of these craftsman who must have kept in perspective the absolute need for God’s backing to their success despite the very real temptation to stand back at the end of a long work day and admire one’s handiwork. Their success in completing the temple and the subsequent worship that God blessed there for many years to come tells us that they were grateful, obedient servants to His word, rather than those who might fall victim to pride, mistaking the beauty of what they had created as a thing glorified rather than realizing it only symbolized the glory of a God we mere humans can only begin to imagine.

The beauty of this building cast in precious metals would have meant nothing if it did not represent a living, loving God.  I think it also represents God’s understanding of our very human natures. He who defined light and shadow needs no building from which to rule or be exalted. But we humans, especially those living in a time where all kinds of gods were worshipped in elaborate venues, seem more inclined to understand our worship when it has some kind of physical representation.  Not only did Solomon’s Temple represent the quantitative wealth of the nation of Israel, it also represented the greatest wealth Israel would ever have—the honor of being the chosen people of the one and only God.

When I use the talent God gives me to glorify His name, I can only pray that I too give full credit to the One from Whom it comes. The moment I become more concerned with how well something I have done represents or reflects on me rather than God, I have put my trust in earth’s treasures instead of those which are in heaven. And I so want to have a chest full of heavenly treasures when this race of mine is done.

God is good all the time, and any work that strives to shine His goodness in a world cast in shadow is work that is worthy of our sweat and tears and devotion, whether that work takes seven years of hard labor to complete or a lifetime.

It may not be the lesson God intended in telling us how Solomon built the Lord’s Temple, but it’s a lesson I need to hear in my life, especially when I am tempted to think that my limited skills have anything to do with me instead of everything to do with God.

In Christ,
Ramona

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Posted in Christian Living

Denial Ain’t Just A River In Egypt, Unfortunately

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                            The Nile River

Our country was founded on the principle of being “one nation under God.” For some, the experiment of government which began in 1776 represented the supreme achievement of humanity, a project that surely had the approval and even power of God behind it.

I wonder what those founders would say about the country we have today. Do we still reflect a nation under God?

As I watched an episode of “Family Feud” recently, I was struck by the number one answer to the prompt that cuts to the heart of this question of our nation’s “godliness.” When asked how many of the Ten Commandments they had broken in the past week, the majority of people said once.

One time, really? As comedian John Pinette might put it, “I say, nay, nay.”

What this response revealed to me was the depth of our self-delusion in a world marked by a strong reliance on a belief system that is really humanism cloaked in religion. Humanism places mankind above all things, going so far as to make man a god. The end goal of humanism is happiness, often achieved by convincing the self that it is the best possible self it can be.

Humanists have a relative moral compass. As long as they don’t hurt somebody else, then they are living good lives. In fact, if their ultimate happiness is achieved by their actions, then even if they hurt somebody, their actions are justified.

Television, movies, the internet, and the unyielding consumerism machine all support the humanistic approach to life. They are pervasive, persuasive and corrosive. They do a great job of lulling us into a sense of security so that we don’t even realize when the lines between religion and humanism are blurred.

Consumerism leads us away from God.
Consumerism leads us away from God.

But when we get specific, the walls of humanism crumble. Consider the Ten Commandments question. Because we are conditioned to see the best side of ourselves, we really don’t see our own failings. We fall victim to the pride that most severely separates us from the one, true God.

On any given day, we must fight the temptations that would have us breaking the commandments. How often do you allow the cares of this world to get in the way of your relationship with God, whether it be watching television when you could be studying the Bible or trying to juggle your funds because of purchases you should not have made? Are you ruled more by God or by the bills in your mailbox?

Do you really make it through a day without wanting the handbag some woman is carrying in the mall or, even more likely, the kind of life you see blaring from your television screen? You may not follow through on the desire, but you are still coveting.

Were you short with your father or mother this past week? Did they make a simple request you scoffed? Can you not remember the last time you even spoke to them? Honoring your father and mother involves more than just doing what you are told when you are under their roof.

Did you know that God hates a loose, lying tongue? Look for verses on the words we speak, and you will find countless references in the Word warning us to bide our tongues. In Revelation, God equates perpetual liars with those who practice sexual perversions on the sin list. Did you tell the whole truth in the last week? Were your words kind, uplifting and of the Spirit? Did you manage to refrain from gossip, which is usually a half-truth that is still a form of lying?

Do you think my take on the commandments is too strict, too overreaching? Read the Sermon on the Mount. Christ did not come to the world to negate the Law, but to fulfill it. His sacrifice saves us from our own sinfulness, but it does not give us carte blanche to sin. In fact, Christ’s approach to living takes the Ten Commandments to the next level.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ implores us to not only not commit adultery, but to not even think about it. If one part of our body leads us into sin, He tells us, then we would be better served to rid ourselves of the offending body part then risk not making it to heaven.

Choose to be humble.
                     Choose to be humble.

God loves humility, which the Bible defines as the “fear of the Lord” (Proverbs 22:4a). A humble heart embraces its own failings. A humble heart sees truth through the eyes of its Maker and not according to its own desires. “Pride brings a person low,” the Proverbs tell us, “but the lowly in spirit gain honor” (29:23).  As opposed to humanism, which encourages people to consider the self as godly, Christianity implores us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit; rather, in humility value others above yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

A truly humble heart would answer the Ten Commandments question quite differently. It would know that in a world that is cloaked in the grace of Christ, we still stumble. We continue to strive because of Christ’s example of love, even as we know that we will ultimately fall short. The very definition of grace, the gift of salvation from a loving God that cannot be earned but must be accepted, proves that no person is without sin.

My prayer is that we all can live in the eye-opening state of humbleness rather than the veiled existence of humanism. Only by putting God first in all things instead of ourselves will we truly see ourselves most clearly. Then, we will know that the Ten Commandments are about our everyday lives and not some archaic law to be considered once a week. Then, we will truly understand what it means to live “under God.”

 

Posted in Christian Living, Faith

Do You Have The Guts To Pray This Prayer?

Find Your Daily Sacred Space
Find Your Daily Sacred Space

One of the phrases that Benedictine monks regularly use to help them stay in a meditative state begins, “Lord, have mercy on me a sinner….”  The first few times I used it for myself, I finished it with phrases like, and help me shine Your Light or and help me be like Christ.  

When you first start to say those first words over and over, you are reminding yourself of your own human-ness.  We are all sinners.  We have no rights to judge other people for their actions because we have taken actions that are equally horrible in the eyes of a perfect God.  Luckily, that same God forgives us, so that the phrase, have mercy on me, a sinner, also means we can grasp that mercy and find peace.

In my perpetual quest to learn to give up the control of my life to Jesus so that I experience His peace, I am discovering some not so pleasant truths about myself.  I am always helping people out, it seems like to me.  So, I could pat myself on the back and say I’m doing pretty well.  I have a servant’s heart.

Here’s the problem.  Whenever I get stressed, I can get really angry about all this “helping out” that I am doing.  That reaction seems more like a martyr’s heart to me than a servant’s heart.  In other words, many times when I am doing things for others, am I doing it deep down because it feeds my feelings of self-worth instead of because of my unselfish love for others?

So, as I processed these thoughts lately, it came to me that I would probably be a lot happier, calmer, more peaceful in life if I could tame the beast that is my pride.

But, do I really have the guts to say the prayer that gets me help with that one?

I’ve prayed for humility before, usually by hedging.  Give me more humility, please God, but please don’t make the lesson painful.  That was usually the gist of my prayers.

This morning, as I began my phrase, God, have mercy on me a sinner, I knew what the ending needed to be.  But, I had to take several deep breaths before I could finish the statement.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, and make me humble.

Praying for humility with no qualifiers and really wanting it means I have to be willing to experience pain.  The Bible teaches that through perseverance we learn patience and through patience we build character.

I am not looking forward to the lessons I am going to be facing as I continue to pray to God to remove my pride.  But I believe in His blessings for the humble enough to know that this is one prayer I must have the guts to pray if I expect to allow God to work to the good what He has planned for my life.

His will, not mine.  His omnipotence, my humility.

What prayer have you not had the guts to pray?  Get on your knees now and pray it.  God will bless you for it, even if the initial answer seems truly painful.

In Christ,
Ramona

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity

Never Too Old to be Schooled

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“On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our own bottom.”
― Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

Anyone who has ever been a teacher in a formal setting knows that you learn materials best by having to teach others, but you also know that you have plenty of things you can also learn from your students, as long as you are open to the idea, which often means giving way to pride and being open to the possibilities of a humble heart.

But, anyone can benefit from the possibilities that occur when we are open to learning from others, no matter if we are supposed to be teaching those others or not. And those others can be young people half our age as well as our “elders,” can be people who make almost no money to those who make millions.

Case in point: I have been doing desktop publishing for our family health food store for almost 17 years, an outcropping of experience I started gaining when I was just in high school journalism classes. Lately, I have had to hand over some of my duties to a young woman who works for us. She is about to begin her junior year in college. I am almost 20 years out from my graduate degree. Sure, so far, I’ve had to edit her work as she puts together test ads for me, but they are fairly small changes that I can easily explain to her to improve upon the next time.

What I have learned so far is that it is very nice to have a second voice offering ideas about advertising slogans and perspectives. It is quite a bit quicker to edit an ad layout that is already quite strong than to have to come up with the entire ad to begin with. I also have been reminded that other people can come up with creative and intelligent ideas.

Today, I even learned that I could use a computer program I hadn’t even thought about in a while to create cropped pictures with traced transparencies that will be very useful for my advertising and marketing and website purposes. I was so happy to be able to say to my younger employee that we could learn from each other during this process! And the employee was excited too.

My point is that in order to learn from anyone, from a superior at work to a young person you might otherwise write off as naive or inexperienced, you have to be open to the possibilities and willing to see the world through an unbiased lens. Forget the attitude and especially the fear that keeps you from admitting that you still have things to learn, especially when you are dealing one-on-one with somebody. I think you will find that people will respect you more when you are honest about what you know and don’t know instead of putting on an act of bravado and never admitting that you still have something to learn.

God wants us to be always open to instruction. The Proverbs discuss the importance of discipline. The Old Testament is replete with reminders that God will humble us if we do not take care of our attitude ourselves. In the New Testament, Jesus reminds us that we must come to Him as little children, meaning with an attitude of full faith that includes admitting we don’t understand everything but are willing to believe anyway.

None of us are ever too old to be schooled. And since we never know exactly how God is working the things that happen in our lives to the good, don’t we all have every reason to be open to learning from anything and everything that happens to us? Even a two-year-old knows a few things that we have managed to forget as adults. Have you ever seen a better nap-taker?

“Life is a long lesson in humility.”
― J.M. Barrie, The Little Minister

Posted in Christian Living, Living, Self-Help

Are You Too Old To Be “Schooled?”

20120813-184144.jpg Anyone who has ever been a teacher in a formal setting knows that you learn materials best by having to teach others, but you also know that you have plenty of things you can also learn from your students, as long as you are open to the idea.

But, anyone can benefit from the possibilities that occur when we are open to learning from others, no matter if we are supposed to be teaching those others or not. And those others can be young people half our age as well as our “elders,” can be people who make almost no money to those who make millions.

Case in point: I have been doing desktop publishing for our family health food store for almost 17 years, an outcropping of experience I started gaining when I was just in high school journalism classes. Lately, I have had to hand over some of my duties to a young woman who works for us. She is about to begin her junior year in college. I am almost 20 years out from my graduate degree. Sure, so far, I’ve had to edit her work as she puts together test ads for me, but they are fairly small changes that I can easily explain to her to improve upon the next time.

What I have learned so far is that it is very nice to have a second voice offering ideas about advertising slogans and perspectives. It is quite a bit quicker to edit an ad layout that is already quite strong than to have to come up with the entire ad to begin with. I also have been reminded that other people can come up with creative and intelligent ideas.

Today, I even learned that I could use a computer program I hadn’t even thought about in a while to create cropped pictures with traced transparencies that will be very useful for my advertising and marketing and website purposes. I was so happy to be able to say to my younger employee that we could learn from each other during this process! And the employee was excited too.

My point is that in order to learn from anyone, from a superior at work to a young person you might otherwise write off as naive or inexperienced, you have to be open to the possibilities and willing to see the world through an unbiased lens. Forget the attitude and especially the fear that keeps you from admitting that you still have things to learn, especially when you are dealing one-on-one with somebody. I think you will find that people will respect you more when you are honest about what you know and don’t know instead of putting on an act of bravado and never admitting that you still have something to learn.

God wants us to be always open to instruction. The Proverbs discuss the importance of discipline. The Old Testament is replete with reminders that God will humble us if we do not take care of our attitude ourselves. In the New Testament, Jesus reminds us that we must come to Him as little children, meaning with an attitude of full faith that includes admitting we don’t understand everything but are willing to believe anyway.

None of us are ever too old to be schooled. And since we never know exactly how God is working the things that happen in our lives to the good, don’t we all have every reason to be open to learning from anything and everything that happens to us? Even a two-year-old knows a few things that we have managed to forget as adults. Have you ever seen a better nap-taker?

Posted in Christian Living, Christianity, Living, Love

Tiny Steps Make Great Feats

I have a friend who shares my proclivity to demand perfection of ourselves and the grand ability to beat ourselves up when we fall far short of the over-reaching goals we have set for ourselves. Lately, our conversations have circled around the concept of “magnificence.” In other words, we are trying to make it OK for ourselves that we are not going to be “magnificent.”
Then, I have to stop us. Whenever we make statements like this, we are shortchanging ourselves in so many ways. First, we are denying the truth behind what we define as magnificent. Of course, our definition is much too tied to the ways of this world. Because we haven’t made millions or written the country’s greatest novel, we are failures in our own eyes. That definition, in itself, though, is a failure in the eyes of God, who even when He came to earth in the form of man, did not seek stardom, even shunning the crowds that thronged toward Him as much as possible at times, asking those He had healed to keep the event to themselves.
This is when we are better served to remind ourselves that God’s version of magnificence is a tiny mustard seed, which, once planted, can be nurtured by the Spirit into a truly wonderful plant. Our actions aren’t the thing that make the end result, however. God is interested in the mustard seed size actions we take that, culminating together, create the final, magnificent result.
Maybe our small actions are simple things like holding open a door, smiling to those we meet, or stopping to help someone change a flat tire. Perhaps they are actions that are a little more involved like making a meal for someone who is ill, or cleaning house for someone who cannot do the job him/herself. Maybe the action is being privileged enough to be the first person to share her gospel experience with a person who has never had the opportunity to know Jesus.
When I look out my back window and watch the robins and cardinals and squirrels scampering in my backyard, a plethora of color and motion that reminds me what it means to be peacefully human, I sometimes think about the ways that God speaks to us in just as tiny a motion as the mustard seed He also requires. Hasn’t He more often been a whisper in the wind than earth-shattering thunder?
It’s hard to re-define success in a world surrounded by capitalistic ideals, but my friend and I keep on trying, holding each other accountable for the moments when we berate our mustard seed actions and long for superhero status. The prideful will be humbled, God warns us. We do our best each day to humble ourselves before we need to be humbled. Paying attention to our mustard seed actions is a good way to stay on the right side of humility. I’m getting older, and my knees can’t take another fall.