|Book: Becoming a Secure Christian|
Part 1 : Setting the Scene
Part 2 : A Biblical Security
Part 3 : Personal Security
(Practice and Theory)
Chapter 18: Secure in Change
“ Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath ”
(Hebrews 6:17 )
In the previous chapter we considered our eternal destiny, yet before we fully enter into that we have yet time to live out on this earth. In this final chapter I want us to consider again the question of the changing world in which we find ourselves, a world which so often seems so insecure, a world that seems to force itself and its values upon us. Can we, as Christians, be secure in this constantly changing world? There are various matters we need to consider before we complete this book.
“Change is here to stay”, some wit said many years ago in what was to become one of the most repeated comments of its time. Yet it is true and still many of us find a deep worry when change takes place, and it is constantly taking place, which means that many of us are constantly worrying! It seems right, therefore, to finish this book on creating a secure church by considering some aspects of change and how we may remain secure in the face of them.
18.1 Coping with a Changing World
The Fact of Change
In 1970 Alvin Toffler wrote Future Shock expounding his theory, postulated five years earlier, about “the shattering stress and disorientation that we induce in individuals by subjecting them to too much change in too short a time.” In other words future shock is our inability to cope with tomorrow arriving today!
In the late 1990s Patrick Dixon wrote Future Wise with the opening words, “Either we take hold of the future or the future will take hold of us.” In other words if we don't take control of what is happening, the speed of change will overwhelm us and leave us behind.
These two men pointed out the incredible changes that have taken place in our society in the past century, more than in the whole of previous human history put together, and then the changes that are taking place and will take place in the immediate future. Never before, they maintain, has mankind been put under such stress in having to cope with change.
A Decaying Society
Those of us who have witnessed the last fifty years, have witnessed a moral downward spiral in the West, a moral downward spiral that has had practical effects at every level of society. In an earlier chapter I did paint a general picture of this under the heading, “An Insecure World” and so I won't repeat that here. The ensuing problems of our society are enormous. The health services and social services are under siege and cannot cope with the deluge of health and social problems we find in our society.
Why is this? I would suggest the principle behind this is found in Paul's letter to the Romans where he declared, after having said how mankind turns away from God, “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts”. When mankind pushes God away, God simply steps back and removes His hand of restraint to allow the ‘natural' consequences of a sinful world to follow. In the latter half of the twentieth century we have watched the ‘natural' consequences of an unrestrained sinful world unfold.
Thus we now consider acceptable, behaviour and practices that fifty years ago would not even have been spoken about - and we have all the negative effects that go with them, and foolishly wonder why. I often think that a characteristic of ‘Sin' is ‘stupidity', for in no other way can you understand the stupidity of decisions made by government and society in this period of time - and the church has largely remained silent.
Changes in the Christian World
Over this period of time we have observed a number of changes in the Christian world:
Yet despite all these bursts of life in the Christian church, the moral standards of the Western world have continued to fall and it would appear that the church has failed to be salt and light to the surrounding society. In the U.K. traditional denominations have continued to decline with only the new streams and occasional denominational church seeing growth.
The Effect of Change on Christians
The effect of this on the Christian community, I would suggest, is varied and the following are some of the feelings generated in many:
Life is out of control (That God is out of control?)
A sense of chaos and confusion.
A sense of being marginalised and impotent.
A sense of disillusionment that stems from:
Where is God?
For many, in their disillusionment, the heart cry is:
The tendency for many has been to give up. For some it has been to abandon church. For others it has been to try new forms of church. In what follows may I suggest three scriptural pictures that may be relevant to our position today?
18.2 Three Scriptural Pictures
Does the picture of Daniel represent where we are today? There do seem a number of things in the life of Daniel that apply to us today:
Carried into Exile
The first thing we know about Daniel was that he was carried off into exile and put into an alien environment that was out of his control (Dan 1:1-7). In a very real sense, those of us that lived as Christians through the latter half of the twentieth century have indeed found that our environment has changed, we no longer feel in control and it is definitely an alien environment.
A Decision to Remain Different
The ruler of Babylon and his followers did everything they could to make Daniel and his friends conform to the ways of Babylon. However Daniel, by the grace of God, determined to remain true to the standards God had given him (Dan 1:8-21) and in fact stood out as healthier and wiser than all those his same age.
The call for us as Christians is not to take on board the pluralistic, humanistic, godless, amoral thinking of the age but to remain true to the truth that has been conveyed to us by God through the Bible. If we will do that, we will stand out as a healthier, wiser group of people who will be seen as a refuge from the chaos all around us.
Impossible Demands Requiring Supernatural Help
Very soon afterwards Daniel is placed in a place of great threat as the ruler makes demands that cannot be met by mere human beings. When he is threatened with death he turns to God and receives revelation. We live in a world of great expectations. Governments increasingly place demands on public services, health and education, demands that seem impossible to meet. Demands will be put on the church, demands that will conflict with our moral standards, demands that would compromise our righteousness, demands that may produce persecution. In the face of that the church will have to become again a truly supernatural body, receiving revelation and power and grace from God, to survive and to triumph.
The latter days of Jeremiah's life have also been suggested as similarly conveying truth about our position as Christians today.
Jeremiah Carried Away
Jeremiah had been God's man on the spot in Jerusalem through the last days of that city while it was under siege. When the city was taken, Jeremiah was released by the invading conqueror (Jer 39:11-40-6). After a period of civil strife the remaining remnant asked Jeremiah to seek the Lord's will for them. They disregarded his counsel to remain where they were and instead took Jeremiah with them to Egypt (Jer 43:4-7). Despite this Jeremiah continued to bring the word of the Lord to them, even though they continued to reject it. The last we see of Jeremiah, this faithful prophet of God, is him still bringing the word of the Lord to these unfaithful people now in Egypt.
Our Call Today
There is, likewise, in many today in the U.K. and the U.S.A. , a sense that we are part of a nation that has lost its inheritance and is now far from what it was. There is a sense that we have been carried away into a completely different alien environment from that which many of us once knew. Yet even in this alien environment we are still to be a light to the people whatever the eventual outcome of the nation. There are those who are prophesying revival, there are those who are prophesying God's total judgement. Whatever the outcome, we are still to be God's witness, His voice to this people. Within this there is a call to perseverance, to remain true to the One who called us from the beginning, a willingness to be a witness and a voice from God to the ungodly.
The final picture is of Elijah after he has had his conflict on Mount Carmel
I Hear Rain
The prophets of Baal had been dealt with and Elijah turns to Ahab and says, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of heavy rain.” (1 Kings 18:41 ). Now we have to remember that there had been three years of drought and there had been no rain. The land was in a terrible state. The sky is blue and there is not a cloud in sight, and the prophet says, “I hear the sound of heavy rain”! Ahab might have paused and thought, “Well I don't. There's not a cloud in sight. There can't be rain. We haven't had rain for three years. He's flipped!” But prophets hear things ahead of everyone else! Elijah hears it, it is as good as here.
Go and Look
As soon as Ahab has left, Elijah prays. His servant stands nearby wondering what to do. Elijah looks up and says, “Go and look toward the sea.” The servant goes and there is nothing. It is still a bright sunny day with not a cloud in the sky. He reports back to Elijah but the prophet just says, “Go back”. Seven times he told him to go back and the last time the servant sees a tiny cloud on the horizon. Soon the clouds fill the sky and a heavy rain pours down.
For the past fifty years or more we have had people praying and prophesying about revival. In the last decade of the twentieth century in particular there were lots of prophesies that revival was soon coming…. and yet…..
But the prophets heard the rain. Why is it that so many have had this very real sense that revival is virtually upon us. What happens when we prophesy about a future event, for us who are prophesying it? It is almost as if we are actually in the thing so it seems so real and so present. We simply have to understand that the thing is still yet a way in the future.
We are in the days of the seven times. The prophets HAVE heard the rain, it IS coming. We have just got to be faithful in looking for it. While we are waiting we are to remain true to Him, we are not to loose heart, we are not to become cynical and unbelieving, we are to make ready, and keep on making ready for when He comes in sovereign revival power. There is a call to perseverance, a call to remain true in the face of a declining nation.
18.3 And So?
Whatever the outcome can we, the Lord's people, remain true, secure in our God. May Shadrach and his two friends be an example to us (Dan 3:17 ,18) “If we are thrown into the furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it and he will rescue us… But even if he does not, we… will not serve your gods.”
Similarly while we wait on the Lord can we hold true like Habakkuk who was also secure in his knowledge of the Lord when he said, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there be no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there be no sheep in the pen, and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” (Hab 3:17,18).
Here were men who were totally secure in their God. They knew that whatever the outward circumstances of change that were there, in the end they would triumph with God.
And so as we press on into the twenty-first century, how will we go?
Will it be fearfully as aliens in a strange land, unsure of their position,
unsure of their role, unsure of their destiny, or
Will it be as aliens in a strange land yet with the confidence of being
children of God, secure in His love, regardless of what the future holds,
because we know Him?
As we live in this hostile world,
Will we retreat into ghettos, holding a defensive position, fearful of every
aspect of ‘worldliness' of this rapidly changing culture, or
Can we stand with heads held high, not afraid of the culture in which we
live but purposefully impacting it as children of God, recognising what is
good and applauding it, identifying what is bad and denouncing it, speaking
truth with love, being salt and light to bring change where we are?
Generally in life,
Will we focus on our own healing and personal comfort, our own needs,
wants and desires, or
Will we reach out, secure in His love, to the hurting and alienated of our
society, to the fearful, shamed and abused, to the violent and the abuser,
to bring them the healing love of Jesus?
These are the key questions that face us in the early years of the twenty first century.
Our answers will depend on how much we have allowed God to speak to us and make us a secure people. Can we become a secure church, secure in our God?
THE END ... OR... THE BEGINNING