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Dealing with Transition
by Tom Brown

            Transitions are inevitable. To be successful and flourish you must embrace and work with the transition God brings into your life. Transition involves change. The change might be moving to a different city, joining a new church, getting a new job, being newly married, receiving a promotion, starting a new business, going into the mission field, being pregnant, attending a new school or anything that brings change from your normal routine.

            We are naturally creatures of routine. We like the way things are and it upsets us when change takes place. Change wakes us up. It makes us realize that we must change the way we are living. God is into change. Not the change of morals, but the change of living out our lives. God never wants us to get comfortable. He shakes us up out of our lethargy. Like a mother eagle who slowly dismantles the nest so her eaglets will have to fly on their own, God dismantles our comfort zone so we are forced to change.

            "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory" (2 Cor 3:18). While we, indeed, reflect the Lord's glory, God is not satisfied with the same reflection. He wants us to be "transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory." God uses transitions to accomplish this.

Transitions in the Bible

            Israel had to go through a transition from slavery to freedom. They often struggled with their new-found freedom, so God gave them laws to remind them that freedom includes responsibility. Prior to their emancipation, Egypt dictated their lives. She told the Israelites when to get up, where and how long to work, and what their pay would be. Now Israel was no longer slaves but free people. They had to adjust to their new way of life. But in the beginning they failed. They complained: "We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost — also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!" (Num 11:5-6).

            Like them, we often complain about the changes in our lives. We prefer the other city we used to live in. This change can either shape you into becoming more like Jesus, or you can, like Israel, complain about where you live.

            Israel then went from the wilderness into the promise land. Even this positive change brought about more responsibility.  For one thing the manna from heaven stopped. They were now going to have to till their own land.

            Then Israel went from being ruled by prophets and judges to being ruled by kings. This brought changes to the people as well.

            Then they went from being ruled by the kings of Israel to being captive and ruled by secular kings. This brought transition again, and a new set of conduct and how to live the Jewish life in a secular nation. How does one enact the Mosaic law while still being bound the laws of Babylon, Persia and Greece? Do you see the changes the Jews had to make?

            Of course, the greatest transition was going from the Old Covenant made on Mount Sinai to the New Covenant made on Mount Calvary. Many Jews did not and still have not made that transition.

Abram Leaves Family

            Genesis 12:1 says, "The Lord had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you." Abram made the transition. He left his entire family to go to the land God would show him. The only apparent mistake is "Lot went with him" (v 4). Abram's nephew, Lot, became a great stumbling block to him.

            Like Abram, we often cling to the old. We bring some of our old ways to our journey, and so the old can become a stumbling block.

            It might be a widow who marries again, only to keep her decease husband within the marriage. The new husband can't seem to find his place because his wife will not accept his individuality. She always keeps comparing him to the old husband.

            It might be someone starting a new business, only to bring the old job with its old ways into the business. While, certainly, there may be worthwhile things to bring to the new business, one cannot be stuck in the old. He must be willing to make changes where changes are better.

            Some bachelors who get married often do not leave their bachelor ways behind them. Face it, when you get married, you cannot go where you want without considering your wife. Some cannot make this transition, so the marriage often does not work.

            An African pastor moved to Europe hoping to plant a successful church. He asked me how he could reach the native Europeans, not just the Africans who moved there. I told him he would have to transition his African culture into a more European culture. This would include starting services on time, playing music that Europeans might enjoy and shortening the services. There would be no way he would reach the native Europeans without this transition. But transition is hard.

            What transition are you going through in which you are trying to bring "Lot" into the new journey? Leave him home. Learn to make the transition.

Altar

             Although Abram made the mistake in taking Lot, he was wise in building altars: "The Lord appeared to Abram and said, 'To your offspring I will give this land.' So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him" (Gen 12:7). He not only built an altar, but he did it again when traveling further. "From there he went on toward the hills east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. There he built an altar to the Lord and called on the name of the Lord" (v 8).

            In our transition, we need to have something firm to stand on, because the nature of transition is change. So we need something that does not change when we make transitions. The altar represented God and His dwelling. In our changes we need to be firmly fixed on God and His Church. So no matter what changes takes place in your life, make sure you have an altar.

            In the new city you live, be part of a church.

            If you went through tragic changes like the death of a loved one or divorce, make sure you get firmly planted in a church. I have seen many people who experienced these sad changes without the support of the church, and they often go the wrong direction instead of moving forward.  This might mean they get stuck in their grief. They live in unforgiveness. They often become desperate and remarry the wrong person. These things happen when we do not get our feet planted in the church. Abram made sure he built altars wherever he went. Do the same.

Be Open for Surprises

            "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that'" (James 4:13-15).  This scripture used to be problematic to me when I was a new believer. I believed in planning, so I thought James was discouraging planning. But he was not.

            He encouraged planning, but simply with a condition that God can interrupt our plans. He says that we should say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." We should plan to live here or there and do this or that. However, we should always adjust our plans to any changes God may make.  This is what is meant by the phrase, "If it is the Lord's will."

            It may not be God's will for you to go here or there. He may want you to stay. On the other hand, he may not want you to stay but to go here or there. In other words, God has the final say so as to His will for your life. This means you must be open to unexpected changes.

            In these changes, you cannot be disappointed. The word "disappointment" comes from two words, "dis" mean "not" and "appointment." To be disappointed means you feel like you are not at your appointed destiny. You think the change took you away from your appointment. But God's surprises is never meant to take you away from your appointment but to bring you into your appointment.

            This is hard to accept when the change seems so negative. It's easy to accept the changes when they involve promotion and new baby, but when they involve the death of a loved one, divorce or loss of a job, you can easily conclude that your best days are behind you. But they are not. The best days are still ahead, provided you avoid the pitfalls of complaining about life. You must be grateful to where God has brought you. Recognize that you are simply entering a time of transition.

Joshua Taking Moses' Place

            How would you like to be the leader to take over Moses' position? That is big shoes to fill. So what is God's word to Joshua? "After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses' aide: 'Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them — to the Israelites" (Josh 1:1-2). God's first words is "Moses my servant is dead." Wasn't that obvious? But there is something penetrating in those words. God is telling Joshua not to try to replace Moses. Don't try to act like him. Be yourself.

            And surprisingly, Joshua accomplishes something that Moses failed to dothat was to bring Israel into the Promise Land. Who would have thought that the successor to the great prophet, Moses, would accomplish such a feat!?

            I think of Joel Osteen. After the death of his father, John, he took over the church. People were writing the obituary, not just of John Osteen, but of his church. Experts predicted the demise of Lakewood Church. No one expected Joel, who had no ministerial experience, to succeed. Like Joshua, he defeated the odds.

            Yet not everyone has been so successful at transition. I have studied churches that were taken over by the founder's sons, and the ones that do not succeed have things in common:

            1. Sometimes the founding pastor is still alive.

            Remember, Joshua did not take over until Moses had died.  In the case of some churches, while the father is still alive, the son tries his best for forge ahead, but the members of the church do not understand why the father has retired and left the church to his son. They want the founding pastor to keep preaching so long as he has breath and is healthy enough to preach. When the father tries to install his son while he is still alive and healthy, the transition often does not work. I call this premature transitions. Transition is good, but make sure it is done in God's timing.

            2. Sometimes the son tries to imitate his father.

            Another mistake is when the son tries to preach like his father. His style is just like daddy's. The trouble is, people will compare the son's style to the father's, and rarely is the imitation as good as the original. It is important to forge a new road and be your own person. This makes transitions successful.  

            If you look at pastors like Andy Stanley and Ed Young, Jr. you will notice how different they are from their fathers. Their church looks different. Their preaching style is different. While their fathers are still alive, they were wise in building their own churches rather than waiting to take over their father's ministry.

            The lesson we learn from Joshua and today's emerging leaders is they forge a new road and become their own person. You must learn to do this as well.

Greater Glory

             Judah, after being without Solomon's temple for 70 years, finally began the restoration of the temple. The foundation was laid. What happens next tells a lot about the psyche of the older people: "But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy" (Ezra 3:12). The young people had nothing to compare the new temple, so they were very joyful. But the older priests remembered the Old Temple, and to them, this temple did not compare with the old. They preferred Solomon's temple.

            The prophet, Haggai, understands their frustration, but encourages them: "'Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing?...The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,' says the Lord Almighty. 'And in this place I will grant peace,' declares the Lord Almighty" (Hag 2:3,9).

            It is easy to compare your past glory with the present. Some of you who have been Christians for years think the praise and worship music in the 80s were better than today's Christian music. Others still think all the electronics in the churchwith big screens, internet access in churchis of the devil.

            Look, do not get tricked into thinking the past is better. While we can certainly learn from the past and respect those leaders in the past, we must move on to great glory.

            This is true, not just of the church, but of every aspect of your life. Whether it is now being single after your marriage ended, or starting a new job, or going to a new school, do not compare the new with the old. Instead, recognize the new is where God has you. Learn to accept the new and adjust to the new life and new changes taking place. As you do, what was said of Abram leaving his family will be said of you: "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing" Gen 12:2).

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