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Looking to the Future

June 2023

Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is actively reigning over the whole world? Obviously the right answer is YES! No self-respecting Christian can answer otherwise. But the practical aspect of that question is what you do with that yes, and what it looks like. Your on paper/in your head answer about that truth may be brought out most fully in the question of our day in the American church, “Is the church dying?” That is a much more serious question and one that is harder to answer quite as confidently or optimistically as the first. Because we all know the words of Christ in Matthew 16:18 where Jesus says of Peter’s profession of Him as The Christ that the “gates of hell shall not prevail against it, or the words of the fourth verse of A Mighty Fortress is our God, where Luther opens with the words, “The Word they (demons) shall let remain,” because they have to, Christ just said the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Because all of this is true, and we know it to be so from God’s Word in multiple accounts, then why is the question about the dying of the church such a hard question to deal with? Because our eyes tell us something else! When church attendance dwindles it gets harder to feel as confident. We slip into what authors have long called quiet despair. It happens when you keep saying what you know or want to be true even when you start to question its truthfulness and reality.

A simple analogy comes in the form of a sports team that may have been at one time great but has ceased to be the winning team it once was. The confidence wanes, the fans dwindle, every year because of a rebuilding year. Is the franchise dying? Will it get sold to a different city? Who even wears their merchandise anymore? This could be further expressed by the fan who wears the hat, as opposed to the fanatic who can tell you the stats of every starter. But as the broader fan base dwindles the fanatics become less and less diehard each year, and if the fans go away, will the team go away? The same is true of the church, as inactive membership rises the die-hards, the old-guard, the silent majority(?), are either called to glory, or become less and less strident or confident. We all have breaking points of burning out mentally or physically that make the quiet despair harder to fight off, regardless of what we know to be the truth of God’s Word that we believe.

How’d we get here? Auto-pilot and nostalgia. Auto-pilot in the sense that many thought for far too long that either nothing would change, or that it wouldn’t happen here, or not to my kids or me. Almost as though a house was built but only the absolute most minimal, bordering on no maintenance was done. Now the thing being talked about is not the building of the church or even Sunday attendance, but the active faith-life of the body of believers. If faith is relegated to 1 hour 1 day a week, that is a “bread and water subsistence.” If Sunday attendance is what is believed to be all that the 3rd Commandment is about, and not Luther’s meaning about holding the Word of God sacred and gladly hearing and learning it, then we have missed the point as expounded upon in Deuteronomy 11:18-21 “18Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as reminders on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 19Teach them to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates, 21so that as long as the heavens are above the earth, your days and those of your children may be multiplied in the land that the LORD swore to give your fathers.” This doesn’t sound like just an hour a week!

The other issue is nostalgia, that fond looking back at the past, as though it were some sort of dream to be reclaimed, though who knows how? “Oh if we could just go back!?” You can’t! You can only go forward, which is important because Deut. 11:21 above is all about the future parents teaching their children and grandchildren the Word of God for the sake of their future. Your present will become their past. Your past is their history. “If I’m obsessed about the past, and I’m despairing about the present then I will abolish the future.” This is right around the time quiet despair creeps in again along with auto-pilot lying, “There’s no point. It won’t make a difference. Let someone else do it. I’ve served my time…” Sin’s excuse list is a mile long and it only takes one lie to be believed to be knocked off track or forced back onto the couch, or bed, or lake, or golf course, or ball diamond, or whatever we use to distract ourselves from the gnawing pain that comes when you and countless Christians walk into their church.

Fear not though, there is hope. I promise. Grab your Bible or hymnal, turn to psalm 46 and turn the page.

Read through psalm 46 and notice the words and verb tenses that describe time. v.1 States that God is our present help, refuge and strength which prepares us right away for the future of v.2 “Therefore we will not fear” the trouble described. The way that David speaks does not say these things will happen, but tells us how we are able to think, believe, act if these frightening things should happen to come to pass. They prepare us to be ready for anything, knowing that God has been, is, and will be our refuge and strength. He has shown Himself to be faithful throughout His Word. Hopefully we are able to see clearly through our own nostalgia at how He has been faithful to us in our own past as well! This is a proper use of nostalgic memories: as markers of God’s faithfulness in the past to influence, encourage and drive our present into a future that we actually believe God is able to resurrect.

In the next section, David starts out by describing an ideal scene that we may want to presume is heaven, but v. 5 reminds us that “God is in the midst of her,” but then moves to “raging kingdoms” and a “melting earth,” in v.6. While that may sound plenty apocalyptic in line with verses like Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth will pass away…” the 2nd half of Jesus words are just as encouraging when He says, “…but my Words will never pass away,” and fall in line with the rest of our focus in Ps. 46:4-7. Church is where God promises to be in the midst of His people. The fallacy that has grown up over time to prioritize the promise of “2 or 3 gathered in my name (Mt. 18:20),” over the overwhelming Biblical Command and call to “gather together and encourage one another to do so all the more as you see the Day drawing near (Hb 10:25).” David tells us that it is in church that the people of God are made glad,” presently by Him, are immovable and are helped. God further emphasizes His immovable, immutable, unchangeability in the name He chooses for Himself, “I AM that I AM.” Effectively stating, I am ever-presently unchanging, “I was, I am, I will be.” I (simply) AM. Or as the apostle Paul states of our Lord in Hebrews 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” If that is your God, who didn’t stay in the tomb but rose and you know is coming again, then even when the world is actually ending with all of its terror we are made able to face all things having been strengthened by Christ (Phil. 4:13) who commands an angelic host and is presently always our fortress.

Finally David closes with a call to remember “the works of the Lord,” in v.8. As already stated God has made His deeds known time and again through His Word. The Bible is not just some collection of fairy tales but a recounting of the mighty deeds of God through the history of His people (v.8b-9) for us to find comfort in. If this is who God was in the past, why would we believe that is not who he is or can be in the present, even if we say we believe that is who He will be on a future Last Day? Following this exhortation to the reality of who our God always is, David uses a phrase that evokes the visual of Elijah at Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:10-14). Elijah is fleeing for his life from Jezebel God reveals Himself to Elijah not in the rock-tearing wind, earthquake, or fire, but rather in the “still, small, voice.” “Be still and know that I am God.” Elijah had every reason to be afraid. So did David in His own day: Goliath who was terrifying enough no other Israelite would face him, David was so beloved that King Saul sought his life. And we face our own evils and terrors in our own day as well and same God who contends in the Bible contends for us as well. When the disciples are terrified by wind and waves in Mark 4:39 and think Jesus doesn’t care, Jesus stands up and simply says, “Be still.” But then He turns and rebukes the disciples in v.40 asking the disciples if they “still have no faith.”

Open your Bible everyday, not just a devotional. Devote real time to reading and meditating that the Word of God may dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16), that you would always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you (1 Peter 3:15). May the Lord who is presently our fortress and strength, fill us the joy and confidence that comes from an active belief in a death-conquering Savior who has promised to be with us to the very end of the age (Mt.28:20), “being confident that He who has begun a good work in you will (actually) bring it to completion (here in time and ultimately) at the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (Phil.1:6).”

God’s Blessings on your month,

Pastor Nick

A full listen of the podcast this article is based on can be found here. I encourage you to check it out.

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