Posts Tagged ‘Holy of Holies’

altarWhat is God’s altar today? Is it merely in a church, festooned in appropriate colors for the season of the year, adorned with extras like flowers and candles? What if there is no altar in the church; where then? Rarely do we find the traditional church table in contemporary churches. If anything, it’s the drum set that holds center stage, or perhaps the podium where God’s messenger/priest/pastor/hip guy in a Hawaiian shirt or Toms shoes speaks.

Let me come to God’s altar—let me come to God, my joy, my delight—then I will give you thanks with the lyre, God, my God!  [Psalm 43:4, CEB]

Back in the day of King David when this Psalm (song) was written, there were several altars in the Temple, one holier than the next, until the most sacred altar of all was reached, the one in the “Holy of Holies,” but it was totally inaccessible to the common person, and was only visited on high holy days by a single priest. Is this altar of God we should be imagining?

And by the by, when was the last time you heard a lyre? Here’s a lovely example of a re-created lyre of that time period:

It’s assumed that many of the psalms were songs accompanied by the lyre and that King David, as a young man was quite proficient at playing one. It has a very gentle and soothing sound, but not perhaps, what we might imagine as we stand before this “altar of God.”

Perhaps the real issue is not where or what the altar is or how we come or what instrument we’re playing; instead, perhaps it’s intent. If God is present at the altar, like a meeting place, a touch point, so that each and every time, we came to such an altar, we would meet God, wouldn’t we want to go there often? How much do you want to experience God, to give thanks, to admire and express wonder, to receive love and grace and acceptance.

Oh, God, let me come.

No, God does not need to give permission to attend to this altar. I must simply will it; desire it. Or are my days too full? Even this one. For my morning was whisked away from me and it is already past Vespers as they say, evening for sure. I did not attend the altar.

Are you still unsure where this altar lies? It is within, inside the silence, inside the joy, inside the ever-playing music of God.

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grieving angel“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
    declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.” [Isaiah 55:8-9]

Here’s the difference. When you and I “think,” it’s just an opinion or point of view or perhaps a bit of problem solving. When God thinks, things come into being or mountains move. The answer to the question, “what is God thinking” is incomprehensible to humans. Maybe, “what are You making?” would be better. I get some solace from my faith in a blueprint. Some.

We’ve gotten too casual with God. Perhaps it’s part of the new informal culture where jeans are always acceptable and language has become various letters of the alphabet. YKWIM? We want the “thumbs up” Jesus. We don’t want to be afraid of God so we make God cozy and grandfatherly.

And although a relationship with God can be warm and intimate and full of mercy, there is a point when God basically says, “because I said so.” And this moment needs to be accepted with the same surrender as “cootchy, cootchy, coo.” A creator has the ability and the right to destroy or alter or remake the object. “But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’”Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”[Romans 9:20]

Lately, some terribly difficult circumstances have dropped into the lives of my colleagues and friends: several people have been diagnosed with cancer or had serious surgeries, a couple of people have been on dialysis for over a year, and now a 3 1/2 year old child died just three days after being diagnosed with T-Cell leukemia.The child’s death has been the most difficult of all.

It’s hard to avoid the gripe, “what is God thinking?” Is there a satisfactory answer in my world? Not really.

I understand intellectually. Each journey is different. And although I have come to a peace about my friend Mary dying from pancreatic cancer and how I admire her as she embraces this new path in her life odyssey, the bottom drops out of my confidence, when it’s a child. The grief is heavy, the weight of a family’s loss is palpable.

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed the agony. Some years ago, I went to a viewing of a baby who had died of SIDS. The mother was so distraught that she pulled the lifeless, embalmed child from the coffin and carried her around the room of the funeral chapel. She was inconsolable. And there was nothing to say.

Every step of faith in the face of pain and trauma and sorrow, is an excursion into the mind of Christ, a dance with the Holy Spirit, a siege at the entrance of the “holy of holies.” But the answer is always the same, “God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, God’s ways are not my ways.”

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Here’s the little truth that came to me through this verse about doubt: no one forces us to pray, there is no mandate, we pray by choice. And if that is so, why pray if we don’t believe God hears, receives, responds?

James 1:6-7
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.

We are living today, the result of our prayers of faith. Whoa! you say, but honestly, could it be any other way? Did you pray? Didn’t I? Or, am I living the life of a doubtful prayer?

I don’t think it’s a bad thing to question things we hear or read; it’s reasonable to challenge ideas that don’t line up with our understanding. Without questions, we cannot learn and grow. Without examination, we become dull and follow blindly, sometimes to our own detriment.

But prayer is different because it’s personal. If I choose to pray, to engage with the Holy Spirit, to enter into the realm outside of time and space, then I should do this with the force of conviction that prayer is real, meaningful, and effective.

I think I have been expecting the Christ to cherry-pick through my requests: this one is valid, this one makes sense, this one isn’t a good idea, this one is beyond reason and so forth.

The important factor here is giving up my interpretation of the results as well as my time table. This is essential reasoning behind the classic phrase, “give thanks for all things” [I Thessalonians 5:18] because whatever is happening in the now is part of the answer of a prayer. I’m speaking in broad strokes now. I understand how devastating that would be in the face of a horrible illness, loss of life, or unexpected tragedy. How could these things be part of an answered prayer? I don’t know. It simply could be that one thing had to happen before something else could.

But let me go back to the start of this idea, the moment of prayer and the decision to ask. I saw it so clearly in my quiet time. (And yet I don’t pretend to know all the ins and outs of the meaning.) Yesterday, I had an epiphany about wisdom being part of a daily dose, through prayer. This is a given. I ask, God gives: wisdom for the day. As a result, I can choose better, understand better, and answer better.

But wisdom is not alone in this package, as a brother articulated, much of these requests lie within a prayer we say all the time: the Lord’s prayer. We have simply lost its depth of power and meaning through familiarity.

And what about those people we have held up in the light of prayer? Isn’t God moving and working there? Is God waiting for a finite number of prayers before moving? I don’t think so. We just can’t see the results so we doubt. It’s a human soul with free will. God will not run hilter skilter over that person’s own choices and desires. As my pastor said in services, “God is working both ends of every situation.” And I would add, God is working the middle too.

For me, the point of this discovery is to pray with care, with consciousness, with confidence [Hebrews 10:19-23], with intention. If I doubt God’s ability to move in a situation, then I should save those prayers for another day.

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I have already written about seeing the invisible as well as the Invisible God. Hebrews 12 prescribes another piece of the process: Holiness.

Hebrews 12:14
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

I think it’s a little like being color blind. The closer I come to holiness, the more expansive my color wheel, my prism. When my eyes are clouded by 3-D things, problem mentality, and “what about me?” syndrome, I’m putting myself into a black and white world.

The movie Pleasantville, or even the Wizard of Oz, dramatically captured this difference. Colors look more vivid when they are juxtaposed against shades of gray. Don’t get me wrong, artistically, I love black and white, whether its movies or photographs, but I am talking about a different kind of non-color here. I’m referring to a non-holy world that is flat with unrelenting sameness.

To see God through the lens of holiness, we are promised the universe and that is hinted at through the glory. In American Sign Language, the gesture for holiness is a large arch over the head with the fingers fluttering.

But of course, the real challenge is entering the holy place. I’d say there is a type of nakedness this is a prerequisite for entry, not just the shedding of our outer layer of clothing, but also the skin of expectations and labels and the outer muscles of self-determination. We started walking away from the holy place the first time we said, “No, I want to do it myself.”

I cannot touch the holy because it’s not here in this world.

Holiness is wholeness (completeness, synchronization, transparency); it’s the paradox of loving those who should not be loved, living from inside out, choosing peace over violence, forgiving the unforgivable, mirroring Jesus, and echoing the Holy Spirit.

Wholeness is also brokenness. What is broken? the hard heart, the frozen spirit, the rigid memory, the fear of death.

Holy seeing is not for the faint-hearted. It takes courage and imagination to see what we do not recognize, to see and not identify, to see and embrace.

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For many believers, the “holy city” or “New Jerusalem” represent either some aspect of heaven or a literal reconstruction of the earthly Jerusalem. In any case, this “City-State” is entwined with the “promise” of Godly reconciliation. But do I care?

Hebrews 11:13c, 16
And they [people of faith] admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. . . . they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

There are several references in the New Testament about the City of God and interestingly enough, they begin here, in Hebrews. I believe it’s importance comes from the crucial parts that Jerusalem and the Temple played in the history of Israel and the worship of YHWH, the one true God. For the Israelite, the City was always holy and revered, so much so that even Jesus is recorded as weeping over the city [Luke 19:41-42].

Many cities seem to have personalities and more often than not, they are usually referenced as female: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, New Orleans. They have their individuality and their lovers for many, many people love the cities in which they live and they truly grieve at her injuries or misfortunes. But are any of them holy? Do any, particularly here in the U.S., have a mystical history or aura? Would we ever envision a heavenly version of any of our cities?

The derivation of the word city seems to come from the Latin, civitas or civitatem, which could be loosely translated as community of citizens. It would make more sense then, to imagine the “Holy City” — that long awaited one, that New Jerusalem — not so much as a place, but a gathering . . . of people, of souls, of energy, of life. In Bible times and even long after that, most cities or castles also had a tower of safety, or keep deep within for its people, or its royalty, to seek asylum. In the first Jerusalem, this place of safety was the Temple (and deeper still, behind the veil, in the Holy of Holies) because of the presence of God. The New Jerusalem, then, this aggregate faithful could also have God in its midst.

This might be what I really care about then: not some enormous “city” coming down out of the sky like an alien ship, blinking with lights and gold, but the ultimate union of my spirit with the Holy Spirit and then, joining with all the other “faithful.”

When we are walking, talking, living in tandem with the Holy Spirit, “light” radiates and others are drawn to it like moths to a living flame. We are the Holy City, the church, the civitatem of Christ.

“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” [Philippians 3:20-21]

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What does it mean “to enter?” I guess there has to be a designated portal or opening, a path or direction. Entering implies leaving. Entering also implies that an observation is made from the inside, coming in.

Hebrews 10:19-20a; 22
Therefore, brothers [and sisters], since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, . . . let us draw near to God with a sincere heart . . .

I remember, back in Indianapolis, I was asked to pledge a high school sorority of some notoriety because it was made up of girls from three separate north side high schools. It had a very long history, apparently as far back as the 1930’s and, based on a cursory Internet search, it was still around in the 90’s. I only mention it because it was the first time I experienced the power of the word, “Enter.” Like most of these types of organizations, there was great hierarchy between the members and the pledges. There were many rules and a lot of “etiquette,” for lack of a better term. And one of the requirements before each pledge could come into a room of members, she had to ask permission to enter. I will never forget that feeling of being made to wait to “enter.”

Another strong memory about entering is from the theatre. There is nothing that can compare with the first entrance onto a stage. There are jitters and nerves, there are fears and expectations, as well as a zillion other feelings. To enter from the sidelines and into the performing area, is literally, like leaving one existence to penetrate another.

The Most Holy Place is not just a place where God hangs out sometimes. This is where God is all the time in a unique and accessible way. This IS God.

In Old Testament times, the “Most Holy Place” was only entered once a year, and then with grave and solemn preparations, including bells on the priest’s robe to insure the people could hear him moving around (some even said a cord was tied to his ankle to drag him out if he died in there – but this is not fully substantiated). That High Priest was the only one who could enter. That was the Law.

Then, a new way comes along and through the single sacrifice of the Christ: all could (and can) enter, all could (and do) have access, all (could and can) engage God in a personal and unique way.

Here’s the sad part: most of us don’t know how to stay there. Legally, through the work of Christ and our faith in the process, we’re in. But we don’t stay in. We act like high school sorority pledges who stand and wait until someone calls us in (perhaps through a Sunday morning worship service or particularly moving sermon or song). We stand like actors and actresses waiting in the wings for our “cue.” We forget about the freedom.

One of our family dogs, a black lab mix, is totally goofy. From the first day we adopted her (at about 4 months), she was afraid of doors and entrances. We had to coax and dangle treats and demonstrate over and over again that no harm would come to her. Finally, she would come in (or go out), and everything was fine. . . until the next time. And we’d have to start all over again.

Humans act the same way; bona fide Christ followers and yet we still stand at the entrance and wait, afraid to enter because it’s not familiar, it’s so unlike “here,” it’s Godspace. We forget the new and living way.

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The temple in Jerusalem was built with very detailed specifications. There was an outer court, an inner court, and then the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant, a dwelling place for God, was hidden and visited only once a year. Who lives in your holy of holies?

I Corinthians 6:19
Do you not know that your body is the temple (the very sanctuary) of the Holy Spirit Who lives within you, Whom you have received [as a Gift] from God? You are not your own, . . .

When I became a believer, I invited the Christ to come and dwell within my holiest place. I received the Holy Spirit as a gift from God and that transaction was possible because of the sacrifice God made of His Son to repair the breach between human souls and God. Paul confirms this.

I think we have all become too cavalier about the presence of the Holy Spirit. We are the “host” of this presence; it is a symbiotic relationship. Symbiosis is defined as “the living together of unlike organisms.” What’s interesting to me is that there are different types of symbiosis. In some cases, it’s mutualistic where the relationship benefits both organisms. In other cases, the relationship is essential to the survival of one of the organisms (called obligate) but not the other. There are organisms that are symbiotic and only one organism benefits while the other one is simply not affected at all. And finally, others are parasitic, where one organism benefits while the other one suffers.

Now, I ask myself, which one of these types of symbiosis describes my relationship with the Holy Spirit within? Am I taking advantage of the Spirit’s presence without doing my part of keeping my body’s environment healthy and nurturing? Am I a parasite?

Clearly, the best relationship with the Holy Spirit is mutualistic, but there are grave responsibilities that go with that symbiosis. Fresh air and light (windows and doors open), communication (prayer), peace, love, joy, honesty, hope, laughter, and kindness are just a few of the nutrients that allow the Holy Spirit to thrive within.

Now, it’s not like the Holy Spirit is passive. In fact, when I screw up, I see the Holy Spirit as my personal Joan of Arc doing battle on my behalf. She is my white blood cells. She is my conscience. She has my back.

According to Paul, one of the greatest attacks on the symbiotic relationship between human body and Holy Spirit is sexual immorality. I find that fascinating. Apparently, there is some kind of osmosis that happens in sex, seeds are planted with thoughts about sex, and so forth, which directly affects the Holy Spirit’s environment. I don’t begin to understand this, but if it’s true, then our culture itself is quite toxic.

In the end, our personal Holy of Holies is not unlike the inner sanctuary of the Temple. When we invite the Holy Spirit into that secret place, we are sharing space from that point forward. But, some people have lost their way and don’t even know how to find their own Holy place within. The space is dark, closed off, and empty. In these cases, the Holy Spirit is a guide, leading the lost soul back to the center of being.

Oh Lord, keep me mindful of your Holy Spirit within this day.

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