“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV).
The prophet Isaiah had to deliver many messages from God to the disobedient, rebellious Israelites that were unpleasant. God told them, in no uncertain terms, that without repentance, they would be conquered and taken into captivity by the cruel Babylonians. However, Isaiah was also able to deliver God’s promises of restoration. The above two verses are a part of that expression of divine hope. Even though their immediate application was designed for the Israelites to experience, the message still applies to His Church in many ways.
Even though we do not need to forget the former things completely – remember that God never wants us to forget what He has done for His people in the past – we should be looking ahead to the new thing that God is doing. And what God is doing at Rochester First Baptist Church is preparing His congregation for a new era of ministry as the pastoral search process unfolds and reaches fruition. At the same time, He is preparing a pastor who is, or will be, seeking a new calling in ministry to be led to First Baptist. God will unite the right pastor with the right church at the right time.
In the meantime, the fellowship at First Baptist is to be actively intentional in our part of the process. Yes, it is the will of God that will be fulfilled when church and pastor are brought together, but we must be willing to diligently humble ourselves before Him as the human part of the process unfolds. Lift up the Pulpit Committee regularly in prayer for endurance, wisdom, and patience. Pray for congregational endurance, wisdom, and patience. When the time comes, pray diligently for the pastoral candidate that the Pulpit Committee introduces to the church fellowship.
Additionally, actively participate by providing the information and the guidance that the Pulpit Committee needs in order to perform their important task. Respond to surveys and other means of communication as they develop an accurate profile and description of the ministry goals of First Baptist. Recognize that throughout the pastoral search process, and especially after the new pastor is called and installed, part of the new thing that God is doing is to renew some of the current ministries, eliminate or transform some of the current ministries, and begin completely new ministries. No matter how it shapes up, it requires our active participation and support in accordance with the call of God upon each of our lives.
It took Israel 70 years in captivity for God’s message to sink in. I don’t think that our pastoral search process will be quite that drastic, but we do need to take it just as seriously. And, we need to minister in prayerful patience. “See, I am doing a new thing!”
I am a big fan of American colonial history. In particular, I have read a lot about the Revolutionary War and have gotten to visit a few of the historical sites, including Yorktown, Virginia, which was the site of an event that had been unimaginable to just about everyone six years earlier. Throughout those long, tortuous, and uncertain years of war, a rag-tag band of American rebels took on the best military and naval forces the world had to offer. Yet, with the assistance of a French naval blockade, the bulk of the British forces in America was besieged in Yorktown. Without the ability to be reinforced or resupplied, British General Cornwallis surrendered his forces to Generals Washington and Rochambeau on October 19, 1781. The greatest empire of the world had been defeated by her own colonies in America – colonies that struggled to take on such a feat. On that day in Yorktown, the British saw their world turn around so radically that as they laid their weapons down and marched out to surrender, they played a tune entitled “The World Turned Upside Down.”
Even though that was an appropriate recognition for what was happening their world, the world had been turned upside down long before then. It happened when God sent His own son to live with us, to teach us, and to redeem us. The birth of America was certainly fantastic and strewn with many miraculous events, but the birth of Immanuel, God-with-us was infinitely more amazing. Because of the life and purpose of Christ, the world has truly been turned upside down.
“Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, ‘Who do the crowds say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘God’s Messiah’” (Luke 9:18-20, NIV). When Peter answered the question put to him by Jesus, he fired a “shot heard ’round the world” without even knowing what a rifle was. His answer reveals to us that Jesus was God’s Messiah. He was not the Messiah of the political structures. He was not the Messiah dedicated to the fulfillment of a national purpose. He was not the Messiah of those who dominated the religious structures of Israel. He was the Messiah sent from the true God as a sacrificial gift for our redemption from sin and death. And because of that, He still is the eternal Messiah who redeems.
I think that it’s a glorious thing to be able to celebrate the birth of our nation. It’s a more glorious thing, though, to be able to celebrate our new birth in Christ. When we are able to give the answer Peter gave, “[You are] God’s Messiah.” and believe in Jesus as our Savior, then we can celebrate the birth of a new, eternal person. And that is really more important than even the birth of a new nation. It is the only way to experience the world turned upside down.
Have a Glorious Fourth!
What a beautiful day I was blessed with on Sunday. The opportunity to celebrate the day with my personal family, and my church family, and to receive the generous gifts was indeed special. So I say thank you to those who gave me a card, or a gift. Thank you to those who help prepare the meal, and those who set up and decorated. Thank you to those who came to worship and hear an On Beyond Zebra sermon. Thank you, to all of you who shared this day with me.
Also thank you for 27 years of serving, and doing a job that I have loved. There have been lots of changes since I came to Rochester with my wife and 3 young children. The stores and the restaurants are different. We didn’t use cell phones when I arrived. My computer was not state of the art, but none really were. Internet. On-line shopping. The preschool teachers have changed. The church leaders are younger now, and many of those who led when I came to town are enjoying heavenly blessings.
On Sunday during the dinner, I think many assumed that lots of people would get up and share stories. But, I think most of us were a little bit afraid of tears, and some sad feelings. Some things are just hard to do. Still, I believe when people are close in friendships and relationships, we often don’t need to “say it.” Those who know us well, already know how we feel. I believe we have all enjoyed some special bonds of love and experiences. I have been blessed to share in your weddings, and your graduations. Our children have grown up together. We have shared in the heartaches of lost loved ones. We have “grown older” together, and have marveled at God’s great grace.
The loss of a loved one is one of life’s toughest experiences. To say good-bye to an old friend can touch our hearts. So if we find ourselves going through some feelings of grief and loss– we’re just being normal. I still believe that “God is our refuge and strength. An ever-present help in trouble.” (Ps 46). So as we go through life’s changes we need to continually turn to our source of help and strength. It’s ok to cry some, and to feel some sadness. I know I will. However, sometimes we see God best when we are at those times of weakness. I am amazed at how the Lord moved and brought us here. I am astounded at His provision, and His many blessings. Jesus’ friends grieved His death until He rose again onSunday morning.
If He has done so much for us, I am confident that He is not finished yet. He has more to in mind for you and me. As I shared last Sunday, “in the places I go there are things that I see, that I never could spell if I stopped with the Z.” (Dr. Seuss)
So we are about to go “on beyond.” The God who has been with us will continue to be here. The One who died for us, also rose again to show us that there is life, and hope, and much more to come. So it’s ok to share times of grief. But, don’t forget what is still to come– God’s great plans.
The ladies sang one of my favorite songs last Sunday. “Give me Jesus,” was sung at my ordination service on May 28, 1978.
How fitting that it be sung again. But, the message is one I hope you and I will keep holding on to. We need Jesus. We need His salvation. We need His presence, and His forgiveness. We need the hope that only He can give. We have been a “Church with a Heart for Jesus.” So, may we continue the same way. He is Lord. He is good.
Blessings. I will be back to worship with you again.