A word of encouragement 05.14.2020

There is a passage in Isaiah I love. It comes from Isaiah 43 and says the following:
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.
The wild animals honor me,
    the jackals and the owls,
because I provide water in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland,
to give drink to my people, my chosen,
  the people I formed for myself
    that they may proclaim my praise.

Sounds great doesn’t it? Drop the past and look toward the future.  But here’s the challenge: so much of what we do, and how we do it, so much of what we think, feel and expect comes out of what has been. For example, we may be heading into summer but think about Christmas. How much of what we do at Christmas is ‘tradition’? I mean, my kids are grown and finished with college, yet Mary Ann still insists on buying pajamas and underwear for them every year! (Yes, I have pointed they may be a little old for this and consistently get the “it’s a tradition and I like it” look). We LIKE tradition. We feel SAFE with tradition. We KNOW WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO DO in tradition. Now, to be fair, (and to make sure I don’t have to sleep in the car) I don’t think God is particularly concerned with a pajama-underwear tradition at Christmas. God’s not concerned with it because it isn’t hobbling our view of the future. That’s the real problem, limiting the goodness, power, creativity and ability of God by measuring the present by the past. 

Right now, with so many cancelations and postponements it is easy to be disappointed. Based on what we have done in the past, the present isn’t measuring up. We are missing events and people we love. We are missing our usual patterns. We’ve missed birthdays or weddings. We’ve been stymied in honoring a loved one’s life or retirement. Graduation isn’t happening the way it is ‘supposed’ to happen, even things as simple as enjoying our friends at our favorite restaurant is on hold. Add to that furloughs and pay cuts. The disappointment is real. The cancelations and changes feel like a loss. But remember, God says…I am doing something new…can you see it?
When we get twisted up in the old, when our expectations and patterns (dare I say habits) are based on what has been, allowing the new to emerge is difficult. We might even fight against it. And so, when you put this in the context of a global pandemic, it is hard to see the new things coming out of it as good and positive. Still, it is undeniable that God is doing a new thing, creating a divine reshuffling and reordering in the middle of this.    

I wonder if you’ve felt it or seen “perceived” God doing something new in your own life. Have you noticed God working on a spot in your life or your faith which feels lonely, lost, desolate or without hope? Is there a
“dry place”; an area of life which you stopped visiting long ago because you decided it was never going to change? Is it family or work? Is it the routine of the everyday? Where is it you stopped expecting, anticipating and hoping? And: have you felt God moving your heart back in that direction?

Maybe you have felt isolated and alone but now you’re more connected with your family than you have been in a long time. Grown kids are home or at least calling a lot more; closed relationships beginning to open; parents and little ones more able to share life with working from home and the close of school. It might not be easy and it may point out areas which need work but it is new and it is good. Or maybe your job has been boring or hard. Maybe you’re career had gotten very dry, your passion disappeared or and you were just going through the motions for the paycheck. But now, somehow, working from home has changed your perspective. What was annoying has now become life giving. What was boring has taken on new importance.  Or maybe your desolation was just doing the same things over and over; life without variation or change. But now we’ve been reminded of the value of grocery shopping, a visit to the neighbors, or a walk around the block. It’s like God is pouring out water on the dry areas of our existence and bringing them back to life.  Just as Isaiah said,  God is doing a new thing; water in the desert, restoration in desolation.  

Many years ago, Mary Ann and I went to visit a friend from seminary who was serving a tiny church in a tiny town on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, about two hours from Seattle. Having never been out there, we learned how on the west side of the Cascades things are green and wet but on the East side they are brown and dry. Tumbleweed dry. Still, every now and then, we’d drive past a bright green area, a place where water had been directed and out of which burst forth life.  

I know things are hard right now. I know we are all tired of this pandemic “game”. But I also know God is doing a new thing right now. He is bringing life-filled green into the desert brown of our lives and maybe even into the world. And for me, I just have to stop struggling to get back to the old. What was, was but it is over. What will be, will be and it is coming created and directed by our good God. Oh, I am praying for revival to come on us in heart, mind, spirit and action. I am praying for a greening up, not just of “our” church but of all the church.  I am praying isolation highlighted the healing rain of our families, jobs, friendships and everyday life. I pray we come back deeper, gentler and more grateful. I am praying, as we walk into the next season, that we hold onto the old less tightly than we did before and that we enter it with a renewed sense of awe and wonder. 

I can’t end without asking you to go back and read that Isaiah passage one more time, slowly. Do you see it?  The new thing God is doing has a purpose: to give drink to his people, his chosen ones. Isn’t it crazy how God never stops thinking about us or acting for us? But that is who God is. He is the one who says, I am doing something new and I’m doing it for your good. When you see that, or at least when I do, I am moved to prayer and praise. Sure, I sometimes grieve the loss of what was and I am disappointed at what will never be but when I filter those feelings in the light of having a God who is bringing the new for our good, I am overcome with thanks and peace. May it be the same for you.   

Blessings and peace to you all.
Pastor Don Feuerbach