Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Life Like Fresh Water

Followers of Christ are baptized into a new community and a new humanity. We still have relationships with many people who are not a part of the new community, and we have many points of contact with the old humanity, so much so it seems we have one foot in the grave. But Christ is Head of the Church, the Firstborn of the New Creation, the Image of the Invisible God where Adam failed. So in being united to Christ, we are part of a new community, the Church, and our identity and destiny is linked to a new humanity that labors not under the sentence of death but rather serves with the promise of eternal life. These thoughts are introduced in Romans 5, and the implications are worked out in Romans 6-8.
There is a neat illustration of this reality in the book of Ezekiel, chapter 47. The picture is of a deepening stream that flows from God's new temple. It is fresh water, and as it flows as a River toward the Sea, this fresh water reaches the salt waters of the sea and makes them fresh. There are at least two points to consider:
First, how deep are we into Christ, the new Temple? Positionally, you are either all-in or not at all. If you are in Christ, you are in Christ. But experientially and submission-ally, are you ankle-deep? Are you merely wading in Christ, or are you all-in?
Second, let me tell you my paint story. A customer met with Jane and they carefully chose just the right color, but then before I could get it on the wall, the customer changed his mind. I went to the paint store to see if they could lighten it, but the paint man said that to lighten it instead of just "gray" it up, you would need to add about half a gallon of white. Now think of the Sea: how much fresh water must enter from a stream into the sea to turn salt water to fresh? It seems there could never be enough. In fact, just a little salt water can spoil a great quantity of fresh water. But this is where the Romans 5 principle is so penetrating: "where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." No matter the overwhelming tide of salt water, the freshness of Christ over-whelms salt, and sin.
So, as believers in Christ, we are members of a new community that seems in constant danger of being contaminated by worldliness, and of a new humanity that still makes regular visits to the funeral home. But our fears and senses cannot be allowed to tell us what is true. Rather, Christ is true, and He is the fountain of fresh water that can utterly transform the brine and sin of our world and our selves. 
This is a promise with which we can live.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Peace on Earth

We hear the Christmas refrain, "Peace on earth, and goodwill to men." In the coming of Jesus, there is the promise of Peace, of Shalom, of unity and harmony. And yet we know that Jesus was misunderstood and rejected. He was killed on the cross. And so we ask, "where is the peace?"
We understand that these present conflicts will be followed by eternal peace. Jesus has set the table for future peace by dealing a death blow to the devil, sin, and death. Though fatally injured, they are not yet dead, and so we feel the effects of this unholy trinity, and perhaps more fiercely, as the bull in the ring is more dangerous when injured.
So where do we find peace today? "We have peace with God though our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 5:1). Peace is found among Christians, expressed in "same mind,. same love,. same spirit,. same purpose" as they "let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:2,5 paraphrased).
The irony is that Christian peace and harmony are hard-fought prizes. To gain peace, Jesus died. To share peace, Christians seek to tell of Christ to those who may not want to hear. To maintain or re-gain peace, believers "speak the truth in love," employing honesty and humility to un-cover and root out buried lusts and lies that interrupt Christian fellowship.
Peace and harmony, heavenly realities, can quickly become twisted to describe earthly travesties. We do not have peace when we do not speak the truth, and we have no harmony when there is not the flow and expression of love. Absence of conflict can just as well be a "cold war" as peace. Failure to confront can be an expression of "I don't care." 
There will always be a host of antagonisms and frustrations on earth. There will be none in heaven. In the communities of believers, heaven's outposts on earth, let there be "peace on earth, and goodwill to men."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Give Glory to God!

Who could argue? Sounds like a good thing. Except when the Pharisees say it to the man blind from birth who now sees (John 9:24), they are saying anything but. Why do I say that? It's all in the echo.
The Gospel according to John is one of sixty-six Bible books that makes up one Book, the Bible. Though written over several centuries by many authors, this one Book is self-interpreting. The only reason for this is because behind and above all human authors is a single Author who is also the Architect of history who directs and discloses according to a single Divine plan.
And so, when we hear a "Give glory to God" echo, we stop and think how one passage reflects on another.
Many centuries ago, Joshua led the people of Israel out of the wilderness into the Promised Land. Moses was left behind; Joshua was the new, prepared and appointed leader. They crossed the Jordan River and marched around the walled city of Jericho. God knocked down those walls, and the Israelites were there to pick up the pieces, every one to be devoted to God. They then hurried up the road to Ai, an un-walled city that looked like easy pickings. They were defeated. In the midst of their wailing, God revealed that their defeat was due to disobedience. Someone had stolen plunder from the Jericho loot. Lots were cast, a tribe was indicated, then a clan, then a family, and there stood Achan.
As Joshua confronts this man, he opens his interrogation with these words: ““My son, I implore you, give glory to the LORD, the God of Israel, and give praise to Him; and tell me now what you have done. Do not hide it from me.”” (Joshua 7:19 NAS95) Joshua (the Old Testament name that is rendered as "Jesus" in the New Testament) is assigned to confront the sinner.
But the echo doesn't quite fit, does it? In the Old Testament, God's man confronts the sinner. But in our New Testament passage, it is not the New Testament Joshua who confronts the one regarded as sinner. Rather, he heals him. On the other hand, the Pharisees confront the man with the gloriously changed life, commanding him to glorify God by accusing the God-man of wrong-doing. The Pharisees are seeking to distort the blind man's vision of the God-man who gave him his sight. They are seeking to pit a sinner against his Savior. They are saying "Give glory to God," even as they set themselves against God's Beloved, and as they attempt to make use of the only man within reach who is just now enjoying a wondrous foretaste of God's glory in the forms of restored sight and changed life. At the end of the story, Jesus like Joshua confronts the Pharisees, who now look now seem to fit quite nicely into Achan's shoes. They were seeking to steal what only belongs to God.
The Pharisee-in-me distorts the echo of the purpose and plan of God. Yes, sin must be identified. But God's purpose is to save sinners, and His plan points to Christ. Any activity that aims to keep sinners separated from their Savior must be rejected. Those who would recover a heart of worship would do well to learn from the now-seeing-man, who accepts rejection by men in favor of acceptance by the Son of Man.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Bright Eyes

“And the light of my eyes, even that has gone from me." (Psalm 38:10 NAS95)
I would like to think that my mind rules over my moods. But personal experience argues against this. Our minds are often clouded by the crush of emotions which are reactions to experiences, and there is a mental and spiritual "dimming of the eyes." The psalmist describes this condition. We understand.
Let's be clear. This condition does not imply that the sun has stopped shining or that God has abdicated His throne or that His promises have failed. Rather, there is in us an obstruction that shields us from that light, or a resistance that pushes it away. There is something in our hearts that does not want the light to shine, that does not want the truth to re-form, that does not want the heavenly vision to reign. 
Sin will bring about a dimming of the eyes. Suffering can lower one's gaze, so that we see only ourselves. Disappointment and failure can lead us to focus on what is wrong with us, and it can lead to an unwillingness to look up, to look forward. We find ourselves bereft of courage and imagination. Again, let's be clear. My sins are mine. I lower my gaze out of self-consciousness, consumed with my situation. I can really enjoy a little self-pity. This is me. This is my heart. We may indeed be victims, but we are most definitely sinners.
And sinners need to be reminded again and again of the Gospel which refreshes and renews, and which paints a picture of a heavenly future toward which we journey as saints who trust in a God who makes good promises. Yes, suffering and disappointment and rejection and pain are all facts of life. But the Gospel and a heavenly vision brighten my eyes.
Let's give Isaiah 30 a chance to help us with a dash of heavenly hope and vision. The people are off on a wrong foot once again. They are seeking help in all the wrong places. They are looking for someone to trust, someone on whom they can depend. But they don't look up. They veer sideways. In spite of this, God offers a word of hope. Yes, there will be trouble. Good times will be postponed. But God's hope comes shining through, nonetheless.
 “The light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, and the light of the sun will be seven times brighter, like the light of seven days, on the day the LORD binds up the fracture of His people and heals the bruise He has inflicted.” (Isaiah 30:25–26 NAS95)
There are so many other themes in this section of hope, but notice the light! Every color shines brighter, every detail clearer. What was murky has now become plain, and what was confusing is now obvious. We see the truth about ourselves, and we are cleansed of our deception. We see the truth about God, and He is glorious.
And then we add in some of the other elements noted in Isaiah 30: "weep no longer;" "your Teacher will no longer hide himself;" "He will give you rain;" "rich and plenteous;" "streams running with water;" "songs in the night; gladness of heart." A new day is dawning. It will be bright.
"Lord, give me bright eyes, that is, eyes to see Your brightness."