Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 2006
Dear Friend in Christ:
One of my favorite sources of humor is a book entitled, Anguished English, by Richard Lederer, a college professor. In the book, he tells a story about a mother who wrote an absence excuse for her daughter. “Please excuse Harriett for missing school yesterday. We forgot to get the Sunday paper off the porch, and when we found it Monday, we thought it was Sunday.”
The note gives us not only humor but also information about this family. They didn’t care much about time or its use. It also reminds me that some people get their view of time from the newspaper. A lot of newspapers are called “The Times.” Such individuals could easily believe that the times in which we live are pointless, the world is chaotic, we are only going backward and there is no plan. Indeed, all of the above is true of some people’s lives.
Some religions teach that history and life are cyclical, no end and no beginning, only endless reincarnations of the past. Such theologies are essentially hopeless. But the Bible presents a linear view, a beginning and an end. It says we are put here to go somewhere.
I am reminded of two passages of Scriptures that have affected my own view that life is linear and is intended to progress. Proverbs 4:18 says, “the path of the just is like a shining light that shines brighter until the perfect day.” That verse promises personal progress to the righteous.
Ecclesiastes 7:10 admonishes us, “Do not say where are the former days that were better than these? You do not inquire wisely about this.” This verse promises historical progress.
A favorite text for most of us in Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” The Scriptures are full of reminders that God has a purpose and is even able to use seemingly bad things for our good and His will. The words in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done,” are not a passive phrase simply accepting God’s will; they are an active phrase declaring that His will shall be done. As Nebuchadnezzar declared, “He rules in affairs of men” (see Daniel 4:17-32). God’s rule is to carry out His progressive plan in the earth, as He did with Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon.
Baylor University Professor Robert Stark wrote a book entitled, The Victory of Reason. In it, he states that progress is a distinctly Christian contribution to the world. His research indicates that Christianity and its view of progress created Western civilization, and he says that the modern world arose only in Christian societies. It did not arise in Asia, Ancient Greece, Islam, pagan societies or in secular societies. Stark is not saying that there was no progress before Christianity, but that Christianity’s view of progress created the modern world.
Christians_in the true sense Jesus’ followers_understand that we are stewards, entrusted with gifts, and are accountable to God for their use and increase. The very concept of blessing is itself God’s favor that brings progress and prosperity. A blessing is not only God’s smile upon us, but blessings cause us to smile. Things get better when we are blessed, and temporary setbacks are swallowed up in ultimate victory.
I recently read a manuscript by Richard Baggett called Beyond Survival; it reminds the reader that we are called to be more than conquerors through Him who loves us. We are overcomers; we move through problems to promise and purpose. The Christian view is that problems are opportunities to bring glory to God. By overcoming problems, we progress.
Perverted theologies and philosophies either fail to promise or fail to fulfill their promises. Atheistic communism failed its adherents. Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam have failed to bring progress to their adherents. Secularism is also failing in its promise, that if we remove religion, all will be well. Secular societies are failing. One only has to look at the existing world to see which theology has fostered progress.
Faith in Jesus, the revelation of God, has brought the hope of progress to the world. This hope is mirrored in the Exodus that brought Israel from slavery to the “Land of Milk and Honey.” It is mirrored in the New Testament promise of a glorious Church, a glorious immortal body, and a glorious heaven. The Bible and Christian theology both realistically assess our fallen state and our potential in Christ. True believers are not cynical or pessimistic; they never lose hope; they believe in progress.
One of the greatest Christian books ever was Pilgrim’s Progress, written by John Bunyan while he was in jail. He saw beyond his own situation to his ultimate progress and the gates of the heavenly city.
Leaders and progress are inseparable. They not only believe in progress; they demonstrate it in their lives. They have a testimony that inspires faith in others that they can progress. They cause others to embrace their vision of a better life. They see a world of opportunities and possibilities, and they are willing to take personal risks to achieve their goals. People follow them.
Leaders are less interested in maintenance and management of the status quo and more interested in reaching higher ground. They could heartily sing verse three of the old hymn “Higher Ground”: “My heart has no desire to stay/where doubts arise and fears dismay/Though some may dwell where these abound/my prayer my aim is higher ground.”
The moment one becomes pessimistic, they cease to lead. Following a cynic or pessimist is like following a parked car, or worse, a car in reverse. True leaders are moving ahead in faith; they seek not position, but progress.
The question now becomes, are you a biblically-oriented Christian? Do you translate the belief in progress into your personal situation? Is your journey over or can you go further? Our theology must become practical and be applied. Real faith produces action and action produces results (see James 2:14-18). True believers transform truth into demonstration. It says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (see Philippians 4:13).
Does God want me to get better; does He want me to believe that historical progress can become my personal progress, in spite of conditions? Is my faith in Him, in myself, or in my circumstance? Am I merely an analyzer or am I a transformer? Remember, Jesus died our death so that we could experience His Resurrection. His transformation can be ours if we believe in Him and act upon His Word.
Let us take this concept to the Church. Let us assume that you belong to a Christian community; can it become better? Have you given up on it, or settled for the current situation? Are you looking for a church that someone else made better? What could you do to make yours better, to see progress? Perhaps our best answer is to progress by serving someone else’s need to progress.
Let us take this concept home. What about your family, does it need to get better? Are you mainly focused on how another family member needs to get better, or how you can be better?
Most family failure centers on blame. I have counseled many people on family issues. Rarely do families in conflict accept personal responsibility. We live in a culture of blame. Progress begins by accepting responsibility, making personal changes, and aiming at different results. That principle holds in every area of life. (See Luke 6:41-42; Galatians 6:1-5; 1 Peter 3:1-9.)
And what about financial progress? Most of us enjoy the results that money affords. However, we are ambivalent about money and do not want to be accused of loving money, which is the root of all evil. While we should learn contentment wherever we are, we are called to be good stewards, to work and be productive so that the gifts of God grow in our hands, and so that we will have enough to give others (see Ephesians 4:28).
The Bible is full of examples of successful people, from Noah_who had the assets and energy to build the ark_to Abraham, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, and the apostles. The Lord Himself owns all the wealth of the world, and we are rulers over the work of His hands (see Psalm 8 and 24). If being wealthy is a sin, then where does that put God?
What is the biggest hindrance to our prayers and progress? It is selfishness and consumption (James 3:13-4:3). It is the “what’s in it for me” attitude. That attitude produces a “taker’s mentality.” It reflects a lack of truly knowing God, the giver of all good gifts. Real progress is based on a willingness to sacrifice the immediate desire for the sake of the long-term benefit to ourselves and others. Consumption of our present seed prevents our future harvest.
Consumption produces a parasitical relationship to productivity; it reflects short-sightedness and immaturity. On the other hand, productivity reflects maturity. There are three Kingdom principles that have blessed the world wherever they are received: accept personal responsibility, produce more than you consume, and give as much as you can. Wherever these principles are neglected, progress is impeded.
R.G. Letourneau was a very successful Christian businessman. He manufactured heavy equipment. He decided to tithe_give God ten percent. In the end, he lived on ten percent and gave God ninety percent! Few of us will ever go that far. But Letourneau progressed and brought progress to many others_and we can all do that.
The concept of progress is the difference in freedom and oppression, between poverty and plenty, between stagnation and adventure. It is also what allows people like me to share the biblical principles that have blessed me and give them to others. I am indebted to those of you who understand why I do what I do. I want to bless you and help you to be a blessing. I join the apostle John in saying, “I pray that you may prosper in all things….”
Scripture Reference: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Romans, Daniel, James, Philippians, Luke, Galatians, 1 Peter, Ephesians, Psalms
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.