A TIME OF TRANSITION
There is a delightful story about a rookie umpire who stood behind the plate of his first game. Legendary fastball pitcher Nolan Ryan was on the mound. The second pitch of the game was so fast that the umpire didn’t know where it was until he heard the “Pop!” of the catcher’s mitt. He froze. Finally he uttered a faint call: “Strike.”
The batter stepped out of the box, went over to the umpire, and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t feel bad, sir,” said the batter. “I didn’t see it either.”
Author Jeren Rowell, commenting on this story, remarks, “Sometimes I feel like that rookie umpire when I try to keep up with the changes happening in our world. Things are changing at fastball speed.”
Things are changing at fastball speed, aren’t they? It has been said that we live in a time of transition. Sometime back a list appeared of what the United States was like 100 years ago. Here are some facts I thought you might find interesting.
The average life expectancy in the US 100 years ago was 47. Only 14% of the homes in the US had a bathtub. Only 8% of the homes had a telephone. There were only 8000 cars in the whole United States 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 $.22 an hour. 90% of all US physicians had no college education. Instead, they attended medical schools, many of which were condemned in the press and by the government as “substandard.”
Most women only washed their hair once a month and used borax or egg yolks for shampoo. The three leading causes of death in the US were: 1. Pneumonia and influenza, 2. Tuberculosis and 3. Diarrhea. The population of Las Vegas, Nevada was 30. Only 6% of all Americans had graduated from high school. And my favorite statistic: there were only about 230 reported murders in the entire United States.
100 years ago. Just think what it will be like in another 100 years. It boggles the mind.
Our lesson from Joshua describes a time of transition in the life of Israel. Leadership has been passed from Moses to Joshua. The children of Israel have wandered in the wilderness for 40 years. During this time God has provided for them quite miraculously with water and manna. Now the Israelites have entered the Promised Land and are beginning to take possession of it. Then we come to this important verse, Joshua 5:12. “The manna ceased on the day they ate the produce of the land, and the Israelites no longer had manna; they ate the crops of the land of Canaan that year.”
This was a time of transition. No longer would they gather manna fresh every morning, provided by the hand of God; they would plant crops and bring in the harvest. No longer would they be nomads in the wilderness; now they would be farmers, homesteaders, city builders and city dwellers. It was a difficult time. A challenging time. It was a transition that took many generations to accomplish.
Times of transition are always difficult, aren’t they? Richard Foster in his book, Innovation, tells about watching the wonderful old musical Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelly, Debbie Reynolds, and Donald O’Connor. Suddenly he realized that it was all about the difficulty of change.
The plot focuses on two silent movie stars whose careers are threatened by a new technology–“talkies.” Their friends tell them that moving pictures with sound will never sell, but soon all the Hollywood studios are trying to produce them. These two stars try, too, but fail miserably. For one thing, the microphones pinned to their clothes make loud noises every time they move. But that’s because the technology of talkies is still being worked out. They circumvent this difficulty, but then run into a really big problem: the glamorous female star has a high, squeaky voice. Audiences will laugh at her. So what do they do? They get Debbie Reynolds to record her lines and sing for her. A wonderful hybrid product and it works. At least for one movie. Then people find out it’s really Debbie, who is just as pretty, and she becomes the star. The career of the beautiful blonde with a squeaky voice is over.
What happened in the movie, of course happened in real life. Many silent screen stars faded when talkies appeared.
Some of you have seen changes in your work life comparable to that which those silent film stars experienced. Many workers have been displaced by the changes in today’s workplace. Many others have been extensively retrained.
A recent estimate by an executive at Gen. Motors is that GM employees need complete retraining every four years. The message in business today is you better get with the program. If you are not willing to acquire new skills, you will be left behind.
Hans Finzel, in his book, Change is Like a Slinky, puts it like this: “The future belongs to those who can adapt rapidly. You’ve heard it before: the information explosion has simply resulted in too much data coming too fast for folks with slow reaction times. Today that week day edition of The New York Times lying on the sidewalk contains more data than the average 17th-century human digested in a whole lifetime.”
Finzel continues, “Don’t laugh, my friend. Because the same amount of change projected ahead into our future won’t take 400 years. It’ll take 25. Which means by the time your son or daughter picks up your dog-eared copy of this book 25 years from now, he or she will have the same vantage point you have right now over that hapless inhabitant of the 1600s.”
Scary, isn’t it? Business consultant, Andrew Peters suggests that each one of us is an R.D.A. what is an R.D.A? These letters stand for a “Rapidly Depreciating Asset.” How about that for a worrisome designation–you and I are a Rapidly Depreciating Asset? In business terms, if we don’t grow and change and learn new things, then our skills will soon become obsolete, says Peters. He suggests that we counter our status as R.D.A.’s by developing an R.I.P. No, that’s not Rest in Peace. If you rest in peace today, you die. No, Peters’ R.I.P. stands for “Renewal Investment Plan,” a well-defined plan for learning new things and facing new changes. He suggests we ask ourselves each week, “What new thing have I learned this week?” Look for new projects to do, new people to meet, new classes to take, new books to read, new places to go. Every time you learn something new, you add to your renewal investment plan.
This is all to say that change happens! Today it happens fast. Work, family life, how we think about retirement, how we think about the future. This is a time of transition. Such times are difficult.
For some people change can be particularly difficult. Often as we age, we begin to fear change. A time of change is particularly difficult for those of us over, say, 40. Have you noticed that? Young people have grown up in a world of change. Need someone to program your computer? Get somebody under 25. Many senior citizens are into technology, but the older we get, the more difficult it becomes. There comes a time in life when we have a tendency to become set in our ways.
The story is told of an elderly woman living in a remote valley in Wales who went to a lot of trouble to have electricity installed in her home. Because she was the only customer in the area, installation was very expensive. Three months later, according to her electric bill, she had consumed practically no electricity at all. When asked whether the cost of installation was worthwhile she said, “Oh, yes!” “I switch the electricity on every night to see how to light my lamps. Then I switch it off.”
Can you imagine that? With unlimited light and power at her disposal she continued the weary grind of filling and lighting her oil lamps.
This woman feared change. But you don’t have to be in the later years of life to fear change. Change disrupts society, it disrupts familiar ways of doing things.
Dr. Mary Pipher tells a story she first heard in her undergraduate days in anthropology. Missionaries who settled near a tribal culture gave the native women metal knives. Prior to this the men had made knives from stone and this had been an important source of their power and wisdom. But these new knives in the hands of the women were far superior. This upset the gender balance of the villagers, and ultimately the society was disrupted. Men’s rituals were rendered meaningless and the women’s place, while elevated, changed in ways that unsettled relationships with their families. Unwittingly, the missionaries had overturned the culture. If that can happen with a few metal knives, what about a culture in which we are all bombarded with hundreds of new “tools” every decade?
A time of rapid change can disrupt our lives, disrupt our families, disrupt our society.
At such times we may look for something solid we can hold onto. And, of course, that is one of the reasons many of us are in this sanctuary today. We want to know that we can still depend on God.
In the wilderness, Israel was dependent on God for manna and for water, and God was faithful in providing for their needs. Now they would be planting crops and herding sheep. But they still depended on God. God’s provision just wasn’t as apparent as it had been.
You and I are even farther removed from experiencing firsthand God’s daily providence, since most of us don’t even plant our own crops. Ask any farmer dependant on the weather if he or she depends on God. City dwellers may not be as aware as their country cousins of their need for God. As we become a more urban culture, the direct connection of creature and Creator may seem even more remote.
Thus the Good News for today: God is still with us, just as surely as God was with the children of Israel 3000 years ago. In this world of rapid and sometimes frightening change, one thing does not change, God still loves and watches over God’s people.
Maybe you are familiar with a rock formation known as the Old Man of the Mountain in New Hampshire. The Old Man of the Mountain was, until recently, a 40 foot tall natural outcropping of granite ledges in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which looked like the profile of an old man.
200 years ago Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote a famous story about it: “The Great Stone Face,” which some of you may have read in school. The image of the Old Man of the Mountain was on New Hampshire license plates and quarters and about 1 million souvenirs; it was the official state emblem.
Sometime on May 1st or 2nd, 2003, in a heavy fog, the 700 ton face of the Old Man of the Mountain fell. It broke apart and slid down the mountain in the dark.
Stephen Heath, one of the residents of nearby Franconia Notch, said, “It’s something that has been a part of our lives forever. At first it was disbelief. No one could believe he came down. It’s like a member of your family dying.”
Another nearby resident, Jane O’Connor said, “I grew up thinking that someone was watching over me. I feel a little less watched over now.”
Another man said, “I’m absolutely devastated by this. It makes you wonder if God is unhappy with what’s going on.”
Pastor Lee Eclov of Vernon Hills, Illinois writes, “There are times when it seems the most dependable, reliable presence in your life disappears into the fog in the middle of the night. The next morning, that “mountain” you’ve depended on is gone, and it “makes you wonder if God is unhappy.” But the Bible teaches again and again there is only one Rock that will never crumble: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Someone has noted that the Bible contains more than 7000 promises to cover almost any situation you and I are apt to encounter. One of my favorites is this one: “My God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 4:19).
This is a time of transition, a time of rapid change. At times like this, you want something solid to hold onto. The same God who supplied water and manna to a nation of runaway slaves 3000 years ago is the same God who is with you and me today. God will supply our needs as surely as God supplied their needs. Rest on this: “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.” Amen.