“Do not remember the past events,
pay no attention to things of old.
Look, I am about to do something new;
even now it is coming. Do you not see it?
Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert.”
(Isaiah 43:18-19, HCSB)
I don’t give up easily, not on people or on dreams. However, there comes a time to let go. Now, it seems, it is time.
Time to let go of old people. I love them, all of them. Some are like my own kids, but the time to let go of them is long past. They have moved on, and so must I. It is sad to think about what could have been, but those are the dreams I must now let go of. My dreams have been based upon God’s promises, but I have yet to realize what I visualized, or, at least, with whom I had assumed those dreams would be fulfilled. C’est la vie!
Yesterday was eye opening to me. Our church ostensibly celebrated Refuge Day, my name for our version of Founders Day. I had thought we’d reconnect with our past as a way of reviving vision for the future. Our Associate Pastor did a great job of teaching about the biblical basis for our church’s original name, City of Refuge. The idea of being a refuge for those who are being judged and pursued by guilt remains a mandate for us. However, as I looked around I was struck by the reality that this is a different church than it was.
A church is a community of people whom Jesus Christ has saved and called out from the world to worship God in Spirit and Truth. As such, the particular community of people who assemble regularly to worship are the church, whether in keeping with or in spite of their official identity. A church may be institutionally affiliated with a particular denomination, but the people who meet together define what that means to each other and all who have contact with them, regardless of what they may call themselves, sometimes regardless of what they believe themselves to be.
The way a particular community believes and behaves is the de facto determiner of who they are. We could call this the community culture. Culture is the expression of a group’s values. For example, there are many churches and organizations who use the biblical name “Zion.” Our church was one of these. We called ourselves Zion for almost eleven years. It became increasingly obvious that the name is so widely used that it inspired confusion in some people. Our intent in calling ourselves by that name was to connect to God’s wonderful promises for his people. However, there are cult-like groups that use the name in an attempt to prove that they are God’s chosen people, either exclusively or above other groups. Well, we weren’t trying to say that, so we changed our name to Lifewell Church.
The point is, what we call ourselves is secondary to who we are as defined by our beliefs and the behavior that results from them. If a church is called, say “Friendship,” or “Grace,” but the people are known to be unfriendly or judgmental, then the church’s name is ironic instead of emblematic.
Our church was established as “City of Refuge,” and the founding verse was from Matthew 9:12-13: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. But go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Desperately I want that to be what we are all about, but I cannot do it alone. We do attract those who have a variety of needs, spiritual, emotional, social. We try to meet those needs. However, I believe some who get to the place where they are well enough to meet the needs of new people who come simply grow tired of doing so and move on. Or they grow impatient with our perpetual lack of growth. Or they get mad at the preacher. Familiarity breeds contempt, and some leave due to disrespect. Some leave because those with whom they are friends have left. Did I mention I cannot do this alone?
There are some incredible servants at our church who minister and make it all work. These give sacrificially of their time and resources, never complain (well, at least, not openly!), and are a real example of Jesus to others. But they need a break sometimes. They could use some more support. It is difficult to do all of this when it seems that there aren’t many others interested in helping. The world is full of takers. There are few givers. Those who choose to live a life inspired by the Spirit of Christ need to stand together, or we’ll fall apart.
We have a core group that stands together. They have been together for a long time and have stuck together through tough times. And yet, I miss some of my old friends and the good times we had when this church started. My conclusion after yesterday is this. Even if everyone came back, it wouldn’t be the same. We’re different now. The only person who doesn’t change is God. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
That’s why you cannot keep looking behind you. Hope is not found in the past. Hope is in a future defined by God’s promises. You can look back to gain perspective, to learn, and to remember what God has said and evaluate whether you’re living according to that calling. But once you’ve gained your bearings, move on. “Forget the former things. See, I am doing a new thing. Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19, NIV).
So, I’m letting go. I love everyone. I’ll be here for anyone. But the past, sweet or bitter, will not return.
The one I am holding onto is Jesus Christ, along with his promises to me. I am seeking to recall and review and to have hope restored in those promises. The promises, the truth, the Gospel: these are unchanging because they are the Word of the immutable God. “Heaven and earth will pass away but my Word will never pass away.”
Bring the new thing, Jesus; bring it soon. I grow weary of waiting. Nonetheless, I will wait for You.