Housing the Presence of God

Does God dwell in a building?

We long for the presence of God, ever since we lost the intimate connection in Eden. Our sin broke a relationship that still leaves an empty feeling in the pit of our stomachs. Though the intimacy and unity experienced in the garden won’t be fully restored until Heaven, God has been fulfilling His promises that lead back to that unification. As with Jacob (Genesis 28:15), God is with us as we go, but what does that mean?

This understanding is fleshed out in the symbol of the Temple. Starting with the pillar of cloud and fire and the construction of the Tabernacle, God’s presence would show to be real, tangible, and vital to the survival of His children. But, because of sin, there was a forced separation between His presence and us. Sin cannot exist in the presence of God, so as an act of mercy to us, God contained His presence in places like the pillar or the Holy of Holies. To the Israelites, it became a specific location that they could either be near to or far from and would be where they headed when they needed Him. God was never interested in setting up a shop, though, so that people could drop by when they needed something. He intensely desired fullness of relationship and gently brought us along that journey by developing our understanding of His presence through time and history, preparing us for the ultimate reunification in Glory.

God’s presence holds such a power that the Israelites were afraid to come near the pillar or touch the mountain at Sinai. When God filled the tent of meeting with His glory, not even Moses could enter in (Lev 1:1). God spent the middle section of the Torah (Leviticus) laying out for Moses the idea of the atonement (we have a debt that must be paid) before He would allow Moses in His presence (Numbers 1:1) . From then, with the establishment of the Day of Atonement (Lev 16), God provided a way for us to be in His presence—something we have certainly desired strongly (Psalm 27:4; 63:1), as you see a huge focus of Old Testament heroes spending the majority of their efforts working to be with God. Whether it was Moses refusing to take a step without God (Exodus 33:15-16), David relishing that he cannot escape the Spirit (Psalm 139:-12) or Jeremiah communicating to the people that even upon exile, they can find God (Jeremiah 29:13), humans clearly desire to return to the intimacy we lost in the garden.

Like two lovers separated by physical distance, God wanted to be with us even more, and was drawing us back to Himself. The temple built by King Solomon was built to be the place people could turn to get help in the fight against sin (1 Kings 8:28-30), thus becoming a beacon shining from the top of the hill; a light for all to see as they make their way towards salvation – the city of God (1 Kings 8:41-43). There, only with Him, would they find their rest (1 Kings 8:56-58). But even with fire from Heaven consuming offerings and sacrifices (2 Chronicles 7:1-3), the presence of God was still veiled and hidden within the Holy of Holies; the place behind the curtain that was only accessible by the high priest, and even then that was a risky proposition. God was near, but we could not be fully restored to Him. But God promised a day when we could have full access to Him (Jeremiah 33:31-34). It took the right high priest, the One from the order of Melchizedek, to offer a once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of all humanity (past-present-future) so that those who trusted in the salvation Jesus presented would be forgiven and made right. This is why the curtain guarding the Holy of Holies was ripped in two the moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:51); access to God would no longer be veiled.

We are not in Heaven yet, and God is still working to draw all peoples to Himself. However, instead of a literal city on a hill, He has chosen in these days to provide access to Himself through the very people He promised His new covenant to in Jeremiah 33. God has given His Spirit to all believers in Him as a deposit, guaranteeing our inheritance, which is the fullness of His presence in Heaven (Ephesians 1:13-14). With His Spirit taking up residence in us as believers, we become the housing of His presence, the temple of the new covenant (1 Corinthians 3:16) with our lives given to Him as a pleasing sacrifice (1 Peter 2:5). When we gather together with other believers, He promises to always be there (Matt 18:20), thus building His church—His body—a living, breathing manifestation of Him moving around this earth, going to all people and drawing them to Himself. No longer is the temple in one place, but a movement of the grace of God into all the dark places of the world and the human heart.

The steadfast love of God (1 Kings 8:23) has taken us, step by step throughout history on a journey to return into the fully restored presence of God. Through reconciliation and regeneration, we can confidently enter the throne of Grace (Hebrews 4:16) and offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). We have it in full now, and not yet, for there will be a day—and a feast—where the fullness and intimacy become magnified in awesome unity and unending celebration (Revelation 19:6-9). Then we will have it; the manifest, complete physical presence of God so powerful it replaces the sun and moon as light (Revelation 21:23). Until then, those who trust in Christ have been given His Spirit along with a mission to go to the dark places of earth and shine His light through ourselves so that others see and are drawn to Him (Matthew 28:19-20). And He will be with us at every step, for we are the housing of His presence, His temple, the light of the world and the city on a hill.

I’m Done Wasting My Life; Time to Lose It

Yesterday I finished reading John Piper’s Risk is Right. It’s not a huge book, but I took my time with it, as due to the circumstances in which I received it, I felt it worth savoring slowly. I received it about a week prior, the afternoon after I quit my job. It was sent in the mail to me as a gift from two very close friends back in Omaha. For the three weeks leading up to leaving my job I battled constantly the idea of risk vs. wisdom. I have been feeling the call of God to start inching my way towards ministry again (He may or may not want me to be inching along, but currently that is my pace).

I left full time ministry 10 years ago and until last January never looked back. Based on prodding from my mentor in Seattle, the thought and opportunity to come back into church service has begun to bud. Even though I came very close to a job offer at our church in Seattle, it was not to be, and God led Nita and I down to south Florida. It was there he brought me to Cape Alliance. On our first day of visiting, they announced that was the last day of their Associate Pastor whom would not be replaced by paid staff. One of his main duties was the youth group. God spoke and here we are leading an entire youth group.

Upon our arrival to Fort Myers, both Nita and I graciously landed jobs quickly so that we could get our feet set. It is now seven months later and I am back in the job hunting mode again. At least this time we have no intention of moving. This is not a story about what happened at the job, and though it had a lot to do with circumstances surrounding working there, my battles over the last month have been about taking the next step in my faith. Maybe that meant moving a few inches at once, maybe just one, but it has certainly been a battle.

Conventional wisdom taught me to never quit a job without another one lined up. That has only been magnified under the current economic stress. But I felt a continuing nod to end my career in sales and open myself back to the world of giving, whether in church or at least non-profit service. With building pressure on every side, I became forced to make a decision: either stay where I am and close my heart to God’s pull or step out in faith. I have always desired control, even more so over myself. God kept tugging on me to let Him supply our needs and live on faith. One easy way to try that would be to give up an income…

Thus, last week I either did the stupidest thing ever or made one of my biggest leaps of faith. That said, I am being responsible and job hunting with fervor, but I have noticed that my faith and desire to trust in God’s leading for the next step is growing. There is where the book comes in. Arriving at the perfect time from friends that I trust with my life and who know on infinite levels more than me what it means to live on faith, I opened the pages and was impacted with the nature and power of risk immediately. The story of Joab and Abishai in 2 Samuel 10 was particularly convicting.

“Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. Joab said, ‘If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.'” (2 Samuel 10:9-12)

We are called to do our absolute best with the talents, knowledge and strength given to us, but the lesson here is that God controls the outcome. The LORD will do what is good in His sight. I do not know what will happen, but I know that Nita and I have placed our lives in the center of His hands and am confident He has a good plan for us…granted, that plan may not be on this side of heaven. We’ll just have to travel on this journey and see where it goes.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

In case anyone is curious, though I am fully confident in God, do not be misled. The only times my knees are not shaking is when I am on them praying. Which, at this point, is often. Lastly, let me send a shout out to my friends Lee and Chelsea, the ones who sent me this book. They live on risk daily as they are paid by faith support through their college ministry, Cru. Follow the link to learn more about them and consider supporting them. Their first child is only a few months old and they are adopting 3 more children this summer. I’m afraid Nita and I still have a lot to learn…


The Incredible Dork-i-ness of Being

I admit to being a dork, and truthfully, I don’t exactly mind it. There is a lot of fun allowed in this world to the dorks, nerds (smarter versions of dorks) and generally unappreciated members of society. Bart Simpson himself is a dork – he gets bullied at school, hangs out with Milhouse (and, at times, Martin) and is a failure at being a rebel because he cares too much. Coincidentally, that would be the first piece of evidence of my dorkiness; my ability and desire to discuss deeper philosophical issues from the Simpsons. But part of what makes life so much fun is relating most everything to the krazy karacters headlining Fox’s Sunday night animation domination (Peter Griffin, is still second to Homer).

The topics of deep discussion move forward from there, but not necessarily upward. One of my favorite debates is the swallow’s ability to transport coconuts. Before you ask me whether I am talking about African or European swallows, let’s make sure we stay on track. And was it really that hard for Lois Lane to not catch Superman hiding behind Clark Kent’s glasses? I will always side with Aragorn’s story over Frodo’s and am honestly glad that the movies did not include the 27 more endings for Return of the King that the book did. I enjoy having my opinions and arguing their basis for insight on human nature; after all, how would we know not to skip immediately to ludicrous speed if not for Dark Helmet’s mistake?

As I’ve aged, the naysayers that laughed at me during puberty have all fallen into silence. It’s incredible to note that more people seem to discuss Glee in public circles today than the Philadelphia Eagles’ plummet from the ranks of the NFL elite. By the way, I do not in any way endorse Glee – I have never seen an episode and do not intend to – I would still rather watch an Eagles’ game (despite me NOT being a fan and their dismal play of late). Being a dork isn’t really made fun of anymore – it’s glorified, respected; even admired. This is unlike one of the other labels I have been living under.

In media, culture and even some individual chatter, being a Christian is becoming more and more a joke. Not a Peter vs. the Giant Chicken kind of joke, but a serious offense against the rest of the world. As humans, we are all in this together, and though we each have our own opinions and beliefs on what is best and how to move forward, we still occupy the same space with each other. Whether or not there is room enough on this planet for all the differing opinions does not matter; we are all stuck here on this planet and all life (thus all opinions) have a right to exist.

As a Christian, I hold to certain opinions (the content of those opinions is not important here). This is where most people get angry, as they see those opinions as intolerant and aggressive towards other worldviews. Why? Look at this first part of the sentence: “As a Christian…” This means that I have chosen to live under a certain set of principles. My opinions are held for those who choose to live under the same set of standards. If I were to say, “As an American, I believe in taxation with representation”, that would be a belief held by those who choose to live under America’s standard; regardless of how they became a citizen. That may not be the opinion in another country, but I have no right, rhyme or reason to judge the citizen of another country that does not espouse that belief.

People who have chosen to live under another faith, or no faith at all, have ultimately chosen a different set of standards and principles to live under. That is their choice. Do I believe that my faith has something to offer other people? Absolutely, and I’m not afraid to share that. But it is still their choice to follow. If they choose not to, then they are free to live with whatever opinions they see most desirable. Tolerance is allowing them that decision. There are those inside my same faith who believe it is their duty to push their rules onto other people. Those people also exist in every faith, nationality and world view. In the end, each individual is accountable for only themselves.

I cannot nor will not answer for the inquisition, Holy wars, or even Jimmy Swaggert. What other people have done in the name of their country, their faith, or even themselves is a problem for every race and creed. What I can answer for is myself. Are my acts friendly, loving, and full of grace? After all, if you sum up everything in the Bible it comes down to one thing: love.

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:1-3

It’s incredible being a dork.