Monday, July 17, 2006

Two Views of Time – God’s and Man’s

by Larry Rouse

A wise man is aware of how short life truly is. “So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:12). As we come to see the great uncertainty that the future holds from the standpoint of man’s wisdom and insight, we ought to take great comfort in knowing that we serve a God who holds the future in His hands. Men change, nations rise and fall, my own body grows old and will die, but our God never changes! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb 13:8).

The Difference 100 Years Makes

We tend to judge history by own current standards and experiences. Consider the difficulty we would have in understanding the generation that lived just over 100 years ago. Consider these facts from another writer: “Here are the U. S. statistics for 1904. The average life expectancy in the US was 47. Only 14% of the homes in the US had a bathtub. Only 8% of the homes had a telephone. There were only 8,000 cars in the US and only 144 miles of paved roads. The maximum speed limit in most cities was 10 mph. Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa, and Tennessee were each more heavily populated than California. The average wage in the US was $0.22/hour. More than 95% of all births in the US took place at home. 90% of all US physicians had no college education. Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg. The American flag had 45 stars. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30. Only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school. There were only about 230 reported murders in the entire US.” Now imagine what will the next 100 years bring!

The Struggle of Daniel’s Generation

The great Old Testament prophet Daniel had a struggle to comprehend the world that he lived in. He was taken from his home in Israel when he was around 17 and lived the rest of his life in foreign lands. After he was brought to Babylon his name was changed from Daniel (God is my judge) to Belteshazar (a servant of Bel, the principle Babylonian deity) (Dan 1:7). He was taught a different language and lived in a completely pagan culture. Early in his stay there the news came to his ears of the destruction of Jerusalem including the temple of God built by Solomon.
Now imagine living nearly 70 years in the capital of the most powerful empire in the world. If Daniel had relied upon his considerable, but limited human wisdom, he would have likely concluded that the nation of Israel was crushed and would never return. He also would have likely concluded that the Babylonian empire would last for hundreds of years into the future. Fortunately for Daniel and for the few remaining Jews that walked by faith, they were not swayed by the “wisdom” that “all things continue as they were” (2 Peter 3:4). Those faithful Jews, as a result, never trusted in the “status-quo” of Babylonian rule.

Daniel was in his early 80’s when the events of Daniel 5 came to pass. He was aware of the prophecy of Jeremiah that the captivity would only last 70 years (Jer 25:11-14). Daniel’s life was defined by his relationship to God and not by “success” determined by worldly standards. At any point during Daniel’s lifetime those who “walked by sight” would have laughed at the “insignificant few” associated with his stand of faith. His stand brought ridicule and death threats. Some of those threats were put into action. In all of this God was, in fact, using Daniel as the first building block of a remnant that would return to rebuild Israel and usher in the Messiah. Would you have been found standing with Daniel if you had lived then?

The Struggle of Our Generation

Prosperity can be more damaging to a living faith than adversity! When Israel was told about the promised land and the great physical blessings that God would give them, He also included a warning of the likely reaction of the people to their prosperity. “Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments, His judgments, and His statutes which I command you today, 12lest—when you have eaten and are full, and have built beautiful houses and dwell in them; 13and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and your gold are multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied; 14when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt….17then you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth” (Deut 8:11-17).
Look again at how far we have moved in our physical prosperity within the church. Sociologists have noted that religious movements that “move up the ladder” of wealth and education often cast off their past beliefs to be more compatible with their new social relationships and status. The scriptures bear witness to this tendency to allow prosperity and education to choke a Biblical faith. “Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? (James 2:5)” “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called” (1 Corinthians 1:26).

God is in Control

Daniel was able to witness in his lifetime what Isaiah and the other prophets had plainly stated about the kingdoms of men. “Behold, the nations are as a drop in a bucket, and are counted as the small dust on the scales; Look, He lifts up the isles as a very little thing…. 17 All nations before Him are as nothing, and they are counted by Him less than nothing and worthless” (Isaiah 40:15-17). In one night the hand of God wrote the epitaph of the Babylonian empire on the wall during a drunken party of their ruler Belshazzar (Daniel 5:5-9). Even though Belshazzar offers Daniel the position of third ruler in the kingdom, a gold chain and clothing of purple, Daniel appropriately responded “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another” (Daniel 5:17). Before the night was finished Belshazzar was dead, the “impregnable fortress” of Babylon was captured and destroyed never to rise again, and Daniel was alive and well and faithful to God.

The Need of Our Generation

We desperately need to build a people that looks to God as their foundation. Rather than trying to lament over numbers, reunite a human movement called “the restoration movement”, or make our worship man-centered so more people can be found in our assemblies, we need to learn again how to draw close to our God. “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:8-10).

What will last in this life? “But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away” (1 Cor 7:29-31). The handwriting is already on the wall for this world as the Lord is returning and all physical things will be “burned up” (2 Peter 3:9-10). Where do you stand?

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