I petted our dog Percy’s head for a few minutes, gave him what would become my final blessing to him – and left for a few moments to go to the store. While there I received a tearful call from Cheryl: Percy had just passed away. Minutes later I was back home, and we were preparing for his burial in the woods behind our house. I don’t want to offend the sensibilities of my readers, but quite frankly I was surprised at how stiff Percy’s body had become already – just a few short minutes after his death. That stiffness – “rigor mortis” is the term for it; it is Latin for “the stiffness of death” — is a sure sign of one’s demise.
Later that evening, I thought some more about that “stiffness of death.” Elasticity, flexibility, growth – these are signs of life. When something is alive, it bends, grows, changes. When there is total stiffness, inflexibility, there is no life; it is a sign of death.
This is true mentally and spiritually as well as physically. When a person is SO rigid and inflexible that they have ceased in their ability to grow, there are in a very real sense dead – or at least dying – in that area of their life.
This is good reminder – especially for those of us who are creatures of habit – that we must make continual efforts to grow:
— We must continue to grow in our personal knowledge of God. We will never exhaust the knowledge of Him, so we must continually grow in it. No, we must not invent “new” things about Him, and spawn heresies – but none of us can lay claim to having exhausted orthodoxy regarding Him! Indeed, we will spend eternity savoring the glories of God!
— We must also be open to change in some areas of our existence together corporately in the church. We must not amend the gospel itself – indeed we are accursed if we do. But on the other hand, an inflexibility towards change of any kind in our churches, in a rapidly changing world, is surely a sign of death. And indeed we see that is exactly the case for many churches. You can almost watch the “rigor mortis” setting in. They are not going to change ANYTHING! Now I understand that there is a careful balance to keep here: our world is becoming SO antithetical to the gospel that there are churches which are compromising what should NOT be compromised; we must not succumb to that. But on the other hand, those of us in church leadership can learn some things from the McDonalds and Wendy’s of the corporate world, whose facilities and menus are constantly being upgraded and remodeled. Their basic mission does not change – and ours in the church must not, especially our message. But our forms and processes and facilities can change to more effectively reach and minister to a changing world. Churches which do not adapt at all will die a slow death. In fact they may be dead already. The “rigor mortis” is a giveaway sign!
— There are also countless applications here for our personal lives. We must adapt to change; we must keep growing personally, in our intellect and practices and skills. I remember years ago hearing a pastor say that he could tell the year that a fellow minister “died” spiritually, by looking at his bookshelf and determining when he had stopped buying and reading new books! That thought has always haunted me — and kept me reading! The old expression rings true: “if you are not growing, you are dying.” That means we need to make sure we don’t get “stuck in a rut”. Keep reading; be open to the new technologies available in our ever-changing world. I have been shocked by how many different countries from all over the world are represented in the daily “hits” on my blog. That is something I would have never anticipated just a few years ago – but it is a door for ministry that has opened as I have – very hesitantly I will admit – been open to this “new” technology of blogging.
I have adapted in some ways, but in others … well, I am afraid that what I watched happen to poor Percy last Saturday was too much like what I see in myself for my own comfort. It was an eye-opener, though. Becoming too habitual and rigid and unchanging, in many areas of life, is a giveaway sign of “the stiffness of death.”