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The Wailing Wall November 12, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Philosophy and Religion, Travel.
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Wailing Wall

Of course I’ve always known about the existence of “the wailing wall” in Jerusalem, but I confess I never really knew what it was. To be really honest, I think I thought it was a Catholic thing when I was younger. As an adult Christian, the most connected I’ve ever really been to the concept of the wailing wall was in a song by Point of Grace called “You Are the Answer” …

They line the wailing wall
The masses fill up St. Peter’s square
Confessions, emotions
Spill out of desperate prayer

This song is basically about peoples’ desperate needs and God’s abundant provision for those needs. And from even this crazy-limited perspective of this song, I always took the wailing wall to be a place where people gathered when that desperate human need was more pronounced than usual. Turns out, I wasn’t all that terribly far off.

The wailing wall is simply a part of the retaining wall that Herod the Great built to hold up the Temple Mount esplanade in Jerusalem just before the time of Jesus. The section of wall is probably a little more than 100 feet long, on the south end of the western face of the retaining wall. The open section of wall called the “wailing wall” spans between two walls protruding out from the retaining wall which belong to structures that have been built in this area over the centuries. Plus, the level of the ground has risen dozens of feet on this side of the temple mount in that time as well, so the ground people walk on to approach the wailing wall is actually vertically positioned about halfway up the retaining wall compared to where it would have been in Jesus’ day.

What’s so special about this section of wall?

The 2nd Jewish temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD, displacing Jews all over the world. When the Muslims set up shop in the 7th century, they built the Dome of the Rock where the temple used to be. This pretty much solidified the temple mount as a Muslim holy site to which Jews and Christians do not have access.

Over the many hundreds of years since this time, ostensibly because in their eyes God still dwells in the temple, the Jews (and some Christians I’m sure) have sought out places at least close to the old site of the temple to be considered “holy sites”. This section of wall is close to where the temple used to be, so in the eyes of many, it’s the holiest place they can get to. As a result, many Jews and Christians treat the wailing wall with tremendous reverence – as they would have treated the temple, where it still standing atop Mount Moriah. They believe that if they touch the wall, then their prayers will carry special weight. Or, they write prayers on small pieces of paper, which they then roll up and stuff into the cracks in the wall. Also, we had to cover our heads when approaching the wall because it is a holy site.

I felt sorry for the people there. It made me sad to think that people are so unfamiliar with who God really is that they still believe somehow God dwells in those rocks or on that mountain. And they didn’t just believe it a little. I saw people VERY worked up, special apparatus everywhere for confession and prayer, and more than one person in our group talked about how Catholic or Jewish friends had sent prayers with them to be stuck in the wall or relayed to God by the person on our tour … I guess because the person sending the prayer thought the person going to Jerusalem would be closer to God when they got there. Do they think God lives in Jerusalem? … and that He’s hard of hearing?

Touching a wall doesn’t make your prayers special. Being in one place instead of another does not make God hear your prayers more clearly. There is no special power in that span of rock, or any other for that matter.

The Most High does not live in houses made by men. 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?”  (Acts 7:48-50)

Ultimately, I did approach the wall to pray, but I prayed for all the people touching or who would touch the wall. I prayed that the eyes of their hearts would be opened to who God really is and where God really lives (for those who have allowed Jesus’ work on the cross to repair the separation from God our sin has caused).

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.   (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The wailing wall doesn’t make God hear you. Jesus does.

God’s Latest Lesson in Upsidedownness January 28, 2009

Posted by Jeff Block in Philosophy and Religion.
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I have been reading through the book of Matthew lately. In my time with God yesterday, I was in Matthew 13, which are (what I call) Jesus’ agriculture parables. In this chapter, He tells the Parable of the Sower, the Parable of the Weeds, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed. All are great stories that teach deep lessons about the Kingdom of God (the very definition of a “parable”), but I think the Parable of the Sower is the most well-known.

Here it is, for your reference (in Jesus’ words, because I don’t see me telling it any better)…

A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop’a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. He who has ears, let him hear.

Jesus’ disciples were perplexed by His story, so He took them aside and explained the parable…

Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.

The phrase “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth” really stood out to me as I read.  It has taken God years to work on me in terms of the “deceitfulness of wealth”, and I still don’t feel like I’ve arrived per se.  For the last 24+ hours, I’ve been meditating on “the worries of this life”.

Monday, I had lunch with a good friend of mine.  I spent a lot of that conversation talking about politics and economics, railing on the policies of the new administration, expressing concern and fear and doom-and-gloom over the coming economic storm.  (As an aside, I firmly believe that we are just beginning to see the “bad” when it comes to the economy, since every policy on the table to “fix” the problem comes from the people who helped cause it and will have exactly the opposite impact as intended, not to mention transfer an unprecedented amount of private ownership in this country into the hands of the government.  But I digress.)

The next morning as I read these words of Jesus, God convicted me about my thought life.  I’m becoming painfully aware of how much time and energy I spend thining about these and other worldly topics.

One more flashback to tie in…

Last week at small group, I talked with the group about judgmentalism.  God has been strongly convicting me lately that I spend too much time sitting as self-appointed judge over people in my life.  Or even not in my life, such as some of the leaders of our government or people I see on TV.  I seem to feel like everyone should be like me, and when they’re not, I judge them harshly, sometimes even spending real time sputtering and muttering to myself in the car or just in my own mind.  I can’t believe how much judgment and sometimes even anger simmers in my average thoughts.  It’s such a selfish, wrong-headed approach to life, which I deperately need God to “transform by the renewing of [my] mind.” (Romans 12:2)

Against these two backdrops, God spoke very clearly to me about that phrase in Matthew 13:  “the worries of this life”.  In seconds, God gave me the following word picture to describe the transforming work I believe He has laid out before me.

Worry → Prayer
Whining → Action
Judgment → Service

And the longer I thought about these six words, the more I wanted to blog about them, in order to provide for myself accountability and to provide perhaps for others a fresh window into the upsidedownness of the Kingdom of God.

Worry → Prayer

Especially in relation to economics, especially lately, I realize that I’m spending a lot of time worrying.  I don’t think this is a new thing, but rather just exaggerated by the present.  For a long time, I looked at Jesus’ warnings about loving money to be targeted at the person who has $10 but wants $12, or the guy who needs to start tithing or become more generous.  God has finally begun to see some victory over this kind of thinking in my life.  But evidently whatever love of money is seeded in my heart, it goes far beyond this kind of Stewardship 101 stuff.  Jesus is also talking about the guy who totally stresses out over what to invest in next so that he will stop bleeding money from his 401k and return to an upward climb.  It’s about the person who, whether he admits it or not, believes that it’s his IRA or Social Security that will take care of him when he’s 75, not God, who promises to provide everything we need.  It’s the guy who poors so much money into savings, investment, paying ahead on the mortgage, etc that the legitimate needs of his family are overlooked.  At some level, there’s goodness in all of these things.  Retirement accounts are important.  Becoming debt free honors God.  But the love of money can become the root of these activities, rather than the love of Christ, and then they become the worries of this life which choke the fruitfulness of the gospel in a human life.  I want that (not honoring God with my life) to terrify me way more than bad economic policy or shrinking IRA balances, and I don’t think right now it does.  But God is at work.

How much more fruitful in the present and productive in eternity is the act of prayer!?  Jesus was clear.  Ask and it will be given to you.  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you.  (Matthew 7:7).  BTW, this passage immediately follows Jesus’ exhortation not to judge others.  Of course, when He refers to asking, seeking, and knocking, He’s not talking about the next fancy toy or other material possession.  He’s not even talking about financial security.  He’s talking about the Kingdom of God.  He’s saying that if we want what God wants, then ask away.  As our thinking and heart becomes aligned with His, then we can ask for pretty much anything, and He’s on it.  This, coupled with the promise that I am more important than sparrows (whom God takes care of from first to last), means that I really don’t have to spend time worrying about what I’ll wear or eat or where we’ll live.  God’s on it.  My job is to learn to actually believe that this is true.  (See Matthew 6 for more on this.)

Prayer is our way to commune with God.  Instead of worrying about what I think I can provide for myself in circumstances I truly can’t control, facing a future I truly can’t see, God is calling me to just be with him.  Read His Word.  Spend time with Him.  Become more like Him.  His claim is that I can pretty much rely on Him for the rest of it.  Do I have to make wise decisions?  Yes, but with wisdom that comes from God.  And even if my decisions are wrong, and my whole IRA disappeared tomorrow, God would provide for me and my family.

Whining → Action

The rants about the morons in Washington have got to stop.  I spend hours and hours and hours of my life that I’ll never get back watching the news or listening to talk radio and being TOTALLY stressed out by the horrifically poor judgment and power-hungry selfishness / corruption of many of our leaders.  This is a circumstance I cannot change.  It’s also a circumstance the Bible assures me is inevitable before the end of the age.  So be it.

The opposite of a complaining spirit that whines about what’s wrong is the courageous spirit who does something about it.  I have the responsibility to vote and that requires some level of being informed.  Also, God has called some to take up the political fight as an offering to God, as a part of their calling.  I’m not one of them.  My responsibility, and I’ve known this for a long time, is to the church and to the faithful proclamation of the Word of God.  Rome is not my concern, and I need to turn my eyes away from it.

Either way, less talk, more action.  Less word, more deed.  Less focus on how someone in Washington is screwing up America, and more focus on how to lead myself, my family, my friends, and my neighbors to Christ – both in terms of their salvation and their sanctification.  Whatever role I play there, God willing, bears fruit that will last.  I don’t know how to say anything even remotely similar about politics, economics, sociology, or any of the other stuff that seems to occupy so much of my mind.

Judgment → Service

So obvious in my life.  I must really think I’m all that, and it’s getting old.  God help me, I’ve gotta get down off this high horse before I ride it off a cliff.  Let him who is in need need Christ, not me.  Let him who needs to change change to be more like Christ, not like me.  May I care more that someone was helped than that I was the one to help them.  May I point to Jesus, not to myself.  May I allow God to do the same work in others that He’s doing in me.  And may I not bruise fruit that cannot yet be picked.

There’s a lot of need in the world, but it isn’t need to be more like me.  It’s need to be more like Jesus.  How broken is the human heart and spirit that we sit on God’s throne in His place even in such subtle ways.  How great and gracious and loving is our God that each time He doesn’t just strike us down immediately, as would be His right.  If my life only ever pointed only ever to that truth, it would be a full and fruitful life.  But right now, I’ll settle for steps in that direction.

Wrapping up

So, I find myself pretty self-conscious about publishing this entry.  I get carried away and a little colorful of speech, and I end up writing things that sound melodramatic and (depending on your perspective) either self-debasing or self-aggrandizing.  I hope this entry is none of these things, but rather something that points to God and to the way He looks at the world, which is almost always upside down in our view.

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