Capital Campaign Series: “Beyond”
November 3, 2019, Day of Remembrance
Most of us struggle with picturing what our life will look like in the days ahead, do we not? That’s the conclusion of a Harvard psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, and two of his colleagues, who recently did a study that involved more than 19,000 people on this very common trait among us humans. Their research revealed that in fact people of all ages grossly underestimate the extent to which they will change in the future. They instead end up believing that who they are today is pretty much who they will be tomorrow, despite the fact that who they are today isn’t who they were yesterday (Science, January 2013). In other words, even though we know we have changed a lot over the years that have passed, we struggle to wrap our minds around how much change is to be expected when it comes to our future.
There’s a lot to unpack there in that statement. Perhaps the biggest reason why we wrestle with the inevitability of future change is because it just takes more out of us to look ahead than to look behind. Looking back doesn’t cost us much at all. Looking back doesn’t take all that much effort or energy. Looking back is factual and fixed, even though we do tend to romanticize yesterday and make it better than it actually was. Meanwhile, the future is uncertain and in most respects unknowable. Looking to the future requires risk and vulnerability, and a commitment to build toward it, which is, as we all know, a work that takes a lifetime. Little wonder, then, the vast majority of us don’t just not like change; we don’t even want to think about it.
And yet, if we don’t think about the future and in some way plan for it, then when the future does come, we will be woefully unprepared and caught off guard by what that future reality will eventually be. Clearly, we need right now to be thinking about what lies ahead and what preparations we need to be making today in order to make sure that tomorrow is all that we would want for it to be. That’s true not only of individuals; it’s also true for companies and corporations and civic clubs and even churches.
Perhaps that’s why the Bible contains so many stories of one generation seeking to prepare a rising one for the challenges they will surely encounter and how their faith might sustain them in the face of those changes, which otherwise would prove crippling and potentially destructive.
This passage before us this morning is one such story. It comes from the book of Judges, a book that recounts the story of God’s people as they move into the land of Canaan to secure the place of promise God had promised to them. The book describes an ongoing cycle of how God’s people experienced God’s prosperity, only to see them become complacent in that prosperity. Their complacency brought God’s judgment, which led to massive oppression from their Canaanite neighbors, which led the Children of Israel to turn for deliverance to God, who in His faithfulness would raise up a judge, a spiritual leader, whom God would use to restore them to a place of prosperity, from which the cycle would begin all over again.
This text comes at the beginning of the book. Joshua, successor to Moses and the one who had ultimately brought the people into Canaan, has just died, and with him has died all knowledge of God’s past acts of deliverance, beginning all the way back to the Exodus from Egypt and continuing on to the miraculous crossing of the Jordan and the glorious victory God gave them at Jericho, where, as children still sing, “the walls came tumbling down.”
And now “another generation” has grown up, a generation that as the text says, “knew neither the LORD nor what he had done for Israel.” The word “another” means an entirely different sort of people. Oh, they looked like their forefathers on the outside. After all, our genetic makeup is a powerful impossible thing, to be sure. But genetics don’t necessarily translate into morality and devotion, traits that are influenced more by the prevailing culture than our parents and grandparents.
In this case, Israel had become satisfied with the prevailing culture and its status quo, so that as the second generation of Israelites had come along with pockets of the Promised Land still to be conquered, the reaction of that second generation was more, “Why bother with all the trouble of building a new nation? These Canaanites are not so bad. We can just go along and get along.” But, as the text tells us, their attitude only “aroused the LORD’s anger,” resulting in God giving them over to “their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.”
Here is the point: There never has been a first generation, no matter how great it was, that has conquered all the land that God had for it to conquer or been all that God had called it to be, and so there were important tasks they needed to hold up for the generations that would come after them. You would think this point would be obvious, but not so. The temptation of each generation is to believe that its experience, its victories, and its accomplishments are the standard for the generations that will come after us so that nothing can be ever be built on what we have managed to do.
But that way of thinking is not so; in fact, it is wrong. No, worse than that, it is evil. God never planned for the experiences of previous generations to be a diving board from which future generations might plunge down; God rather intended them to be a foundation from which they might build. It is a lie of Satan to make us believe that the status quo is all there is. It is Satan’s strategy to have us believe that it does not matter that the Canaanites have the valleys as long as we are comfortable in our encampments in the high country. And that is why within only one generation after entering Canaan, the Promised Land, the people of God began to practice blatant idolatry. They had become complacent. They had become satisfied. They had come to believe that everything God had given them to do had been completed. They were wrong, and if they did not change their way of thinking and behaving, there would not be a third generation of Israelites. The promise would end with them.
On this Day of Remembrance, as we think about and thank God for those saints who have gone before us, surely we can appreciate how those souls whose shoulders we stand upon today never thought that all that God had for this church to do had been done in their lifetimes. No, we’ve just completed in conjunction with our 75th Anniversary as a church a look back to the origins of our congregation and how each generation faithfully built on what the previous generation had given them. None of them thought for a moment that “there was nothing left for us to do.” They recognized instead that as their forbearers had set them up for spiritual success, so must they do the same for those who would come after them, which are you and I.
So, what are we doing to “set the table” for the generations who will follow us? How are we making it possible for ministry to be carried on in a world that will, in all likelihood, be vastly different from the one we know today? Will people in the days to come be as thankful as we are today because of what others have left us with to use for advancing Christ’s cause in Mountain Brook?
These are important questions that we seek to address with this “Beyond” campaign. My hope and prayer for the campaign are that we will come to see it as something that is about much more than raising money for a building project, but that we will see it as a way of renewing our commitment to God to do something now that will make it possible for those who come behind us to do more.
In that respect, I’m reminded of an old Amish saying I came across years ago when Judy and I had gone up to Philadelphia to speak at a conference and took the opportunity to go with a group down to the Amish communities south of the city. The saying goes as follows: “We didn’t inherit the land from our fathers; we are rather borrowing it from our children.” Little wonder that in spite of the massive changes that are taking place in society today at what seems to be warp speed, even the most secular of persons will stop and marvel at the spirit and strength of a community of believers that are committed to making sure that the next generation that comes after them will be as devoted, if not more so, than they.
Perhaps the same might be said of this church. Yes, the future will involve change, and our church must find ways to change with it. But if we do so with an intent to pass on our love of God and our witness of grace and generosity, then when those future generations rise up and take our place, they will know God and what He has done for us, and build on our efforts to help others experience Him as well, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone is each generation’s help and each generation’s hope.