From Pastor Don
I suppose there are those who rarely pause to reflect on events behind them. Ageless wisdom encourages us to put what is past out of our minds and relentlessly look to the future. Life has a way, however, of drawing us back to days before, and whether it be happy memories or difficult realities, the previous events that unfolded powerfully shape our todays, and colour our outlook on tomorrow. Managing the emotions that spring from this is a difficult yet critical task. Those who successfully process such things are able to honestly celebrate the wins, grieve the losses and marshal fresh faith for what lies ahead. But, the one unable to keep their eye on both the rear view mirror and the windshield are at a real disadvantage.
This analogy graphically expresses my vantage point at the close of the 2015/16 church year. The recent events in my life, both professionally and personally, are such poignant and powerful memories, that I struggle to rightly process the road ahead. Perhaps it would be better stated that it is not that the future looks unclear or the path unknown, but that any course of action and every direction seems overwhelming and somewhat foreboding.
What I do know is this. Forward is the only way to go. As our family struggled to face the fear and weariness of our life with cancer, and the panic and disappointment that came with the earthly loss of our precious Lindsay, we understand that those events can never be allowed to destroy our tomorrows. Our trust in the reality and presence of a loving God, and our confidence that the sun will shine again give us hope in even the darkest days of grief. It is God’s will, our cry, and certainly Lindsay’s desire that we will smile again. Already we have witnessed the unmistakable fingerprints of God in the details behind us, so how could we doubt that He will graciously enable us to press on in faith. Already we are seeing aspects of our lives that must become better and clearer if we are to see forward through the lens of the past, and we are determining to love and value people and the present like never before. Already we are coming to grips with the fact that, though the past will be never be gone, it is our assignment to inhabit a “new normal”. In spite of our anxiety or reluctance to look ahead, forward is the only way to go.
God’s people have always had to contend with this reality. Old Testament, New Testament, or “now testament”, there have always been more failures, fears and fruitlessness in the past than anyone would care to admit. Abraham, Moses, David, Job, Peter, Paul or any other of the chosen people you care to consider always had good reason to fear the future because of the pain in their past. The one constant…the only place to stand…the cornerstone indeed, is the character of an unchanging and eternal God.
Seeing yourself rightly in His grand meta-narrative is essential if you want to maintain your equilibrium in a world of pain and perplexity. God’s promise to take us in a triumphant procession that leads from “strength to strength” may seem counterintuitive when we’re confronted with the grief, failure or losses of yesterday, but never underestimate the amazing One who promised that in our weakness He is strongest. Like Elisha said to his assistant in 2 Kings 6, “Open our eyes Lord, that we may see there are more with us than against us.” Our shaky wonderings must be placed in the hands of the One who promised, and is well capable to “make all things beautiful in His time”. You read that right…in His time.
God help me to embody this belief. Help me to trust You when I feel impotent in the face of the giants in my life. Grant me the faith to enable my past to leverage my future, but not define it. Let me drop anchor in the safe harbour of the One who encourages me to look not at the things that are seen but the things unseen. For what is seen is simply temporary, but the amazing realities of eternity are glimpsed in the things that are unseen.
Stepping into a “new normal” is not just a job for the one who grieves or struggles to move beyond the past. It is the God given assignment for every individual and every faith community who dares follow our King into the great unknown. Like the two faith filled spies of Numbers 13, we honour God by our confidence in Him. Indeed, this singular fact may separate Christians and churches that prevail from those mired in the borderland between the past and the future. Forward is the only way to go. The question “How?” might be appropriate at times, but rarely is the question “When?” and never the question “If?”
Only this trust-dependent willingness to move forward can mitigate the losses of the past. God calls us to press on toward what is ahead… toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus. Obviously, this is an act of faith. It is trust, embedded in the belief that, though we may not be able to make sense of the things that have happened in the past, and though we may carry paralyzing wounds, baggage and inadequacies, we are prepared to move boldly into the future.
It is my earnest desire to do this myself, and it is my heartfelt prayer that our local church would do this too. Like most churches these days, it would be easy for Sussex Wesleyan to think that its greatest days are in the past. With an attendance of about one half of what it was 15 years ago, and many people who in former days were active supporters now spread out through other churches and charities in the area, or maybe even attending nowhere, it is natural to feel this way. Many an individual, family or church facing hard times asks the question “How did we get here?
Admittedly, moving forward is not easy. Fifteen years has brought an alarming shift in the attitude of Canadians toward faith, and the vast majority of our population expresses no interest in religion and knows no more about Christianity than we know about Hinduism. The average New Brunswick man on the street has less interest in what’s going on inside a church than he does in going out for sushi. Added to this is an uncomfortably close-to-home statistic that says that almost all churches that survive for fifty years move into a rapid period of decline that results in their death and closure.
What should all of this “good news” mean to us? It means that we are in a fight for our future as a local church. It means that if we are to meaningfully serve our community and remind people of their need of God’s presence in their lives we must re-examine our model. It means that business as usual will not suffice. It means that expecting better results for doing what we have done in the past is akin to hoping that opening a new Dixie Lee Fried Chicken franchise will generate a lot of fresh excitement. It means that we must step decisively forward in ways that we haven’t before, and together create a “new normal”.
What will that look like you ask? I’m quite sure it will have to include new expressions of dedication, worship, giving, inviting, praying, creating, loving, serving, and attending. It will require both organizational and environmental change at the cellular level, and change that is pervasive throughout the organization and the church family. It will require change that is unselfish, revolutionary, difficult, uncomfortable, and inconvenient. It will mean that the church we have been is gone, and a new church has been birthed. It will entail creating new patterns and new memories. It will demand a “new normal”.
It is weird for me to be experiencing this. To be realizing that the massive loss that our family has experienced with the death of our beautiful daughter will require fighting our way forward to rebuild, restore and renew our lives, and, at the same point in time, be conscious that our church must do the same. What choice do we have really? Our survival is at stake, and more importantly, so are the purposes and plans of God in our lives. And it is this God that we trust and follow. He is the God who said: “See, I am doing a new thing! Even now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19. Oh how we need and want to experience this! Please Lord!
– Pastor Don
PS: I am not sure how I can ever adequately express my gratitude for the kindness, patience, love and confidence poured out upon our family during these last seven months. In so many ways, and in such a timely manner, God has held us securely in your hands and hearts. It has been humbling, and reassuring, and comforting and life giving. We have seen it time and time again in the kindness and steadfastness of our lay leaders, the loyalty and affection of our staff, the generosity and compassion of our church family, the heartfelt compassion and prayers of our friends, and the miraculous and unmistakable intervention of the Holy Spirit. What would we have done with out it? “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.” 1 John 3:1
Beginning June 12th
Pregnancy Care Centre Wee Ones Campaign
Please pick up a baby bottle after church this week and fill it with money or a cheque in support of the PCC.
Return Date: Father’s Day, June 19.
Sundays – Sunday Morning Service 10:00am
17 SCS Graduation Ceremony
19 Father’s Day & Grad Recognition Service
26 Canada Day Block Party
2 A Day Like No Other @ Beulah
3-10 Beulah Family Camp
17 Sunday BBQ after Service
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Sussex, NB E4E 1G6