Publication: Pastoral Letter, April 2014
Dear Friend in Christ,
Want to change? Change what you look at. That is the simple, yet profound, truth. This is biblical, historical, and for all of us, personal. For almost 60 years of ministry, and in my personal life, I have witnessed how our vision affects our living. What we watch and hear affects our minds and ultimately our words and actions. The relationship between our vision and our future is direct. That is why the battle for the spirit is in the mind (see Philippians 4:8-9).
In my previous letter, I mentioned having interviewed several former Muslims who had accepted Christ as Savior and Lord. In addition, I recently read two books by Nik Ripken: The Insanity of God The Insanity of Obedience. Ripken served as a missionary in Somalia, among other nations, and interviewed Christians in 70 nations who suffered persecution. Ripken said going to an Islamic nation was like taking a flight into the Old Testament. What changes people from law to grace is a vision of Jesus. It is a vision to live and die for.
I have recently read again the book of Colossians written by the apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to the Christians in the city of Colosse. It is a goldmine of truth concerning the preeminence of Christ and the essentiality of seeing Him above all else. It seems to have been written to counter the gnostic, humanistic philosophy that had affected that church. Paul urges a refocus on Christ.
Be My Vision
There is an ancient Irish hymn that could have well been written after a study of Colossians. “Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art. Thou my best thought by day or by night, Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light.” The remaining verses are equally Christ-centered.
The apostle Paul says it this way, “If you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above where Christ is sitting at the right-hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on earth. For you died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (see Colossians 3:1-3). Paul had seen the risen Christ-a vision to live or die for.
Paul writes in Galatians that to be controlled by lesser things is to be “bewitched” (see Galatians 3:1). It is a fall from grace into law, rules, and regulations. The apostle preached Christ, so that people would see Christ and be changed by Christ, and they were. If people see Christ, then He gives the life and vision. I confess that at times my vision of Christ has been overshadowed by lesser things, to my detriment. When we see Him, we are transfixed by His majesty and transferred into His government in the Holy Spirit. We become Spirit-led.
Christ-vision transfers us out of the darkness of being dominated by lesser things (even evil), out of “the basic principles of this world” into His gracious government (see Colossians 1:13; 2:20). It transfers us from being bewitched by our pride and sensuality to true spirituality; from the challenges of life into His completed victory; out of wrath into grace, redemption, and forgiveness; out of the old into newness of life and into a totally new and glorious destiny (see Colossians 1:12-14).
Seeing the Risen Lord recreates us from a self-centered person into one who is a new Christ servant, and a life that continues to be new. He has qualified us by His sacrifice to become partakers of His inheritance. Amazing grace! New person, new life, new future!
Vision affects destiny; how that works remains a mystery to me. A mystery is something we know exists, but we do not fully understand how it does. But we know the connection between eye-ear to hands-feet is real. When faith fixes the eye and ear on the Risen Christ, there are amazing results.
Paul uses the word “mystery” in reference to God, Christ, His purpose, godliness, His Kingdom, Resurrection, and marriage. The Western mind doesn’t like mystery so it seeks to solve it rather than trust . Then our faith is in our reason rather than the mystery itself. That may be okay for scientific pursuit, but it can be dangerous in trying to explain God (see Isaiah 55:8-9). Recognizing the mystery of God and His ways brings us to humility and submission. Exalting our own knowledge leads to arrogance and foolishness. When we think vainly, we act vainly.
God is the ultimate mystery. Through faith, He enters us, transforms us, and conforms us in His image (see Colossians 1:26-27). Yet, mysterious as all that is, we see the evidence of faith’s effect all around us. How can child-like faith make us a new person with a new destiny? It just does, and it does wherever Christ is received.
What we know certainly can affect us, but Christ takes us beyond what we think or what we know. When Christ is our vision, He takes us beyond ourselves.
Rules and laws are for children who are too young to know what is good or bad for them. Of course, some never grow up and the law becomes their accuser. The apostle Paul addresses the problem of life under law in his letter to Colosse. He understood the problem from personal experience, as well as from revelation. Prior to conversion, he was a persecutor of “the faith”. After, he died to the law and regulations because he had found the grace and mercy of God. The love of Christ supersedes every other motive for behavior and moves us to serve and please the One Who gave His life for us. God’s grace and love in Christ has covered our sin and nailed the charges against us to the Cross of Christ. Love is the supreme motive in all things.
Laws expose problems; love brings solutions. Rules see violations; love brings redemption. Rules exclude; love includes. What law would kill, love would restore. Rules are for controlling the immature and wayward; love and grace are for motivating those who have come to know Christ. The difference between law and love is evident in the life of the great apostles. Those who live by law become condemned by it (read Romans 2). We can tell what is motivating us by how we evaluate people. If that is true, and I believe that it is, all I can add is, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (see Romans 3:23).
If rules and laws were God’s only measure, then no one would have passed; not Abraham, David, the apostles, or me. But God so loved the world that He sent His innocent, beloved Son into the world to take our punishment and cover us with His love, righteousness, and blood. In love, He identified with us so we could identify with Him and receive His rewards! Praise God!
To love Christ and to love like Christ is beyond our power. We must have Christ in us. We must change our vision and be transformed. We must be transformed from the government of self into the government of the Holy Spirit. We need to see Jesus high and lifted up if we are going to do His work in a wicked world.
Too often we present to the world our laws rather than our love and mercy. “It is the goodness of God that leads to repentance” (see Romans 2:4). It is love that is the bridge for truth, not the reverse. Everyone who receives Christ was loved by someone prior to their repentance. Someone prayed for them and showed kindness. Laws can never ultimately save anyone, but love will save all who receive Jesus (see 1 Corinthians 13:8).
We too easily forget where we came from. We were in the kingdom of laws and rules but now no longer. God’s grace has transformed and transferred us into His kingdom by simple, child-like faith. What a mystery!
Now Christ in Me
The apostle tells us that the mystery is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (see Colossians 1:27). I cannot fathom the depths of that glorious truth. He lives inside of us in nature, Word, and Spirit. When I receive Him (not just doctrine), change happens. When I behold Him, change happens. When I listen to Him, change happens. That is what happened to Paul and it happens to us (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). If Christ is in us, will He not do what He did while on earth? Has He changed? Will He not forgive, heal, restore, love the lost, and live to please the Father?
And if I am in Christ, will I not love the Church, forgive its sins, enjoy its fellowship, and serve its needs? Will I not make disciples and teach them to observe His ways? There is a great mystery here. Me in Christ and Christ in me, reconciled to God, Christ in me reaching out.
I once received a phone call that led me to an old broken down hotel where I talked with an old broken down alcoholic. There he was in all his darkness. I shared Christ, Whom this man received, even in his condition. Christ entered a broken and seemingly wasted man. We spent many hours together as the Holy Spirit and the Word of God recreated him. He eventually moved back to his hometown and became part of a thriving local church. Next to my own salvation, seeing someone behold and receive Jesus is my greatest joy. New vision brings new life.
I urge you to study Colossians and gain a fresh vision of the Christ who took our sins and the charges against us, and nailed them all to the Cross. I urge you not to be overtaken by lesser things and lesser visions. When we focus on Christ, everything else changes: relationships with people, circumstance, how we handle problems, and our destiny. Allow Him to be preeminent in all things, and life will look a lot better. Indeed, it will be a lot better.
Also, may I ask you to continue to remember CSM in your prayers and in your giving this month? Your support plays a key role in equipping us to equip and encourage others. We definitely would love to see you personally at our upcoming May 14-16 Leadership Conference in Gatlinburg, TN. Our emphasis is on “Reaching and Discipling the Next Generation” and our guest speaker is Pastor Bill Wilson of Metro World Child ministries in New York City. For more information, please visit click here
Thanks again for your friendship and willingness to be part of this ministry. We pray for you and thank God for you! If you have special prayer requests or would like to know more about useful ministry resources, please visit our website.
Scripture Reference: Philippians, Colossians, Galatians, Isaiah, Romans, 1 Corinthians,