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All Things New

Saturday, January 06, 2024

He who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

Revelation 21:5a

Happy new year! But what exactly is so new about it? Everything we have now is a year older than it was before. If we buy a new car it begins to grow old the moment it leaves the assembly line. So what constitutes newness? We long for newness but we only get glimpses of it now because this present world, and the things we accumulate in it, are destined to pass away (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

In contrast, all that we have in Christ is truly new. In one sense, of course, our faith is ancient and based on texts that are at least two thousand years old. Yet Christian faith is described with the language of newness; not just temporal newness but qualitative newness. What we have and are in Christ is not just new in relation to what is old and came before. What we have and are in Christ is new in quality, eternally new and will never grow old. There are several texts which make this point. Let’s examine a few of them.

In Christ, we have come under a new covenant in which our sins are forgiven (Jer. 31:31-34). Unlike the covenant made with Israel at Sinai, this covenant is open to everyone. Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, established it by sacrificially shedding his blood on the cross which he called “my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28; Lk. 22:20). Sin is the reason why everything new eventually wears out and grows old (Rom. 6:23a). But through the sacrifice of Jesus, we are raised to walk “in newness of life,” that is, eternal life (Rom. 6:4).

In Christ, we are given a new name which describes an enduring relationship (Isa. 62:1-5). When our sins separated us from God, we were “Forsaken” and “Desolate” (Isa. 62:4a) but in Christ, God calls us “My Delight Is In Her” and “Married” (Isa. 62:4b). This new name speaks of a new relationship we have with God through Christ.

In Christ, we are given a new heart which is purified for obedience to God (Ezek. 36:25-27). Through the gospel, we learn of God’s love which cleanses and transforms our hearts so that we no longer want to live selfish and sinful lives but lives of purity and faith in him.

In Christ, we are promised a new body which is imperishable and eternal in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1-5). Our earthly bodies give every appearance of mortality and corruption but they will be raised from the dead and transformed into a glorious body like our Lord’s.

In Christ, we can sing a new song which celebrates his victory over evil (Rev. 14:1-3). The psalmists would sing a new song when they experienced some unexpected, fresh deliverance from God and no previous song could adequately express their joy (Psa. 40:3). Christians will sing this new song when their salvation is complete as they enter God’s presence and see him face to face.

Where will these new covenant people with their new name sing this new song from their new hearts in their new bodies? The setting of this eternal newness for the saints is a new Jerusalem in which only righteousness dwells (Rev. 21:1-5; 2 Pet. 3:10-13). This garden-like city is eternal and incorruptible because God is there and no darkness of evil can ever enter into it.

This newness is not just something to hope for in the future. God’s first act of new creation was raising Jesus from the dead to immortality. Jesus is only the firstfruits of the harvest to come, the firstborn from the dead among many brothers. If you are in Christ, you yourself are “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17), fundamentally changed and reborn not just for a second chance at life, but to “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4).

The best kind of newness this world can offer isn’t really new at all.  There is nothing new under the sun (Ecc. 1:9). Don’t settle for “all new things” which eventually grow old and pass away with this world. Christ is making “all things new,” and he is starting with you!

Trust the Process

Saturday, December 30, 2023

For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

Romans 6:19

I recently had a discussion with a recovering alcoholic who made an acute observation with Christian parallels. Others in the program (Alcoholics Anonymous) had shared their testimony of the great burden that was lifted from their conscience and the sense of peace they felt after having followed the Twelve Steps. The Steps assume one will eventually experience a “spiritual awakening” as a result of following them. He lamented the fact that he never felt such an awakening. Instead he felt that every single day, sometimes every moment, was a struggle against temptation. He contacted his sponsor about this and the reply came back, “Trust the process.”

A major part of recovery is patient persistence. To avoid relapsing, a recovering alcoholic must constantly remind himself of the evils of alcoholism. To guard against falling off the wagon he must trust the process by continuing to move forward in those Twelve Steps. AA meetings are filled with proverbial mantras that remind those in recovery to trust the process: “One day at a time,” “Keep it simple,” “First things first,” “Let go and let God,” “Nothing changes if nothing changes,” “This too shall pass,” “Keep coming back,” etc.

There are, of course, many similarities to Christian repentance and faith. Jesus said, “By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Lk. 21:19). Christians are always being reminded of the importance of patience (Heb. 10:32-39; 12:1-3; Jas. 5:7-11; 2 Pet. 1:3-11). This kind of spiritual persistence does not come through stoic self-effort but through trusting the Lord. We must continue to remember his promises, submit to his teaching and press on toward the reward (Phil. 3:12; Jas. 1:12). In other words, we must trust the process.

The process, in our case, is called “sanctification.” Those in Christ have been forgiven of their sins and are now identified as “saints,” people sanctified, consecrated, set apart for a special purpose by God. This new consecrated status we enjoy in Christ entails the need for continual reform and spiritual growth (2 Pet. 1:3-11). The emphasis in the New Testament letters is for Christians to be what we are in Christ: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” (2 Cor. 7:1)

We have a personal responsibility to continue to submit to that process of sanctification, progressively becoming more and more like our Lord (2 Cor. 3:18). We are to grow in love (1 Thess. 3:12), faith (2 Cor. 10:15), grace and knowledge (2 Pet. 3:18). But, as stated above, this growth does not all depend on us any more than a fruitful crop totally depends on the farmer. Yes, he must till, sow, water and weed his garden but God provides the raw ingredients of spiritual growth (2 Pet. 1:3) and causes the increase (1 Cor. 3:6). He can be trusted to complete the good work he began (Phil. 1:6).

Christians sometimes speak of experiencing a feeling a sense of peace and liberty after obeying the gospel. I would not dare to deny another’s emotional experience but I will say this: for those who have obeyed the gospel but have not felt such an emotional experience afterwards and perhaps wonder if you really are forgiven and saved, please don’t be anxious. Listening to what God says is always more trustworthy than listening to what our hearts feel (1 Jn. 5:13). And what does Scripture say? Jesus died for you and was raised from the dead. When we believe this and are baptized in him, his blood washes away all our sins. Are you still struggling with temptation after your baptism? All Christians do! (1 Pet. 2:11) But if you continue entrusting yourself to Jesus “one day at a time” you will see that the process works. God will complete what he started in you if you continue to move towards him in faith (Jas. 4:8)

Learning from Children

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature.

1 Corinthians 14:20

Jesus often directed the attention of his disciples to children to teach important lessons about God’s kingdom. To be sure, there are ways Christians should not be like children (see above) but they are  often positive role models for us grown-ups. Let’s look at three times Jesus refers us to children as our teachers.

Their dependence (Lk. 18:15-17) — People were bringing their babies to Jesus to be blessed but his disciples rebuked them, as if the Lord didn’t have time for such things. In response, Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Entrance into the kingdom is determined by how we “receive” it. Children are completely dependent on receiving parental care. Other mammals can walk within seconds of being born. But we can’t do anything for ourselves because infants are underdeveloped, immature and incomplete. We must “receive” everything from our parents.

Disciples of Jesus, therefore, must exhibit that same childlike dependence on God to enter the kingdom. Only when we see ourselves as immature, underdeveloped and in need of God’s care can we depend on him for everything and trust him implicitly. Of course, underneath this teaching is the truth that our God is totally dependable and trustworthy. Immediately after this text, Jesus is met by a man who seemed to have these childlike characteristics but proved he was not willing to fully depend on God (Lk. 18:18-30).

Their humility (Mt. 18:1-20) — On this occasion, the disciples were asking Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” Jesus replied by calling a child to him and saying, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Greatness is determined by having a correct view of oneself and others. Humility is shown in how we treat others. Jesus went on to teach that we are to regard each other with the same care and protection as we would our “little ones.” We would never want to cause a little one to sin (6-9) or lose a little one and not go after him (10-14) or begrudge a little one mercy (15-20). While we need a childlike dependence on God we also need a childlike humility toward others.

Their enthusiasm (Mt. 21:14-16) — In Jesus’ final week leading up to his crucifixion, he entered Jerusalem and began healing people in the temple precinct. The children were crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” But the chief priests and scribes were indignant and said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” The children were crying out for the Messiah to save them and they saw Jesus as that Messianic Savior. Jesus responded to the indignation of the ‘grown-ups' by linking the children’s praise to the words of David in Psalm 8:2: “Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies you have prepared praise.” In Psalm 8, David contrasted the frightful enemies of God with “babies and infants” who, though weak and powerless, are established in strength because they praise God. These children calling out enthusiastic praises to Jesus were exhibiting a certain spiritual strength over against the indignation of the chief priests and scribes. Jesus approves of the exuberant praise he receives from children. Do we worship him with that same fervent, joyful praise? Children tend to pray from the heart and sing without the self-consciousness characterized by so many adults.

We must become like children if we are to enter the kingdom. We are blessed with so many kids at Dulles, but are we learning from them? Imitate their dependence, their humility and their enthusiasm.

Pain's Worth

Saturday, December 02, 2023

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Romans 8:18

What do we do with our pain? Where do we go when we hurt? When struggling through some difficulty, we are tempted to isolate ourselves because we don’t feel like worshiping God (he seems so distant) and we don’t feel like being around others (they just don’t understand). Self isolation is a common response to pain but far from from healing us it only deepens the wounds. If, by faith, we move closer to God and his people in worship we will find a spiritual arena in which our pain can be worked out and dealt with in a constructive way. By struggling in worship, our pain can actually help us see ourselves, our God and our mission more clearly.

When we turn our hearts and minds to the cross of Christ, beholding his agony as he suffered on that bitter tree, seeing his anguish and faith and triumphant love, we learn the worth of pain.

Pain helps us to see ourselves more clearly — When we work out our suffering in the context of worship, we will read in Scripture of others suffering just like us. The Bible reminds us that pain is a universal experience. This doesn’t remove the hurt but it mitigates our sense of loneliness. Our pain also heightens our awareness of our fragility. Our physical lives are like a mist that appears for a little while before vanishing. Our pain makes us confront our mortality which, in turn, helps us to see that our greatest need is spiritual. Our outer man is wasting away. No advances in medicine or technology can stop that or keep us from suffering. This fact should cause us to give urgent attention to the inner person of the spirit which will live on after our physical bodies succumb.

Pain helps us to see our God more clearly — Sometimes, we feel like God is distant and emotionally detached when we suffer. But this couldn’t be further from the truth (Isa. 63:9). Any discussion of human pain must eventually lead us to the cross. God already knew the pain of a Creator for his ruined creation (Gen. 6:5-6), the pain of a Husband for his faithless wife (Hos. 2-3) and the pain of a Father for his rebellious son (Hos. 11:1-4). But when he put on flesh (Jn. 1:1, 14), he shared in our suffering personally (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:15). But Christ’s pain was also unique: his was the pain of a Savior dying for the sins of the world (Isa. 53:3-6; 1 Pet. 3:18). The only way God could deliver us from our suffering was to bear it himself. When we bring our pain to the foot of the cross we see a gracious, compassionate and triumphant God worth trusting in.

Pain helps us to see our mission more clearly — One of the wonderful things about being a Christian is learning how to process our pain. In Christ, our pain fits into a story that makes sense. We see the origins of suffering in the Garden of Eden and anticipate the end of suffering in the New Jerusalem. We learn that our pain is temporary and, if we endure it by faith, can actually produce within us a depth of beauty and character otherwise impossible (1 Pet. 1:3-9). Peter says that Jesus suffered for us, leaving us an example to follow (1 Pet. 2:21-23). How did Jesus suffer?

  1. Jesus suffered innocently (1 Pet. 2:22), doing no wrong.
  2. Jesus suffered peacefully (1 Pet. 2:23a), without retaliation.
  3. Jesus suffered faithfully (1 Pet. 2:23b), trusting in God.

When we follow Jesus’ example in suffering it helps us see our mission more clearly. We can use pain as an opportunity to point others to salvation in Christ. God comforts us in our affliction so that we may comfort others in theirs (2 Cor. 1:3-11).

We can’t avoid all suffering in life but we can learn its worth and even learn to rejoice in it (Rom. 5:1-5). Pain helps us see ourselves, our God and our mission more clearly.

The Christian's Work

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Teach me, my God and King,

in all things Thee to see,

and what I do in anything,

to do it as for Thee.

All may of Thee partake;

nothing so small can be,

but draws, when acted for Thy sake,

greatness and worth from Thee.

If done to obey Thy laws,

even servile labors shine;

hallowed is toil, if this the cause,

the meanest work divine.

(George Herbert)

What is your attitude toward work? We typically view secular jobs as necessary but otherwise undesirable. Work is a means to an end, what we have to do to survive—and the sooner we can stop the better. But is this the mindset Christians ought to have? Let’s take a quick tour through the Bible to see the purpose of work.

Act 1 — Work is a good thing because God created us for it (Gen. 1:28; 2:15). Work is not a result of sin but part of God’s original purpose. God’s ‘cultural mandate’ (Gen. 1:28) explains his vision for humans: we should harness creation through our work, making a positive contribution to the world and deriving joy from it.

Act 2 — Work is a broken thing because it is spoiled through sin (Gen. 3:17-19). Because of humanity’s rebellion, creation itself resists our efforts to subdue and cultivate it. Now that sin has entered the world, work can be toilsome and frustrating, even abused as a tool to exploit people. Because work is a broken thing, we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter difficulty on the job.

Act 3 — Work is a justice thing because God regulated it (Law & Prophets). God knew labor was affected by sin so he regulated work in the law of Moses: he promoted fair payment of wages, fair money lending practices and labor contracts, protected workers from abuse and commanded loving treatment of others. Because work is a justice thing, our work (and how we do it) must be ethical.

Act 4 — Work is a kingdom thing because the Lord is served by it (Col. 3:22-24). Jesus exercises lordship over every aspect of our lives, including our work. Therefore, the quality of our work, no matter how trivial it may seem, should reflect our King. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

Act 5 — Work is a mission thing because the gospel is commended by it (Titus 2:9-10). Christian work ethic proves the gospel. We can actually show the beauty of the gospel through the work we do when we do it for the Lord. Because work is a mission thing, we should not only work for the Lord’s sake but also for the sake of others, that they may see our good work and glorify God.

Act 6 — Work is an eternal thing because, in the end, God will redeem it (Rev. 21-22). John glimpses the future and sees a garden-like city where God and his people will live together in unity. There, all the redeemed will continue to work by serving the Lord and reigning with him (Rev. 22:5). Because work is an eternal thing, the work we do in the Lord’s name and for the Lord’s glory, no matter how small or insignificant it may look to us now, will not be in vain (1 Cor. 15:58). Somehow, God will make the good work we do for him in this life count in the next. So whatever we do in our work, let us do it well, do it honestly and do it for the Lord.

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