In recent years, Lancaster Mennonite Conference (LMC) has been experiencing growing pains. The process has been painful and costly in unexpected ways. Such remodeling is usually messy and can be stressful, especially when the finished product is not clearly seen. In his book, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes it well:
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.
All of creation experiences growing pains. An acorn must die to being a seed in order to become an oak tree. The caterpillar must give up crawling along the ground in order to become a butterfly. The eaglet must leave the safety and security of the nest in order to strengthen its wings and soar through the sky. A baby must be forced out of its mother’s womb and into a cold world in order to fully develop as a human being and become all the Creator envisioned for that person. Just as there are outside forces pressuring the seed, the caterpillar, the eagle and the infant to grow, so we can choose to see what happens to us, both externally and internally, as God’s necessary providence molding and shaping us into His image.
Throughout our lives, from birth to death, our loving heavenly Father exploits every opportunity for growth. We may experience an unplanned pregnancy, a sudden death in the family, a job loss, an accident, an unexpected financial windfall, the opportunity to participate in a mission trip or a surprise diagnosis. Each of these is an opportunity for growth. While at the time, the event may seem like an obstacle or a cause of grief and pain, the Word tells us that our Father is able to use these circumstances for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28).
Several years ago I was diagnosed with an early stage of cancer. While the diagnosis was not unexpected, I did have many decisions to make. One day a friend gave me a little booklet entitled Don’t Waste Your Cancer. I began to read it but was unable to finish because of the strong emotions that rose up within me, so I set it aside. As time went on however, I realized that I had a choice to make. I could choose to waste this experience by becoming angry and bitter, or I could choose to learn the lessons my Heavenly Father wanted to teach me. By God’s grace, I began to open my heart to the possibility that there were
new lessons I needed to learn through the experience with cancer. I do not believe God gave me the cancer, but I do believe I had choices of response toward this disease. As I walked that journey of being diagnosed, meeting with doctors, deciding on treatment and then recovery, there were so many deep and beautiful lessons I learned along the way. What blessings I would have missed if I had made the choice to waste my experience with cancer instead of allowing it to build Christ-like character.
Our Heavenly Father is remodeling LMC. This is a time when some of our walls must be torn down, floors must be ripped up and garbage thrown away. It is painful and uncomfortable but God is building us into a temple for His Kingly Presence. Let us submit fully to the process, regardless of the cost.
The disciples had experienced growing pains. At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, they were invited to follow. During the next three years, their assumptions about Jesus changed. They moved from regarding Him as a good teacher, to a miracle worker, to someone who could fill their empty fishing nets, to, as Peter confesses, the “Son of the Living God.” In addition, their understanding of the purpose for Jesus’ coming also changed. Instead of coming to redeem Israel from Roman oppression, Jesus came to redeem hearts from sin’s oppression. He had no interest in building an earthly kingdom, but rather a kingdom not of this
world. Rather than promising earthly riches, Jesus invited disciples to lay up treasures in heaven. Jesus welcomed children, women and sinners and called out the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He marched resolutely toward Jerusalem and crucifixion in order to overthrow death, hell, and the grave. When the
disciples wanted Jesus to stay, they were told that when He left, The Comforter, the promised Holy Spirit would come in power.
As we journey together on this remodeling project to become a house of prayer for all nations, we know that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). Isaiah the prophet affirms this truth: “He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure” (33:6). Let’s press in and submit to the reconstruction so that we too can attain to the high calling of Christ Jesus “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).
Marcia Mylin serves as resource staff at Lancaster Mennonite Conference and attends Byerland Mennonite Church in Willow Street, Pa.