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The Times They Are A Changin’

November 2016
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I was a child of ten when A.W. Tozeran American Christian pastor, preacher, author, magazine editor, and spiritual mentor, died in 1963 at the age of 66. And it was the very next year in 1964 that Bob Dylan, an American songwriter, singer, artist, and writer who has been influential in popular music and culture for more then five decades, composed his famous song, The Times They Are A Changin’”. Back then I was too young to know who either of them were, but decades later when I stumbled upon some of Tozer’s writings, I could see just how much the times have changed since his day. And, of course, Bob Dylan, born in 1941 and who is now 75, is a cultural icon who has just recently been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature (see article at this link.) And who doesn’t like a good Bob Dylan song where the message transcends the music?

And how the times have changed since then, too . . . .

Life is ever changing regardless of how we may perceive it to be on a daily basis. And we live in such a fast paced time with all of it’s technological wonders that it is all we can do to keep up with today, but the winds of change still blow. And there are some things that never change–like death, taxes, gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, the love of a good man or woman (my preference is for a man), and real friends who stick around when times are rough. But most things, over time, change.

I was reminded again this morning just how much things change when I read a devotional that I get in my email from BibleGateway.com by A.W. Tozer (1897-1963). However, the devotion is on a spiritual principle that never changes, even if it isn’t a topic that is addressed much anymore:

Irreconcilable Hostility

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.Ephesians 6:12

In the early days, when Christianity exercised a dominant influence over American thinking, men and women conceived the world to be a battleground. Our fathers believed in sin and the devil and hell as constituting one force, and they believed in God and righteousness and heaven as the other. By their very nature, these forces were opposed to each other forever in deep, grave, irreconcilable hostility. Humans, our fathers held, had to choose sides-they could not be neutral. For them it must be life or death, heaven or hell, and if they chose to come out on God’s side they could expect open war with God’s enemies. The fight would be real and deadly and would last as long as life continued here below. People looked forward to heaven as a return from the wars, a laying down of the sword to enjoy in peace the home prepared for them….

How different today. The fact remains the same, but the interpretation has changed completely. People think of the world, not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. We are not in a foreign land; we are at home. We are not getting ready to live, but we are already living, and the best we can do is rid ourselves of our inhibitions and our frustrations and live this life to the full. This World: Playground or Battleground?, 4-5. (Quote source here.) The rest of the chapter from which this devotion was taken can be read at this link.

Today the subjects of “sin and the devil and hell” are relegated to Halloween lore or scary movies, but in our day to day lives we mostly scoff at such topics. It’s shows just how much our culture has changed in the past fifty or so years from back when those topics were taken quite seriously. I suppose one might say we’ve been illuminated from such quackery. But have we really been illuminated?

As a child attending church, I remember singing hymns with titles like Onward Christian Soldier,” but most of today’s Christian music centers around emotions or feelings, and the idea of being a soldier in some sort of spiritual war has been totally lost to the younger generations. And, the wizardry of Harry Potter along with all the techie wonders is far more appealing. And nobody is telling them anything different, and maybe that’s because the parents don’t know anything different, either.

Back in 1979, even Bob Dylan knew there was a spiritual war going on, and he recorded an album titled Slow Train Coming,” which expressed his strong personal faith. Here’s a statement from Wikipedia regarding this album:

“Slow Train Coming” is the nineteenth studio album by American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, released on August 20, 1979 by Columbia Records. It was the artist’s first effort since becoming a born-again Christian, and all of the songs either express his strong personal faith, or stress the importance of Christian teachings and philosophy. The evangelical nature of the record alienated many of Dylan’s existing fans; at the same time, many Christians were drawn into his fan base. “Slow Train Coming” was listed at #16 in the 2001 book “CCM Presents: The 100 Greatest Albums in Christian Music.”

The album was generally well-reviewed in the secular press, and the single “Gotta Serve Somebody” became his first hit in three years, winning Dylan the Grammy for best rock vocal performance by a male in 1980. The album peaked at #2 on the charts in the UK and went platinum in the US, where it reached #3. (Quote source here.)

The spiritual war going on is clearly stated in the lyrics of the song, Gotta Serve Somebody” (YouTube video available at this link). Let’s take a look:

“Gotta Serve Somebody”

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Might be a rock’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
Might have money and drugs at your commands, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a state trooper, you might be an young turk
You may be the head of some big TV network
You may be rich or poor, you may be blind or lame
You may be living in another country under another name.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a construction worker working on a home
You may be living in a mansion, or you might live in a dome
You might own guns, and you might even own tanks
You might be somebody’s landlord, you might even own banks.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed.

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
It may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

You may call me Terry, you may call me Jimmy
You may call me Bobby, you may call me Zimmy
You may call me R.J., you may call me Ray
You may call me anything, but no matter what you say.

You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody,
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

(Lyrics compliments of AZLyrics.com)

stand-firmAnd that spiritual war hasn’t changed over the centuries, either. It still rages on today (see Ephesians 6:10-18). We just like to gloss over it or totally ignore it. And that’s a choice we all make on an individual basis every single day. So who are we going to serve today?

In a newly published book by Moody Publishers that includes twenty-four sections of Tozer writings titled, Culture” (2016), the publisher’s note at the beginning of the book states the following:

Like the men of Issachar, A.W. Tozer was a man who understood his time and who knew what to do. The twenty-four selections that follow are a small sampling of Tozer’s writings on what it means to be a Christian in a world that is largely uninterested in Christ.

He covers topics like truth, the meaning of the church, the veracity of Scripture, and how Christians should live in this world while maintaining their identities as citizens of another.

Tozer wrote with conviction and purpose. He held nothing back in his challenge to his fellow Christians on how to live as Christ did:

We who call ourselves Christians are supposed to be a people apart. We claim to have repudiated the wisdom of this world and adopted the wisdom of the cross as the guide of our lives. We have thrown in our lot with that One who while He lived on earth was the most unadjusted of the sons of men. He would not be integrated into society. He stood above it and condemned it by withdrawing from it even while dying for it. Die for it He would, but surrender to it He would not. (Excerpted from Chapter 7.)

While these are merely words of one servant of the Lord from many decades ago, they also represent timeless truths that ought to be heeded in our day. The context may change and the specific battles may vary, but the truth remains the same. (Quote source “Culture,” p. 7-8.)

The following comes from Section #18 titled, “Resisting the Enemy” (pp. 139-142):

Someday the Church can relax her guard, call her watchmen down from the wall, and live in safety and peace; but not yet, not yet.

All that is good in the world stands as a target for all that is evil and manages to stay alive only by constant watchfulness and the providential protection of the Almighty God. As a man or a nation may be in deepest trouble when unaware of any trouble at all and in the gravest danger when ignorant that any danger exists, so the church may be in greatest peril by not recognizing the presence of peril or the source from which it comes.

The church at Laodicea has stood for nineteen hundred years as a serious warning to the whole Church of Christ to be most watchful when no enemy is in sight and to remain poor in spirit when earthly wealth increases, yet we appear to have learned nothing from her. We expound the seven letters to the churches of Asia [Revelation 1-3] and then return to our own company to live like the Laodicean church. There is a bent to backsliding that is all but impossible to cure.

The healthiest man has enough lethal bacteria in him to kill him within twenty-four hours except for one thing— the amazing power of the human organism to resist bacterial attack. Every mortal body must fight its internal enemies day and night. Once it surrenders its hours are numbered. Quite literally it must fight or die. 

The reason for this is that the human race inhabits a fallen world which is in many ways hostile to it. Nature as well as man is fallen; and as sin is normal human powers gone astray, so disease results from microscopic creatures once meant to be useful to men but now out of hand and perverted. To live, the body must resist these invisible enemies successfully, and considering our high vulnerability and the number of our enemies it is wonderful that any of us manages to live beyond his childhood. 

The Church lives in a hostile world. Within and around her are enemies that not only could destroy her, but are meant to and will unless she resists force with yet greater force. The Christian would collapse from sheer external pressure were there not within him a counter pressure sufficiently great to prevent it. The power of the Holy Spirit is, therefore, not optional but necessary. Without it the children of God simply cannot live the life of heaven on earth. The hindrances are too many and too effective. 

A Church is a living organism and is subject to attack from such enemies as prey on living things. Yet the figure of the human body to stand for the church is not adequate, for the life of the body is non-intelligent, whereas the church is composed of moral beings having intelligence to recognize their enemies and a will to enable them to resist. The human body can fight its enemies even while it is asleep, but the church cannot. She must be awake and determined or she cannot win. 

One enemy we must resist is unbelief. The temptation is strong to reject what we cannot explain, or at least to withhold belief till we have investigated further. This attitude is proper, even commendable, for the scientist, but wholly wrong for the Christian. Here is the reason: 

The faith of the Christian rests down squarely upon the Man Christ Jesus who declares that He is both God and Lord. This claim must be received by pure faith or rejected outright; it can never be proved by investigation. That is why Christ’s appeal is directed to faith alone. The believer thinks, it is true; but he thinks because he believes, not in order that he may. Faith secures from the indwelling Spirit confirmation exquisitely perfect, but only after it is there without other support than Christ Himself. 

Another enemy is complacency “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.” The contented Christian is not in danger of attack, he has already been attacked. He is sick and does not know it. To escape this we must stir up the gift of God which is in us. We must declare war on contentment and press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. 

Again there is self-righteousness. The temptation to feel morally pleased with ourselves will be all the greater as our lives become better. The only sure defense against this is to cultivate a quiet state of continual penitence. A sweet but sobering memory of our past guilt and a knowledge of our present imperfections are not incompatible with the joy of the Lord; and they are of inestimable aid in resisting the enemy. 

The fear of man brings a snare, said the prophet, and this enemy, too, must be defeated. Our whole modern world is geared to destroy individual independence and bring all of us into conformity to all the rest of us. Any deviation from the pattern, whatever that pattern may be at the time, will not be forgiven by society, and since the Christian must deviate radically from the world he naturally comes in for the world’s displeasure. If he surrenders to fear he has been conquered, and he dare not let this happen. 

Other enemies may be identified, such as love of luxury, secret sympathy with the world, self-confidence, pride and unholy thoughts. These we must resist with every power within us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith. (Quote source “Culture,” pp. 139-142; originally published in “That Incredible Christian,” pp. 101-104.)

As Christians, the moment we let our guard down and fail to recognize that is exactly what we are doing, we have lost the battle. And somehow that message has been lost today, and it is to our detriment. As Tozer stated above, “There is a bent to backsliding that is all but impossible to cure.”

Tozer’s words can be hard to take, but sometimes that is exactly what we need. We cannot afford to just coast along. So let his words be a gentle reminder of who we are as Christians. And with those words, I will end this post with the benediction from 2 Thessalonians 3:16:

Now may the Lord of peace Himself . . .

Give you peace always in every way . . .

The Lord be with you all . . . .

YouTube Video: “The Times They Are A Changin'” (1964) composed by Bob Dylan and sung by Phil Collins:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

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