Cathedrals, Temples, and the Dwelling Place of God

Our news feeds have been filled with horrific pictures of Notre Dame Cathedral being consumed by devastating flames. The videos remind me of a proverbial train wreck—it hurts to look but you can’t look away either.

The 850-year-old Cathedral is an iconic landmark that has been a must-see stop for every tourist in Paris. The French Gothic architecture, stained glass windows, and works of art are the focus of thirteen million visitors annually.

Even before the fire, I’ve been thinking about cathedrals and temples and the dwelling place of God. In my current Bible study we’ve been reading the account in First Kings of Solomon building the Temple—a dwelling place for the God of Israel.

For thousands of years, humanity has been constructing altars and buildings to worship God. Some are plain, others ornate. But as King Solomon said, “Will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (I Kings 8:27 NIV).

And Acts 7:48-50 (NIV) notes Stephen’s words:

However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says: “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’

Yet the Bible also tells us we—believers in Jesus Christ—are now the dwelling place of God’s Spirit. The same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead lives in us. Our body is His temple (I Corinthians 6:19).

The dwelling place of God is not a building made of wood and stone. Instead, His Spirit resides in His people. Buildings will come and go. Time wears them down and wears them out. Notre Dame Cathedral was in dire need of repair long before the fire. Authorities even speculate the fire may have started as a result of the renovation work.

But people are eternal. By faith in Christ, the Holy Spirit brings life that will last long after our mortal bodies are dust.

So what are we doing with this knowledge? Yes, we mourn the loss of temples and cathedrals, but not because they are the dwelling place of God. We mourn the loss of their manifestations of human beauty and artistry.

But we do it knowing the living God lives in us. We are His ambassadors with a message to the world of reconciliation to God in Christ.

Enjoy the beauty of manmade temples and cathedrals. But always remember, Christ-followers are the most beautiful temple of all.


Sympathy and Empathy

Do you know anyone who has lost a loved one? A spouse, a child, a parent?

I’ve watched people around me lose those they love through illness, accident, old age, or even by self-inflicted means. And I’ve felt bad for them. Sympathy. Knowing about their loss and pain, without truly knowing loss and pain of a similar magnitude.

Is sympathy enough?

Sometimes it has to be, because it’s all we have to give. Still, while we say we understand or we know how the other person feels, we may not. Not really. How can we, unless we’ve had a similar experience? Even then, no two people are the same, no two relationships are the same, and no two losses are the same.

But even though every loss is unique, it’s empathy—not sympathy—that enables us to reach into the depth of our own feelings of pain and loss as we come alongside other hurting people.

Never have I been personally aware of this truth as much as I am now. There’s a sisterhood—and brotherhood—who are members of a club no one wants to join. The pain of loss is often near, regardless of how much time has passed. It hovers just below the surface, breaking through at unexpected moments in ways that leave you gasping for air as though a drowning man.

But that pain is what enables one person to come alongside another and say “I understand” in a way no one else can. Empathy. My heart and spirit are touched when another widow shares her similar circumstance. Or maybe she doesn’t say anything at all. Sometimes it’s enough for our eyes to meet in mutual pain, or to share a hug for physical comfort.

The need for empathy also transcends personal relationships or shared loss. It’s needed on a grander scale in our culture and in our world.

We’ve lost our collective ability to empathize. And if we haven’t lost our ability to empathize, then in many cases we’ve lost our desire. In the process, we’ve become adept at dehumanizing our fellow human beings. Political victories take center stage and are pursued regardless of the cost.

What would happen if we acknowledged others as being motivated by their own pain and need for acceptance? How can we come alongside and say, “I understand,” and then offer biblical alternatives for addressing their pain?

To be able to say to the pregnant young woman, “I haven’t experienced a crisis pregnancy, but I know what it is to be frightened as I face the unknown future. May I offer you practical resources and also share with you about the One who holds that future?”

Or to say to the person who chooses to deny God’s existence, “Trusting God was hard for me, too, because I’d been let down too many times to ever want to trust anyone again. May I share how this changed in my life?”

To really listen to those with whom we disagree politically or socially, and empathize with their hopes and dreams, even though we disagree with their goals and values.

Are we guaranteed to make a difference on a grand scale? No. Still, we might make a difference in the life of one person. And perhaps that’s the work God has for us to do at such a time as this.

Sympathy says, “you poor thing.” Empathy says, “I really do feel your pain.

Empathy does not require compromising our values, but it does allow us to truly hear the other person’s heart before we answer. In that moment, the Holy Spirit has an opportunity to equip us to respond with love, grace, and humility.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling critical or being drawn into a disagreement, ask God for the ability to reach down into your own pain for the empathy the other person desperately needs.

Have you received another person’s empathy?
How did you feel as a result?


Unplanned

I watch movies to be entertained. To smile and laugh and cheer at happy endings. I don’t watch movies to be disturbed…until now.

And I’m about to encourage you to watch a movie that will disturb you greatly.

Unless you’ve recently returned from a lengthy stay on an isolated desert island, by now you’ve heard of the movie, Unplanned. Reactions have generally been along expected lines. Most Christians support it and the secular culture abhors it.

Despite an initial limited run (1000 theaters nationwide), the movie came in at #4 in box office receipts for its opening weekend. That’s despite a virtual media blackout and proactive actions by social media gatekeepers to squelch any word of support. Twitter inactivated the official movie account. Television stations are refusing to sell advertising slots.

But the reaction that concerns me most is the one from pro-life Christians who say, “I’m already pro-life, so I don’t need to see it.” Or, “I won’t see the movie because the R rating proves it’s too upsetting.” Or, “I don’t get to the movies much. I’ll wait until the DVD is released.”

This is my response especially for Christians who don’t plan to see Unplanned.

Yes, this movie is rated R for several emotional scenes. But unlike the gore of fantasy movies, this is real. And I find it especially difficult to understand why a teen girl must be protected from seeing the reality of abortion via the R rating when they are legally able to have an abortion performed on them without their parents’ consent. Thousands upon thousands of young girls are marching blindly into Planned Parenthood to subject themselves to this very act of violence. They walk out more broken than they could ever imagine. Oh. My. Aching. Heart!

Let me get this straight: they can do it, but they shouldn’t see it?

This is, indeed, a disturbing movie. But that’s why every Christian needs to see it. Many will not, yet I believe that’s exactly what Satan wants: for us to stay sheltered in our protected Christian bubbles. He couldn’t stop the movie from being made, so he’ll do all he can to stop Christians from wanting to see it.

Too many Christians say they are pro-life, but the reality is many of us don’t really understand the horror of abortion. If we stay in our sheltered worlds, we won’t be as passionately heartbroken about the horror of abortion as we should be. And the enemy will continue winning the hearts and minds of this nation.

Unplanned depicts the level of lies and evil the enemy is wielding in our culture—the very thing Satan does not want us to know.

Sadly, many Christians will not see this movie because they don’t want to come face to face with just how horrible abortion is. Of course, we don’t want to know. Who in their right mind would ever want those images seared into their memory?

Still, how can we take an effective stand unless we know what we are really standing for?

If every Christian truly understood this, organizations and ministries such as Care Net and other crisis pregnancy centers would never lack for volunteers, financial support, and prayer warriors. Support they require to provide services to women and families who desperately need to know about available alternatives.

And these are not just women outside the church. According to a 2015 study, “more than four in 10 women who have had an abortion were churchgoers when they ended the pregnancy.”

Seeing Unplanned may not be a movie Christians want to see. But it is a movie we need to see. And it’s a movie pro-choice supporters need to see, as well. Do we all have the courage of our convictions to watch the unpleasant even when it makes us uncomfortable?

See Unplanned. Better yet, take as many people as possible with you. Do it for yourself. Do it for the girls and women who will have abortions without understanding the long-term consequences. Do it for the myriad unborn children awaiting an advocate who will speak up on their behalf.

Do it because it’s the right thing to do.


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