Tag Archives: Convention 2017

Gord Penner: Inviting Healthy Change

by Gord Penner

Convention 2017

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.

Healthy Change

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.

Gord-Penner
Gord Penner

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.

Dwight Plett: Change, Wrong Reasons, Right Reasons, and Two Considerations

by Pastor Dwight Plett

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Inspirational sessions speaker Gord Penner. Credit: Andrew Walker

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.

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A team leads in singing. Credit: Andrew Walker

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.

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Jessica Wichers speaks, delegates listen. Credit: Andrew Walker

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.

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Delegates came from five provinces to listen and to decide together. Credit: Andrew Walker

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.

Two Considerations

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).

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Dwight Plett Credit: Andrew Walker

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.