Publication: Pastoral letter, January 2014
Dear Friend in Christ,
First of all, “Happy New Year!” I pray you had a blessed Christmas! I want to share briefly about what will make the year ahead a happy one.
It takes more than a new license plate to make a new car, and more than a coat of paint to make a new house, and more than a new calendar to make a new year. “Happy” is in the changes that have to be made in order to bring newness. If a marriage is unhappy on December 31, it still will be on January 1, unless changes are made. Same for a business. Without the necessary adjustments 2014 will merely be an extension of 2013…a new sticker on an old car, a new coat of paint on an old house.
Jesus began His ministry with a message that we call “the Sermon on the Mount.” He outlined the process that could move His listeners to happiness. The message in Matthew chapters 5-7 is sometimes called “The Constitution of the Kingdom.” His words are the foundation for blessedness, happiness, and well-being. His counsel brought God’s unfailing favor to those who heard what He said and obeyed.
The first 12 verses of chapter five are called the “Beatitudes” (or “Blessed” or “Happy”). He could have said it this way: “Here is what you do to become happy.” (Israel was living in miserable times and the changes that he counseled were of a personal nature, not political.) Here is a paraphrase of His message: “Realize your spiritual poverty; be merciful to others; look at your own heart; try to make peace, and you can be happy even when people mistreat you in terrible ways.”
Jesus says that happiness is a personal condition, not a cultural one. It begins by changes within us. What we see around us is not the basis for our joy and spiritual condition. It is easy to see how others need to change; personal change is more difficult, but also much more rewarding.
I was reading the Sermon On The Mount once again when I heard the Lord tell me that I needed to forgive someone, tell them so, and ask forgiveness before I gave another offering at the altar (see Matthew 5:22-24). I did what I believed the Lord said, and the result was that the other person and I were both made happy. God knows “happy” and how to find it. What might it require for us to be happy or happier? Whatever that is, we should do it!
God is big on “New.” He gives us new songs born of new experience with Him. He promised to give us a new nature, a new name, and do new things. His mercies are new every morning. He gives a new spirit, new heart, and new mind, and makes us part of the One New Man in Christ. He made for us a New Covenant in the blood of Jesus. One day He will make a New Heaven and New Earth. He gives us new vision and new hope. He has called us to walk in newness of life. In Christ, all things become new. Yes, God loves new.
The question now is, how much do we really want new. I like new-sometimes. I have enjoyed new houses, new cars, many new opportunities, and new friends. But, sometimes, I do not want to move into new. Moving requires getting rid of the old, packing up, and difficult change. I am uncomfortable with new technology and new cultures. I like to know where everything is, in the proper place.
Sometimes people who know that I travel tell me where they would like to visit, then ask me, “Where would you like to go?” I say, “Home.” But, God calls us to the new, and if we resist He may send the “hounds” to motivate us. Then we “feel led” to move. If we do not move ahead personally, then we usually begin to blame others for our unhappy state. Many Christians and many churches are in that condition.
I often visit a church in New Braunfels, Texas, called “Renew Church.” It is led by a gifted leader, Pastor Terry Knighten, who is also a gifted artist and musician. I like the name of the church because some things do not need to be cast off but renewed. The joy of our salvation, marriage vows, and our original motivations need to be renewed. Our minds and our thinking need to be renewed. We will not get a new brain, but can renew it with new thinking – new ways to use it.
Genesis chapter 26 records that Isaac dug out the old wells that had originally been dug by his father Abraham. The wells had been filled with dirt by adversaries. Each time he dug out a well, there was contention and strife until he finally came to a place of peace. He called that place “Rehoboth”, which means, “The Lord has made room for us.” Isaac kept digging and kept moving until he found a place of peace and joy (see Isaiah 12:3).
If you are unhappy, ask yourself, “Is my well full of dirt?” “Are adversaries stopping the flow of life?” If so, keep moving in God’s will and keep digging the dirt out of your own heart until you restore the flow of salvation’s joy. That will make 2014 a Happy New Year!
Romans 12:2 says, “Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” Verse one says to present our bodies a living sacrifice unto God. We first give all we are to God then change how we think. The transformation in our spirit, soul, and body proves that the will of God is right (see First Thessalonians 5:23).
I highly recommend the book Switch on Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf, a neuroscientist,who describes the physical effects of right thinking on the brain and body. Renewing our mind has tremendous potential to bring health, happiness, and new opportunity. Dr. Leaf scientifically elaborates on the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 12:2 and Philippians 4:8.
God not only wants us to be happy, He tells us how to take responsibility to become happy. It is not a new house, new car, or even a new year that will make us happy. It is the transforming power of the mind of Christ that will make us happy. Otherwise, we are simply dragging the old issues into the New Year. A new location without transformation will bring a happiness that is short-lived. By the way, this is not just for a few special days; it is daily. If we take the Lord’s counsel, we can walk in “newness of life” (see Romans 6:4).
A transformer is a device that receives energy from one source then makes it a usable source to other devices. In a spiritual sense, we are transformed to become transformers. What has happened to us then becomes a resource for others. Our transformation in Christ releases an energy and enthusiasm that affects others. The best evangelism is not merely an attempt to convert others but the release of God’s favor and passion to others. We can truly release happiness that affects others.
I had a wonderful conversation with a friend recently. Fresh insights were being shared and it was exciting. During our conversation, I began to sense that I should speak to a young man nearby. As my friend and I prepared to leave, I spoke to the young man, “The Lord’s hand is on your life.” He looked me in the eye and thanked me. I believed both that it was true and that was what the Lord wanted me to say.
Now suppose that our conversation had been depressing. Do you think that I would have spoken to the young man seated nearby? I doubt it. Evangelism is the direct result of being transformed and energized; it is beyond mere duty. Why is it that church leaders have so much difficulty in motivating Christians to share their faith? It is because many Christians are not renewed in their minds, lack passion for Christ, and are hindered by cultural thinking.
I confess to being a football fan and I actively root for a particular team. Recently, my team lost for the first time in more than a year. Did I want to talk about it? No. I was not edified. However, when they won the National Championship, I could not quit talking, reading, and hearing about it.
There is of course no comparison between a momentary victory in sports and the eternal victory of Jesus Christ. But victory does energize, and Christ has given us His victory over sin, death, Hell, and judgment! He has given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (see 2 Peter 1:3)! He supplies all our needs (see Philippians 4:19). He loves us with an everlasting, unfailing love (see Exodus 15:13; Psalm 6:4; Psalm 13:5).
I have just finished reading Larry Christenson’s novel, Hosea. It is the profound story of Hosea the prophet and his wife, Gomer, who became a prostitute. I was deeply moved as I read the book, and after in my devotional time, as I considered how much God loves us, even in our waywardness. While Hosea and Gomer tell us the relationship between God and Israel-the Israel that often became involved with “other gods”-it also tells us about God’s relationship to us-His unfailing covenant love. I whole heartedly recommend the book.
It is the awareness of God’s love, not merely His law, that moves us to transformation. It is His goodness that moves us, changes us, and motivates us to have compassion on others (see Romans 2:4). God is good and His mercy is everlasting (see Psalm 136:1)! This truth elevates our joy into the eternal and beyond the circumstantial. “Happy New Year” holds a meaning for the believer that is unapproachable to the non-believer. Our happiness proceeds, not from this life, but eternal life.
So, can we be happy regardless of conditions, persecution, suffering…in season and out of season? Absolutely, if our happiness is in the One who said, “Happy is he who does these things.”
God took responsibility to remove our sin and offer us the means to enjoy His goodness. Now it is our turn to do those things that are our responsibility. We are given a free will in His image. We can choose to obey, to think as He does, to be changed in thought and attitude, to have compassion as He does. In so doing, we can have righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (see Romans 14:17).
You have helped us here to have a blessed 2013 and I pray that this letter will help you to have a very blessed 2014!
Scripture Reference: Matthew, Genesis, Isaiah, Romans, Philippians, 2 Peter, Exodus,