Posted in advent, Advent devotions, Devotions

2020 Advent devotion: Glory fills the temple

“Live and in person” Advent devotion for December 12, 2020. Read 1 Kings 8:10-11 and Psalm 11.

Finally, after seven years of construction, the temple in Jerusalem is finished and furnished. Priests bring the ark of the covenant into the inner sanctuary. “When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10,11). The cloud of God’s presence which had covered Mt. Sinai, had led the people through the desert and had filled the tabernacle now took up residence in the magnificent temple built by Solomon.

Solomon’s dedication prayer recognizes that the God of all creation certainly cannot be contained in a structure built by human hands. Yet for this occasion, God was indeed with them in a holy place only he could occupy. In the years to come, Solomon hoped that whenever there was trouble, the people would pray towards that place to remember God’s presence and receive his grace.

Many of you reading this probably remember “glorious” churches where you have worshiped. I remember the dedication of a new sanctuary for the church where I grew up. It seemed so big and the music was like nothing I had ever heard. I remember the dedication of the new sanctuary where I currently serve. It too was so big compared with where we previously gathered.

Many of you might also remember some of the glorious moments in churches where you worshiped. I vividly recall churches where I played trumpet with enormous, powerful organs whose sound filled every inch of the worship space. I have wonderful memories of baptizing, confirming, and marrying my children. I treasure the awesome moment of laying my hands on my son’s head, ordaining him into the ministry. I also can’t forget glorious moments on mission trips to Haiti or Kenya, where I worshiped in structures with tin roofs and dirt floors.

I’ll bet every believer has been in a space that seemed to be occupied by God. Or a moment when God seemed especially close. If God is indeed bigger than the universe He created and can do more than we ask or imagine, why would He choose to squeeze Himself into a temple, sanctuary or even a modest chapel? For that matter, why would He squeeze Himself into the human form of a baby born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth and crucified on Calvary? He must really want to be with us, live and in person!

Thank You, Lord, for the moments and spaces You have filled with Your presence. Amen.

Posted in Moments of grace

Should you bring a gun to church?

Photo by Achim Pock on Unsplash

About twelve years ago, a few of the ushers were chatting about handguns a few minutes before a worship service was about to begin. One of them was considering a new purchase, something a little smaller and easier to conceal. Floyd, sitting there listening, raised his pant leg revealing his weapon in an ankle holster and said, “Like this one?” That was the first time I realized that folks in my church came to church with their guns.

The news of mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, churches and other public places has prompted more and more men and women to purchase and carry guns with them for protection and peace of mind. That same news has moved these same folks to bring their guns to church, too. With weapons concealed beneath sport coats and inside purses, I know our worshipers are carrying on Sunday morning. Is that a good thing? Should you bring a gun to church or any house of prayer?

On the one hand, I appreciate having someone watching my back and noticing who comes into the church. We’ve had visitors in church who arrived on bike, carried backpacks, and looked a little nervous as they found a place to sit. We’ve never had a problem with any of them, but they initially made some feel uneasy.

On the other hand, I doubt that many armed worshipers spend much time honing their shooting skills at the range. Law enforcement officers train and certify often. Should a threat arise, I not confident my average attender would be able to pull and effectively fire a weapon. I’m not sure I would want them to.

And anyway, a very small number of shootings have happened in churches. Though such shootings make the headlines, they are few and far between. As they should be, churches are safe places. Church (or synagogue or mosque) violence is disconcerting, but from what I’ve observed, rare.

I do remember that when we worshiped in Haiti, I caught a glimpse of a 9mm on the belt of just about every male worshiper in the building. But in that country there were also armed guards sitting by every gas pump and grocery store entrance. A local guide with an automatic rifle who accompanied every medical mission team like ours from outside the country. I’m thankful for those who watched out for us. I’m also thankful to live where I can fill my gas tank without a guy with a sawed-off shotgun watching me.

I do not own a gun and do not plan on getting one. Right now, I think that any place where I would need to be armed is most likely a place I shouldn’t be going anyway. But a church has never felt like that kind of a place. And if I should be somewhere, even in church, when someone starts shooting, I know I’m not going to be the hero who takes him out.