Updated: Nov 18, 2019
I love the scene in Lord of the Rings, where Galadriel talks of the deep and mysterious way in which the world is changing.
‘The world is changed.
I feel it in the water.
I feel it in the earth.
I smell it in the air.
Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it."
It’s easy to identify with this quote. The world has changed beyond belief in the years I’ve been alive. Every generation has to wrestle with change, and how prophetically insightful are J.RR. Tolkien’s words, when our water, earth and air suffer with the consequences of those changes and when the list grows longer of lost animals that once roamed in great herds around our planet.
The book of Ezra speaks about the people of Israel wrestling with changes up close and personal, right in their own place of worship. They had been carried away into captivity and their beautiful House of Worship had been destroyed. Now a visionary team of faithful people had returned and set to work to rebuild the Temple. The job satisfaction and team spirit was huge as they laboured together to build a place where people could come and worship their God again.
The whole project was totally awesome and the team who gave their lives to the vision were empowered to labour through the long, hard, hot days because their hearts were full with the reason WHY they did what they did. Finally it was the end of the beginning; the foundations were laid. It was a time for celebration.
Ezra 3:12,13 Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away.
The completion of Stage 1 triggered uproar as the people thundered their worship into the atmosphere, but though feelings flowed at peak level, the emotions of the worshipers were very different. Those who had seen and worshiped in the old temple could see no glory in the new, overwhelmed as they were with grief and pain over what had been lost. Destruction had not only wreaked havoc on the glory of the Temple Solomon had built, but on the people who had flocked to it. Instead of rejoicing that the long days of effort were over and the vision was well on its way, the foundation for the new was a visual reminder of what they had lost and could never be recovered.
And the people who had never known anything but the new, a project over which they had laboured for months, built on the foundations of what used to be, rejoiced with all their hearts. The impact of vision fulfilled, the delight of seeing how God supplied what was needed to accomplish His work, evoked exceeding joy. For many, this was their first experience of seeing vision actually fulfilled. It was awesome!
So they shouted and wailed and hooted and hollered together, these people whose perspectives were totally different but who shared a deep love for the Temple and the God who was worshiped there. Somehow the joy and the grief mingled together into one glorious, cacophonous sound of praise to the Lord for whom all this love and effort had been poured out. The sound of worship could be heard for miles around. Those who didn’t know this God could hear His heart for His people, through their heart for Him.
The world is in a continual state of change. Has been, since the beginning of time. Nothing remains the same, no matter how much you love it and no matter how good it was, and no matter how hard it is to let go. The old must always give way to the new, and what was must always be superseded with what now is. That’s life.
The Church struggles with this issue, and rightly so, because we have to know what God is doing, as opposed to what He used to do. He’s unchanging, yes, but His methods are not and nor can ours be. The Bible is full of reminders that He continuously works to birth the new, and it behooves those of us who love Him to stay in touch with the changes He is making. He’s the God who says that doing a new thing means making streams of life-giving water appear where there was only desert before. He’s the One who told Peter that the time for seeing Gentiles as unclean was at an end, and that henceforth they must be brothers in Christ.
New is God’s modus operandi. It’s the way He operates.
The history of the Christian Church is littered with events and theories we are now deeply ashamed of. So much of what we have thought of as Kingdom was just our own culture, dressed up in holy robes. So many dogmas and doctrines were laid down by people whose lifestyle and faith were married together, and the two became one.
As Christians, we see the result of that more easily in other cultures and other people groups than we do in our own. It’s easier to see where faith and culture have formed an unholy alliance when you’re not of that culture. It’s when our faith is entrenched in our own culture, our own ways of doing things, our own contexts, that we have more difficulty discerning what is God, and what is just the way it is for ‘us’ – a fish doesn’t know what water is.
So! In this New Year, this beautiful blank page spread out before us, still largely unmarred by our messy handwriting, it would be great to really look again at what we believe. Let’s not just convert someone’s preaching/teaching of long ago into our doctrine of belief. Let’s take what we learned and imbibed through long years of repetition and decades of indoctrination, back to the Bible for inspection. Does the Bible actually say what my belief system requires it to say? Or is there more to look at, truths hidden underneath the layers of indoctrination?
We have never experienced so many and varied challenges in the history of the world. The moral compass of the nations has become deeply flawed and untenable. Violence and horrific degradation are the new normal. The planet is saturated in fear and any peace its peoples once had has been swallowed up by anxiety.
This is not a time for the Church to raise their voice in weeping and wailing for the loss of the old ways. It’s a time to labour together to build the new. Serving God is about showing other people who He is by the way we love, by the way we give, by the way we treat anyone everyone, regardless of whether we agree with them or not.
It’s too easy to be like the devoted people who had worshiped in the old Temple, thinking there is no other context for worship, yet every new generation of Christian builds their place of worship on the foundation laid by the previous generation. The ceiling put in place by the current generation, even if it’s a Sistine Chapel in terms of beauty and effectiveness, will still serve as the foundation upon which the future Church will build.
God designs the new generation of Church to meet the new generation of need. The Church can’t go back to the 1950’s or the 1800’s or even the 2010’s because we liked it better there. Each generation of Church is engineered to be the incarnation of Jesus Christ for this generation, this year, these people, this context, these events. We are His Body. This is our job, our role, our privilege and responsibility.
If the Church is to have any effect on the issues facing the world right now, it will be as we accept the stage the world is at and work out from there. Don’t waste your time and energy and emotions trying to pull society back to where you felt most comfortable. The Amish have tried that and it didn’t work. It’s a battleground, not a social club. We’re here to make a difference to how people relate to God, rather than trying to make my own little community more safe and my own little context more comfortable.
Make this the year that you ensure your connection with God reinforces His connection with the world He loves. It may mean change (gasp) but you won’t regret it.