Publication: One-to-One, Spring 2011
Is Christianity a movement? Some of it is. Is it moving where you are? A better questions is, are you moving … are you following Jesus on His continuing journey (see Hebrews 13: 12-14)? Abraham and Sarah moved with God. I can imagine a conversation between Abraham and Sarah. Abraham: “It’s time to move our tent.” Sarah: “Again? Where?” Abraham: “I’m not sure yet. The Lord will show us.” (See Hebrews 11: 8-10). Sarah was an unusual woman, willing to live in a tent and willing to pull up the stakes often. Theirs was not a camping trip to see the great outdoors; it was a way of life, a journey into the will of God. They were mobile and flexible, two words very relevant to us in this age. They should become role models for us.
If you are like me, change is not a happy thought, nor at my age is the word, “flexible”. But we do not get to choose the world into which we are born. I like to “get it right and leave it alone”. Like it or not, we are on an exodus between here and eternity. Those who fail to move will perish in some dry place; their memories will fill some museum.
Before my wife, Carolyn, made her passage into the eternal presence of God, we were married 47-and-a-half years. We made numerous moves during our time together. Like many women, she was a “nester”. But like Sarah, she dutifully, if not always joyfully, made the transition.
Changing circumstances necessitated moves, and we sought to move in the Lord. Thank God, moving with Him meant that He Who guides also provides.
History’s landscapes are littered with the bones of those who either refused to move or began to do so but later drew back, like Israel in the wilderness. Going to visit those places is a trip into yesterday-interesting but no longer relevant. I have seen many such places and groups, clinging to their past … some nations and some churches. They once moved, but no longer. At some point, tradition becomes “ancestor worship”, while the world around them kept changing. No, not all change is good, but neither is the refusal to change and grow.
The past year brought a lot of change: politically, economically, technologically, and sociologically. Not all of it was good. The year we are in now is continuing that trend, even accelerating it. I do not like much of the seemingly out-of-control change, but I have a choice: I can stop changing or draw back and crystalize (turn to a pillar of salt), or I can grow through change. At my age, that is a challenge, but one that I accept. Our forefathers also accepted the reality of change and brought positive change to the world through faith. But, some things do not change.
WHAT DOES NOT CHANGE
It is knowing what will not change that enables us to go forward. God does not change; Jesus is the same forever (see Hebrews 13:8). Real love does not change, and hope does not change, if our hope is in Him (see I Corinthians 13:13). The mercy of God does not change (2 Chronicles 7:3). The Word and truth of God does not change. In fact, every divine attribute remains the same. Knowing that, we can trust Him and be secure when He calls us to the next step. If our faith rests in some situation, then we will not move with God. If it rests in the unchanging, faithful God, we can move into new circumstances that will motivate a renewed faith, and that will change us. The alternative is to withdraw into depression or fear.
Seeking the Lord, moving with Him and finding a deeper relationship is much preferred! But it will require a new mindset.
TENTS AND TEMPLES
Tents are mobile; they can be taken down and moved to a new location. People have lived in tents since our earliest history. After thousands of years, some still do. Even the apostle Paul was a tent-maker, so there was a demand for tents even in his day.
The Tabernacle was a tent patterned by God Himself. So He was a Tent-Maker too. All of the Tabernacle was designed to represent Jesus Christ and His atoning work. For forty years, the Tabernacle stood in the center of Israel as they journeyed from Egypt into Canaan. When “the Presence” moved, the Tabernacle moved, and they moved with it. Even after Israel reached Canaan, the Tabernacle tent remained during the reigns of Saul and David. It continued as a testimony to God’s Salvation and their journey into His will. God met them there, forgave them there, and guided them there.
But it was in David’s heart to build a permanent house for God (see I Chronicles 22:7). It was in God’s heart to build a permanent house for David; these were two very different houses. David’s heart was for a house of stone; God’s heart was to give David successors, a spiritual family (see I Chronicles 17:1-10). David wanted permanence; God was still thinking of the journey ahead.
Was David wrong? No. God gave the plans and resources to build the Temple, but the Temple was not God’s priority. Lineage was (see Genesis 18:17-19). The Lord saw that from David would come the eternal King.
History proves that it is sons and daughters that secure the future, not magnificent structures. Abraham did quite well in tents (see Hebrews 11:9). He taught his children’s grandchildren to walk in covenant.
David’s children, including Solomon did not do as well with their offspring. David gave millions of dollars and years to the Temple. When Solomon finished the Temple, it was glorious. However, David and Solomon lost the organic relationship to their children, whose lives were not so glorious. Of course, David and Solomon are not alone in this problem. All kinds of leaders lose their children while building something else-a career, a business, or even a church. It was like that in Jesus’ day. Israel had failed its children while trusting a Temple that had become corrupt and would not be as permanent as they thought (see Malachi 4:6; Matthew 24:1-2). The future was in the hands of their offspring, not in their Temple. This lesson has eluded many Christians.
NO CONTINUING CITY
Permanence is an illusion; Jesus and the apostles tried to warn us about that. Remember the story of the wealthy farmer who said, “I will tear down my barns and build bigger”(see Luke 12:18). His plan was interrupted.
Many years ago, I knew a man who bought very old, stately homes and took out of them very valuable antiques, paintings, columns, and furnishings. He had great plans, but alas, the building in which he stored them burned to the ground. It was as though his life went up in smoke.
In Hebrews 13:14, we are told that we have here “no continuing city”. Permanence is not in what we build for God; it is what He is building for us. The things of God are permanent, the things of earth are not. Life itself is a vapor.
Hebrews 11 reminds us of those who journeyed in faith and suffered to give us something better than what they had. Hebrews 12 tells us that since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, we should run with patience the race set before us. In other words, keep moving in faith. In the next verse, the writer gives us the key, “Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, suffered the shame, and has sat down at the Right Hand of the Throne of God.” Jesus sat down when His journey was complete.
The great cathedrals of the world remind us of what happens when a people move from a “tent mentality” to a “temple mentality”, and seek permanence here. Some of these temples lie in ruins, others are now surrounded by secularism or Islam, having lost their children. Did you ever notice how many banks and universities are built to look like temples? For many, they are indeed houses of worship.
When we stop trusting God and journeying with Jesus, and start looking for pertinence here, bad things happen: we transfer trust; time and resources are diverted; children are lost; and eventually disillusionment comes. But if our focus remains on Jesus-what He did and how He did it-life, children, and future can be saved.
So, does God want us to live in poverty-in some “tent city”? Absolutely not! He wants to bless us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 1:15-21). In Him, we have untold benefits (see Psalm rn3). What He does want is for us to be mobile, to have a “tent mentality”, to teach us how to be pilgrims and sojourners like our forefathers, and not to be fixated on things that are passing away. And He wants us to teach this to our children, who are too often being ensnared in the unimportant.
THAT OTHER TENT
Tents do not last forever; brick and mortar last longer than tents. But our bodies are not brick and mortar. They are tents. We live in an earthly house that shall be dissolved. Our “home” will likely last longer than our “house”.
In I Corinthians 6:19, the apostle Paul says that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. He dwells in us. But our temple is in fact a “tent”; it is not permanent and the Holy Spirit is a “down- payment”, a guarantee that we will get a permanent glorified body.
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-7, Paul refers to his body as a “tent”. He lived in anticipation that it would one day be replaced. His sights were set on the eternal. In 2 Peter 1:13-14, Peter also contemplates his death and refers to his body as a “tent”. Both apostles gave themselves to their spiritual offspring and to the truth, realizing that physical life is transitory. Most early Christians understood that reality; suffering and martyrdom were common.
That mindset is not common among us today. We have been so blessed in this earthly life that we forget that there is eternal life. Consequently, most of our investment is here, not there. But permanence eludes us as it has every culture. As sure as Adam and Eve had to leave the Garden of Eden, history is a journey. ‘This world is not my home” is more than a song. It is a reality.
The Middle East (including Palestinian areas, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey) was once Christian. This region had thriving communities of believers and followers of Jesus. They built great churches, and you can go visit many of these ruins. They are now surrounded by militant Islam that despises Christianity and the West. What happened 1500 years ago? We should take note. Christians ceased to journey with God and built for earthly permanence. In their state of comfort and pomp, a militant and barbaric religion grew up around them. Many Christians were killed. Others convened under great duress. That has not changed.
I could cite North Africa as a further example. What I want to convey is that God is calling us while it is “today” to a renewed faith, to sacrifice and purpose, to become pilgrims once again, and to regain our sense of personal and corporate mission in a chaotic world. We live in tents; let’s keep moving ahead with the presence of God.
Jesus suffered outside the gate. The writer of Hebrews calls us to follow Him “outside the gate”. Too many of us remain inside the gate. The opportunity is out there with Jesus!
Scripture Reference: Hebrews 13:12-14; Hebrew 11:8-10; Hebrews 13:8; I Corinthians 13:13; 2 Corinthians 7:3; I Chronicles 22:7; I Chronicles 17:1-10; Genesis 18:17-19; Hebrews 11:9; Malachi 4:6; Matthew 24:1-2; Luke 12:18; Hebrews 13:14; Hebrews 11; Hebrews 12; Ephesians 1:15-21; Psalm 103; I Corinthians 6:19; 2 Corinthians 5:1-7; 2 Peter 1:13-14
Charles Simpson is an internationally-known author, Bible teacher, and pastor, serving in ministry since 1955. He is also Editor-in-Chief of One-to-One Magazine and ministers extensively throughout the United States and the nations.