Sophomore Year… High School… Camp Cowen… As I did every year, I sat next to my camp girl friend… because after all, doesn’t every freshman boy go to camp for the ladies? I listened to a speaker named Rob Ely talk about why Jesus should matter to me… a popular, All-American kid with a bright future and a clean record. He spoke about this God who rescued every one of us through the person of Jesus. He spoke about the love and unmerited, undeserved grace of Jesus for the ENTIRE world - all for the sake of restoring every person… as his beloved!
As Rob spoke that night, I felt something strange begin to happen. I let go of my camp girlfriend’s hand. Scenes of my life began to rerun in my mind, but rather than disregarding them, I decided to feel them.
On that night, the very hearing of being called a beloved child of God so moved my heart and renewed my weary soul that I did not care so much about the girl sitting next to me or the buddies from my cabin when I got up, walked to Rob, and accepted the love of Jesus for me.
Truly that evening, it was as though God ripped through the veil of my facade and gave rest and hope to my burdened heart.
I experienced the presence of God that day, and it forever changed my life.
Immediately, I bookmarked that night at Camp Cowen. I never wanted to forget it. Soon after, I became very certain that my life vocation would be devoted to full-time ministry. But I still felt unclear about what capacity. Until…
8 Years Later… 3rd Year of Seminary… A class called “Missional Theology and Practice.”
When I close my eyes, I am transported into the room in which we met, where I sat, and even what my professor wore during the first sessions when my heart broke wide open for the power and witness of the local church with statements like these:
“Imagine a local church in a community whose sole mission seeks to live life together as the presence of Jesus Christ for the world. A church whose people resemble so closely the likeness of Jesus that when a person meets them that person cannot tell the difference between the two. A church whose goal seeks to restore the broken, falling apart lives of individuals. A church whose desire seeks to unite families and see young people thrive. A church whose aim seeks to bind the brokenhearted. A church whose sole assignment seeks the unity of all things, the redemption of all things, and the yearning of all things to return to one who created them, the very one whom the church serves: Jesus Christ.
As I heard statements like these throughout the course, my heart welled up with so much emotion for the church that I knew then and there that my life would be devoted to serving as a Pastor of a local church. It was as though God ripped through the veil of my own life ambitions and lit my heart on fire for the local church.
I experienced the presence of God that day, and it forever changed my life.
Personal experiences with God always change things. Have you ever experienced God? What did it change for you? If not, then strap in because I do believe that God wants to break in your life.
I am amazed everyday by the young people of our church who began attending either Wyldlife or Anthem as atheists, but then over a period of time began to experience life change and faith formation… all because they encountered a personal experience with the living God.
I view that as a modern day miracle!
During our final Anthem high school group of the semester, we closed by gathering in a circle and sharing about our experiences with God from the last year. Powerful!… A young freshman girl admitted that she had been feeling lost. She confessed to us that she had given too much of her heart away to kids who didn’t respect it. During one Anthem a while back, I talked about a great verse from the book of Proverbs… chapter 4, verse 23, which says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” In her own words, she said, “When I heard that verse, my heart came alive. I memorized it, and I remind myself everyday to guard my heart because Jesus lives there!”
Her statement testifies to the fact that a personal experience with God changes things!
God used the wisdom from the Book of Proverbs that day because a man named Solomon encountered a personal experience with God nearly 3,000 years ago.
Recall from last week that the first born son from David and Bathsheba died as a consequence of the sin that David committed. Yet, several years later, God provided them with another son named Solomon. God loved Solomon so much that God gave him a special name upon his birth - Jedediah - which means the “Beloved of the Lord.”
After David passed and Solomon assumed the throne, Solomon encountered God in a deeply personal and transformational way that forever changed the course of his life…
Because a personal experience with God changes things.
God told Solomon to ask for anything and God would provide it, so Solomon, proving his own integrity and humility, asked for wisdom. His request pleased God because much like his father, Solomon, too, lived the kind of life that sought after God’s own heart.
As a result, God tasked Solomon with building the first temple - the very first permanent structure in which God would reside and the people would worship.
I want to briefly look at 2 slices of history that occurred during the temple construction process.
The first slice takes place between Solomon and King Hiram of Tyre. King Hiram hailed from a small country to the north and considered Solomon and the whole nation of Israel a friendly ally, even though the people of Tyre followed many different gods and did not believe in the one true God of Israel. They coexisted together in peace and mutually benefitted from one another.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 2, King Solomon sent a letter to King Hiram, naming the men and resources of Tyre among the greatest in the region. King Solomon asked if the people of Tyre could assist Israel with building the Temple in exchange for a generous wage.
In his letter, Solomon states, “This will be a magnificent Temple because our God is an awesome God!” (2 Chronicles 2:5)
One might ask, how did Solomon come to the place where he would boast about the awesomeness of God in public before pagan a king?
Because a personal experience with God changes things!
Solomon’s witness to the awesomeness of God so moved King Hiram that he sent a letter in response to King Solomon, saying: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who made the heavens and the earth!” (2 Chronicles 2:12)
What a statement by a pagan, unbelieving king no less!
A few chapters later, Solomon demonstrated his faith in what would become one of the most dramatic actions ever displayed by a King.
In this second slice of history, as the temple neared its completion, Solomon, along with the entire nation of Israel, gathered at the Temple to dedicate it before the Lord.
King Solomon walked inside the Temple, and then listen to what happens next in 2 Chronicles chapter 6, verse 12.
Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. 13 Now he had made a bronze platform and had it placed in the center of the outer court. He stood on the platform… [[[… which we would expect a king to do… to stand on the alter as an assertion of dominance and power before his people. But Solomon, a king who encountered a personal experience with God, trusted the Lord, picking up in verse 13…]]] Solomon knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven. [[[an act that you would never witness a king do before anyone or anything… but Solomon knew his true King.]]] 14 Solomon said:
“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven or on earth—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way.
In a single act, Solomon demonstrated before the entire nation that the Lord is the true king of Israel.
Solomon continues with his prayer for the rest of chapter 6, one of the great prayers of Scripture.
Then, the Lord responded in chapter 7, verse 1:
When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2 The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it. 3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,
“He is good;
his love endures forever.”
4 Then the king and all the people offered sacrifices before the Lord.
Hear the words, both the king and the people made sacrifices together to their one true king.
For the first time in history - and I would argue… for the first time since the Garden… God dwelled among his people in a permanent setting, a magnificent temple built to honor the glory and kingship of the Lord. This event affirms the great desire of God to dwell among and with his people - not in a far off place - not outside of time and space - but in the here and now - in the joy and chaos and wonder of life.
The fire of God from Heaven lit a fire underneath the alter of burnt offerings that would burn continuously to symbolize the constant, enduring, and perpetual presence of the Lord.
The weight of this moment in history carried forth for the next thousand years… all the way to a time when a man named Jesus would encounter the world and literally change everything…