We do not think differently because our lives are renewed; we live differently because our minds are renewed.

15 January 2019 saw, amidst other news, four major news stories.

The first news item had political significance, plunging the United Kingdom into its deepest political crisis in half a century. It was the day that the British parliament decided to reject Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposed BREXIT deal. The results were crushing. At the end of the day, Ms May suffered an overwhelming defeat – 432 votes to 202 – the biggest defeat for the British ruling party in modern history.

The second news item had spiritual significance – an event that, in numbers, even surpassed the annual pilgrimage of Muslims travelling to Mecca. In the northern Indian city of Allahabad (renamed Prayagraj), the Hindu festival KUMBH MELA began. The Kumbh Mela in 2019 is billed to be the largest gathering of people anywhere on earth, ever in history: over 49 days, 120 million Hindu pilgrims are expected to attend. The gathering is so large it can be seen from space.  Hindus believe that bathing in the holy waters at the confluence of three rivers (one mythical) in Allahabad will wash away their sins and help free them from the cycle of rebirth and death.

The third story had emotional significance and brought heart-breaking scenes from the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, where a terrorist organisation claiming to be al-Shabaab attacked the DUSITD2 HOTEL complex (which includes a bank, shops and restaurants).  The 5-star hotel was recently awarded “The Best Luxury Business Hotel 2018” in East Africa at the World Luxury Hotel awards.  The attack resulted in the deaths of 21 people (excluding the attackers who were also killed).

The fourth story had social significance – a message found its way onto social media and encouraged Christians to boycott McDonalds because of a sculpture by Finnish artist Jani Leinonen, featuring a CRUCIFIED RONALD McDONALD in a museum in Haifa, Israel. Even though the sculpture is real, the truth is that McDonalds did not initiate or endorse this sculpture and publicly distanced itself from it. The exhibit as such had little to do with Christianity and was created by Leinonen to criticise what many view as society’s cult-like worship of capitalism.  It has been on display for months and has also been shown in other countries without any complaints.

What completely surprised us at INcontext was the response from the Christian community.

The largest display of ‘lostness’ on earth – the Kumbh Mela – did not feature on any social media post or on any agenda. There was no outcry, no public prayers, no concern. How did it pass us by? How could the Church not be on her knees while heaven was weeping?  News of the tragedy and loss of lives in Kenya also barely featured in mainstream news – after all, this happened in Africa. Brexit, and its wider political repercussions, troubled few outside the UK as well. What did make news, however, and resulted in a multitude of comments and opinions on social media was “McJesus” and the exhibit in Haifa. “I will never set foot in McDonalds again,” was the Facebook post of one believer, getting a number of likes and a few “Amens”.

The question we need to ask ourselves is how Jesus would respond to the news. Knowing Christ, the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3) and the One who desires for all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the Truth (1 Timothy 2:4) – He would be found next to the Ganges in India, weeping over souls that are lost, and not outside a museum in Haifa protesting about a sculpture. This should have been be the main priority on the agenda of any believer who shares the Lord’s heart for the lost. And yet this was sadly not a priority for many believers. Defending our faith seems to take priority over living our faith.

Without exception, whenever Jesus preached, He challenged His followers to reposition themselves and engage with the world from a redemptive and Kingdom perspective: not protecting their faith but proclaiming their faith. Not seeing themselves as victims but engaging as victors. Not fighting to be acknowledged but denying the self and living to die.

Think about this. Have you ever wondered what the first words were that Jesus preached?  Scripture actually tells us this in Matthew 4:17: “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” 

The first public instruction out of His mouth, as we read in Matthew 4:17, was later translated into the Greek imperative verb METANOEO (MET-AN-O-EH’-O), which literally means “to think differently” or to “change your mind” or “reconsider”.  It certainly implies to “repent”, as it was later translated from Latin, but it means so much more.

Without making it too complicated, the root in the word used for “repent” is NO-EH-O, which means “to exercise the mind (observe)”. META basically means “to modify”. It is the same word used in “metamorphose” – which means to change the form or transform. The word that Jesus used was a word that requires a primal change of position, worldview, or way of processing and perceiving information and then changing behaviour accordingly. What Matthew 4:17 actually commands is to modify the way we think because we now belong to a different world – the Kingdom of Heaven. What Jesus preached, from the first words He uttered, was for His followers to think differently, to reposition, to modify the ways of exercising the mind – because we now function in a different Kingdom.

Jesus clearly believed in transformation and a change of priorities. Jesus understood the reality that we do not think differently because our lives are renewed; we live differently because our minds are renewed. The flow of behavioural changes starts with our thoughts.  Thoughts lead to actions, actions lead to habits, habits lead to discipline, discipline builds character and character determines destiny.

Romans 12:2 confirms this principle: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” 

This is probably the biggest challenge for Christians today: not information or knowledge, but how we position ourselves politically, or economically, in our perception of global news. We need the mind of Joshua and Caleb who were the only two Israelites in a whole generation who saw the promised land – simply because they “had a different spirit” (Numbers 14:24).

We need to not only repent, but to rethink. As we watch the news, we need to observe and respond from a REDEMPTIVE position.