Building God's Temple

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When Israel returned from exile they rebuilt the temple, but there were mixed feeling about it after it was completed.

“When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.’ And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.” Ezra 3:10-13

One thing that stood out to me from this was while the younger generation was grateful and content to praise the Lord after seeing what was done, the older generation was grieved after seeing the place of worship the next generation built because they compared it to the past and assumed it was worse because of its appearance. However “On the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the Lord’s word came through Haggai the prophet: Say to Judah’s governor Zerubbabel, Shealtiel’s son, and to the chief priest Joshua, Jehozadak’s son, and to the rest of the people: Who among you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn’t it appear as nothing to you? So now, be strong.…Work, for I am with you, says the LORD of heavenly forces. I will make all the nations quake. The wealth of all the nations will come. I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of heavenly forces. The silver and the gold belong to me, says the Lord of heavenly forces. This house will be more glorious than its predecessor, says the Lord of heavenly forces." Haggai 2:1-9

The problem of assuming your personal preferences or culture in regard to worship is better or is closer to God than another person’s is not limited to age, although that is often a factor, as I have noticed in the faith community today. Each generation seems to assume the style of worship preferred by the next is making the temple worse by not preserving the same appearance or style of worship that they were accustomed to having in the past. And the result of this short sighted shallow judgmentalist result is a mixed witness to unbelievers as the text in Ezra 3:13 said “No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping.” When we are unable to rejoice when fellow believers worship God due to our own personal hang-ups, we discourage the joy God is trying to use others to share.

We need to be careful not to fall into the mistake of assuming having a particular image equals a lack God’s blessing or that something different is bad or less blessed of God because it doesn’t meet our personal taste. And on the other hand we must also be careful not to assume that maintaining a particular external image or ritual is proof of God’s approval while God’s presence might actually be absent from our lives. It is not about the outward appearance but the personal connection with God that matters.

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