Thursday, January 22, 2009

Are we swirling the drain?

Do you ever feel as if life is completely out of control and the pace of life is accelerating beyond what is endurable? Do you ever wonder if there will be anything “normal” about life left for your kids to enjoy? Do you ever feel simply overwhelmed just trying to hold everything together?

Here is my very unscientific observation: not since the Industrial Revolution of the 18-19th centuries have we seen such radical change and transformation in the world. You remember the Industrial Revolution from High School history class: millions of people left the farm and moved to the city to find work. Back then, social commentators thought that separating people from the land would prove disastrous. They saw the dissolution of families and extended families as people were forced off the land because of economic necessity and relocated to urban centers to work in mines or factories. In the cities there was horrific crime, alcoholism, debtors prisons, poor houses, slums, pollution, in short, the loss of the human soul. The western world experienced the death of a society predominately based upon rural or village life and the birth of urban culture.

I think one day our great grandchildren will study this very time in history in which we now live and it will have a name like the Technological Revolution or something like that. It will be known as a time of tremendous social, economic, demographic and political change, as the world got hard wired and then went wireless and many people lost their way, overwhelmed by the pace of change. My dad was born in a farm house that didn’t have electricity. He attended a one room school house. Their first phone service was through a “party line.” My children will probably take a web-book “educational appliance” to school every day and experience learning through interaction with a screen. I could spend all day and all night notating the changes over the last 70, 40, 10 years. It’s all astounding. It’s all come so incredibly fast.

And some of the radical change it isn’t even technological. Some of it’s moral as well. When I was a child it seemed like all the adults smoked. Now, it’s illegal in public places and frowned on as a terrible vice, nearly immoral. Even ten years ago no one would think that people would accept as moral that a man could marry a man or woman could marry a woman.

All this change at such a pace is enough to exhaust or overwhelm anyone. These days people seem insanely busy. So busy, in fact, that they will make almost any excuse just to stay home and rest.

How do we do church in times of great upheaval? Especially when the church itself is being affected by the world around it? How do we stay relevant, connected with people and their struggles and at the same time provide a place of refuge and peace in a world that seems to be swirling the drain?

If I knew what to say now, I could write the definitive book on the modern church and retire immediately on the proceeds.

But this much I do know: I’m pretty sure the answer is similar to what Peter said to Jesus in the Gospel of John 6. Jesus had just delivered a very difficult teaching and most of the people went away and left him. But Peter stayed. Jesus said, “what are you still doing here?” And Peter said, “Lord, where can we go? Only you have the words that give eternal life.” Jesus said that if we come to him he will give us what the world cannot give: peace. Not like the world gives (because the world charges a high price for peace and also takes it away eventually) but the peace that only Jesus can give that passes human ability to understand. The church also possesses the Truth: God says there is way more to life than living and the real meaning of life isn’t in striving after things or even worrying about necessities; it’s in seeking him. I guess what I’m saying is that at times like these we don’t need another program. The church really needs to go back to the elementals - the basics. And remind everybody that Jesus promised to be with them through everything and even through the end of everything. No matter how great the changes we experience, Jesus is greater and if we focus on him he will bring us safely through.

The church can’t stop the world from changing. The church has to change sometimes too, for the sake of the world. In fact, the church is all about change. It’s the Lord of the church, Jesus Christ himself who preached the message, “The time is now. Change, turn around (repent) and believe the Good News. The kingdom of heaven is available to you.” The difference is that the change we believe in brings peace and life forever with God. The change the world brings something completely different.

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