Saturday, July 14, 2012

A New Year, A New Beginning

I'd like to think that I'm a person who knows a thing or two about new beginnings.
Granted, I grew up most of my life in one city, having lived approximately 14 of my almost-29 years in Texarkana.  It's safe to say that I've got roots there, namely, my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law, two nephews, a niece, and a second niece that we will welcome into our world in less than a week!  So that town holds a piece of my heart.

But over the years we moved a couple of times.  When I was 9, we moved to Camden, AR for three years.  And when I was 13, we moved to Springdale, AR for a year.  When I graduated high school, I moved to Arkadelphia, about an hour up the road from good ole T-town.  I spent four years there, and admittedly, that little town now also owns a piece of my heart.  And when I graduated from college, I got my first "real" job in Little Rock.  Seems like it took awhile, but I managed to make the Little Rock area my home, and have found a wonderful church family with a great group of friends that now also own yet another piece of my heart.  I've been here for over six years, which is longer than I've been anywhere else, except Texarkana.

But enough about me.  This post is not about a new year nor a new beginning for me.  Today's my blogfather's birthday (this guy; the reason I have a blog...or even know what one is!), so today marks the start of a new year for him, and that's exciting!  But also, a week from today, he and his wife and daughter will pack up and move to NC.  So this time also marks the start of a new beginning for him, and that's exciting!

But it can also be difficult.  In fact, he wrote about the difficult part of leaving, over on his blog, just earlier this week.  I've been thinking about that post off-and-on this week, as I'll admit it made me sad for him.  He's right, the leaving his current life behind is not gonna be easy for him.  And yet...there were some things he said that I thought were very important, namely the mention of new challenges that lie ahead.  They may be uncomfortable, as they're not the life he's known for the past who-knows-how-many years.  But "life isn's about things staying the same."  The reason I think that's so important, is because with each new beginning, the changes and challenges help to make us a part of who we are.

I spent last night till 1:30 in the morning, and then most of my today, cleaning my apartment, doing laundry, and getting packed to go counsel at a week of a church camp here in AR.  Now, I can guarantee you that I would be doing none of that, were it not for all the different places, and new beginnings, I've had in my life.  Let me explain:  that precious family of mine in Texarkana is a God-fearing family, with parents who raised me in a Christian home.  I'm convinced that when we moved to Camden, the time we spent at the church there began a change in my family's beliefs about God and His church.  Also, it was during our time at that church that I first attended a church camp.  It was that church camp at which I was baptized into Christ.  Ever since then, church camps have held a special place in my heart.  The camp I'm headed to tonight is not that one, though.  It's one that I became acquainted with when I was in college.  I began counseling there the summer after my freshman year of college, in 2002...and have only missed about three summers there since then.  This will be #8 out of the past 11 summers for me there!  I'll spend the week with some people who I've been friends with for that long, and others who I might not have met before till now.  But my point is...I wouldn't be where I am today, without all of the changes and new beginnings that have taken place in my life.

So although yes, new beginnings can be very difficult, even painful--we wouldn't be who we are without them, and because of that, I feel like they should be celebrated.  So here's to my blogfather, Keith, and his new beginning! 

Praying God's richest blessings on your journey ahead, sir! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Shepherd's Voice: In His Presence

“Why were you searching for me?  Didn’t you know I had to be in My Father’s house?”
The very first time in all of Scripture that we hear the Shepherd’s voice—the very first time that we get to hear words spoken by God-Himself-in-the-flesh—He’s speaking about the importance and necessity of being in His Father’s house.  These words were spoken by a boy no more than 12 years old, after He was mistakenly left in Jerusalem by His parents, following the Passover Feast. 

Following the Feast, Jesus’ parents, along with a caravan of relatives and friends, had begun the trek back to Nazareth, and they were already an entire day into the journey before they realized He was missing.  After looking for Him, and being unable to find Him, they decided to return to Jerusalem to look for Him, where they found Him three days later.

In the meantime, the Shepherd had been in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers of the law, talking with them, and asking them questions.  Now, to a 1st-century Jewish person, the Temple—where Jesus had spent at least the last three days amazing all the teachers of the law with His understanding—would have represented the place where God’s very presence dwelt.  As early as the exodus from Egypt, the people of Israel were led by the presence of the Lord, guided by His pillar of cloud by day, and His pillar of fire by night.  And when the Lord was giving His people laws to live by, He included instructions for a tent of meeting, that was to be a tabernacle (literally, “dwelling place”) for the Lord. 

“And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent.  As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses.  Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent.  The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.”—Ex. 33:8-11a

This tabernacle for the Lord was the place where His people worshiped Him.  It was the place where He communed with His servant, Moses.  But fast-forward a few hundred years, and we find His servant-king, David, with the desire on his heart to build a Temple, a permanent dwelling place for the Lord’s presence.  But it’s David’s son Solomon who was able to complete the construction of the Lord’s Temple.  And after the Temple is completed, and the Lord’s ark of the covenant is brought into the temple, the people of Israel praise Him for His love and goodness, and it is clear that the Lord is pleased.

“The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang:  ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’  Then the temple of the Lord was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.”—II Chron. 5:13-14

The Spirit of the Lord filled His holy temple, and King Solomon responded to this in grateful praise and prayer.

“But will God really dwell on earth with men?  The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you.  How much less this temple I have built!...May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there…Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place.  Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive.”—II Chron. 6:18-21

It’s clear that Solomon had learned a thing or two, perhaps from his father, about the importance of being in God’s presence, and the love, blessings, and goodness that flow from Him.  For it was his father David who said, “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:  that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.  For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his tabernacle and set me high upon a rock.” (Ps. 27:4-5).

Yet another psalmist even goes so far as to write, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty!  My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God…Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Ps. 84).

King Solomon…King David…the Israelites…and even the 12-year-old Shepherd all understood the importance of being in God’s dwelling place, and the blessings that flowed.  For Christians today, the blessing is greater, as the roles have reversed.  Christians don’t go to a certain physical location to be in His presence.  Rather, His presence lives in us through His Holy Spirit.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”—I Cor. 6:19

And the love, blessings, and goodness that flow from Him are evident.  Through His Spirit dwelling in us, He will:

·        Counsel (John 14)

·        Teach (John 14)

·        Remind (John 14)

·        Testify (John 15)

·        Convict (John 16)

·        Guide (John 16)

·        Strengthen (Acts 9)

·        Encourage (Acts 9)

·        Compel (Acts 20)

·        Warn (Acts 20)

·        Love (Rom. 5)

·        Give freedom (Rom. 8)

·        Search hearts (Rom. 8)

·        Intercede (Rom. 8)

·        Give life (II Cor. 3)

·        Reveal (Eph. 3)

·        Fellowship (Phil. 2)

·        Renew (Titus 3:5)

·        Sanctify (I Pet. 1)

This list could probably go on for days.  In fact, there are multiple passages that speak of God’s presence dwelling in Christians through His Spirit serving as a seal or a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.  And that is the guarantee of a time when “…the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them.  They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”—Rev. 21:3-4

No wonder the Shepherd, even at such a young age, knew of the importance of being in His Father’s house.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”