“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 desert and streams in the wasteland.” --Isaiah 43:19
It is easy for people to get stuck in the past. One of the problems the Israelites had was that they did not know how to grieve well. They kept looking back to a golden age when they came out of Egypt and entered the Promised Land. And when things began to break down in Israel and in Judah, they kept looking back instead of dealing with God in the present. Rather than lamenting their losses, they just wished things were different. When any church or any believer refuses to do the biblical work of grieving a significant loss or change, then the ghosts of the past roam everywhere.
No one can effectively move on into the future unless they confront the stark reality that things have changed and can never be the same again.
They can, in fact, be even better, but that will not happen apart from doing the hard work of identifying our denial of the way things presently are, dealing with our anger, stopping the bargaining with God, defeating the depression, and coming out the other end accepting the new reality. The Israelites were in exile. It was not their new normal. It was their present station of history. God was ready to take them back to Jerusalem, but they were stuck in depression. Jerusalem would never be the same city again, and they had to resolve to accept it. But acceptance is not cheap; it takes a difficult journey to get to that point.
The healthy way to view the past is to see ancient miracles like the exodus be re-enacted in fresh ways for the present.
When churches and Christians no longer experience God in creative, new, and fresh ways in the present, they are limited by their memories of what God once did back there in the past. If we keep talking about the same things in the same ways, telling the same stories, we portray a God to others who is not present to us in the here and now. It is time we talk about the God we know today. If we only live off past experiences with God, we will be unable to connect with God today. We need to tell present-tense stories of God. When God is sealed in the past he becomes just an interesting person to be theologically studied and learned about, like any character from history. But today God is alive! Now, in the present, God wants to do a new thing!
God is most definitely changeless is his character and attributes. But that does not mean God is not into change and doing new things. In fact, God’s work is to effect transformation in the lives of people who need redemption and new life.
What kind of picture about God are we painting for people?
That God is boring, lifeless, careless, or uninteresting? The proof that something is alive is that it grows, develops, changes, and matures. The new plants in our gardens and fields are undergoing astonishing growth and development. What they are like now is quite different than what they will look like in August and even different than October.
To simply state the matter: new, different, creative, exciting things need to happen in the church today in the present. As long as those things do not happen in the church, people will believe that God is dead or just does not care, that is, if he exists at all. Because God is alive and works in the present, Christ’s church is to be alive with spiritual momentum, biblical drive, and Christian proactive love.
If we are continually underwhelmed by church, we will not be overwhelmed by God.
When we look at Jesus, we get a picture of God. We see a Savior who walks on water, raises the dead, and amazes the crowds. Christ’s unpredictability led many to have a new and more accurate picture of God. Jesus came to reveal who God is, to give us a good picture of him (John 14:8-14).
Through his life on earth, Jesus revealed to us a God who is compelling, powerful, relevant, passionate, unpredictable, exciting, personal and present to his people right now this very day by means of the Holy Spirit. The church everywhere has been given the assignment to reveal God to the world. So, whenever the church seems boring, irrelevant, powerless, lifeless, and stuck in the past, people conclude that God is all those things. When the church becomes like a stagnant pond it portrays the wrong image of God to the world. What the world needs, and we believers must have, are churches that allow the awesome God who is gracious and powerful to stand out and be present to us all.
To be present to God is to be alive to the possibilities that God’s Spirit wants to effect in the present.
May it be so, to the glory of Jesus our present and eternal King.