Psalm 62:1b, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I…”
One of the hardest things about planning for my retirement is realizing that, for many people, my presence as pastor of Highland Park Church has been one of life’s few “givens.” I feel sad about that. Many folks have known me as their pastor for their entire lives, while others have known me for all or most of their adult lives. So much around us is changing, and we especially appreciate the people and things that do not.
Someone described a pastor as someone who is there with us through life. We are there when people hatch (are born), match (are married), patch (when they need counseling or have relational issues) and dispatch (funerals).
Ultimately, however, our one and only Rock is the Lord Himself. The rest of us are eventually relocated to an eternal destination.
We are living during an unsettling time. The world grows more dangerous by the day, it seems. The situation in the Ukraine seems incredulous. The history books record episodes of one European country making war with another European country; we thought we were done with that.
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine brings to mind Hitler’s invasion of Poland. That, of course, launched the world into World War II; we can’t help but wonder whether we are headed toward World War III.
It is pretty obvious that things have not gone as planned for the Russians, but Mr. Putin’s stubborn determination — even at the expense of his own people — seems clear to me. There is no way he intends to pull out; still, God can change the equation. Even if Putin doesn’t intend to invade NATO nations, a few miscalculations could start a chain reaction. It is scary. Will China seize the moment to invade Taiwan? China has been tightening its grip on its own people, squeezing and marginalizing Christians with harsher restrictions over and over again. In China, they are approaching one surveillance camera for every two people in the nation!
Gas prices are expected to hit $5 per gallon here in the U.S. Inflation is running rampant. If you feel the anxiety of our times, you are not alone.
Of course some people simply ignore world news; they think everything will work out fine. We hope they are right, but we must ask this question: “Is it possible to be pessimistic about what is happening in the world and filled with faith at the same time?”
The answer, I believe, is “absolutely.” Faith should never be confused with positive thinking, which can often be a denial of reality. Faith is not afraid to think realistically. At the same time, faith reminds us that no one but God knows the future. And Christian faith is pessimistically optimistic: things will get worse as we approach the end (pessimism), but that means the Lord’s return is nearing (optimism).
We do not know that we are on the verge of the Tribulation, as some might claim. During my entire adulthood, I have known people who insisted that the Antichrist was here and ready to take power in a matter of months. Hasn’t happened yet. Eventually, however, someone is finally going to be right about this.
But even if the Lord doesn’t return for a century, we wonder how we can live in peace, freedom, and prosperity. More nations have atomic weaponry (North Korea, Iran), we have some leaders in power who are crazed with power, and the combined power of China and Russia is more than America could handle. And they know it.
Below the surface, however, there is another divide. The free world, I would argue, has become too free. This is seen in the rejection of traditional marriage (both by same-sex marriage and opposite sex cohabitation) and the promotion of unnatural sexual behavior and so-called sexual fluency. The free world is morally sick in another way, and we are socially engineering our young people toward unnatural experimenting and becoming an amoral people. And a mentally unhealthy one.
Ironically, the totalitarian nations reject many sexual perversions (rightfully so), while, at the same time, oppressing, controlling, and misleading their people. The bad guys are not bad about everything and the good guys are not good about everything. It is muddy.
What is the response we, as believers need to make?
Most of us know the answer to that question. It is to focus on the eternal, our relationship with God Who is our Rock. We must realize that this world is not our home, that we are just passing through, and that our treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue.* It is in the Word of God, in prayer, in fellowship (and church family life), and in service that we invest in things that cannot decay, crash, or be oppressed.
During the Lock down, I was so hoping that Christians would learn the importance of simplicity. Consumer Christianity has been the norm for longer than many realize. The kingdom of God is not about baristas or going to a church with people who have the same careers, hobbies, and interests as you. The Lock down was an opportunity for believers to re-calibrate what mattered most in a church: teaching the Word, prayer, simple praise, looking forward to our heavenly home, and the craving to be with God’s people. But — after the lock down — those lessons were soon forgotten. Now it is once again all about this life and having “our needs met.”
We may have harsher lessons on the horizon: I hope we do not, and I do not claim to know the future. If we do, however, here is my advice: spend more time in the Word, more time in prayer, more time loving and serving others. Christians do a better job of banding together when life’s hardships drive them to focus on what really matters, what doesn’t change, what cannot be taken away. I am sure right now the people in Ukraine do not care if their church offers a tennis club.
God is our only Rock. It makes sense to build our lives upon Him.
* From “This World is Not My Home” by Jim Reeves:
This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through
My treasures are laid up Somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me From heaven’s open door
And I can’t feel at home In this world anymore.
Ed Vasicek was raised as a Roman Catholic in Cicero, Illinois. During his senior year in high school (1974), Cicero Bible Church reached out to him, and he received Jesus Christ as his Savior by faith alone. Ed earned his BA at Moody Bible Institute. He has served as pastor of Highland Park Church since 1983. Ed and his wife, Marylu, have two adult children. Ed has written many weekly columns for the opinion page of the Kokomo Tribune, published articles in Pulpit Helps magazine, and posted many papers at his church website. Ed has also published the The Midrash Key and The Amazing Doctrines of Paul As Midrash: The Jewish Roots and Old Testament Sources for Paul’s Teachings.