The new year is a milestone to mark the passing of time, to hope for the future and resolve to make changes. We also tend to think of the past—what was—as well as what might have been. For some, the new year may lead us to long for days gone by.
Do you remember your high school days? Many recall them as a time of few cares and lots of fun, and perhaps a time of romance with a first love. As we juggle the responsibilities of adulthood, those high school days may look pretty good to us—but nostalgia can often blur our recollections.
It is easy to find ourselves longing for glory days that never were. High school may have included times that were carefree and fun, but what of the awkwardness, the disappointments and the pain of adolescence? Do we really want to relive those experiences? Falling in love can be wonderful, but what about the insecurities, the misunderstandings and hurts that can come with getting to know the other person? Most of us could probably do without re-living those experiences.
When I am tempted to think back with nostalgia, it is to the early days of our Jews for Jesus ministry. Those days were marked by tremendous zeal and creativity. New Jewish believers were flocking to be a part of what God was doing in Jews for Jesus. We were discovering together what it meant to be Jewish and follow Christ. The joy of that discovery bonded those early Jews for Jesus into a powerful tool for proclaiming the gospel. We were pioneers, breaking new ground, people who needed one another as we served the Lord together.
But I also remember the lessons we had to learn in those early days. Some were painful indeed. We were a bit rough around the edges and those "glory days" weren't always that glorious.
It is good to remember the past, but not from a desire to turn back the clock. God wants us to remember the past for the sake of the present and the future. Do you remember the wonder of discovering the love of God for the first time? Think back on the enthusiasm, the zeal you had for Him. Remember how you hungered for His Word, for fellowship. Remember the desire you had to share Christ with others. When we see those qualities in new believers, we remember the early days and perhaps the words of our Messiah to the church in Ephesus ring in our ears, "I have this against you, that you have left your first love" (Revelation 2:4).
Jesus' words are not a challenge to return to the status of a brand new believer with all the lack of knowledge and maturity of a babe in Christ. His words are an admonition to renew our Christian love and zeal now, and for the future.
God asks us to remember the past so that we might renew our hearts for the future. Our hope is not in what has passed, but in what lies ahead. Yet that hope is based on what God has already provided.
Do I wish we could go back to the early days of Jews for Jesus? No. As I remember the past, I long for us to experience the renewal of the Holy Spirit for the future.
We still do what we did in the early days, but God is giving us opportunities that did not exist back in those days. Our Jews for Jesus staff still calls on the unsaved in their homes and offices, sharing our testimonies and opening the Word of God. Now we can minister to Jewish people through cyberspace as well as face-to-face. We still travel throughout the country and abroad, witnessing on city streets, on college campuses and in churches—and now we are experimenting with open-mic nights and ministering to Jewish people in places we never dreamed of in the early days, like India and Thailand.
God is still bringing young Jewish believers to be a part of our ministry, and many of them are children of Jewish believers whom we meet through our burgeoning children's programs and camp ministry. When I see these kids and all their potential I am tremendously encouraged.
Our hope is not in the "glory days" of the past, but in the glorious future God has in store. The best is yet to come. But we need to be renewed in order to reach for the best. That renewal is to take place in our minds: "And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2).
There is a youthfulness about a renewed person, regardless of his or her age, and it has to do with how the mind functions. J.A. Robinson wrote, "The Spiritual principle of the mind must acquire a new youth, susceptible to spiritual impressions."*
To be susceptible to spiritual impressions does not mean that we are gullible or "itchy-eared" to hear supposedly new truths. It means we recognize that the Holy Spirit has much to teach us, and that we remain impressionable under His tutelage. We need to pray that God will grant us that kind of susceptibility.
Renewal is not only a matter of the mind, but also of the heart. We remember the past because it builds our faith to recall what God has done. We need that faith in order to be transformed and renewed.
Renewal is not to occur only once a year with a New Year's resolution or two. It is a daily response to God as He calls us to present ourselves as living sacrifices (see Romans 12:1-2).
The problem with living sacrifices is that they tend to wriggle off the altar! We need to bind ourselves to that altar with cords of love and trust in the One who sacrificed Himself for us. We need God's renewal in our lives to stir up fresh dedication, new commitment and the kind of faith that enables us to see a future that is brighter than the past. I want that renewal. I want to remain on that altar for Jesus. That is my commitment before the Lord and for the ministry of Jews for Jesus.
Maybe this past year has held struggles and disappointments. Perhaps there are physical problems for which there is no relief in sight. Do not lose heart, but remember that even though we are perishing outwardly, inside we are being renewed day by day. And our light momentary affliction is working a far heavier weight of glory that will last forever and ever (see 2 Corinthians 4:16-17).
As we enter 2012, I want to invite you, dear friends, to remember and renew your relationship with the Lord Jesus. I also want to invite you to join with us in renewing your commitment to the ministry of Jews for Jesus through prayer, through giving, and through witnessing. The best is yet to come!
*J.A. Robinson, ad loc., St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians, Macmillan, London, 1904
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