May 20, 2020 – Merging the New and the Old – Dr. Bruce Cochran

Merging the New and the Old

Rev. Dr. Bruce Cochran, Region Minister

This is a season of change.  Yeah, everyone’s talking about it, so what else can be said?  Please stay with me.  We hear much chatter these days about specific predictions of when and what will change because of this virus, or instructions about how to change our behavior as we cope with it, or about assigning blame to those responsible for not closing the proverbial gate.

But, while in the midst of change, what’s happening under this?  What’s going on inside us?  From a spiritual point of view, how do we deal with the flux?

Change is not a new thing.  We all experience numerous changes in our lifetime.  Nations, communities, churches, families and individuals alike move from one place or station in life to another.  Sometimes, such as when a child matures and moves out of the home, changes are somewhat predictable.  At other times, however, changes are totally unanticipated.  You get the point.

Managing change requires secure handholds.  As we negotiate the changes life thrusts upon us, we adopt patterns which may or may not be healthy.  No one is immune to the challenge, and no gets it right all the time.  Hopefully, we figure out what are the best tools and learn what the most productive way to cope with change is.  As it turns out, those who believe in Jesus have timeless principles to stand upon; resources applicable to every generation and to all sorts of transitions. Consider the following:

 

  1. In Jesus Christ, there is an unbroken supply of grace. As we experience change, we know God and the blessings of God are unchanging.  The same God, and the same faith in God, that carried us to this point in time, will carry us through transitions we face now and in the future.  Old Testament characters were frequently reminded that they were accompanied by the God of their Fathers; namely the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The unnerving onslaught of change begs for something unchanging and unswerving.  In the constancy of God, we find a safe haven.  It’s not enough, however, to simply understand the concept of the consistency of God.  We play a role, for we must keep our poor souls beneath the constant downpour of His grace.  In other words, we manage transitions by consistently managing our faith in the One who is unchanging.

 

  1. It is God’s to substitute the new for the old. It is ours to accept the exchange. Having faith in God implies a kind of surrendering to God.  Much of the stress that accompanies change emerges simply because we know change means loss.  Every beginning starts with an ending.[i]  This is evident enough in scripture: travelling to the Promised Land demands leaving Egypt; the new cannot be put on until the old is taken off; and death precedes resurrection.  Change, it seems, is the kind of thing God is always doing.

 

  1. All of life’s gifts come from the One whose love is older than your oldest blessing. Change is to be accepted in the light of God’s enduring love.  Love is a cardinal doctrine of our faith.  God loved us before we were even born.  God loved us before we possessed anything which we hold dear now.  God loves us at the point when that which we hold dear is old and passing.

 

  1. God has more lessons yet. Alexander Maclaren wrote, “Blessed are they who can willingly put away the familiar blessings of earth and stretch out willingly emptied, expectant hands to meet the new store.”  Change in life is a precursor to the greatest change we will ever experience.  We are ever changing.  Change is a fact of life and the ultimate change is when we pass from this earth to the next.    As it turns out, change in life equips us for the greatest transformation of all.

By far, this is not an exhaustive list, but the context is precious to me.  The italicized lines above are quotes gleaned from my father’s[ii] sermon entitled, “Cherishing Old Values in a New Day”; a message he preached on April 24, 1966 at the First Baptist Church in Hillsdale, Michigan.  The congregation had constructed a new church building, and this sermon was preached in the final service held in the old building.  His sermon notes were hand-written on a 3×5 card.  Indeed, it was a different day and time, yet it was still a time of change.  That sermon was preached to a congregation going through change; during a period of dramatic social change.  Ministry in the mid- to late 20th century was unique to that time and place, but the heart of ministry then and now is the same.  Because we stand on the Word of God, we have confidence in a timeless bedrock of hope and promise.

Change?  Bring it on!

 

[i]William Bridges, Transitions, (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004), 11.

[ii] My father, Walter Truman Cochran, pastored in Hillsdale from 1960-69.  Throughout his ministry, he served as a settled and interim pastor in Michigan, Indiana, Kentucky and Texas; and worked for ABC/MI for a several years after “retirement” as a consultant with small church pastors.