Change

Change

The ground is shifting daily. Endless experts are at hand with their opinions and predictions. Possibly the greatest challenge of the current pandemic is the fact the the only thing we know is that there is no clear consensus on what to expect in the future. From a baby’s first breath we thrive in safe trusting relationships. When the trust and security break down uncertainty and fear increase. The world is changing, and we are all looking for the kind of stability we thought we had before COVID-19. Reflecting on some of the things we trust as being safe might give some clarity.

 

Marriage

What does it mean to be married?

This may not seem like a difficult question at first, but it is worth considering. Is it a one-time occurrence as in a marriage ceremony, or is it a state of being that is entered in to during a ceremony? Looking at the traditional marriage ceremony we see language carefully crafted to embody a Biblical description of what it means to be married. There are promises made. A covenant is entered when two people commit “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.” The minister pronounces that they are now husband and wife, but that is not what makes them a married couple. After the ceremony they fill out a “Marriage License” for the state and have several of those present sign their names in witness of the commitment made, but that piece of paper is not what makes them a married couple. At what point then, as a Christian couple, are they married?  They are married in the eyes of God when they say, “I do.” It is a commitment and a solemn vow they make to each other before God. As a pastor I believe that this is the true essence, the substance of “getting married.”

Now imagine this couple 20 years later. They still live in the same house. Things have gotten worse instead of better. They rarely speak to each other. There is no love and cherish and no have and hold going on, and there hasn’t been for a long time. There is no commitment to each other. There is no emotional intimacy or trust. In their minds they are still married, and they stay married because they know that God hates divorce. They consider themselves married because they have kept that little piece of paper from the state that says on a particular day they were married.

I don’t think God cares at all about the piece of paper. What God loves is healthy, God-honoring marriages, and what He hates is that a holy vow is broken. The thing that God hates has already happened.

The problem with every covenant or commitment between people is that at their best they are agreements between people.

People change.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit;” whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. James 4:13-14

He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, But whoever walks wisely will be delivered. Proverbs 28:26

 

Government

What does it mean to be a citizen?

Here is another question that is a more complicated than it seems at first. It has always presented challenges to God’s people. Biblical references to governments and rulers are abundant. Is earthly citizenship a condition that is a constant that we can trust? Looking at the founding documents of the United States we see language that has been carefully crafted to refer to an unchanging God as the basis for a trustworthy system. The Constitution contains language that has been carefully crafted to embody a Biblical description of governmental responsibilities to the governed. There are promises made. These documents have been preserved for all to refer to for guidance. They are intended to be a constant in an ever-changing world.

Our founding fathers understood that human contracts are perilous and untrustworthy, so they appealed to God “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Those who were present signed their names as witnesses of the commitment made. A piece of paper is not what makes a good society. At what point as Christian people are we good citizens? We are good citizens in the eyes of God when we understand and affirm our commitments to God and society.

Here we are more than 200 years later. Very few Christian citizens understand what the founders were trying to ensure or why. The Constitution is relentlessly challenged, undermined and misunderstood. Even Christian citizens put more effort into avoiding the civil laws than trying to understand them. There is very little trust in government. We continue to refer to the United States in ways that the culture no longer reflects. In people’s minds they are still citizens and they may know that God tells us in scripture to obey the authorities. We consider ourselves citizens because we have kept that little piece of paper from the founding fathers that says on a particular day a contract was established.

God is not an American. As important and good as it is, the Constitution is not scripture. What God values and Christ died for is a vibrant, life-changing, eternal relationship with individuals regardless and often in spite of the systems of this world. A Christian in any time period or under any form of government must never value civil law in a way that is not consistent with obedience to Christ and building the Kingdom of God.

The problem with every covenant or commitment between human systems and people is that they are at their best agreements between people. 

People change. Governments change.

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, Philippians 3:20

 

More change

In considering marriage we looked at agreements that are entered between two people. Regarding governments and civil law, we recognized that all governments are run by people. People change, circumstances change and governments change. Every expectation, arrangement, covenant, or contract of any kind with and between people is that they are agreements initiated and maintained by unpredictable people. Each of these commitments can be revoked by either party for any reason at any time. If either or both renounce their position, there is no longer a valid contract and we are thrust into uncertainty and fear.

Woe to those who go down to Egypt (a country) for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots (government power) and in the great strength of their horsemen (people), but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. Isaiah 31:1

It has been said that the only constant is change. From little, to life-changing, to the world-altering…. things change. “I finally figured out what brand of socks I like and now they quit selling them.”  Our favorite restaurant closes. “Invest in real estate; you can’t go wrong. It always goes up.” “What you need is a good stock portfolio and you won’t have a worry in the world.” “They can’t do that, it’s unconstitutional.”

Scientists tell us that the earth has gone through a series of ice ages and warming for millions of years, and then actually seem surprised and alarmed that the climate is changing. What can be safe if the entire planet is fickle?

 

God’s unchanging faithfulness

There is only one unchanging reality available to humanity. It is an eternal covenant with the only constant in the universe. We enter this covenant through a relationship with God. Through Jesus we are saved.

What does it mean to be saved?

This too, may be a more complicated question than it seems at first, but it also is worth considering. Is it a one-time occurrence of saying a prayer, or is it a covenant and a state of being that is entered while saying the prayer? Looking at popular evangelism programs we see language that has been carefully crafted to embody a Biblical description of what it means to be saved. One of the things that is sometimes encouraged in evangelism is for someone who prayers the prayer of salvation and accepts Christ as their personal savior, to record the date. Write it down and keep it as a reminder and a remembrance of entering a personal relationship with God. Many times several people sign the card as witnesses. We commit our lives to God, and we should never forget the importance of that.

So imagine this person 20 years later. They still attend the same church. Life has been hard. They rarely pray or even think about God most days. There is no effort to live a life of holiness. There is no intimacy with God. Friends and coworkers don’t even know he attends church. But at least he is confident that he is saved because he still has the card that shows the day he said the prayer and possibly another piece of paper that records the date of becoming a member of a “church.”

I don’t think God cares about that little card or piece of paper. What God values and Christ died for is a vibrant, life changing, eternal relationship with people. The thing that God hates has already happened. If there is no living growing relationship the cards and papers mean nothing.

People change. Our commitment to God can change.

God never changes. His promises are never in question – by Him.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. Jeremiah 17:7

 

Necessary change

Every difficulty that comes into the life of the follower of Jesus is an opportunity to experience His peace in an ever changing and unsafe world. Experiencing the safety of His constant faithfulness and it changes our realties and it changes us.

The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. Psalm 18:2

This positive change is in the definition of Christian discipleship “being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.” Let those who fear the Lord say: “His love endures forever.” When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; he brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; he is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:1-9


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Musts

Optics and focus
In this time of pandemic and quarantine a lot of people are experiencing higher than normal levels of stress. The government has placed a lot of restrictions on the entire population. These restrictions and even the justification for them is a subject of considerable debate. Is COVID as bad as they say? The governmental response may cause even bigger problems than the pandemic. What about our constitutional rights? It seems that just about everybody has opinions. Some have very strong views and opinions are voiced very forcefully, friendships are strained and tempers can flare.

 

In last week’s post we considered the importance of using the correct optics. Life is full of pleasure and pain, dreams and disappointments, priorities and distractions. We will not experience the joy of the Christian life unless we clarify the summum bonum in every situation according to scripture. It is so important to make sure we view things through Biblical optics. Building on that, this week we will consider the power of rigid, out-of-focus thinking and how it is the source of anxiety, fear and stress. It is because of losing our focus that we are held by unhealthy and self-destructive beliefs.

 

A cognitive approach 
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy calls rigid thinking a “must” or a “have to.” The renowned psychologist Albert Ellis wrote that emotional disturbance is caused by 

“irrational beliefs or dysfunctional attitudes (that) have at their core explicit or implicit rigid, powerful demands and commands, usually expressed as musts, shoulds, ought tos, have tos and got tos, such as “I absolutely must have my important goals fulfilled.”

 

Since the beginning of the pandemic we have heard from the authorities all of the rigid “requirements” necessary to slow the spread of COVID. This has become an extensive list of things we have to and/or cannot do. As the days and weeks have passed we have begun to hear comments such as –  “The government has to stop the virus.” “We must open the economy and get people back to work.” “We have to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.” These expressions have begun to show up in the news as confrontations in stores and armed citizens in government buildings.

 

Identifying the error
So – when are these rigid ways of thinking rational and consistent with our values? Albert Ellis suggests…human disturbance occurs when…people act on irrational beliefs in a self-defeating way, until they arrive at a new set of rational beliefs….. For example”I’d prefer to succeed and be lovable, but I don’t have to do so.”

 

There was a lot of debate in the culture and in the church not that many years ago about the use of violence against abortion providers and facilities. Consider a Christian who feels very strongly about stopping the  violent murder of the most innocent and defenseless members of humanity. That is a defensible Biblical position. When one is consumed by this issue it can morph in the mind to a rigid “I must/have to stop abortions ” and one has murder in their hearts and  becomes capable of doing things that are irrational for a follower of Jesus. A properly focused Biblical optic helps us to think and behave rationally consistent with our Christian worldview. Using Ellis’s model. “I must stop abortions” becomes “I’d prefer to stop abortions, but I don’t have to do so.” It’s important to remember that God also says “You shall not commit murder.”

 

 

Right thinking 
Albert Ellis said “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” It is worth considering the extent to which these are the very musts that cause us stress. Looking at these through the optic of the words of Jesus gives the right perspective.

 

I must do well – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:24-26 

 

You must treat me well – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19 

 

The world must be easy – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

 

For the Christian, right thinking is always Biblical thinking. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul said “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

 

Now look at some of the issues that people are passionate about in this time of pandemic and consider how to keep them in a healthy perspective as those who want to act as Jesus would if He were faced with these issues.

 

“The government has to stop the virus.”

Becomes 

“I would like it if the government could stop the virus, but if they can’t or won’t I will still pray for them and trust God.” 

 

“We must open the economy and get people back to work.”

Becomes 

“It would be good to open the economy and get people back to work. In the meantime I will look for opportunities to help those who are impacted.”

 

“We have to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.”

Becomes

“We would prefer to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus. If that doesn’t happen I will trust God and do my part to show Jesus to others.”

 

 

Right Living
We started out stating the obvious. The pandemic is a source of stress. The next obvious fact is that God’s people should act like God’s people. As individuals and as a church we want to think and act in appropriate ways. It isn’t a question of God’s love and faithfulness. God’s people have always found reassurance, peace and the strength to do right in difficult times. Many of us at Townsend Church have personally experienced God as our rock and our deliverer in the past and we will take every thought captive and watch with anticipation for what God will do!

 

 


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Optics

 
Optics — adjective. Of or relating to the eye or sight.

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