Publication: Pastoral Letter, February 2006
Dear Friend in Christ:
How do we deal with change? This is a major issue that is confronting us, and will continue to confront us throughout 2006. Change is accelerating with technology, the flood of information, and innovation. It seems out of control and as a result, so are many of our lives. In these times, two guys in a mail room can come up with an idea that makes them richer than their bosses, and a once dominant corporation can suddenly lose its grip on profits; secure jobs are obsolete, and pension plans disappear.
Let’s take a look back 100 years, in 1906, to get a brief glimpse of how much things have changed in the United States, for example. The Ford Model “T” sold for $500. A house in Atlanta sold for $2,400. A nearby farm sold for $20 an acre. Gasoline sold for 28 cents a gallon, and The New York Times sold for one penny.
Oklahoma would soon become the forty-sixth state. The White Sox would beat the Cubs in the World Series, Susan B. Anthony would die, and Finland would allow women to vote. A Norwegian explorer would discover the magnetic North Pole that year. San Francisco would have a catastrophic earthquake. The ground opened up for a distance of 270 miles and shifted the earth’s crust. The western side of the quake shifted 21 feet to the North and 500 people would die as a result.
The U.S. had a population of 85,450,000. A man would work in a single job all of his life, and his wife would likely stay at home and keep house. Today, he will have 10 different jobs and they both will likely work to keep up their standard of living.
Back then, their church would be traditional, their school basic, and their extended family nearby. Most of the people would live on farms or in small towns. Entertainment would not include radio, movies, television, or video games. It would be parlor games, swapping stories, or a dance to country music.
My wife’s grandmother was 30 years old in 1906 and had known men who fought in the Civil War. And they had known people who fought in the American Revolution. In fact, 1906 wasn’t radically different from 1806, but it was light years away from 2006. And the impact of it all is what Alvin Toffler called, “Future Shock.”
Every generation has had to deal with some change. And it has always been hard to adjust, but throughout history, it seemed to come at a manageable pace. Now we are swimming in a flood_it’s a tsunami or a hurricane of change. Where is our foundation amid the shifting sands of culture?
I had all of the symptoms of a heart attack at the age of 26. My wife, Carolyn, and I were commuting 1,000 miles a week back and forth to seminary. I was taking Greek and Hebrew, and pastoring full-time; stressed out. The doctor in the emergency room said that I had to give up something. So I gave up seminary. But quitting seminary did not really solve my problem. My problem was a temperament and conditioning to throw everything into my work.
I finally turned to the Lord for answers and began to study the Bible for directions. It was in a prayer meeting that I discovered Romans 14:17: “The Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” As my friend Ern Baxter used to say, “It’s all in the Holy Spirit.”
God’s government or His Kingdom proceeds from His throne into our lives; and from there, into our activities and priorities. His government produces righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Instead of being controlled by situations, or the tyranny of time, we yield to the control of the Holy Spirit.
Eternity is not a long time_it is timeless, or no time at all. There is no measure or noise of change. Eternal life is like an airplane that breaks the sound barrier; it flies in silence. All we hear is His voice.
WE ARE NOT CONSUMED
When the book of Malachi was written, Judah was in a sorry spiritual state. Priests and people despised their service and cheated their responsibilities. They were headed for judgment. In Malachi 3:6, God says, “For I am the Lord. I do not change; therefore you are not consumed.”
Judah’s salvation was not in their condition, it was in God’s unchanging nature. A person of earthly thinking would say, “Because you have changed, I will act differently toward you.” But God does not act in accordance with the changes that affect us.
One of my Christmas gifts was from my friend, Kevin Davenport, a pastor in Orange County, California. He gave me the Os Guinness book, Prophetic Untimeliness. Guinness discusses the tyranny of time and its effects upon each of us and specifically upon the Church. One of those affects is the pressure to keep up with culture. He quotes Dean Inge of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, “He who marries the spirit of this age soon becomes a widower.”
When we marry culture, we are consumed with adjusting, adapting, assimilating, or reacting to it. Every fleeting moment is devoured by achieving the goals that are set for us or solving the problems it presents to us. It eats us alive. And when we are finally spent, it rejects us. We are left in regret and shock by a fast evolving culture that so quickly moved on. It jilts us too soon after marriage.
My father noticed my tendency to become overly engaged in activity, at an early age. He said, “Son, your problem is that you think that you are necessary. If you want to find out how necessary you are, get a bucket of water and stick your finger in it. Then jerk it out very fast. As long as the hole stays in the water, that’s how long you are necessary. When you die, the world will go on without you.” He was counseling me to look elsewhere for a stable life and permanence.
God is eternal; His Word is eternal; His love is eternal. He does not place upon us the insatiable demands of a fickle society. He does not consume us when we fail. Rather, he offers life, when culture and the spirit of this age have consumed us. He frees us from the gravity and orbit of this age.
On one occasion, Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well. She had been married five times and was then living with another guy for whom she was drawing water in the heat of the day. She was thirsty for a different life. Jesus said, “I’ll give you water that will cause you to never thirst again_I’ll give you a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Many people_including too many of God’s people_are consumed by the life they live. They get old while still young. They think that Jesus said “I’ll give you water that you might have activity more abundantly.”
It is God’s unchangingness, His eternalness, that is the true fountain of youth. Ashes can be exchanged for beauty and mourning for joy. How?
Years ago, I heard someone say, “The patron saint of America is Saint Vidas…we can’t be still.” Psalm 23 says that He leads us beside still waters and restores our soul. Isaiah 30:15 tells us, “In returning and rest, you shall be saved. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength.” Apparently, quietness helps produce confidences in the knowledge of God’s sovereignty. “Stop and think,” are two words that go together.
I had open heart surgery in 2001. Friends gave to me beautiful music. It was quiet, peaceful, and rich in depth of emotion. It helped me heal quickly and has continued to bless my life.
Is silence, quietness, and listening in the presence of God a waste of time? No, it is availing ourselves of eternity_eternal life. Is this something that we should teach our children? They will need it as much as any previous generation ever did. Hyperactivity destroys and consumes our life and theirs. “Get all the gusto” is not a formula for mental, spiritual, or physical health. What’s hot, really is not.
I remember the prayer meeting in 1964 that changed my life, and impressed me for many reasons; one was that it stopped my racing clock. For five hours, I was able to drink and be filled with the Holy Spirit. Out of that drink, I have not only survived, but have enjoyed the inner fountain.
When we touch eternity_when time stands still_God touches us. The touch of God heals, transfigures, delivers and changes us. That’s the change that matters most. We can’t stop the world and get off, but we can slow the ravages of time in the presence of God. We can change our perspective and trade our ashes for beauty; our mourning for His joy.
Jesus was perfect in nature, but nevertheless dependent on being in the Father’s presence. He often prayed all night and afterward made decisions that changed history. On one occasion, His countenance glowed with the Father’s glory. Yet again, He walked on stormy seas. He invited Peter to join Him, but Peter’s eyes fell on the menacing waves_he sank. Jesus lifted him to walk with him. And He will lift us.
We can’t always change the pace of society or the rapid flow of life around us, but we can change our own priorities_“Seek first the kingdom of God.” That is the change that matters most. The kingdom cannot ever be an afterthought, or addendum to our priorities. We have the option of looking at life through the prism and prison of time, or ascending closer to the divine view. The latter will allow us to hear what God has to say.
In Second Kings 3, we read that the kings of Edom, Israel, and Judah had gone to battle against the king of Moab. But they were in a bad way. There was no water for their animals or their armies. They looked for Elisha because the Word of the Lord was with him. When they put their plight before Elisha, he called for a musician, and as the musician played, the hand of the Lord came upon him and the Word of the Lord came to him: “It is a simple matter in the sight of the Lord.”
Life can seem so complex and we are so vulnerable, but deliverance is really a simple matter in the sight of the Lord. He sorts it all out so clearly, and peace comes to our raging thoughts. The eternal touch clears our heads.
Most of 2006 is ahead with its numerous issues. Who knows what it will bring. There are many prognosticators, but God alone knows. The task is not to try to out guess tomorrow; it is to seek the One who brought us safe thus far. It is not what 2006 may bring; it is the One who will bring us through 2006. It is not what we face: it is whose face will we seek?
Jesus’ counsel was to look at the lilies or consider the sparrow and do not be anxious (see Matthew 6). The Apostle Paul also warned against anxiety. Perhaps we should skip the news a day or two and listen to the Good News. He will keep us in perfect peace if our mind is fixed on Him” (see Isaiah 26:3). Have a blessed year!
Scripture Reference: Romans, Malachi, Psalms, Isaiah, 2 Kings, Matthew