The Temporary and the Permanent

Chances are you’re sitting under a different kind of light today. Forbes magazine states: “We’ve been living and working in artificial light for over 130 years, ever since Thomas Edison’s first light bulb. But despite the progress that our well-lit society has made, we’ve paid a significant price–environmentally and financially–for incandescent, fluorescent and other forms of traditional lighting.” There has been a revolution in the world of the lighting. The ordinary incandescent bulb is headed to the museum. In fact, the federal government banned the sale of inefficient light bulbs and we were due to be switched (pun intended) to newer types by 2012. It’s all in a move to reduce energy consumption and reduce greenhouse gasses. Right now, 20% of the world’s electricity is used for lighting; that can be reduced to 4% with LED lighting. And by 2030 LEDs will drive energy savings equivalent to 334 million barrels of oil per year in the U.S. alone. Thomas Edison’s wonderful contribution already moved over in favor of energy-conserving compact fluorescent bulbs and even these are under pressure by the newest light technology– LEDs or “light emitting diodes” which are already popular in homes and caps and flashlights and tools and our flat-screen televisions. (I haven’t even mentioned OLEDs – organic lighting). Change is everywhere! Our automobiles are built for flex-fuel or run partially on electricity. Medical technology is mind-boggling. Space frontiers have been conquered. Are we seeing the relentless march of progress or something else?

My point is this: everything that we know, all that we consider the realities of life is passing away.  I hope it’s not a shock, but that means everything … even us.

I want to read the Apostle John’s conclusion to the whole enterprise we call life.

1 John 2:15-17: 15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.

John was in old age by the time he wrote his epistle, but he was not senile. He was worn from the passing of years. In his early life, he had been something that most Newfoundlanders can identify with, but less and less with the passing of time. John had been a commercial fisherman until the day Jesus had changed his direction. He was ambitious and energetic. In his lifetime the world had changed so much. Politics: All of the leadership of every level he knew as a young man was gone: Pilate had been recalled by Rome and disgraced, Herod was dead, the priesthood was no more. The Church: Many of the Christians he knew in his apostolic past had been martyred including his own brother. The world: The city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and the nation had been broken into pieces and the people killed or scattered. None of the old realities survived. All that John had left was the reality of following Jesus Christ.

John had proven what we will all know in due time: life is not static, everything has its day and then change hits with a vengeance. Precious china and figurines crack with age. Wood develops cracks and rot. Furniture becomes scratched and outdated. Cars rust and break down. Our computers become obsolete. We need retraining in most jobs or risk being left behind. Political dynasties fade. John was right. Things pass away.

Do you know one of the most pitiful things in the world? Someone who won’t accept change gracefully. I could never suppress a smile when I used to see an older guy [perhaps my age] in an equally aged Pontiac Firebird. I watched him cruise through town with his long dyed hair blowing in the wind and his eyes shielded by his super cool Ray-Ban aviators. I wanted to stop him and confiscate his VHS copy of Smokey and the Bandit. I wanted to yank his Jerry Reid tape out of the 8-track player and smash it on the sidewalk, smile and say “Welcome to the 21st century!” Some of you don’t even know what I’m talking about because you live-streamers and veteran downloaders are too young to remember 8-tracks or Burt Reynolds or Jackie Gleason. You don’t know that “smokies” were policemen; you thought they were sausages from local grocery stores that taste great on the BBQ.

I watch people of advancing age sweating at the gym on instruments of torture. The stress of the clock punishes them for every extra pound. Every muscle screams for relief as they sip bottled water and they would kill for a bottle of Coke and a greasy package of potato chips. Oh to be twenty again. They’re like the aging boxer. At 35 he faces someone 20 and hits the canvas as the crowd cheers for a new champ. You can’t beat the clock. John was right: “The world and its desires pass away.” The more time passes the more something fails – health, eyesight, the stock market. Who knew sugar was so bad? We were fighting fat! We were fighting a war with the wrong enemy!

Change is inevitable and relentless. Don’t despair. All of this change should send us on a quest for permanence. And today, at least, time is on your side. I want to challenge you with a couple of simple, but really important questions to see if you understand the difference between temporary and permanent.

Ultimate Question #1: How are you going to spend what you’re worth?

The value of a life is without measure, but the value of a soul brought Christ into the world to redeem us. The value created by life hinges on the values we carry into life or those we develop. If John says everything passes away except what’s done for the Lord, He would be the best to follow. Something will consume you; you will give your life to something. (Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan said, “You gotta serve somebody!”) But will it be meaningful and worthwhile in the end? Don’t pay attention to the misguided values of our world. Someone has deviously switched the price tags. God’s word and the Holy Spirit will tell you what’s best, not some slick advertising company hawking the latest fad or some paid researcher hiding the truth.

I am always amazed at how people view themselves. They satisfy their desires as they celebrate their birthdays and their milestones along the way. The body gets its way all the while the soul insists that eternity is most important. We seek education and refinement and improvement. People seek to satisfy the physical and sometimes totally neglect the spiritual part of them that lives on forever.  There arrives a time when weakness overcomes us and we have to go, I hope our soul is filled with assurance and hope. Don’t ever neglect your spiritual dimension for it’s the part of you of greatest worth. Spend yourself wisely and invest in the eternal Christ.

Ultimate Question #2: Who will you choose as your companions on this journey?

I have been in the company of people for whom I have absolutely no respect. I once respected some people but lost that respect when I began to see the core of their lives exposed. There are places I can never be comfortable. There are topics that I cannot discuss. I have sat with inmates and detainees guilty of every type of disgusting crime and they unfolded their deeds.

Jesus met a lot of people along the road of life. Many of them felt their lives placed under His microscope and they squirmed with discomfort. Don’t ever expect Him to just let you go your own way. He made the hypocrites squirm as He tested their values. He turned back the questions of the religious by asking them embarrassing questions about their own lives. He asked the woman at the well a very difficult question. He made the high priest uncomfortable. Zaccheus and Matthew became uncomfortable with ill-gotten gain. He turned people to faith and they joined His company or they became fugitives from God. All of us will be one or the other.

There are times when I don’t know why I ended up on the path I have. All my life I have been surrounded by good, decent, God-fearing people. I’ve been blessed by Sunday school teachers and pastors and parents and mentors, but I also know that sin made a bid for my soul. The devil was always there to show me the allurements of life. Jesus has never asked me to drop out of society, to dress in black and try and convince people that life was a bore for a Christian. We do not hang on to salvation like a life preserver and hope for a soon rapture to rescue us from this world. That may well happen, but Jesus Christ offers good company. He tells me this world is passing away and that His ways alone will survive. Are you embarrassed to be numbered among the Christians? Mark 8:38 proclaims, “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.” There’s dust on the memory of those who opposed Christ. Few words, if any, are carved on their tombstones while John said the world itself was not large enough to hold the books that could be written on the life of Jesus.

Ultimate Question #3: What do you see as your greatest choice in life?

Some people have turned their careers into their god. Others make pleasure the highest good. A popular lyric a few years ago screamed modern philosophy: “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.” It is not a crime to be gifted, so if you have some natural skill turn it into something that builds your integrity here and your investment in eternity. Don’t lose sight of the fact that your girlfriend or boyfriend can’t get you into heaven, nor can a credit card keep any of us from a casket.

You have the choice of being able to maintain a clear conscience. You have the choice of having sweet assurance that no matter what happens in this life, your sins are forgiven and you are hidden and protected by the grace of God. The song says it: “’Tis grace hath bro’t me safe thus far and grace will lead me home.” You have the choice of turning your life around today and accepting the plan that God has for you. You have the freedom to start over having learned from the past. Theodore Roosevelt said, "The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything." Edison spent more than $100,000 to obtain 6000 different fiber specimens, and only three of them proved satisfactory. Each failure brought him that much closer to the solution to his problem. His friend Henry Ford was right when he said that failure was the "opportunity to begin again, more intelligently."

Ultimate question #4: Will your report card on life indicate “pass” or “fail”?

We often do not look at life as something that is graded, but it is. We are all being tested as to the depth of our character and the nobility of our pursuits. Clarence Jordan was a man of unusual abilities and commitment. He had two Ph.D.s, one in agriculture and one in Greek and Hebrew. So gifted was he, he could have chosen to do anything he wanted. He chose to serve the poor. In the 1940s, he founded a farm in Americus, Georgia, and called it Koinonia Farm. It was a community for poor whites and poor blacks. As you might guess, such an idea did not go over well in the Deep South of the '40s.

Ironically, much of the resistance came from good church people who followed the laws of segregation as much as the other folk in town. The town people tried everything to stop Clarence. They tried boycotting him and slashing workers' tires when they came to town. Over and over, for fourteen years, they tried to stop him. Finally, in 1954, the Ku Klux Klan had enough of Clarence Jordan, so they decided to get rid of him once and for all. They came one night in their white hoods with guns and torches and set fire to every building on Koinonia Farm but Clarence's home, which they riddled with bullets. And they chased off all the families except one black family which refused to leave. Clarence recognized the voices of many of the Klansmen, and, as you might guess, some of them were church people. Another was the local newspaper's reporter. The next day, the reporter came out to see what remained of the farm. The rubble still smoldered and the land was scorched, but he found Clarence in the field, hoeing, and planting.

"I heard the awful news," he called to Clarence, "and I came out to do a story on the tragedy of your farm closing. Clarence just kept on hoeing and planting. The reporter kept prodding, kept poking, trying to get a rise from this quietly determined man who seemed to be planting instead of packing his bags. So, finally, the reporter said in a haughty voice, "Well, Dr. Jordan, you got two of them Ph.D.s and you've but fourteen years into this farm, and there's nothing left of it at all. Just how successful do you think you've been?" Clarence stopped hoeing, turned toward the reporter with his penetrating blue eyes, and said quietly but firmly, "About as successful as the cross. Sir, I don't think you understand us. What we are about is not success but faithfulness. We're staying. Good day." Beginning that day, Clarence and his companions rebuilt Koinonia and the farm is going strong today. (Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel)

Mark Hatfield tells of touring Calcutta with Mother Teresa and visiting the so-called "House of Dying," where sick children are cared for in their last days, and the dispensary, where the poor line up by the hundreds to receive medical attention. Watching Mother Teresa minister to these people, feeding, and nursing those left by others to die, Hatfield was overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the suffering she and her co-workers face daily. "How can you bear the load without being crushed by it?" he asked. Mother Teresa replied, "My dear Senator, I am not called to be successful, I am called to be faithful."

That’s the passing grade for us all – Faithfulness in the midst of change. When all that is temporary is gone… Jobs. Family. Friends. Hair. Teeth. Memory. Life itself. God remains. Get to know Him. The light of His presence is permanent. His love is permanent. His eternal home is permanent.