Courthouses, Heaven and Coming Home

When I became a judge 20 years ago, they had no place for me.

Literally.

I was the eighth judge in a seven judge courthouse, and that meant there was no courtroom for me. They also had no chambers for me – the office space for me and a clerk to handle the paper side of being a judge.

The courthouse I moved into 20 years ago. (Wikimedia.)

The courthouse I moved into in 1995. (Wikimedia)

It reminds me a little of Jesus telling people about what it’s like to follow him:

As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” (Luke 9:57-58.)

Jesus actually did have a place to lay his head. That is, if he wanted to give up on being the Messiah he could have gone home to Nazareth and returned to the carpenter’s shop and lived out his days as a craftsman. But in order to fulfill his role as the Messiah, the Son of Man who is God in the flesh, he left that behind and pursued the will of his Heavenly Father.

That’s like what happened to me when I was appointed to the bench. No, not to become some sort of messiah but to pursue an opportunity to serve as a public official. In doing so I left a partnership in an established law firm, my  corner office with large windows, the car allowance that came with it. And I went to a courthouse that had no room for me.

When Jesus went on the road, he found people ready to take him in at times. He’d stay with friends like Peter (Matthew 8:14-15) and the family of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. (Luke 10:38-42, John 12:1-2.) Sometimes he’d find himself in homes of people he just met, like the tax collectors Levi (Mark 2:14-15) and Zacchaeus. (Luke 19:1-10.)

The people at the courthouse took me in too. There was one empty space where they placed a desk and a telephone for me to use. It wasn’t exactly a judge’s chambers so I didn’t have space for a clerk to handle my files. I also still had no courtroom, so I used whichever one was empty at any given time. Another judge took a vacation day? I was in their courtroom first thing that morning. Someone went to a judicial education class? Ditto. And when there wasn’t a spare courtroom? I used the Board of Supervisor’s public meeting room in the county building next door and held court there.

So I found space, or should I say that court administration found space for me, to hold court and do my job. You might think this wouldn’t be too bad for the short term, and you’d be right.

It wasn’t short term.

I was without a courtroom and chambers for over a year. But they eventually constructed a courtroom and chamber out of some office space and sixteen months after I was sworn in as a judge I moved into my own chambers and courtroom, complete with space for a clerk to do her work as well. If you look at the courthouse picture above, our windows are one floor above the main steps, looking out through the columns. It was worth the wait.

As you can imagine, though, the courthouse itself was getting awfully crowded. It was built in 1917 to house two courtrooms and other offices, and every judge added since then has required finding space to carve out another courtroom and chambers. We are now up to eleven judges and for years have had to rent space in nearby office buildings and place modular units down the block to house makeshift courtrooms, chambers and support offices.

Until now.

A New Home

The need for a new courthouse has been clear for a long time, but we couldn’t make plans until a few years ago. Finally the Legislature found a way to fund new construction, and after years of searching for a location, hiring an architect, and watching the construction firms dig a hole in the ground and raise a building up out of it, we have a new courthouse.

The new courthouse (California Courts Website)

My chambers are at the top left, to the rear.
(California Courts Website)

Again, this reminds me of Jesus.

It’s not that I remember Jesus’ own experience this time, but what he said about a new home for his people.

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3.)

Why do we need a new place to dwell? As Paul explained, Jesus came not only to save his people but so “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:21.) This liberation comes through the new creation, the new heaven and earth.

John, who was there when Jesus told his closest friends about his Father’s house and going to prepare a place for them all, decades later saw the vision of what this would really look like.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5.)

I waited sixteen months for a courtroom and chambers, and twenty years for a courthouse where people are not carving out space just to have room to get the job done. But even this new courthouse will soon be too small, too outdated, too inadequate.

The home Jesus is preparing for me will never need replacing. So waiting for Jesus to take me to his Father’s house, a perfect home, in his good time doesn’t seem that hard a wait. Still, as John said at the end of his book of visions:

“Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20.)

I am waiting eagerly for my new home.

***

The Sacramento Bee Newspaper asked me to speak in a one minute video about the importance of building courthouses right. The shots of marble and stained glass are in the old building while the broad expanses of glass and steel are in the new one. They are both beautiful courthouses, as the snowscape of the old courthouse shows (from the one time 9 years ago we had snow), as well as this photo of the new courthouse by night.

court snowIMG_2199

***

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12 Responses to Courthouses, Heaven and Coming Home

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    It’s nice to know a bit o’ your history, Tim.

  2. Pastor Bob says:

    New heaven, new earth….. YES!
    Makes the office of the judge in “Walking Tall” look even better!!

  3. Jeannie says:

    Tim, I enjoyed reading about this part of your career (and watching the video – that was great!). The John 14 passage was the text for my mom’s funeral sermon, so it will always be special to me.

    • Tim says:

      That video was done in one take as far as my part went. I’m glad I came across coherently!.Their editing of the courthouse scenes was excellent.

  4. Carmen S. says:

    Tim, I can enjoy this post because you don’t consider Bible study to be “what does this verse mean to me.” Many, if not most, Christians look forward to the intermediate state of heaven, but Abraham and the first-century Christians looked forward to the new heaven and the new earth. Glad to see you do, also. I’ve been reading Calvin’s commentary on Galatians. “Let godly readers consider the severe temptation with which Paul was called to struggle at the very commencement of his course. He who but yesterday, for the sake of doing him honour, had been sent to Damascus with a magnificent retinue, is now compelled to wander as an exile in a foreign land: but he does not lose courage.” Calvin also wrote: Paul was ordained an apostle, not because by his own industry he had fitted himself for undertaking so high an office, or because God had accounted him worthy of having it bestowed upon him, but because, before he was born, he had been set apart by the secret purpose of God. God had, no doubt, decreed, before the foundation of the world, what he would do with regard to every one of us, and had assigned to every one, by his secret counsel, his respective place.

    Enjoy your new courthouse, Tim. What made you give up a partnership in a law firm? ( You don’t have to answer. I’m just curious.)

    • Tim says:

      I enjoyed practicing law, Carmen, but lawyers are advisors and advocates for a client’s interests. Judges, on the other hand, are required to be without interest in a case, the issues, and even the people involved. My only concern for the interests of anyone in my courtroom is that I make a decision based on the evidence that accurately reflects those interests under the law. It’s a role not many would want to carry out, but it’s one that I find fits me well.

  5. Rebekah Hope says:

    I don’t recall if I have ever commented on your blog Tim, though I have been reading regularly for a while. I appreciate your gracious expression of perspective so often!

    This is an interesting story, I enjoyed hearing more about this part of your life, but more than that it’s very timely for me. In just a few days I will leave behind a stable job as an Executive Assistant (that I have worked up to for the past 8 years), move out of my little studio in the city and begin couch surfing for the next two weeks before spending 2 months at L’Abri Switzerland. This will be followed by a move to a neighboring state to join a church plant with some dear friends.

    My initial plan was to spend the next two weeks in the home of my parents. But after a difficult conversation with my mom this evening in which she made it clear that I am not as welcome as I had hoped, for reasons all her own, I am now looking for other places to stay. I have no peaceful place to lay my head right now. And life being what it is my network in my current city has scattered far and wide, leaving me few options if I wish to stay nearby. I will be relying on the kindness of distant friends or strangers in the next couple of weeks.

    So, all that to say that your words are a very timely reminder that I am not alone in this, others and Jesus himself have walked similar paths for much longer periods of time. While this comes as an unexpected hitch in my plans, there is nothing that surprises Him about it. He is preparing a place for me. He is wiping away my tears and making all things beautifully new. Even while I grieve the loss of the old.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and your wisdom. The Lord has used your words to bring great comfort to me in a time I most needed it. May He richly bless you in all your endeavors at the new courthouse.

    • Tim says:

      Rebekah, I am praying for you in this time of transition and new adventures. It sounds like your plans are in quite a flux and this latest change with your mother must have really thrown you for a loop. I love the way you put this: “While this comes as an unexpected hitch in my plans, there is nothing that surprises Him about it.” He knows you, he knows what’s going on with you, and he knows where you’re going with him.

      L’Abri – here comes Rebekah!

  6. It seems like there is a parable here also about how court can be held anywhere the judge is. Kind of like we usually think about going to a church building to meet God. Regardless if there is a spiritual lesson there, I did find that to be an interesting fact.

    • Tim says:

      Great take-away from the post, TC, and timely too because I’m the on call judge this week. I get calls from law enforcement requesting protective orders, warrants or bail enhancements, and they can come at any hour of the night. Whether I’m in a courtroom or at home or working out at the gym (it’s happened, truly), my jurisdiction extends statewide and I can be called on to exercise it around the clock.

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