The House That God Built
By Linda Rex
December 20, 2020, ADVENT | LOVE—One of the things I love about the season of Advent is the beautiful and inspiring music. Playing and singing music which tells the story of God’s love and grace expressed in the coming of Jesus brings joy and comfort to many. One of the songs we often sing during Christmas is “The Twelve Days of Christmas”,(1) which as a cumulative teaching song is often accompanied by laughter and giggles as the singers vainly attempt to remember all twelve gifts.
Another cumulative song which is not Christmas-oriented but was used as a memory game for children’s parties years ago is an old nursery rhyme called “The House That Jack Built.” The last line of the song went something like this: “Here is the farmer who owned the rooster who woke the priest who married the tattered man who kissed the maid so forlorn who milked the cow with the crumpled horn who threw the dog who worried the cat who killed the rat who ate the grain which lay in the house Jack built.” As the game went on, each child would add another part of the story while repeating what had gone before, hopefully without mistakes.
The beginning of the rhyme was simply, “This is the house Jack built.”(2) In many ways, this is how everything started in our cosmos. We could simply say, “This is the cosmos, the world God created.” All that we know now and study so diligently with our telescopes and microscopes exists where once there was nothing, not even the building blocks of the universe. At God’s decision, through the Word of God and by the power and presence of the Spirit, all things came into existence. Simply said—what wasn’t became what was by God’s will, word, and power.
On this particular planet, there came a time when God brought forth plants and trees, animals, fish, and birds—abundant life of such variety we are still categorizing and sorting them today. The interwoven nature of the many forms of life on this planet constantly catch us by surprise—what happens to one creature often affects many others, as well as the biome in which they live. Like the animals in our nursery rhyme, no creature stands by itself—they are all interrelated and mutually affected by one another.
As creatures, we as human beings, are also affected by and interwoven with all that exists on this earth. As our understanding of science and technology have grown, many of us as humans have taken for granted our ability to manage and control our environment and planet. It is easy to forget that we are merely another creature dependent upon others and upon the God who made all things. We have come far enough today that God himself has become a forgotten story to many, one in which we see no need to believe. It is as though we have forgotten who built the house in which we live. We have put so many other things in his place, we believe we don’t need him anymore.
In 2 Samuel 7:1–11, 16, we find that King David decided that he wanted to built a house for the ark of God since it was still residing in the tabernacle God had told the Israelites to build for it. The tabernacle was designed to be moved about rather than to remain in one place. During the years of wandering in the wilderness and crossing into the promised land, the tabernacle was the place where Moses’ brother Aaron and the priests appointed by God ministered God’s grace to his people through offerings and sacrifices and the reading of the law. When the cloud of God’s presence lifted off the tabernacle, the people would pack their things and get ready to move, following wherever they were led.
When King David told Nathan he wanted to build a house for God’s presence, the prophet thought it was a great idea and told him to go ahead with it. But this wasn’t God’s preference—he told Nathan to tell King David that he had never lived in a house, but only in a mobile dwelling. He told Nathan to tell the king that one day God would build David a house, a kingdom that would last forever—God didn’t need David to build him a house.
The problem with humans building temples for God is seen in the very statement King David made to Nathan: “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains.” Do you catch it? David was worried about the ark, not about the presence of God himself. Too often, we as human beings get caught up in the rites and rituals, the law and sacrifices of our worship instead of focusing on interacting with God himself. When David’s son Solomon finished the work on the temple, it was filled with the Shekinah glory of God. But it wasn’t very long before King Solomon himself began worshiping the idols of his wives rather than growing in his own personal relationship with the God who had crowned him king.
Following his death, the northern half of the nation of Israel split off and created their own place of worship, abandoning the temple and worship of the Creator and Redeemer who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Eventually the northern tribes were taken into exile by the Assyrians, as the southern tribes (known as Judah) began to embrace idolatry and pagan religious practices as well. Eventually the Shekinah glory left the temple, due to the hedonistic practices being observed there. It wasn’t much longer before Judah was taken over by the Babylonians. Soon and for a time, this people who had been brought into covenant relationship with the Creator God himself were no longer residents in the land he had given them.
As you can see, even when we as humans are brought by God into relationship with himself and given all we need for that relationship, we so often trade it in for something tangible we can see, feel, hear, taste and touch. We can control worship to an idol—construct a house, bring offerings, say the right words, sing the right song. We believe that if we do this, the idol will do that, with such appeasement giving an illusion of control over the situation. But in all of this, there is no real relationship. Give us an ark we can put in a building and do nice things for—don’t make us have to interact with an intangible God we cannot predict or control, and who may ask us to change or do things his way!
It’s as though we are at the end of a long line of kids and we’re having to remember the entire nursery rhyme. We’re stuck somewhere between the house that Jack built and the farmer who has a crowing rooster. At this point we may be wondering why Jack even built the house at all. We’re not sure where we’re going, how we’re going to get there, but we’re not about to acknowledge defeat. What we don’t want to admit is, we’ll never be able to get the whole thing right on our own, no matter how hard we try.
The reality is that we cannot build a house for God to dwell in because, as the apostle Paul said: “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; …” (Acts 17:24-25 NASB) Rather than us building a temple for God to dwell in, God came into our human flesh in Jesus Christ to create a space for himself within our humanity where he could dwell by the Spirit. In that place, our broken humanity, which we had filled with evil, sin, rebellion and disobedience, God in Christ forged a space for God’s presence by the Spirit, cleansing us and freeing us from evil, sin, and death.
As mobile dwellings of God himself by the Spirit, gathered together into the body of Christ—the spiritual temple of God, the church—we bring God’s kingdom into relation with the broken world around us, touching it with his presence and power by his Spirit. The church and its members are not a perfected temple yet, but are a place where sinners are being healed, transformed, and renewed as they walk in humble relationship with God through Christ in the Spirit. Even though the Spirit is present to all people at all times, not everyone opens themselves up by faith to the living presence of God in Christ—so the church participates with Christ in calling all people to the new life which is theirs in Jesus.
The reading from Luke for this Sunday describes when the angel Gabriel told Mary she was to have a baby who would be the Son of God, Jesus the Messiah. Mary was chosen to give birth to the Christ child, not because of her worthiness or goodness, but simply because of God’s grace and favor. She would carry in her womb the One who was both God and man—she would be a mobile temple for the presence of God in human flesh as an unborn infant.
What was Mary’s response to this announcement? It is the same response God longs to hear from each of us as he births Christ in us by his Holy Spirit: “…may it be done to me according to your word.” Humble surrender to the will and wishes of our mighty God as he forms Christ in us—this is our best response. What will we do with the house God has forged for himself in us? Will we echo Mary’s response? Or will we continue the merry-go-round of our nursery rhyme life of godlessness?
Heavenly Father, Creator and Sustainer of all, thank you for not abandoning us when we abandoned you. Thank you for sending your Son into our human flesh to forge a dwelling place for your presence. Forgive our rebellion and disobedience. Grant us a humble surrender to your will and wishes. Dear God, by your Spirit come and dwell in our hearts and lives, forming Christ in us and transforming our hearts by faith. May it be done to us according to your Word by your Holy Spirit. Amen.
“My soul exalts the Lord,
And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave;
For behold, from this time on all generations will count me blessed.
For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
And holy is His name.” Luke 1:46b–49 NASB
See also Luke 1:28–33.
1) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Twelve_Days_of_Christmas_(song) (accessed 12/11/2020)
2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/This_Is_the_House_That_Jack_Built (accessed 12/11/2020)
The Gift of Trust
by Linda Rex
Last time I ended my blog by asking the questions: Will we allow God the freedom to do as he wills in our lives, believing he will make all things right in the end, and has our best interests at heart? Will we respect God’s freedom to do what he will in our situation, trusting he is a good God, a loving and faithful God, who will never leave us or forsake us?
These are tough questions to respond to because often our response to them arises out of our personal experience and our attachment issues. We may never have had an experience in our lives in which a person was trustworthy and safe in their interactions with us.
Perhaps our only experience with men has been with those who have used us and then discarded us. Maybe our only living parent has always insisted on making every decision for us our entire life, and didn’t stop when we became an adult. It’s possible that the father we adored when he was alive was great fun to be around but never took responsibility for anything with regards to his family. There are many ways in which critical relationships in our lives wound us.
Our view of God, then, becomes skewed and we begin to believe things about God which are not true. Relationships and our relational losses are so critical to our understanding of ourselves and God! The thing is, too often we plant our broken view of humanity onto the face of God rather than seeing God as he really is, and viewing broken humanity in the light of who God is. We get it flipped around.
So it is very hard to trust a God who we believe is like these images in our mind which have been created through our experiences with the people around us in our lives, especially during our formative years. When God said to Israel, “You shall have no other gods before me,” (Ex. 20:3 NIV), he was telling them to set aside all their preconceived ideas of God. They had gathered a God-concept over the centuries which included the worship of things made by human hands as well as those things created by God.
Today we may not have idols in our house we worship (though some of us may), and we may not worship the sun, moon and stars (though some of us may), we do often worship a God of our own imagination—a being who exists only in our hearts and minds, but not in reality. For if we want to know who God really is, we need to pay attention to what God says about himself, and quit focusing on what we or others might imagine God to be.
This Sunday at Good News Fellowship we will be celebrating Palm Sunday. On this day, we are reminded about the enthusiastic welcome Jesus Christ received as he entered Jerusalem before the events of Holy Week. Here he was applauded as Messiah, come to save his people—which indeed he was. Yet within a few short days, he was crucified and he died at the hands of the very human beings he came to save.
The Messiah did not show up the way the people expected him to. Jesus was not the person they wanted him to be. God in human flesh? This meant Jesus had something crucial to say about the status quo, about the ruling authorities, and what it meant to be God’s people. And they all needed to listen and to obey. Israel, and indeed all humanity, was called to see God in a new and different way, and to repent of their wrong-headed view of God. Jesus was, and is, the exact representation, or ikon, of the Father, and he would send the Spirit, who was, and is, the other Helper or Paraclete, just like Jesus.
God had revealed himself to his people through Moses not only as the “I Am”, but also as the God who is, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished;…” (Ex 34:6–7 NIV) Here we see God as a relational God, who loves his people and is gracious toward them. Yes, he deals with the nasties, but all within the context of his covenant love.
God rescued his people from slavery, provided food and water for them in the wilderness, and brought them to a new land. Throughout his history with his people, he cared for them, called them by his Spirit back to their covenant relationship with him. God was who he was. It was Israel who needed to change their view of God—to have a new heart and mind. And God told them he would work this out by sending a messiah who would usher in the age of the Spirit.
The thing is, since time began, we as human beings have resisted the Spirit’s effort to open our minds and hearts about the truth of who God really is and who we are in him. We believe we are on our own, doing everything under our own power. We believe we are in control of ourselves, each other, this earth, and the universe, and at the same time are faced with the reality we really don’t have any control whatsoever.
Fundamentally what we need at the core of our being is a realization we are creatures, who are dependent upon the God who made us and who sustains us. This is a God who wants to live in a relationship with us in which we share intimately all of life. We were meant to walk and talk with God as Adam did at the beginning, and as is described by the apostle John in his gospel and in his description of the heavenly Jerusalem. And this type of relationship requires trust.
To go deep with someone, anyone, in this way requires a level of trust which is very deep. We climb, and climb up our mountain of life, thinking we’ve got to hold it all together and keep moving up to the next level, when what we need to do is let go and fall, trusting in the Everlasting Arms.
We are unable to make sure everything works out as it should—but God already knows the end from the beginning. We are unable to protect ourselves from evil or disaster, but God has the capacity to turn evil and disaster into the best experience of our lives. We feel lost and alone and unloved, but the reality is, we are held, we are beloved, and God never leaves us—he is Immanuel, the God who is present, near and available at all times.
It was this God who joined us in our mess, and walked among us, and was willing to submit to our mistreatment and rejection of him. He was willing to go with us all the way to the cross and to death so we could learn to trust him. There was nothing he was not willing to put on the line, even the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Spirit, so we could not only learn to trust him, but also receive by the Spirit a new heart and mind filled with Jesus’ trust for his Abba.
This is the blessing of the gift of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, and the gift of the Spirit. This gift is a life filled with trust and faith in God, in which we find ourselves able to know and see God for who he really is, and over time have our mistaken notions about God corrected and healed. This is a relationship which will never end but grow more precious with time, and will include others in joyful fellowship for all eternity.
Abba, thank you for the gift of your Son and your Spirit through whom we might come to know you for Who you really are. Fill our hearts with Jesus’ trust in you, so we might live in true, loving community both now and for all eternity. Through Jesus our Lord. Amen.
“But I trust in you, LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in your hands; deliver me from the hands of my enemies, from those who pursue me. Let your face on your servant; save me in your unfailing love.” Psalm 31:14–16 NIV
My Next of Kin
By Linda Rex
When I was growing up, I believed I had very few relatives. I vaguely remember meeting my grandparents when I was little and a couple aunts and uncles and cousins on occasion, but the first time I recall meeting any significant number of my relations was when I was thirteen. Even then, I had no grasp of what it meant to be a part of an extended family with all the relational dynamics that go with it.
It wasn’t until I began dating my husband to be and I married into his family that I began to experience what it is like to be a part of an extended family who lived within the confines of a small community. I remember on drives around the local area, they would point out a significant number of relations of theirs, whether near relations or shirt-tail relations, and they would tell me a little about each of these relatives’ particular story. I was amazed to see who was related to whom and found myself quite nervous about possibly saying the wrong thing to the wrong person and creating a relational and community disaster in the process.
This type of community and family situation is much like the one Jesus grew up in. In Nazareth, no doubt, everyone knew everyone else, and their relationships were all intertwined as children grew up together, married and had children who repeated the process. In his day the family and continuation of the family line were of paramount importance. As the elder son he had responsibilities to his family which he was expected to fulfill, and part of those involved having a sense of loyalty to his family and a commitment to their goals and expectations.
However, early on, beginning with his experience at the temple when he was twelve, we see Jesus beginning to differentiate between his relationship with his parents and his family, and his relationship with his heavenly Father in the Spirit. He may have helped his mother with the wine supply issue at a local wedding, but he did so in such a way that reminded her and others of who he was as the Messiah. It must have been very hard for Mary to have her dear son draw this kind of a line in her relationship with him, but we see from early church history that eventually she understood and accepted the reality of who he really was.
Jesus’ family was not always supportive of his ministry. In fact, at one point they tried to force him to come with them and said, in effect, “You are out of your mind!” Then there was the time when Jesus was speaking to the crowds and his family came to see him. Someone told him they were outside waiting to speak with him and he replied, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Talk about a slap in the face!
But he wasn’t trying to be insulting. Instead, he was making a point about the centrality of relationships to the gospel—that we are all related to the Father through him in the Spirit. He is the Son of the heavenly Father, and those who live in the same perichoretic, mutually submissive, harmonic manner in which the Father and Son live in the Spirit, are his close relatives—his next of kin.
There are benefits to being Jesus’ next of kin, you know. One of the significant reasons this is a good thing is because Jesus, being our next of kin due to sharing in our humanity, has the right of redemption.
The people of Israel understood what it meant to be a close kinsman with the right of redemption. That meant that when a person lost property due to debt or lack of heirs, the kinsman could and often would buy it back for them—it was not supposed to be allowed to go into anyone else’s permanent possession—it was supposed to stay in the family. The story of Ruth gives a good description of what it was like to have a near relative redeem your land which you lost due to not having heirs to give it to.
God created you and me to bear the image of the Father, Son and Spirit. We chose instead to define our own image of God, and to follow our own way of being instead of reflecting the Being of the living God. In many ways we did, have and still do damage to our inheritance as God’s children, and have incurred tremendous physical, mental, emotional, relational, and spiritual consequences we seem to only be making worse as time goes along. Our debts to God are impossible to pay, both collectively and individually, especially since we refuse to quit incurring them.
It is instructive that God’s way of entering into our impossible situation was to join us with himself by taking on our humanity. He became as closely related to us as he could possibly be. He became our nearest relative by sharing with us in our human existence—joining with his creation as a creature in human flesh (John 1:14; Heb. 2:11, 14-15, 17). He even did this to the extent that God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf” (2 Cor. 5:12). Now that is taking his kinship to us seriously!
Being fully human as we are human does not in any way diminish Jesus’ divinity. Rather, it is the tension of the two—that Jesus is both fully human and divine—that enables Jesus to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
As your closest kinsman and mine, Jesus bought back our inheritance as God’s adopted children. Running out to meet us as his prodigal children, in Jesus the Father welcomes us home and is throwing us a great celebration. All that he has is ours in the gift of the Spirit—the indwelling Christ lives the life in us by the Spirit we were created to live as we respond to him in faith.
Some of us were not blessed with big happy families to include us and to surround us with love. For many of us being a part of our family of origin has not been a blessing or a joyful experience. The miracle of God’s grace to us in Christ is that we are all included in God’s family.
And God meant for those who believe to live together in such a way that they reflect the divine life and love, and become a family of love and grace who embraces the lost, lonely, broken and needy people who are looking for a home. If God can embrace and welcome broken, sinful humanity into his family by sharing in our broken, sinful flesh, and living and dying for us, how can we do any less for others?
Perhaps it is time that we stop the “us and them” way of thinking, and start practicing the reality formed in Christ that we are all “members of one another” (Eph. 4:25) We are all brothers, sisters and mothers in Christ, children of the Father, bound together in the Spirit. We are all kinfolk. Perhaps if we believed and behaved according to the truth of who we really are as God’s beloved, adopted and redeemed children, we might find the world becoming an entirely different place in which to live.
Heavenly Father, thank you that you have given us your Son to share in our humanity and to redeem us and bring us back into the right relationship with you which you foreordained for us to have before time began. Forgive us that too often we ignore and hide ourselves away from you and from each other. Grant us the grace to live according to the truth that we are your beloved, redeemed children made to reflect your image, and that we are all joined to one another in Jesus Christ. May we love others as you have loved us, through Christ and in your Spirit. Amen.
“While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.’” Matthew 12:46–50 NASB