Kiyomizu-dera Temple – Kyoto, Japan
Yasmin and I were in yet another amazing temple in Kyoto Japan, particularly the Kiyomizu-dera Temple complex, which was founded in 778 AD! (It’s present buildings were constructed 1633 without a single nail.) As I walked inside its great hall, I thought to myself, “Wow. This place is so amazing. We’ve seen so many amazing temples. It would have been awesome if Christians had built amazing monuments as well, then people would be flocking to see God’s greatness and be awed the way we are with this temple.” Then I realized, Christians have built amazing monuments, many of them, if not most, in Europe, such as the cathedrals and religious art, and people do flock to see them, but not necessarily to see God’s greatness, but to admire the architecture or the art, giving more glory to the architect and the artist than the Creator. So that shot down my “we should build great monuments” idea. Then I remembered a verse I have read many many times, “Your body is the temple”. And it kept ringing in my head: “Your body is the temple. Your body is the temple. Your body is the temple.” As I looked at the different features of the the Kiyomizu-dera temple, I would think, “Wow, that’s nice” followed with “Your body is the temple.” I would see an inner room where with a statue in the center and think, “Does God truly reside in my temple, my body, or do I have a shadow?” I saw kids enjoying the act of drawing water from three waterfall channels and would think, “Is my temple a source of great joy to others?” I saw the priests offering incense to their god in highly ritualistic fashion, and I saw religious ceremony in a new light. We like to bash religion, but religious ceremonies are activities that were devised to help man love their deity right. Wanting to love God right is not a bad thing. Loving the wrong god is obviously not right, and it is possible to love God wrongly, mainly by loving Him the way I want to love Him or the way I feel like loving Him NOT according to He has commanded me to love Him. This led me to the most sobering of the questions in my head, “Do I love God rightly? Do I want to love Him rightly? Am I seeking to learn how to love Him in the way He commands to be loved? Or am I loving Him the way I feel like loving Him?”
Throughout the rest of our trip, these thoughts haunted me. I remembered the words in Matthew 7:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
I thought to myself, “The person who claims to love the true God but loves wrongly is no better than the person who loves a false god.”
Loving wrongly means having the feeling of desire or attachment, or having an understanding of the greatness of God, yet not living according to His commands, not loving Him the way He commands us to. To love God, to truly love God, is to want to please Him, and that is called obedience. Is is very proud of me to say, “I’ll love God in my own way” as if I knew better than Him how to love Him, as if my style of loving is superior that I no longer need to learn how to love as He commands.
This led me to a simple prayer, “Father, teach me to love You right.” I understand now King David’s Psalms, when he asked God to teach Him His ways. He was asking God to teach Him what I’m asking God now, “Teach me to love You right. Teach me the things that please You. Teach me what makes You happy. Teach me how I can bless You. Teach me how I can bring You glory.” King David understood that one cannot separate righteous living and holiness from loving God, for righteous living and holiness is the way to love God. But King David also understood that man is not capable and does not completely comprehend how to live righteously, so he constantly called to God to teach Him how to get things right, because he truly desired get it right for God.
To a lesser degree, I feel this with my wife, Yasmin. I deeply want to become the best possible husband, but I know myself too well. I particularly know how impatient, proud, and selfish I can be, causing me to be irritable and argumentative. Every time she calls me out or after an argument, I feel frustrated that I’m not able to improve myself fast enough, that because of my flaws the person I love gets hurt. Then I realized that was a good sign that I really love her, because there is a pain in me when I hurt her, there is a desire to correct it, and there is a desire to learn how to do things better, to learn how to love her better.
King David felt that way with God. Every time he made a mistake, he was in anguish, and he was running to God praying, “Forgive me! Teach me!” Our self-centered spirituality has caused us to forget this. We want to love God in the way we’re comfortable with. We no longer seek to love Him rightly, the way He commands. Can we say we truly love someone if we do not desire to love them the way they are supposed to be loved? No. How we love says a lot about who we love. If I love God the way I want to, putting my style or my convenience above His will, than can I say I truly make Him priority? No. It shows I love myself more, for my ways are held over His.
You can see why I would wake up really early every morning bothered by this. I realize that in many ways I was loving God wrongly, and what bothered me even more was the fact that I was proud that I thought it was right, that how I loved God, was my prerogative, instead of desiring to learn to love from the One who is love.
In my study, I was led to dig deeper into the idea of “Your Body is the Temple”, and that is the topic of my next post for another time. Jesus’ idea of a monument to the world was not great buildings but great lives. Traditionally, temples were places were gods resided, where man communicated with gods (prayer), and where man worshiped gods. Unlike other religions, in Christianity, God would would not reside in gilded rooms but in humble hearts; communication with God, prayer, would not be limited to a chosen few but be open to a priesthood of believers; and God would be worshipped (loved the way He wants to be loved) in spirit and in truth, in other words, in obedience. In my next post I will share the difference between prayer and worship (and they are different), and why one cannot truly love if one is not disciplined.
This next post will be followed by another post about another “body” the Bible talks about, Christ’s body: The Church, and how we’re not commanded to just go to church but be the church. This one will take a little bit more time as I am not a theologian or a church expert, so will have to consult with people who are experts.
I realized that there’s so much I don’t know. My early mornings and evenings are not complete without studying further. I do know this: I know I love God, not because I’m doing everything right (which I’m definitely not), but because it pains me to disobey, and because I desire to love Him, not just the way I feel, but in the way He commands.
7:36am | Tokyo, Japan
I was about to add a post on my page about how blessed I feel to have such an amazing wife, but as I typed it, I felt myself stopped by the thought, “What does it really mean to be blessed?” While I consider myself blessed to have Yasmin, there are times when this blessing and I don’t get along. Does she cease to be a blessing when we fight? Of course not. This is why I wanted to share my thoughts on being blessed, hoping that we won’t be so unstable, so easily impressed by stories of blessings and so easily rocked when our circumstances don’t seem blessed at all.
We see the word blessed used a lot and we hear it in church often. A guy gets a new car and he calls himself blessed by God. A lady meets someone who matches her list of qualities and calls herself blessed because God knew her “heart’s desire”. Parents teach their children to be good so that God will bless them with the things they want. There are so many examples of God’s blessing around us. While most of these are well-meaning, many times, I find that what we refer to as the blessed life is simply a life where we get what we want. We see proof of this when we quickly equate receiving something we want with blessing and not getting it a lack of blessing. Very rarely, if ever, have I seen anyone say ‘I’m in my forties, I’m single, I’ve always wanted to get married, but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened, and I’m blessed because of it.” Very rare is a Nick Vujicic who can say he’s blessed by God to have no limbs. Some people don’t have a certain mobile phone and they already feel cursed. This guy has no limbs and he says God blessed him with his situation. I believe this is because he has a proper understanding of what it means to be blessed.
Being blessed by God doesn’t mean that some divine being has aligned the universe to give us our heart’s desires. Being blessed by God means that God Himself has aligned the Universe to bring us closer to Him. Here’s a great article from Desiring God that explains this idea. I especially like this part:
One translation of the New Testament (ESV) has 112 references with the words bless, blessing, or blessed, none of which connect blessing to material prosperity. Consider these passages:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . Blessed are those who mourn . . . . Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake . . . Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you.” (Matthew 5:3–11)
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28)
Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. (James 1:12)
There is no hint of material prosperity or perfect circumstances in any New Testament reference. On the contrary, blessing is typically connected with either poverty and trial or the spiritual benefits of being joined by faith to Jesus.
According to the Key-Word Study Bible, “The Greek word translated blessed in these passages is makarioi which means to be fully satisfied. It refers to those receiving God’s favor, regardless of the circumstances” (emphasis added).
What is blessing, then? Scripture shows that blessing is anything God gives that makes us fully satisfied in him. Anything that draws us closer to Jesus. Anything that helps us relinquish the temporal and hold on more tightly to the eternal. And often it is the struggles and trials, the aching disappointments and the unfulfilled longings that best enable us to do that.
Our King-Sized-Bed-Sized Room
Two days ago, when arriving at our hotel room in Japan, upon opening the door, I said, “Yasmin! Our room is huge!” knowing that I had booked us in one of those business/travelers hotels with tiny rooms, which I said was so that she could “experience” it, even if my motives were more cheap. She walked-in excitedly, then started laughing when she saw how small our room actually was. She laughed as she said, “I really thought it was huge, that when I saw the place it looked even smaller!” We were both laughing as we struggled to find spots for our suitcases. It was really tight. We called it our “king-sized-bed-sized room” because the main part is practically as big as our bed at home. “Now this is a honeymoon suite!” I declared.
I have a feeling this is going to be a funny story we’ll remember forever, a story to remind us of how blessed we are, because we are closer to one another.
In this age where material things are the proof of success and the good life, where true spirituality has been lost to this combination of spiritual materialism and spiritual self-centeredness, which simply means my “spirituality must get me the life I want”, we must make it a point to deepen our soul and reject the idea that having is more important than being. To have things is nice. To be someone, to know who you are in Christ, is empowering. To have someone is nice. To be with someone is special. Yasmin and I have been enjoying our tiny room. (I’ll leave out the details.) We’re enjoying it even it isn’t the most luxurious thing, even if it is inconvenient, because we’re enjoying each other.
Someday, Yasmin and I will die, and one of us is going to leave the other to remember our king-sized-bed-sized room alone. Just the thought of that makes me very sad. I don’t even want to think about it. But I have a much greater blessing than Yasmin, and she has One much greater than me. I am blessed, not because of what I have, but because of who I am, a person loved by God. What an unshakable blessing it is to be loved by God. In all circumstances, richer or poorer, sick or healthy, even in death my blessing does not part with me.
This is what it means to be blessed: to be alive and so aware of God’s love, that every moment becomes a moment to share with Him, and a moment to share Him with the world, that others may live every moment with Him as well. That’s a lot of moments. That’s every moment. Everyone’s every moment with Him, what a beautiful thought.
It’s not enough for people to respect me.
I want to know, I need to know, in the deepest part of me, where there’s no one but God and myself, that in our partnership, we weren’t lazy nor dishonest with each other. I know that He’s faithful with His part. I need to focus on being faithful with mine. This is why I put a lot of emphasis on measured results, so that I never fall into the vanity of being honored by man and think that is proof of a good life. It’s easy to impress a shallow judge. Man is a shallow judge. But by putting standards, even difficult standards, I push myself towards actual, fundamental, tangible results, that I may sleep content that I did everything in my power to be faithful to God as well.
When I am not meeting these standards, I feel the insecurity of dissonance. There is no peace in a lying heart, and my heart has, through the years, gone through many lies. Chief of which is that I am here to promote, protect, and pleasure me above all. It manifests clearly when I say things like, “I’m not so bad” or “I’m alright” or “I’m enjoying my ‘me’ time” or “I’m allowed to feel this way” or when I entertain other excuses. These are some of the conversations I have in my head when defending my small laziness and dishonesties, not thinking of the other lives deprived or hurt by me When I catch myself do this, I switch the question from “How do I feel today?” to “What is my measurable impact today?” and it changes my mental framework. Before I think about what I think I lack or need, I think about what I have given.
In Matthew 11, there’s a story where the John the Baptists sent his disciples to Jesus to ask if He’s the real deal. John was having doubts, probably due to his situation in prison. Jesus didn’t go on an offended, angry, defensive “You don’t believe in me!” speech. Instead, He said, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Jesus simply said: Look at the results. The reply wasn’t “look at my posts”, “look what the media is saying about me”, “look at my likes and comments”. He said, “Look at the fundamental improvements in the lives of people I’ve touched. Look at my life’s message.”
Jesus never argued His value to anyone. He let His results do the talking, and His results weren’t cute or vanity metrics. They were fundamental life improvements that transformed.
This is the example I seek to follow: to live such a good life that whenever there are doubters, I can simply say, “Look at the results. Look at my life’s message. I’m not perfect. There are a ton of mistakes. But look at the results.” To do this, I need to make sure that every day is spent generating results, not necessarily for monetary ends, but for life transforming impact. This is where discipline, diligence, and determination trumps intention, inspiration, and ideas. Too many people share a lot of inspiring crap but completely fail when they are asked, “So where are the actual, tangible, fundamental results?”