Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Temple Oasis

In my last post I spoke of pomegranates as the decor of the tabernacle in Moses' day.  I find it peculiar that the Temple Solomon built was decorated, not so much with pomegranates, but palm trees.  Okay, so I ask myself again, "Why palm trees?" When I think of palm trees my thoughts take me back immediately to a single verse of the Old Testament.

"After leaving Marah, the Israelites traveled on to the Oasis of Elim, 
where they found 12 springs and 70 palm trees.  
They camped there beside the water."  (Exodus 15:27)

To get the full effect of this verse, you have to go back to events which transpire prior to this. God had just delivered Israel through the Red Sea in a great deliverance from Egypt.  Now they have traveled three days into the desert in dire need of water.  They have traveled just far enough to reach the point of no return.  To travel back to the Red Sea would result in certain death.

I'm reminded of the desert I often find after God works a great victory in my life. Valleys abound where there are mountain tops.  He waits until I come to the end of myself--then comes to my rescue, that I might know Him in my experience, not just in my head and heart.

But so often in the desert I turn to the wrong things to satiate my thirst resulting in disillusionment.  The sons of Jacob spot water ahead and run to the pool!  I can picture it now.  Hoards of people, throwing their cloaks aside and sprinting to the water, only to find it bitter. . . not fit to drink.  What a disappointment!  And how disappointing are those things to which I so eagerly run to satisfy my thirst for God . . . movies, sleep, activity, food. . . only to find my problems remain the same.  Moses threw a stick of wood into the water and it turned sweet, good.  I'm reminded of the cross of Jesus, the wood, which makes my life sweet and quenches my thirst.

This is where our verse comes in.

God then leads Israel to an oasis, so much better than Marah, for it has shade! 70 palm trees, and 12 springs of water.  More details.  70 palm trees. Hmmm, there were 70 people in Jacob's family when they moved to Egypt during the famine and 12 family heads, the sons of Jacob.  I wonder if God was not reminding them that He was faithful.  "See?"  He might have been saying, "I brought you to Egypt and sheltered you there, and 400 years later I'm bringing you back to your homeland.  Will I not provide for you?"

Likewise, as His people, God provides for us, beyond what we could ever ask or think!  Palm trees on the Temple remind me of this story and God's over the top provision for His people.  The sacrifice of His Son provides what we need for our salvation, but He invites us to so much more!  Yes, God saves the people at Marah by making the water sweet with the wood, but deeper communion awaits at the oasis of Elim.  Our God is not small.  He does not provide for us out of His meager supply.  Salvation first.  Then rest.  Shade. Springs.  Continual blessing.

As my life is a temple of the Holy Spirit, God causes springs of living water to flow from within.  (John 4:14)  He invites me to rest, a Sabbath rest for the people of God. (Heb. 4:9-11)  And shade from the trials of the day in the communion of His presence.  An oasis of abundant provision.

I love, love the Scriptures.  How they encourage my heart.  Even more so, I love, love my Savior who makes Himself known to me through His Word by the Spirit.  I wonder what my heart, this temple, would be decorated with today?  Praises?  And I wonder what that would look like in a tangible way? Only God knows.  Its our secret.  In heaven I will receive a name only God and I know. (Rev. 2:17) Imagine that!  All those people in heaven and God would be personal with me, with you, each in a unique way all our own. That's my God I'm talkin' about!  Whew!  My husband often says regarding the gospel, "We have the cookie."  My, my, do we ever!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Interior Decorating

Have you ever gotten close and personal with a pomegranate?  If you ever want to eat one, it can't be helped.  Oh, I know, you can buy them in neat little cartons already prepared, but someone at some time had to get their fingers messy.

As I study the Scriptures, and read of obscure specifics I ask myself, "Why would God put that detail in the Bible?"  Everything God does is on purpose and for a reason, nothing random, all inspired.

When I read of the priestly robes and certain parts of the tabernacle being decorated with pomegranates I have to wonder why.  Since they've recently been in season, I've considered the interior decor of the tabernacle.  It is not a fruit I often buy, but a few times a year I venture to tackle one.

These were my thoughts as I prepared a pomegranate this week. They are first of all rather ugly on the outside. They are waxed and polished at the store to make them more attractive, but I'm reminded of Jesus at His crucifixion, where there was no outward beauty to be seen in him. (Isa. 53)

At the same time an artist could make an abstract version of a pomegranate and it would look much like a Christmas ornament, completely round with a deep red color.  How beautiful this would be hanging from the hem of the high priest's robe with alternating bell between each one.

But I think the real reason for the pomegranate might have been as an object lesson of the sacrifice given to pay for our sin.  The Old Testament sacrifices were bloody.  I cannot imagine the acute awareness the people must have had of the gravity of their sin.

As a child, I helped a bit with the butchering on the farm, and it was never my favorite thing.  The smell of raw meat, the animal which gave its life so I could have food, the blood--all repulsed me.  This is likely why we never cooked the meat right away, but rather waited until it had spent some time in the freezer. To this day I still do not like to handle raw meat.  But this was without any feelings for the animal.

How much greater the remorse from sacrifices the Israelites were to offer, often lambs they had tenderly cared for and possibly become attached to. Imagine the deep awareness of the severity of their sin seared onto their minds and hearts watching the blood of that animal pour out for them.

As I cut open a pomegranate, there are beads of red fruit inside.  I cannot help but think of the blood Jesus shed for me, drops of blood to pay for my sin, the sacrifice of the Lamb of God.  To think that just one drop, can wash my sins away.

Even more than that, it is impossible to get the fruit out of the shell without getting your fingers messy.  Jesus had to be up close and personal with my sin.  He touched it.  He was willing to come into a putrid barn to be born, symbolic of the way my wrong doing is offensive to a holy God.  Jesus left the glorious beauty of heaven to get his hands dirty and to involve himself personally in our lives.

What about me?  Do I keep people at a distance or am I willing to be involved in their lives so I might encourage them and build them up?  There is no need of bloody sacrifices now, because Jesus became our sacrifice for all people and all time.  But in a sense, the sacrifice still continues in our love for one another, for the body of believers.  Owe no man anything, but to love one another.  This is the sacrifice I must offer today, is love for one another. (Rom. 13:8)

Whenever I prepare a pomegranate these thoughts come to mind.  And every time I read in the Scriptures of the craftsmen decorating the tabernacle I'm reminded of my Savior, who gave His life for me.  Yes, God had a purpose in mind when He designed the interior of the tabernacle and the priestly garments.  Likewise, my inner heart is draped with "pomegranates" of His blood, the touch of the Designer's nail pierced hand.  My heart, His sacred dwelling place, will never forget the sacrifice.

"...I [God] will not forget you. 
 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands..."  (Isa. 49:15,16)

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Willing Spirit

"...the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak". (Matt. 26:41) So often I've used this verse in the past to cry out to the Lord for His strength to be strong in my weakness.  But what happens when the Spirit is not willing?  I would call that a double whammy.  A weak flesh unwilling spirit combo which results in certain defeat.  In my quest for polishing personal disciplines, I've found the deeper problem lies in my desires, not in the struggle itself.

I've asked God to give me an intense longing for Him, to sway the cravings I have for selfishness . . . even diminish them altogether.  All my longings are really rooted in my search for my Maker.  I want to truly desire Him.  He is completely righteous and so I also want what is right and good for me.  I cannot use a weak flesh as an excuse when it is really my spirit which is not willing.

As I've faced my desires honestly, I've discovered a renewed freedom. I've found this hunger vacuum doesn't have to be an empty void which I seek to fill with relationships, food, networking--you name it, but one which is filled with a longing after God.  I know this is a basic and familiar concept, but to actually  put it into practice has empowered me to be okay with denying myself certain things, primarily because my desires have shifted. And I'm finding cravings for God are more intense.

But I don't just sit here passively waiting for my desires to change.  No, I actively embrace suffering be it ever so little, and it becomes my cross which I take up every day, sometimes every hour.  And in that acceptance find my longings are changing to His.

As I continue my reading through Chronicles I am fascinated with the correlation between the Temple of God and these bodies of ours, the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Solomon made a decided choice to build the Temple for the purpose of honoring the Lord.  (2 Chron. 2:1)  So I would make a choice to discipline my body that I might honor the name of Christ.  If even the highest heavens cannot contain Him, who am I to consider building a house for Him, except as a place to burn sacrifices to Him.  (2 Chron. 2:6)  Denying myself is the burnt offering, which leads to leaving and cleaving.

To become one with Christ in my desires, I must leave certain things in order to cleave, just as a marriage leaves father and mother to become one. When I wake in the morning, I leave a comfortable bed and greet the brisk air in a moonlit jog so I might pray alert . . . to commune with Christ.  Or I leave a good book, so I might cling to the Living Word.  I leave my computer, yes, even my blogging, so I might keep first things first, cleaving to what God has called me to be and do.

He took the initiative and first knit me together in my mother's womb, every part of me touched by the hand of God.  Now my life would be woven into the empty spaces . . .  my cravings. . . in a static cling by leaving behind my desire for other things to fill me, even good things, and earnestly seeking after God.

This is where I've been the last two weeks, moving mountains in my own personal life through an honest look at my desires.  Yes, my flesh is weak and it is only by the power of Christ that I am victor of any battle but an unwilling spirit sometimes seems the far greater obstacle.  I lean on Him to empower me with His desires.

When Solomon finished the Temple the presence of the Lord filled it and the glory of the Lord illuminated it.  Glory. . .God made big.  Likewise, as God continues to conform this temple into the image of Christ, I pray His presence would be so glorious that no manner of darkness may enter in.
(2 Chron. 7:1,2)

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."  Psa. 37:4