It was a holy place, a sacred place, a place unlike any other temple. Before there had come the marble and gold, altars and precious stones, columns, walls, and the Holy of Holies, it was a place of divine-human intimacy. The construction costs were relatively small, it had no great beauty, and it was nothing anyone would envy.
The Bible is full of contrasts. We read that our holy “God is a devouring fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24). But a few chapters later we find that God “lavishes his unfailing love on those who love him” (Deuteronomy 7:9). John also wrote, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Fire burns and is dangerous. Love delights and protects. So how can God be both holy and love?
My husband and I recently saw a friend we hadn’t seen in a while. Standing outside the gym where he worked out, he highlighted the facility’s offerings. His words revealed his sense of ownership of the exercise facility. Though he wasn’t a financial stockholder, he had found identity, purpose, and a place to belong amid the mats lined with barbells and other strength-training equipment. This place had become his community and a big part of his life.
What is a minute? Simply a measurement of time. There are 60 in an hour, 1,440 in a day. But during those 60 clicks of the second hand, a tidal wave of thoughts with their accompanying emotional responses can sweep over you. Today, during one particular minute, a feeling of dread hit me hard. Why? I was deeply afraid that I’d done something wrong.
In 2012, thanks to a rapper named Drake and the supercharged vehicle of social media, “YOLO” became a popular acronym. It stands for “You Only Live Once.” Though the message of YOLO is test the limits, it became a justification to live life irresponsibly. The answer to drunk driving, parking illegally, disrespecting parents, and missing class was simply YOLO. Its underlying meaning is that my life is mine and I get to live it how I want to.
A little boy’s mother baked a batch of cookies and placed them in a cookie jar, instructing her son not to touch them until after dinner. Soon she heard the lid of the jar move, and she called out, “Son, what are you doing?” A meek voice called back, “My hand is in the cookie jar resisting temptation.” It’s funny to think of a person trying to resist temptation with their “hand in the cookie jar.” This is as much a challenge in our culture today, as it was for the Ephesians.
Ihave a friend who has wounds so deep that she resists the compassionate love of others. Caring people have reached out to my friend. They would give their lives for her (in fact, in many ways they’ve done precisely that). Yet she runs from their love. She fears being loved. The love offered to her is so strong, and her heart so weak, that it terrifies her. It seems safer just to stay in her cocoon.
One of our favorite family vacation sites is a beautiful beach community located in an adjoining state. We like to go there during the “off season” when few tourists are around. Though the ocean water is a little chilly, we enjoy swimming in an indoor pool. Also, there’s a lazy river that surrounds the pool and holds a special appeal for our kids. They’ve tried to swim against its current over the years, only to be carried in the opposite direction.
Senseless violence and dark injustice can make for a steady rain in life—dampening spirits in mists of gray. In the summer of 2013, a 17-year-old from a rough neighborhood jumped in front of his mother to protect her from an attack. The bullet struck and killed him, leaving his mother clutching his lifeless body in front of their home. The boy’s brother, who witnessed the crime, said later, “I lost a big piece of my heart that night.”
I recently attended a meeting of leaders that could have become contentious and disastrous. It could have resulted in more fireworks than Chinese New Year! Thankfully, however, difficult issues were addressed with honesty and transparency. The big “I”—integrity—led individuals to speak words of truth, love, and forgiveness.
In his landmark books Soul Searching and Souls in Transition, sociologist Christian Smith surveyed American young adults and found that most held to what he called “Therapeutic Moralistic Deism.” They’re deists because they believe God doesn’t interfere in our lives unless we need His help to solve a problem. They’re moralistic because they believe God wants us to be good and kind to each other. And their view is therapeutic because it makes them feel good about themselves.
Two teenage Chinese brothers are living with us as they attend school in the US. Since we have three biological sons, my wife and I call Dongyao and Dongpeng our “Chinese sons.” They have loving parents in China, but we’re also striving to love them well. We now have five kids!