“Changes and Choices”

Genesis 12:1-8
1 Corinthians 13:13
Dr. William C. Poe
July 23, 2023

Abram had moved once before, moving with his wife, Sarai, his father, Terah, and his kinspeople from the city of Ur in the fertile Tigris-Euphrates valley to Haran, a crossroads of major trade routes far to the northwest. Now, he felt the compulsion to move again, but this time away from his father and his clan. He was to take his family and leave behind the now familiar countryside of Haran and strike out for … somewhere. He would know when he arrived. He was at the disposal of a Force far greater than himself, and he responded, with trust and action.

How do we respond to change? The Bible throughout holds up Abram as an example, but how do we deal with the stress and flux of our daily lives? How can we tell when the voice or circumstance that brings us change or challenge might be the voice or circumstance of God’s leading? We are the church, after all, and we are supposed to be looking for the guiding presence of God’s Spirit. We especially, as a congregation, and with Bobby’s departure last Sunday, are dealing with changes and circumstances beyond our control, and understandably both the stress and the uncertainty are very real.

A study was published not too long ago about why people come to the church, and why people leave the church. The study discovered that the thing that causes most people to leave the church is change and stress. Paradoxically, those are also the major reasons people come to the church! It has to do with our perspective on change, and on how we deal with it.

One way we respond to change, of course, is to resist it. We cry at a variety of transitional occasions – graduations, weddings, divorces, births, deaths, and relocations – at least partly because we are leaving behind something known and secure and safe. Whether it’s life without school, life without a spouse or a close friend, life after retirement, life as a single person, life as a married person, life as a parent, life alone – the future can be frightening, and it often is. Our old life, life as it was before the change, no matter what else it held, was safe, secure, and at least somewhat predictable, even if there were tradeoffs to be made.

Frankly, some of us, more than anything else, just want to stay where we are and as we are, rather than take on something new and different. We see the strange and the new as full of problems and dangers. When we perceive change in this way, it’s little wonder that we resist it.

Some of us resist change because we fear looking back, years later, only to regret our choices and to mourn our losses. Abram, too, must have had his wistful moments when he looked back and wondered why he had come to Canaan, why he had ever left the familiar security of Haran.

Sometimes people bring me cartoons, some funny and some profound – and some both. One of my favorites pictures Abram on the mountaintop, looking up and talking to God, saying, “Gee, we were sort of hoping that the Promised Land would be somewhere outside the Middle East!”

There are few, if any, changes in our lives which, once undertaken, will not cause us to look back wistfully from time to time at the way things used to be. And there are few, if any, guarantees that everything in life will turn out as we hope.

Some of us respond to change, or to a new idea, by quickly (and repeatedly) listing all the reasons not to enter this change, or why it is a bad idea. That kind of negativism can become a rut that is progressive, contagious, and devastating to the life of an individual or the life of a church! Instead of responding to God’s call, Abram might have refused it, for reasons that sound only too familiar to us. How did he know, for instance, that this urging was God’s plan for him? What practical sense was there in it, anyway? What proof did he have that it would all turn out all right? Abram might have said, “It just doesn’t make good sense,” and then refused to go.

But he didn’t. God said, “Go!” and Abram went. He wasn’t sure what he would find when he came to the end of his journey. But he felt that it was what God wanted him to do. By building altars wherever he travelled, Abram also affirmed his conviction that God was with him in the journey.

That is the guarantee we have in all the changes of life. God will be with us. We aren’t guaranteed that life will be free of risks. We aren’t guaranteed that we will always make the right choices. We aren’t guaranteed that we will never fail. But as Bobby reminded us last Sunday, quoting the last verse of Matthew’s Gospel, we are guaranteed that God will always be with us! Even in those times when God seems farthest away, those may be the times that God is nearest, if we will see it.

With that guarantee, we can risk change and think new ideas without so much fear. With that guarantee, we can be lifted above always seeing the problems and limitations of a new direction to being excited about the possibilities! Who knows? We might even get excited about the risks!

At the very end of that well-known and well-loved 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians, we find these familiar words: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” I have always been intrigued by that short list, with faith in front, and love in the final and most important position. We talk about those two a lot in the church – faith and love. But the element that connects them is another that we don’t talk about nearly enough – hope.

I don’t know about you, but there was a time in my life (when I was much younger), when I spent an inordinate amount of time with a puzzle called Rubik’s Cube. I was never able to solve that puzzle, but I did learn how to complete one side. I was told by those who know that I would never solve the entire puzzle until I was willing to risk losing that first side for the sake of the whole. That was hard for me to do. I had worked so hard to get it! But I wouldn’t realize the goal unless I was willing to give it up.

In the 7th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus says, in effect, that God’s will for us is best known in the doing of it. From Abram’s point of view, the way to be sure whether the urging of your soul is the voice of God is to answer it and see. That takes faith. The other side of that, for the rest of us, is that unless we are willing to risk it, we may never find it. The conventional wisdom, from Aesop on down, has been, “Look before you leap.” A wise contemporary thinker has added, “But don’t look too long, you might sit down!”

What are the choices facing you? What are the choices that will face us as a church in the next few months, in the next few years? What are the new ideas that are challenging the ways we all look at things?

I’m not saying that you give in to any impulse just to see if it is from God. God gave us all some common sense, and wants us to use it! But we are not to be so afraid of change or newness that we reject it out of hand, either. We can approach the new with a sense of excitement and anticipation, and not with fear, because God will be with us in the new and different and may even be calling us into it.

About Dr. William C. Poe