Publication: Pastoral Letter, June 2014
Dear Friend in Christ,
I am writing to discuss with you how to be prepared for change, and how the Lord uses change to change us. Life is continuous change, hopefully in small increments. Time is the ticking clock that measures the changes in our lives. Sometimes change does not happen in small increments; sometimes it is unexpected and cataclysmic. How can we be ready for the seemingly radical and unplanned events that are beyond our control?
My wife is with the Lord, as are her parents. My wife’s 71-year-old “special needs” sister is still alive and she has been living in an assisted living facility. Recently she fell and broke her hip. Her care is the responsibility of my family. Of course, neither she nor our family foresaw this event. It came at a time when the whole family was preparing for the biggest event of our year, the CSM Gatlinburg Leaders Conference. How do you handle unplanned events that affect the lives of loved ones?
What about the more catastrophic events that are unforeseen such as the loss of life or financial collapse? Can we be prepared for what we did not expect? I believe so.
I have been asked about “the four blood moons” mentioned in the Bible by the Prophet Joel and Apostles Peter and John. In the near future, there will be more of these rare events when the moon will appear blood red. Some see this unusual occurrence as a sign of the great tribulation, prophesied in the Scriptures, and cataclysmic events will then occur. How can you prepare for that? Some scholars believe that the rapture of the church will precede all of that. If that is true, how do you prepare?
Whether change is incremental or cataclysmic, preparation is important. Do we buy gold, store wheat, buy guns, move to a remote location, try to decide who is the Antichrist? Some advisors say the stock market will go down by 50% or more, but others say that it will climb to great heights. What do we do? I do know that fear is not an acceptable motive for the believer.
The Bible is our map and the Holy Spirit is our guide. We need both. I believe that the Holy Spirit Who gave us the Holy Scriptures uses the Scriptures to guide and prepare us. The Apostle Paul was used by the Holy Spirit to give us much of the New Testament and he knew a lot about change. He was transformed by the Lord on the road to Damascus and moved from persecuting to being persecuted; from imprisoning Christians to being imprisoned as a Christian; from casting stones at others to having stones cast at him; from Pharisaical legalism to an apostle of grace.
Paul begins Romans chapter 12 by urging us to present our bodies to God as a living sacrifice. He said that it was reasonable, considering the mercy God gives to us. We have come to this place by the mercy of God, the Cross of Christ, and the sacrifices of those who have preceded us. It is no accident that the Cross is the primary symbol of our faith. The Cross is the door to the future and our transformation-our preparation. Paul said that preaching the Cross was foolishness to those who were perishing (see I Corinthians 1:18). But the Cross is our salvation if we believe that Jesus took our sins upon Himself there. But there is more.
Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me” (see Matthew 16:24). Self-denial in order to follow Jesus prepares us to know His will. It releases us from cultural confines into His larger purpose, which is as superior to our will as the heavens are above the earth. Jesus prophesied cataclysmic change such as the siege of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple, famine, and even betrayal within families. But then He said, “My peace I give to you, let not your heart be troubled neither be afraid” (see John 14:27). He said when you are persecuted, rejoice because you will have a great reward. How could He warn of calamity then say, “Peace” and “rejoice”?
The answer lies in the Cross, both His and ours. Once we have died to ourselves, we are ready to face the future, whatever it brings. We can follow Him into the future and allow change to transform us. Jesus’ Cross was once and for all; ours is daily denial of self. That is, we live for His interest, not our own.
In reviewing my own life and the major changes, I realize that Jesus never explained the future. He simply said, “This is what I want you to do.” The will of God requires change and the change changes us. If we are unwilling to make changes, we remain unprepared. Change means new thinking.
RENEW YOUR MIND
In the new birth or spiritual regeneration, we receive a renewed spirit and motivation to serve God. But as we follow the Lord, He leads us to new places that require new thinking. (I have previously recommended the book, Switch on Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf.) New thinking not only affects us physically but it prepares us for whatever is ahead. We learn to respond to life instead of reacting to it. New thinking prepares us for the sudden unexpected events.
When Israel left Egypt, they still had old thinking as former slaves. Complaining was a constant habit that they had formed while in Egypt. They reacted negatively to every trial. They tested God and that generation died between the past and the future.
The Jews of Jesus’ day had the same problem. They could not get their minds around the fact that Messiah was not as they expected and they remained unprepared for catastrophic events. Religion does not necessarily prepare us. But a renewed mind drives us to seek God’s perspective.
When change comes, we can love God but mentally refuse to adjust to His will. The habits formed in our various traditions can actually overpower the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Then our wills become an obstacle and leave us unprepared for His will and the future.
Let me be clear, all change is not good. Falling and breaking your hip is not good. War is not good. Famine is not good. But God is the Redeemer, and if we love Him and are called to His purpose, He can bring good out of even bad changes. A renewed mind looks for the purpose of God in any situation and that makes us different-no longer conformed to selfish thinking or the cultural thinking.
The goal of the Holy Spirit is both to make us different from the world’s thinking and also different from the way we were. New thinking comes as we transition into new situations and listen to the Holy Spirit Who is transforming us. In the past, we acted by rules and habits; now we are learning to respond to change as Jesus did, as the apostles did.
When Jesus declared on the Cross, “It is finished,” not only were our sins dealt with, but the past was over. All history was changed from before Christ to after Christ. When we commit our lives to Jesus and die to ourselves, we are transformed-different. As we follow on to know Him the transformation continues, as it did with the apostles. Instead of only receiving grace, we can now give grace. Instead of fear, we can release our gifts in faith. Instead reacting to life, we can respond to life. Instead of being vengeful, we can bless our persecutors. We can love the unlovely, be fervent in spirit, identify with others, walk in peace, and overcome evil with good (see Romans 12:3-21). That difference prepares us for any eventuality and the future.
Some people earn a living by predicting the future and some are better at that than others. When preachers do it, crowds gather; we all want to know it. We are curious about what is ahead. Many years ago, I preached each Sunday evening for an entire year on the book of Revelation. Then, it was six months on Daniel and then moved on to Ezekiel. I got some things right, but my broad view of the future did not really prepare people for their future. Predictions are not always wrong and should be examined, but preparation is another matter. Prediction may excite curiosity, but preparation requires obedience, and that is always right.
We must remember that Jesus said that times and seasons are in the Father’s hands (see Daniel 2:21; Acts 1:7). We may see the signs, but the times are with God. Ours is to prepare our hearts and minds to please God in any situation.
Jesus prophesied, but He also prepared His disciples. He did not “promise them a rose garden.” His approach was not “market driven” nor did He offer slogans to sell His product. His focus in preparing was primarily in three areas: Be filled with the Holy Spirit, understand the Kingdom of God, and make disciples of all nations. He warned them that there would be trouble.
In Luke 24:49, He commanded them to go to Jerusalem and receive the “promise of the Father”. They would need the Holy Spirit (see Acts 1:5; 8). This was not a “do it yourself project.” It was the Holy Spirit Who would enable them to be witnesses unto Him. Have you been baptized in the Holy Spirit?
Then Acts 1:3 tells us that He spent 40 days teaching them about the kingdom of God, and that was after three-and-a-half years of teaching about the Kingdom. God’s government is always vital, but in times of change it is absolutely necessary.
Finally, He commanded them to make disciples of all nations (see Matthew 24:14; 28:18-20). Jesus expected them to give what they had received. Failing to do so would cause them to lose what they thought they knew (see Mark 4:21-25). Jesus treated His disciples as stewards and required them to pass on the Truth to others. The ones who did so would be blessed when He returned (see Luke 12:43; 2 Timothy 2:2).
These three issues prepared the disciples for the future, and they changed the future! The transformed became transformers. We are called to be different and to make a difference. If we follow the words in Romans 12 and the words of Jesus, we will be ready. A few weeks ago, I had dinner with George Wafula, a Kenyan who has been discipled by my friend Larry Neese. George is a transformed man with a transformed family and ministry. He spoke about the impact of our CSM curriculum The Covenant and the Kingdom (available on CD-ROM). Kenya is dealing with radical Islamic terrorists. Nigeria and other parts of Africa, even more so. George has been prepared and has presented his body a living sacrifice. He has a transformed mind. Your support of CSM empowers us to strengthen people like George.
I do not know our future here; some signs warn us. But if we obey God now, we will be ready then. I pray that the Lord will help us to prepare our hearts and minds to please Him, whatever comes. We may not precisely predict the future, but we can be transformed in it and be transformers. That is what Jesus and the apostles did. May God bless you as you seek Him in these days.
P.S. We just completed our Gatlinburg Leadership Conference. Thanks so much for your prayers! Please continue to pray for us and keep us in your budget this month and throughout the Summer. Opportunities are great, but obstacles are many. Our hope is in the Lord.
Scripture Reference: Romans, 1 Corinthians, John, Matthew, Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel, Luke, Acts, Mark, 2 Timothy