“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions!” These words by the late William Bridges, who was a leading authority on organizational leadership, have been ringing in my mind throughout the last year.
When our country went into lockdown due to the pandemic, it was an abrupt change, but every day brought a different transition of adjustment to a new reality. Jobs were affected, bringing transitions to how we worked, where we worked and even if we worked. Schools were affected, bringing transitions to students, teachers and parents. Churches were affected, granting us the opportunity to learn to worship, minister and disciple in different and challenging ways.
Transitions bring a flood of emotions. In February, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) said farewell to our retiring Executive Director-Treasurer (EDT) Milton A. Hollifield Jr. Now we are poised to welcome our new EDT. The change brings sadness for an ending, a level of uncertainty and wonder in the interim, and excitement about a new beginning. Yet as we walk through these transitions, we do not walk alone.
We are not the first generation to experience transitions. Consider the Exodus account of the Israelites’ escape from Egyptian slavery. In the account, we see God leading Israel and God protecting Israel. God’s presence was represented by the pillar of cloud that led them by day, and the pillar of fire that led them by night. Later when the Israelites were seemingly trapped between the Red Sea and Egypt’s approaching army, God provided deliverance by parting the sea and putting the cloud between Israel and the Egyptians until everyone could safely cross.
In the uncertainty of their transitions, God’s presence was certain. When the enemy advanced, God defended. The LORD took the Israelites out of oppression of bondage into the wilderness of uncertainty with the promise of a land of rest.
At the end of Exodus, we read not just of a God who acts to lead and protect His people, but also of a God who desires to dwell with His people. In stunning detail God outlines the instructions for the construction of the tabernacle, the furnishings and the priestly garments. In fact, “tabernacle” is a translation of a Hebrew word that means “dwelling place.” Exodus 40:34 says, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” When the cloud resided over the tabernacle, the Israelites stayed in place and only resumed their journey when the cloud was taken up. The book concludes by stating, “For the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys” (Exodus 40:38).
But the Exodus account is not merely a moral tale of deliverance, as some would apply it today. It is actually a foreshadowing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. John 1:14 helps us understand that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.” The word “dwelt” in that verse is better translated as “tabernacled.” In Exodus, the glory of the LORD dwelt in the midst of God’s people in a tabernacle of cloth. In Jesus, the glory of the LORD dwelt among his people in a tabernacle of flesh. And when we fast forward again to the New Testament church, we see that we – the family of faith – become his dwelling place. Consider the words of 1 Corinthians 3:16, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
Change is constant and certain. It is all around us right now as we witness new beginnings in this season of spring. Pandemic restrictions continue to ease, and we are learning to adjust to a new normal. Our convention is preparing for a new EDT who will bring new energy and vision to our mission to advance the gospel throughout North Carolina to the nations. And most importantly, we wait for a day when God not only dwells with us by His Spirit, but when we will “tabernacle” with Him for all eternity. Don’t let the transitions do you in, because His presence never changes!
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Brian Upshaw was elected as the interim executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina on Feb. 16 by the convention’s board of directors.)