On Sunday nights a few of us gather for Bible study. Currently, we are studying Bad Girls of the Bible. This past Sunday we studied Rahab, the prostitute who saved the Israelite spies in Jericho. She turned to and believed in the God of Israel. Her sin was forgiven. Rahab and her family were saved y the Israelites when Jericho fell. They took her in to their family and faith. Eventually she married and is listed as one of the ancestors of Jesus. She was always identified, though, as Rahab –the-harlot, long after she was one no longer.
Liz Higgins, the author of the study, talks about her past, a rather colorful one, rather openly. She speaks to a lot of Christian women’s groups. Even though she has turned her life around (repented) and been forgiven, she can still feel the judgment coming from some of the women to whom she is speaking. Instead of rejoicing with her in her new life in Christ Jesus, they condemn her for her past life.
I have had conversations with people who don’t really believe their past can be forgiven. They carry their guilt around with them for years and years. They don’t believe God can bless them. I always ask them, “Then, why did Jesus die on a cross?” If it wasn’t to forgive sin – your sin and mine – then why? And if we are forgiven, then we don’t need to carry our past, our shame, our guilt with us. We are freed, freed to live a new life in Christ. Our past ought to be a testimony to the power of Jesus to make us new creations. We don’t brag about it, but we can use it as a witness – a kind of before and after picture – our old life and our new life.
Do we believe in forgiveness? For ourselves? For others? I certainly hope so.
I heard a story at Annual Conference that I want to share with you. I’m sure I don’t have all the details right, but I have the main point. So here goes.
A storm blew in one night over a family farm. The father must have been gone because the mother sent her young son out to close the barn door, while she attended to things in the house. It must have been a little scary because when the mother looked out the door, she saw her son just standing there in the yard with his flashlight shining in the direction of the barn. She went out and asked him if he had made it to the barn yet; the son said he hadn’t because he couldn’t even see the barn. She replied, “Just go to the end of the light. The barn will be there.”
As long as we are carrying our flashlights we will never come to the end of the light will we? More importantly, as long as we are in Christ we will never be in the darkness. Christ is the light of the world and the darkness shall not overcome it. There will be times when we get scared, when we don’t know what’s out there, even when we feel and experience darkness all around us. At those times we need to remember that Christ is with us, and he is the light that will never end. Christ will help us get through the dark nights of our lives - maybe not as quickly as we would like, but he will get us through. He promised not to abandon us, said he would be with us always. The light of Christ is always shining, even in the darkest night. If we go to the “end of the light,” he will be there.
Change, change, change. That seems to be the word I keep hearing and reading when it comes to the church. In fact, Gil Rendle, one of the speakers at Annual Conference said the church must undergo deep change or face a slow death. He also admitted change is not easy.
According to Rendle, there are three stages of managing change:
In Between Times,
Letting go of the old and familiar is difficult. The In Between Time is like wandering through the wilderness in a confused state, but wandering is also another word for learning. Starting New can be exciting once we’ve gone through the wilderness.
The books I’ve been reading for the Healthy Church Initiative group I’m in back up Rendle’s call for change. Books like Renovate or Die, Simple Church, and Communicating for a Change all declare we have got to do things differently if we want the church to continue to exist. Preaching, worship, disciple making, evangelism, mission – everything needs to change.
You can see why change is difficult, can’t you? I’ve been in ministry 31 years and am getting close to retirement and am told you’ve got to change the way you do things. Hillsboro First United Methodist Church is 156 years old and is told it needs to change or else it will die. Both the church (that’s you) and I will be letting go of some of our old ways and be beginning a journey through the wilderness in the not too distant future. Are you prepared for the journey? I’m not sure what it’s going to look like, but we will make it together for at least the next year. Some of us may not want to make the journey through the wilderness; Rendle also said, “when you try to include all, you’ve already made the decision not to make the trip.”
As I reflect on the wilderness, I am reminded of the experience of Moses and the Hebrews. I remember that God was with them and leading them day and night. I’m sure God will be with us as well as we head out confused and in some pain into the wilderness called change.
God Bless, Pastor Donna