Your summer vacation is over. Each morning you were up early and ready to go. It’s back to school and that means work, school work.
The sun still feels warm on your face and summer’s leafy trees still provide shade. But not for long. As temperatures cool a change happens.
For trees to provide shade they must grow a good canopy, a cover of leaves, and to grow leaves must have food. Trees need four things to produce food for their leaves. These are sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and chlorophyll.
Rain provides the water that soaks into the ground and is absorbed by the tree’s roots and then travels up the trunk to the branches and leaves. Carbon dioxide is the breath you breathe out which is absorbed by the leaves. These ingredients, carbon dioxide, moisture from the ground, and sunlight create sugar, which is food for the leaves.
This process is called photosynthesis. The green colour of leaves comes from a natural substance within the leaves called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll helps trees use sunlight to produce the food they need.
In fall temperatures cool down and daylight hours grow shorter; in midwinter the sun sets around 4 p.m. Less sunlight and cooler temperatures are signals for the leaves to stop making food.
The chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down and the green color disappears. Leaves turn yellow, orange, brown and red. The tree lets them go and they fall to the ground. It is time for trees to begin their long winter rest.
Fall is a time for change. You begin your new school year and trees begin their winter break.
There are many things we can learn from trees. Scientists find that having trees around us is soothing and helps us relax. They clean the air you breathe by absorbing, or taking in poisonous gases and metals that are found in smoke from factories and car exhaust. In return they give out oxygen, the air you need to breathe.
Trees are a natural air conditioner. Their shade keeps you and your house cool. In a city enough trees can lower summer temperatures by 7 degrees while you enjoy playing outdoors.
Trees provide homes for birds and small animals. They provide food like tree fruits and nuts for people and for animals. A row of trees will reduce noise levels from traffic going by your house or school. They will stop the wind too. And their different shapes and colours make the countryside beautiful.
One of the first things God did was grow trees. He says he made them for their beauty and for food, except for one, which Adam and Eve could not eat from (Genesis 2:8-9). But they did not listen, and were sent out of the Garden. This brought hardship and sadness to their lives.
In Psalm 1:1-3, God says that anyone who knows and listens to the laws of God is like a tree planted by the rivers of water. He will prosper and have good success.
Activity: Gratitude Stones
Need: clean stones with a smooth surface, tissue paper, scissors, glossy Mod Podge, paintbrushes.
Do: 1. Cut out small tissue paper hearts. Place one on the smooth surface of a stone. 2. Use paintbrush to lightly spread a thin layer of Mod Podge over tissue paper heart and over the surface of the stone. 3. Allow to dry undisturbed. 4. Flip stone over and spread Mod Podge over this side. 5. Allow to dry undisturbed. This makes a seamless smooth stone that feels natural. 5. At dinner pass the stone around. While holding the stone share something for which you feel thankful.
Change is inevitable! It is all around us, in our family, our churches, and in our country. In times of change, how can we ensure that the changes we make are healthy and aligned with the will of God?
Three Old Testament stories help us recognize keys to healthy change: Joshua, Jephthah, and Esther.
Joshua: Remember God is Faithful!
The transition in leadership from Moses to Joshua was a time of crisis. Imagine following a successful leader like Moses. His was a tough act to follow, to say the least! “For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all of Israel” (Deut. 34:12).
The Lord assured Joshua of His continued presence, just as He had been with Moses. The changes ahead were monumental and unnerving. The Lord admonished him, “Be strong and courageous!” Sometimes change is thrust upon us; sometimes we look for it because the old ways are not working anymore. But knowing how God has been faithful in the past can help us to move forward with confidence.
The change in leadership came at a crucial time. Israel was moving from wilderness wandering into a land with walled cities. They needed to shift their victim mentality from the days in Egypt to heirs of the promised land, one which God said He would give to them. Their hope rested in His promises for their future.
At a personal level, we also need to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness. We need to recall God’s protection and direction in our past. These stories help to prepare our children for adult responsibilities and decisions as they leave our “nest.” They help us to be strong and courageous. The Lord’s faithfulness does not change. Joshua and his generation were successful in taking the land.
Jephthah: Choose Scripture Over Relevance
However, after Joshua died, “another generation grew up who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD and served the Baals” (Judges 2:10-11). How was it possible to forget God so quickly? Very simple. By failing to pass on the faith and knowledge of God to their children, the next generation did not know Him.
As the people forgot God, they continued their downhill spiral throughout Judges until the end of the book states that “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
Jephthah was one judge who led during this dark period of Israel’s history. His story illustrates the result of anchoring change to well-intentioned enthusiasm rather than God’s Word. As the Ammonites rose to attack Israel, Jephthah mustered an army and went on the attack.
Before going, he made a vow to win God’s favour: “If you [God] give the Ammonites into my hands whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31). After Israel’s victory, Jephthah’s daughter ran out of the house to welcome her victorious father. Jephthah kept his vow and sacrificed her. Tragic!
Jephthah should have known from the Torah that God forbids human sacrifice. Israel had been told, “You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods” (Deut. 12:29-31, emphasis added).
Jephthah‘s enthusiasm trumped faithfulness to Scripture and the result was costly.
What do we learn from the story of Jephthah? Change can be motivated with a desire to be “relevant.” But when relevance is disconnected from a correct understanding of Scripture, we end up looking like “the world” and become like salt that has lost its flavour, good enough to be thrown out and trampled underfoot (Matt. 5:13).
Healthy change takes place when the Word provides a solid foundation for how God wants us to live as a distinct society in the world. Healthy change must be anchored on a clear understanding of the Word.
Esther: Place Others Above Self-Interest
Esther’s story provides a third key to healthy change. When the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, some remained in Persia, including Esther and her cousin Mordecai. When Queen Vashti refused King Xerxes’ demand to attend a feast, she was deposed and Esther won a beauty contest to become her replacement. Esther followed Mordecai’s advice to keep her Jewish heritage a secret.
One of Xerxes’ officials named Haman suffered from low self-esteem, which is shown by his request to the king to issue an edict that everyone bow down to him. Mordecai refused, and this irritated Haman. Mordecai explained that as a Jew he would not bow down to any mere human. This further incensed Haman and he devised a plan that would kill not only Mordecai, but all the Jews in the country. He drew up an edict and the king signed it.
When the Jews heard of this new law they were appalled and they fasted and mourned. Mordecai, through servants, made Esther aware of the crisis. She replied that she could not enter the king’s presence without his invitation. To do could result in death. Esther’s loyalty was put to the test. What cost was she personally willing to risk for the sake of her people? Here is her dilemma: if she approaches the king, she risks death. If she does not plead for her people, they will be killed.
Mordecai advised her: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house that you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
Esther chose the needs of her people above her own. Esther survived and not only were the Jews are spared, but “many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them” (Esther 8:17).
We all come to defining moments in our lives. Maybe not as dramatic as Esther’s, but ones that are very important in God’s plan. We are given a choice how we will respond.
Joshua teaches us to move forward with confidence, based on God’s faithfulness in our past.
Jephthah illustrates the result of forsaking a biblical foundation in order to pursue relevance. Esther teaches us the value of seeking wise, godly mentors and committing to fervent prayer in times of change. Sacrificing self-interest for the sake of the community is key to furthering God’s mission, and may result in growth we might never have imagined.
So long as we live, we will keep changing. We need to ensure that the change is healthy. Change that is connected to our past and anchored in God’s Word. To do this, we must have a faith that lays aside personal preferences to advance the kingdom of God—in our own lives, in our churches, and in our conference.
Gord Penner (Ridgewood), BRS, MDiv, ThM, is an ordained EMC minister who serves as a professor of Old Testament studies at Steinbach Bible College. This article is his own summary of the three messages he presented during the 2017 EMC Convention.
The theme of this weekend is Inviting Healthy Change. Today we’re going to be talking about some potential changes in our leadership structure and it looks like we’re going to be talking about whether or not there should be a change in the leadership roles open to women in the EMC.
Of course, being Mennonites, we thrive on change and we find it totally invigorating so that should be no problem. All joking aside, this is a big deal.
I do have some general thoughts that apply to every decision we face. I’ve got four possible responses to the question at hand and two very important considerations.
I want to say thank you to the people who have been working on this behind the scenes. They’ve been at it for quite a while already and I commend them for their patience and their determination to get this right.
1. We Can Say No for the Wrong Reasons
We can say no because it’s the easiest thing for people who hate change to do. “What’s so bad about the way things are? Change is hard and it’s going to take a lot of work and a lot of people are going to have to make some huge adjustments and we’ll have to do our homework. We’ll have to examine scripture and try to figure out what it really means. We’ll have to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to lead us in a direction that’s unfamiliar. It’s just so much more convenient to leave well enough alone.”
Even worse, we could say no because we think women aren’t qualified, maybe even that they’re inferior. We could say no because we men don’t want to let go of power because we don’t really believe in servant leadership; we couldn’t possibly submit to women or surrender the authority to women.
Or maybe we want to say no because our theological heroes in more conservative churches and in previous generations said no to the same question. We could definitely say no for the wrong reasons.
2. We Can Say No for the Right Reasons
If we say no because we honestly believe that the Bible forbids for all time, women from being in leadership over men. If that’s what we believe then we are obliged to say no and that would be a good reason for saying no.
We could say no because our concern is to be obedient to God regardless of what the world thinks, regardless of what other more “progressive” churches think.
We could say no because after praying and fasting and seeking after God we’ve come to the conclusion that that is the answer God wants us to give.
There are good reasons for saying no. If we would decide to say no because of our conviction that the Bible and the Holy Spirit forbid us from saying yes in spite of pressure from every other direction, then I don’t think God would be displeased with us.
3. We Could Say Yes for the Wrong Reasons
We can say yes because we’re tired of bucking the trend. We don’t like the kinds of labels we get for the stand we’ve been taking and we want to fit in. We don’t like it that the world thinks we’re backward. We don’t like being left behind. We don’t care what the Bible says; we just want to get with the program and fit in for a change.
If we’re more concerned about what other people think about us than we are about being obedient, then saying yes from that place would be wrong.
4. We Could Say Yes for the Right Reasons
I can’t help but think of the early church in Acts 15 when they had to decide whether or not Gentiles could belong to the church without being circumcised. There was no precedent; they really were moving into uncharted territory.
But the Holy Spirit led them and demonstrated among them that they were moving in the right direction so they changed a thousand years’ worth of tradition in that one meeting because they were being sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading.
That must have been a scary thing to do. But they did it because they were fully convinced that the Holy Spirit was leading them; and that, in spite of the fact that on the surface scripture seemed to be teaching the opposite, this is what God wanted them to do.
And when the Holy Spirit opened their eyes they discovered that scripture supported them in this. Paul argues eloquently in Romans 4 that Abraham is father to the circumcised and the uncircumcised and that circumcision is a matter of the heart.
If the decision before us is in any way similar to the one faced by the church in Acts 15, and if we decide to say yes in the 21st century to women in leadership for the same reasons that they said yes to the Gentiles in the first century, then I believe we would be saying yes for the right reasons.
I guess what I’m saying is that our reasons for saying yes or no are actually more important than the decision we end up making.
And now I want to conclude with two words that are more important than anything else I’ve said.
1. My First Word is Obedience
We want to listen to God and obey his leading even if it’s not what we expected. More than trusting in common sense, we want to trust God regardless of how uncomfortable it might make us.
Proverbs 3:5-6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your paths.”
There’s no way you could have predicted that one day Paul the Pharisee and Peter and James and the other devout Jewish early church leaders would one day make the decision to allow uncircumcised Gentiles to worship freely alongside ceremonially undefiled Jews. But they were trusting the Lord with all their hearts and not leaning on their own understanding. They acknowledged him and he directed their paths and they came to a very unexpected decision.
Do we have the patience and the resolve to wait on God for his leading? Remember Jehoshaphat’s prayer (2nd Chron. 20:12): “Lord, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
2. My Second Word is Unity
We need to work together. We are on the same team; we have an enemy but the other people in this room are not the enemy. The people on the other side of the argument are not the enemy. We know that Satan wants to cause division. Let’s not cooperate with his plan. We want to be unified even if we don’t agree. Love must prevail.
Before you say anything to someone else about this issue you need to say this to yourself, “I love these people and we’re all on the same team, serving the same God, wanting his will. I want God’s way, not my way.”
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
I think whichever way we go on this issue God can accomplish beautiful things in the EMC if we let him. If we patiently work our way through this process we can, by God’s grace, grow through it and learn to love each other even more than we already do.
Dwight Plett (left) is the lead minister of the Mennville EMC. He is married to Lorna. This message, shortened for publication, was presented to the EMC conference council on June 10, 2017, hosted at Mennville.
A publication of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference