Autumn slips softly into the mountains. At first the changes are subtle. The pale limbs of Silver Birches become exposed as yellowing leaves curl, and let go. Barely breathing or blinking, we spy on a Knysna Loerie. He is perched on a branch flanking the deck, his graceful neck and artfully painted face tilted towards us - frozen-to-the-spot inconspicuous.* In the distance, the first flecks of amber stand out against a green forest canopy. Dawn brings with it a hint of Winter, the smell of Wattle-smoke and a reluctance to leave the sweet warmth of night. I glance furtively at our woodpile, suddenly so insignificant, measured against the long winter months ahead. Outside our kitchen window, the tiny double collared sun-birds flit among the pineapple sage flowers. The male hangs upside down from a swaying stem, his jewel coloured breast shimmering in the sun. A curved beak disappears deep into the cerise heart of a flower. We find the swaying pod of their meticulously constructed nest near the washing line. The female (yes, the woman gets to build the house in this family... ) delicately weaves grasses, lichen, plant matter and spider webs to make a sturdy ball. Her design even includes a small veranda over the opening to shield her young from the elements. The interior of the nest is a cosy lining of soft plant matter, feathers, and fur.
I smiled (and cringed a little) as I remembered all the planning and deliberating that went into our wooden home. I had ambitious ideas of nooks and crannies, a loft for stargazing, carved wooden deck railings, etc... My brother (who was the builder, project manager and practical Dutch-stubborn-perfectionist), had other ideas. Which I eventually, although reluctantly, surrendered to, in order to save family relationships. With the result that we have a well-built, simple, strong and wonderful house that works. I also recall how meticulously the foundation was designed, and redesigned until my brother was absolutely sure that it would be sound, solid, secure, stable and enduring.
When setting out to plan and/or build the home that one intends to live in, raise children, be safe from the elements, no-one would want to cut corners or settle for shabby workmanship. As I grew up the daughter of a builder, dusty, raw building sites were often my playgrounds. I have a distinct memory of my dad pushing over a newly built wall with the ball of his foot. I watched in horror as the bricks fell away from us (fortunately...). With his practised eye, he could see at a glance that it was no good. Not enough or too much "daga", the wrong mix of cement and sand in the daga, the bricks not laid properly, inadequate foundation... Whatever the reason, the builder of that wall had laboured in vain, and his efforts were destroyed in a second.
The reason my thoughts have been on houses and their construction, is this verse: "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain." (Psalm 127:1). I picked it up in a song a while ago, and the phrase has been tip-toeing through my mind ever since. Even though the psalm was probably written by David for his son Solomon at the time when the temple was being built, it is not really our earthly houses or church buildings that God is concerned about. Both David and Solomon understood that the work of man had its place, but was of little ultimate consequence without the work and blessing of God.
In Scripture a dispensation/system/family is called a house. Moses was faithful as a servant over all his house; and as long as the Lord was with that house it stood and prospered; but when He left it, the builders of it became foolish and their labour was lost. They sought to maintain the walls of Judaism, but sought in vain: they watched around every ceremony and tradition, but their care was idle. Of every church, family and every system of religious thought, this is equally true: unless the Lord is in it, and is honoured by it, the whole structure must sooner or later fall in hopeless ruin. Much can be done by man; we can both labour and watch; but without the Lord we have accomplished nothing, and our wakefulness cannot and will not ward off evil.
In John 2:19 Jesus tells the Jews who had been asking him for a sign to prove His authority: "Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days." Naturally the Jews were bewildered, hadn't it taken 46 years of building to finish the temple! But Jesus was referring to his body, and only after He walked out of that dark tomb, did the disciples understand... Later in John, we see Jesus comforting his disciples with the promise of the Holy Spirit who was to come. He says:
"A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also. At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”
In 2 Corinthians 13:5, the apostle Paul asks the Corinthian believers a question: “Or do you not realise about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?”
Jesus is holy God, the Word (Logos) who became flesh, and we are fallen sinners. So how can Christ live in us? To accomplish His desire to dwell within mankind, God took some tremendous steps. First, God Himself became a man named Jesus Christ. This man, Jesus, lived an authentic human life on earth, yet without sin. In His living, His actions, and His speaking, He fully expressed God. After living and experiencing every aspect of human life for thirty-three and a half years, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Through His redemptive death, we can be forgiven of our sins and brought back to God. But this is not all. After three days He rose in victory from the dead, and in his resurrection became the life giving Spirit.
In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 Paul asks: "Do you not know that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own, your were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies."
"Temple" refers to the dwelling place or the house of God. The temple Solomon built was magnificent! Many parts of the temple were overlaid with pure gold, including the altar and the inner sanctuary (1 Kings 6:21-22). Why?
Our bodies, which are to be the temple of the Holy Spirit are equally magnificent. Made so, only by God's indwelling. Made holy and pure by His presence. The body that receives the gift of the Holy Spirit is precious to God and is to reflect His nature. I have been asking myself: Do I live in an awareness that my frail, fleshy body, houses the Spirit of the living Christ? Does His Word dwell in me richly? Do I keep the dwelling place of God clean for Him? Do I allow Jesus to build daily onto the wonderful foundation of His saving grace in me? Or do I labour in vain for "things" that please people or myself, rather than the Spirit that lives in me? Do I care more for my outward appearance than for the sanctuary that Jesus has made inside of me?
David praised God for His amazing creation - the human body. As I followed the development of our two children in my womb, I could echo those words - fearfully, wonderfully... But why fearfully? The Hebrew word for fearful is "yare", which can be translated as "to be afraid" or "to stand in awe". The way we were made, in the image of God, is not so that we can honour these amazing bodies we were given, striving to keep physically strong and happy. God alone is worthy of our awe. More and more, it is Jesus who I stand in awe off as I watch our children grow, knowing that their precious bodies also, were made for Him to live in.
I want to live in the awareness that my body is the temple of God. It is a temporary dwelling, held together only by His grace. In the increasing limitations of my own body, I want to be aware that I serve a limitless God. God who made the perfect way through Jesus, to receive not only forgiveness for sin, but His life-giving Spirit. God who has made a way, for what is decaying, to be eternal, beyond the bonds of bones and flesh...
*These striking birds (the 10 species of the Turaco and the 2 of the Musophaga) are the only birds to possess true red and green colour. When you look at most birds, the color you are seeing is a reflection produced by the feather structure. The Turaco's red pigment (turacin) and green pigment (turacoverdin) both contain copper. In fact, if you stirred a glass of water with a red Turaco feather, the water would turn pink! The Knysna Loerie is thought to use its red wing feathers to escape predators. Indeed, when it flies, the predators tend to focus on the most visible colour and follow the red patch. As the Loerie lends and folds its wings, the red feathers of the wings become invisible and the Loerie has a chance of escaping unseen.