An u2018updraftu2019 in meteorology characterises a stormu2019s early development as warm air rises, eventually bringing the rains that offer sustenance and life. Ricku2019s hope for this monthly updraft column is for it to be a catalyst for change, ultimately contributing to the transformation of our faith communities. This regular column first appears in the Northern Baptist Association monthly newsletter, u2018Northern Lightsu2019.

Last week several of us gathered at Carey Baptist College for the u2018Renew Together,u2019 Tu0101maki Makaurau Pastorsu2019 Lunch, hosted by NZBMS. After the restrictions on our ability to meet because of COVID, it was a special time of being together. We lifted our voices in praise as one people and prayed together (including hearing those prayers in diverse languages!). John Tucker (Principal of Carey Baptist College) followed, opening the scriptures to bring an inspiring and hope-filled message from Isaiah 43. Afterwards, we had a great conversation over lunch.

As I reflected on that time and what God was saying through his word, there are two verses Iu2019d like to share with you in this monthu2019s Updraft. Isaiah 43:18-19 says: u2018Forget 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 wastelandu2019.

As we look around at our circumstances, I think we can hear the word of God through Isaiah as a real and alive word for us as his people today, u2018see, I am doing a new thing.u2019 But what does it mean to u2018forget the former thingsu2019? In the two verses just before these, Isaiah reminds Godu2019s people of Godu2019s miraculous power demonstrated through the exodus, particularly the parting of the waters at the Red Sea. So why, having used this imagery, does Isaiah say, u2018forget the former thingsu2019? Surely he canu2019t be meaning to forget Godu2019s faithful, redemptive, miraculous activity in the past? 

We see that the Israelites had allowed their past experiences of Godu2019s action on their behalf to limit their expectations of how he would continue to act. Yet Isaiah reminds Godu2019s people (and we are reminded through his words) that God is our redeemer; he is the Holy One of Israel, our creator and King. He has acted on behalf of his people in the past, and he will continue to act on behalf of his people in the present and future. BUT the past does not prescribe how God will work in the future. We should not limit our understanding of what God can do now by how he has acted in the past. Weu2019re not to allow his past ways of revelation and demonstration of power to inhibit our vision of how he is at work and making himself visible in the new thing he is doing today.

Many recognised that even before COVID, u2018the churchu2019 needed to change. Continuing with rhythms and practices that have been effective in times when the church was more at the centre of society will not help us become a collective of faith communities that are bringing gospel renewal to people and places in our local neighbourhoods today. This is particularly true in a time when the church lies more towards the fringes of society, often now viewed as irrelevant and holding outdated views. Our recent COVID lockdowns have only heightened awareness of our need for change and the urgency of it. Now is an opportunity to pause, pray and discern who we are as Godu2019s people. What is he calling his church to be and do today? What is the new thing he is doing, and how are we to respond to join him in what he is doing?

As we look to embrace the new work of God, we also need to be prepared to u2018forget the former thingsu2019 that have defined us as his church in the past. Letu2019s be ready to trust God, to enter the unknown courageously, and together discern the new work God is doing today to re-envision and renew his people. Our God is able to make a way where there is no way! He is a God who continues to be active in the world, and his way will see living waters bringing new life to the desert-like conditions we are experiencing in the world today. We can be assured of that, not because of anything we do but because of who he is. Itu2019s founded in his character and faithfulness to act on behalf of his people. May we have eyes to see the new thing he is doing and the courage to leave our former things behind.

Rick Pierce is Minita-a-rohe mu014d te Hauoratanga me te Whakawhanake, Network Pastor, Health and Development, Northern Baptist Association. You can contact Rick by email: [email protected]

For more editions of Updraft, click here.

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