Publication: Pastoral Letter, January 2002
Dear Friend in Christ:
I pray that this letter finds you well and that you will have a blessed 2002! May you increase in His Kingdom’s righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. The future is an unopened book that can be read only one page at a time_sequentially. The question is, can we write on the pages? Are some of them blank, awaiting our hands, or are the pages all pre-written and waiting merely to be read? Can we affect the outcome, or is the future a “done deal?”
No one would have expected the events of September 11, 2001. I do not recall any word about it in the prophecies and predictions of January 2001 (though some people prophesy destruction annually). Nevertheless, it happened, and we do not know what awaits us in 2002. We do know that faith triumphs over fear; righteousness triumphs over wickedness; peace triumphs over anxiety; and mercy triumphs over judgment. And we know that though sorrow endures for the night, joy comes in the morning.
The Bible is full of prophecies about many things, including the return of Christ. But it still leaves lots of room for the unknown. Many pages in the book called “Future,” have been written upon by the hand of God_maybe all of them. But it seems that many pages are yet blank, at least to us, and it is the unknown that causes us trepidation.
Jesus prepared the disciples for His departure from the earth and the unknown that they faced. He gave them vital instructions as to how they should approach the future. The book of John, especially in chapters 14-16, contains those instructions. I have discovered that these chapters have also helped me to face the future.
The years of 1964-66, were years of both trepidation and triumph for me. Trepidation and triumph seem to go together. In 1964, I had taken a new path that led me to being baptized in the Holy Spirit and embracing the exercise of spiritual gifts. That path led me in a very different direction from my denomination and brought me through much controversy, investigation, and even probation.
Due to my new direction and the surrounding controversy, our local church lost about one-half of its members. Though I trusted the Lord and believed in the on-going work of the Holy Spirit, my practical future seemed undecided and I needed assurance.
I was awakened very early one morning by the Lord; I knew that I should get up and pray. As I did, the Lord spoke to me from John 15:16, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and ordained you to go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain. And whatever you ask the Father in My name, He may give it to you.”
I cannot explain the effect of that word. It was as though the Lord Himself gave that verse just for me. I could have written volumes on those few words. What life flowed from them to me! Notice these words:
Chosen: We are His idea and choice.
Ordained: He has authorized us to be fruitful.
Remain: The results of His work in our lives will last.
Ask: We are invited, because of our relationship, to have a voice in the future…a profound opportunity!
John 14-16 have long been favorite chapters of mine, but at that particular moment of need, they became vital to facing the future. But notice there is a key to this assurance_do not overlook it.
What is the key to dealing with the unknown_the future? Is it being able to predict it? Predictions become popular at the end of the year or the beginning of another one. Some base their predictions upon “psychic abilities,” others upon astrology, still others on trends and logical factors. Then there are those who believe that God has shown them a page from the future. All of these forms of predicting have sizable followings.
I am reminded of the announcement written on the hotel bulletin board: “The clairvoyant society meeting has been canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.” No matter how much of the future we may know, or think we know, we still have to deal with unforeseen circumstances_as we did on September 11, 2001. And it’s the “unforeseen” that often defines the future. We must expect the unexpected.
So, is the key to the future more accurate predictions? No. Let’s go back to John 14-16. John 14:1 says, “Let not your heart be troubled_believe….” John 15:1-5 could be summarized by saying “Abide in Me and be fruitful.” John 16:1 says, “I have spoken these things to you that you may be kept from stumbling.”
The key to the future is not knowing the future; it is abiding in the Lord today. Abiding in Him is preparation for any eventuality. It is in understanding that even if we knew the future, without Him, we could do nothing. He offers us relationship and resources, not detailed outlines of tomorrow. If the key facing the future and the unknown is abiding in Him, how can we do that? What does it mean to abide in Him?
Abiding is continuing…
In faith in His faithfulness
In awareness of His promised presence
In awareness of our dependence upon Him
In openness and honesty with the Holy Spirit
In the unshakable knowledge of His covenant love
In His covenant words and allowing them to abide in us
In obedience to His direction
In trusting that He knows the future and our security is in Him_not in our knowledge.
John 15 enables us to understand abiding. Jesus tells His disciples that it is realizing our dependence, fulfilling His purpose, and walking in His love. The “vine and branch” relationship is a fixed relationship. It is not one that is affected by mood swings or circumstance.
It is the finished work of Christ, the fixed covenant, the nature of our joining with Christ_as a branch on a vine_that enables us to produce fruit. Our one-to-one relationship with Jesus enables us to produce personal fruit_one-to-one_and to produce fruit that is also stable: “remaining fruit.”
Many biblical characters had what we can recognize as abiding relationships with the Spirit of God. These people were not perfect, but they were called “Friends of God.” These people were given the opportunity to ask something of God, and their request affected the future. (For example, see Nehemiah 1 and Daniel 2.)
Now I do not propose to explain the interaction between God’s Sovereignty and man’s free will. But I am saying that God in His Sovereign grace has ordained that those who abide in Him ask and be used by Him to frame the future. We know that truly prophetic words frame the future. Can there not also be prophetic prayers that affect the future?
Is the future “set in stone” or is it clay to be molded? The Holy Spirit working through us both prophetically and prayerfully will shape the future. A fatalistic attitude will not produce fruit. We are not simply playing out the clock or reading the script. We are, like Jesus’ first disciples, interacting with God to shape history. We are chosen not only to be saved; we are chosen to abide in such a relationship that affects the world and its tomorrows. We have only to look at those who heard the words of Jesus recorded in John 14-16, to understand that reality. His disciples did not simply wait for the future; they understood that they were chosen to affect it. And they did.
It is a fascinating mystery that we mortals have been chosen to reveal God’s will to the world; and in doing God’s will, we can change the futures of individual people as we extend the fellowship of Jesus to them. Perhaps our real goal is not simply to have a “Happy New Year.” We are chosen to help someone else to have a “Happy New Year.” That will make our future even happier.
When we are abiding in His faithfulness, aware of His presence, and obeying His voice, we will prove to be His disciples by bearing fruit that remains. Whatever tomorrow holds, we can know fullness of joy.
In closing, thank you for helping us to share the Gospel. We have been publishing it since 1969. We could not have continued without the daily prayers and giving from people like yourself. The Lord has been faithful and you have participated in His faithfulness to us. You have helped us to change the futures of many people in all walks of life. Please continue to stand with us in your prayers and in your giving_together, we are making a difference!
Have a blessed 2002!
Scripture Reference: John, Nehemiah, Daniel