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I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.”
This is what the Lord says — he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: “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.
A note from Mark D. Roberts:
I’m pleased to welcome the Rev. Dr. Tod Bolsinger as our Life for Leaders writer today. Tod, who served as a parish pastor for over twenty years, is now Vice President for Vocation & Formation at Fuller Seminary. A popular speaker and accomplished author, Tod’s latest book is Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory (InterVarsity, 2015). I asked him to write several Life for Leaders devotions based on this excellent and challenging book.
One night after a long day of meetings, an older pastor said to me, “You know, when I began my ministry in a church in Alabama, I never worried about ‘church growth’ or ‘worship attendance’ or ‘evangelism.’ Back then if a man didn’t come to church on Sunday, his boss asked him about it at work on Monday.”
It was different “back then.” Some of us have heard about it. Others can remember it. Sociologists and theologians refer to this recently passed period as Christendom, the 1700-year-long era with Christianity at the privileged center of western cultural life. (I have a copy of the Los Angeles Times from December 1963 that list Daily Bible Readings for the upcoming week. Can you even imagine a major newspaper exhorting people to read their Bibles today?)
But, for most of us, these days where Christendom was a marker of society are long gone. Over the last ten years, I have had one church leader after another whisper to me the same frustrated confession: “Seminary didn’t train me for this. I don’t know if I can do it. I just don’t know…”
So, what are we who can remember those “glory days” (for they certainly were NOT for many, let’s be clear…) to do?
The prophet Isaiah speaks to the nation of Israel at a similar, but even more profound moment in their history. With the memory of glories of the Exodus and the power of David and the influence of Solomon still looming large for them, they found themselves in Exile. So what do we hear God saying to them that he might be saying to us?
18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
Notice WHO says “not to remember the former things”….
This is what the Lord says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
17 who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick
It is the God of the Exodus. The Exodus is the biggest dang deal in the Bible before the resurrection. Israel defeated a god. Israel was set free. Israel became a new nation. And during Israel’s EXILE the God of the EXODUS says, “Do not remember the former things.”
For Israel in Isaiah’s day and for the Church today, one thing is really clear: We cannot go into a new day with a “longing-for-the-past” mindset. This is one of the besetting sins of Israel. They kept clinging to their old ways, their old traditions and their old memories. And do you know why? Those were the glory days.
Even Jesus’ apostles thought Jesus’ coming was about returning the glory days of David, of recapturing political power again. But, Jesus, like Isaiah before him, warned them about new wine in old wineskins. Of looking to the past rather than for the new thing that God is doing.
In future devotionals, I’ll tell you of how Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery gives us a model of leaders who entered “uncharted territory” and what leaders can do in order to take their churches, ministries, organizations, and businesses into the future. But, it begins with this: we will never experience God’s glorious future if we cling to the glory days of the past.
See, I am doing a new thing! He says,
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Think about how the church has changed in your lifetime. What has been good about that change? What do you feel has been lost? In what ways does it feel like the church is in exile today?
What do you feel when you consider the state of the church today? In what ways do you find yourself looking back to the glory days?
What do you need in your life to let go of the past and look for the new thing that God is doing?
Oh God of Exodus and Exile, of Cross and Resurrection, of Creation and new Creation. We thank you for your history of faithfulness. We thank you for the many ways you have worked for and through your people. We thank you for what you have done and are doing in our lives. Oh Lord, do a new thing in your church! Do a new thing in our lives! Help us have eyes to see what your Spirit at work. Help us to let go of anything that keeps us from participating in your will being accomplished.
Let us have eyes to see and hearts to follow, we pray. Amen
This devotional was adapted from Tod Bolsinger, Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory. InterVarsity Press. 2015
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online Bible commentary: Isaiah 40
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