We have a bath shower in our house, and as with most showers, it has a water pressure problem. You get in it, adjust the water to a comfortable temperature, and suddenly your wife turns on the washing machine in the basement. The shower becomes freezing as you frantically try to adjust the tap. Then just as you get things fixed the washer cycle changes and you’re scalded! Life is just like that, isn’t it? Just as you get settled down, just as you get used to things, something changes and you’re made uncomfortable. An adjustment is called for!
What does the Bible have to say about change? What is the Christian attitude toward a world that is in flux? Our two texts deal with this subject, so let us delve into them and glean their meaning.
Never Stays the Same!
The first text, Psalm 46, tells us that the earth is a place of change. People, places, and things never stay the same. The psalmist points out that the “mountains shake,” “waters roar and foam,” “kingdoms totter,” and wars come and go. Our world is still like this. Presidents, dictators, kingdoms still rise and fall. The earth still quakes. Old familiar landmarks are torn down. Kids grow up and move on. Rivers are dammed. New ministers come and go. Good friends die. People move.
Isn’t it extraordinary that the Bible was written by real people living in the real world? It was not written from some stained glass fantasy. Nor was it written from some Eiffel Tower of idealism. It was written by common men in this tender, brutal world. And because of this it speaks eloquently, if we but listen, to our needs. And certainly one of our needs is a way of coping with change. If I had to list five main things that are destroying the earth today I’d have to list rust, frost, wind, water and pollution. But if I had to list five main things that are destroying people’s lives I’d have to list inability to adapt to change right up there with alcohol, money, pride and selfishness. Change is destroying people! Because they can’t cope with flux their brittle lives are being snapped! A man loses his gob, refuses to adjust, and quits at life. A couples’ best friends get transferred, adjustments are called for, yet they are not willing to try. A mother’s children grow up, leave home, and she is now empty.
There is always the human tendency to feel singled out, to feel that we alone live in a world of constant change, to feel that no one else has it hard like we do. The following is a bit of verse written by one such individual:
“To whom can I speak today?
The gentle man has perished,
The violent man has access to everybody.
To whom can I speak today?
The iniquity that smites the land,
It has no end.
To whom can I speak today?
There are no righteous men,
The earth is surrendered to criminals.”
I suppose you’re thinking that this lament must have been written by some New Yorker during the recent winter. No. It was written in Egypt 4,000 years ago by a man contemplating suicide. Singled out? Are we the only ones who’ve known a world of upheavals and change? No. This Egyptian felt it. The psalmist wrote about it. And we know it too. A French adage says, “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” As it was in Egypt so it is today.
The fact is, we live in a world of change. The question is, how do we react to these changes? One fellow got into a Washington, D.C., taxi recently and said, “Driver, drive me back about twenty years!” Nostalgia is one way of dealing with flux. Complaining is another. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!” “Back in my day . . . “ ”Ah, but those were the good old days, now, it’s not so good!” “The world’s going to the dogs!” Complain, complain, complain! The whole downbeat! One lady in her eighties, rigid and conservative about a whole lot of the things that the Scriptures aren’t even conservative about, had become cynical with modern life and the changes it brought. “Pastor,” she whined, “it’s a good time to be dead!”
Here’s a little poem about the past. I think you’ll agree it rubs a little luster off the “good old days gone by.”
“Grandmother, on a winter’s day
Milked the cows and fed them hay,
Slopped the hogs, saddled the mule,
And got the children off to school;
Did the washing, mopped the floors,
Washed the windows and did some chores;
Cooked a dish of home dried fruit,
Pressed her husband’s Sunday suit;
Swept the parlor, made the beds,
Baked a dozen loaves of bread;
Split some firewood and lugged in,
Enough to fill the kitchen bin;
Cleaned the lamps and put in oil,
Stewed some apples she though would spoil;
Cooked a supper that was delicious,
And afterwards washed up the dishes;
Fed the cat and sprinkled the clothes,
Mended a basket full of hose,
Then opened the organ and began to play,
‘When you come to the end of a perfect day.’”
I like that! It says it all! Contentment! Hard work in the present! Hearing about Grandma’s winter day sort of makes your back ache a bit too, doesn’t it? It makes one begin to think that maybe the good old days weren’t so good after all! Who’d like to go back and relive the 60’s with its Vietnam and riots? Or what about the 50’s? Would you really like to return to the Jim Crow Laws and Korea? What about the 40’s and Hitler or the 30’s and the depression? What about the roaring 20’s? Would you like to go back there and allow a dentist to work on your tooth? What about the decade before that? Let’s see, that was World War I, wasn’t it?
God is in Control!
Yes, we live in a world of change. The psalmist points this out with his view of quaking mountains, surging tides and tottering kingdoms. “The earth melts,” he says. But our song writer is quick to point out one clear and unchanging fact in this ever changing world. God is in control. The psalmist says that the Lord can utter his voice and wars cease. He can break kingdoms, totter empires and be in the midst of His people so that they shall not be moved. “I am exalted among the nations,” God says. “I am exalted in the earth!” He exclaims.
Seeing such a God and believing His promises, the wordsmith of the psalms said, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change.” The psalmist had a serenity about life and death and violence and change. But we seem to have never found such contentment. My, my how we can worry! How we can grumble and wax nostalgically. And what bitter cynics we can become!
Do you remember how it was when you were first married? You were afraid of your wife’s driving, weren’t you? Every time you traveled you made it a practice to take the wheel. She might take a wrong turn or run off the road or fail to note an instrument’s warning. But then came that long journey, too long for you to drive it alone. She’d have to share the driving responsibilities with you. Remember how it was with her behind the wheel? Dog tired as you were you couldn’t relax. You felt compelled to be a backseat driver. “Does she see that stop sign?” “Watch out for that cow!” “Slow down here!” Finally, fatigue outlasted you and you fell asleep to dream of fears and disasters, hardships and breakdowns. Then your wife woke you up with a shake to tell you that you had arrived safely at your destination! After a few trips like that you began to believe in your wife’s driving ability! Now you suspect that the old girl is a better driver than you! A lot of people go through life like a backseat driver. They are full of anxiety because they don’t trust God’s ability. In the text the psalmist was willing to leave the driving to God. He trusted the Lord’s ability to remain in control of situations. He wasn’t like so many of us, afraid to relax, afraid to sleep, for fear of what change might bring. He wasn’t forever hitting the brakes, backseat driving, and fretting, “Slow down!” What about you? Can you sleep while your wife drives? Better still, can you relax with God at the wheel of the universe?
T.S. Elliot compared God to the North Star. Against a canopy of constellations in flux the North Star is a fixed point useful for navigation. Elliot wrote saying, “He is the still point of the turning world.” The psalmist found that still point. He could confidently whisper, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change.” Perhaps the psalmist sensed our lack of adjustment, our tense response to the difference a day makes, for he turns to us in his psalm and speaks a Word of God. “Be still. Be still and know that I am God.” Aye! Here’s a word for us! We’ve been so busy in our haste to live at top speed socially and economically that we’ve left our souls behind. And now that still point in a turning world, that pole star to chart our course by, is lost to our view. How do we find it? “Be still.” Quit your selfish haste, your frantic worrying, that foolish rigidity! “Be still and know. Know that I am God. I make wars to cease. I burn the chariots of battle and totter kingdoms. With me as your refuge you shall not be moved!”
Now you see why the artist of the psalms could say, “This! This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps. 118:24). With God at the wheel of the universe we can say that too. We can talk about the good now days!
Yes, the world is changing. And, yes, God is in control. And here in our last text we are told that Christians should cause change. To His followers in every day Jesus Christ said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” This verse is known as the Great Commission. You are aware of how a king will commission an artist to do a sculpture. He will give him a block of marble and say, “Create for me a statue of David,” and Michelangelo will go to work changing that stone into artistic splendor. With God and us it is the same. The Lord commissions us his artists to preach the Gospel, to baptize in the Holy Spirit, and to teach all actions to observe God’s law. He commissions us to win people to Christ. Then these changed people will change the world!
During my college days I studied in England. While in London I applied for a visa to visit the Soviet Union. I wanted to leave in two weeks. The agent at the Russian Embassy told me that it was impossible to gain a visa in two weeks. Still, I insisted that I try. He gave me the papers and I filled them out. One question said, “Occupation?” I didn’t want to put Christian minister because that would be frowned on I thought by Soviet officials. So, brash as I was, I simply wrote down “Revolutionary.” I got the visa the next week. Looking back now on that question, “What is your occupation?” I feel that my answer may have been more correct than I first thought. I am a revolutionary! All Christians are. I’m committed to death to preach the Gospel. I am committed with fervent zeal to bringing people into a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ. I am committed to changing families, morals, politics and society world over!
The Bible teaches that God created the universe in six days. On day seven He rested. But then creation rebelled against the Lord and fell to pieces like a shattered mirror. But now Jesus says, “My Father is working still” (Jn. 5:17). Day seven is over! God no longer rests.
This is the eighth day of creation. Christ is at work restoring man’s broken relationship with God, self, neighbor and creation. Our Father is working still. He’s not satisfied with the world as it is. And He invites us through the Great Commission to work with Him to change the world.
Let’s face it. The church has fallen short here. The church too often fights change rather than makes change. The church can become a protector of the status quo, a defender of only the king’s on the mountains. But God’s will is not just to keep things the way they are right now. Sure the world has been good to us. We’re Americans. We’ve got food and jobs and health and power. We even know something of Jesus. But we are a minority here on earth. For the majority of earthlings there is little food, poor health, inadequate shelter, and no chance to hear the Gospel. Hence, God commissions us to work with Him as change agents.
Look at it this way. There can be no life without growth. Progress, maturity, improvements, development– all these things are impossible without change. And this world today, even at its best, is still substandard. God’s not satisfied with it the way it is. He calls us out of our stained glass fox holes, our bastions of nostalgia, our snugness as a bug in a rug in the status quo, and He says, “Christian, make change! Work with me to make this world better until Christ returns to make it the best it can be!”
A notable Ivy League college president once said, “I divide the people of the world into three categories. There is a group of people that watch things happen. There is the overwhelming majority that doesn’t even know what is happening. And there is that small committed minority that makes things happen.”
You Can’t Beat It. Join it!
In a “Peanuts” cartoon, dog Snoopy is moping atop his dog house. “I feel it,” he says. “I feel it. Change is in the air.” Then a golden leaf falls from a tree and Snoopy is quick up to catch it. Another leaf falls and then another and another and another. Snoopy is frantic. He tries to blow the leaves back up in the air. After a futile hour’s work Snoopy sighs and returns to his dog house. “Oh, well,” he says. “Winter will come. Change is inevitable.” What about you? Are you like Snoopy? Wishing for a world that does not exist, that never changes? God has not given us such a home! Change is a fact of life. And you can’t beat it, but you can join it! With Christ we can return again to the cutting edge of society. With the psalmist we can talk about the good now days! “This! This is the day that the Lord hath made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it” as we make change!
Father God, let me remember that to be loud is not to be right, to be strange is not to be forbidden, to be new is not to be frightful. Lord, grant me the courage to change the things that need changing, the serenity to accept the things that do not need changing, and the wisdom to know the difference. For Christ’s sake. Amen.