Monday, February 23, 2015

All Things New

The Bible is a remarkable book! One of its most fascinating characteristics is that it begins with an account of Creation and ends with a vision of a new creation. In between, it tells how we messed up the first, creating a need for the second. You see, God is in the business of creating, even takes delight in creating. I love the way poet James Weldon Johnson expressed it:

                        Then God smiled,
                        And the light broke,
                        And the darkness rolled up on one side,
                        And the light stood shining on the other,
                        And God said, That's good! (Italics are mine)

Again and again, Genesis one echoes with the words, "That's good!"

Then man messed things up by sinning. That's not good! But God is also in the business of re-creating. It goes by many names--restoration, reconciliation, regeneration, redemption; but it still takes an act of God, and it is still an act of creation, bringing  about something that is new. He sent His Son to begin the task of renewing His creation; and in the end, His Son will complete the task. Theologian Bernard Ramm explained it this way: "The culmination of redemption is to bring into existence the new, so that the theme of eschatology could well be that given in Revelation 21:5, 'Behold, I make all things new.'"

Eschatology is the study of last things, things that will happen at the end of the age. And at that time, our Lord will have made all things new. In the meantime, however, He has been at work already making things new. In fact, the word make in Revelation 21:5 is a present tense verb, which means that He is making all things new even as I write this sentence. Redemption began at the beginning when God clothed Adam and Eve with animal skins. Actually, it began before the beginning, since God chose us in Christ "before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him." (see Ephesians 1:3-5) Now, in Christ Jesus, He continues to make all things new. And will continue until He consummates His work into eternity.

The Bible has several words for new. The one John uses in Revelation 21:5 is the Greek word kainos, meaning new not in terms of time, such as recently occurring, but new in terms of form or quality. It is something of a different nature from what is old.

To make "all things new," He began with us. Paul says, " if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come." (2 Corinthians 5:17, italics mine) God doesn't just patch up the cracks we've created in our lives. Remember Jeremiah's potter? "But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make." (18:4) Jeremiah pictured what God is doing for us this very day, remaking us into another vessel as it pleases Him.

He is changing the form and quality of our lives to make them more like His (Romans 8:28-29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). In Ephesians, Paul described it. He said, "... that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth." (Ephesians 4:23b-24, italics mine)

Our new self is characterized by righteousness because righteousness is a vital quality of God's character (John 17:25). Our new self is holy because He is holy (Leviticus 19:1; 1 Peter 1:15-16). And it bears the integrity of truth because He is the truth (John 14:6).

As we begin each new day, week, month--yea, each new year, we can praise the Lord that Jesus will not present us to His Father as merely the "old man" improved, but as an entirely new creation with a new name, a new heart, a new nature, and a new body  "holy and blameless" in Him (Ephesians 5:27) who specializes in making "all things new!"

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Within the covers of the Bible are the answers for all the problems men face.  ~~ Ronald Reagan
A Sheltering Tree
(Original Candle Drippings Title: "The Lord of Love")

As our years increase and grey hairs begin to invade the brown, our hearts turn to reflection.  About youth, love. Sunsets. Cool evenings.  Spring rains.  Age, joy, friendship, the ideals we once embraced.  Shortly before his death on July 25, 1834, Samuel Taylor Coleridge expressed his reflections in a poignant poem, Youth and Age.  In the middle of the poem, he wrote,

Flowers are lovely; Love is flower-like;
Friendship is a sheltering tree;
O! the joys, that came down shower-like,
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty,
Ere I was old!

            I'm intrigued by the second line of this excerpt: "Friendship is a sheltering tree."  Friendship seemed to come hard for Coleridge.  All of his life he suffered from numerous physical ailments.  As a result, he frequently took heavy doses of laudanum---opium dissolved in alcohol until he became addicted to the drug.  Perhaps because of the influence of the drug, perhaps not, who can tell, he struggled with loneliness and the sense of isolation that often accompanies it.  But there were a few friends who took away some of the loneliness.  One of them,  William Wordsworth, was especially close.  From their first meeting right up to Coleridge's death, Wordsworth was to him a sheltering tree, bringing the ailing poet into the shade of comfort, encouragement, and support that often defines a true friend.

            I have a friend like that.  His name is Jesus.  And before He departed this world, He commanded His disciples to be that kind of friend to each other.  "A new commandment I give to you," He said, "that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another."  (John 13.34)  Here is one instance where we are specifically told to act like Jesus.  Love one another even as I have loved you.  The words even as mean "in just the same way."  We need to love each other in just the same way Jesus loved us.  Then we, too, can grow into a sheltering tree for one another in Christ.

            But how?  Jesus's love was unconditional, unselfish, unrestrained, and unending.  He loved willingly and sacrificially.  Friendship, the kind that loves like Jesus loves, actually begins with acceptance.  Have you ever thought how diffcult it is to accept some of our brothers with all their quirks and idiosyncracies?  They do one thing that rubs you the wrong way and you back off.  Even when they apologize and try to make things right, you only move in to  a "discreet distance," or maybe back off further refusing to restore friendship at all. Jesus says we must accept them for who they are in Christ, not because of anything they do.  Accept them because they are His.

            When He found us, Jesus accepted us just as we were.  Look again at those He hung around with.  Jesus was accused of befriending prostitutes, crooked tax agents, thieves, drunkards, and other sinners.  And check out those who became His innermost circle of companions.  Coarse fishermen, a questionable tax agent, a political zealot, to name a few.  Peter was so impetuous he constantly screwed up.  But Jesus said, "I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail."  (Luke 22.32)  John had a temper so intense it earned him the nickname "Son of Thunder."  But he earned the distinction of being the disciple whom Jesus loved.

            Furthermore, Jesus's love was other-centered.  His entire life and ministry expressed His love to others by serving them, pleasing them, lifting them up.  He told His disciples, "Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." (Matthew 20.28, italics mine)  To serve someone as Jesus did, you have to focus your attention on them, to look after their needs over and above your own.  "Have this attitude in yourselves," said the Apostle, "which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God..., emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant." (Philippians 2.5-7)  Immediately before that, he advised God's people to "do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others." (vs. 3-4)

How can we love as Jesus loved?  Accept one another because He has already accepted us (John 13.20), and look out for the needs of one another instead of concentrating on our own.  When we do, we begin to spread the leaves and branches of a sheltering tree over our brother or sister and show our obedience to and love for the Lord of Love.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Fallen Images

Dr. Elwin Ransom was sent on a mission. In C. S. Lewis's moving tale, Perelandra, Ransom traveled from Earth to Venus on a mission to prevent Venus's "Eve" from yielding to the temptation that would plunge her people into sin. After many days on Venus, he encountered both the King and Queen of that world, the "Adam and Eve" of Venus. Ransom was so overcome by the radiance of their appearance that he fell on his face before them and said, "Do not move away.... I have never before seen a man or woman. I have lived all my life among shadows and broken images."

            Broken images? What did he mean by this? Lewis was reminding us by a subtle suggestion that man and woman were originally created in the image of God: "Let Us make man in Our image," God said, "according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." (Genesis 1:26)

            So what is involved in the image of God? A lot. For example, an image resembles and represents the one it images. Man resembles God in that he is an intelligent, moral being. Man has a mind that can think, examine, analyze and evaluate information. And he can communicate his finding through language. According to Arthur Koestler "The emergence of symbolic language, first spoken, then written represents the sharpest break between animal and man."        Man is also moral. In fact, when speaking of man, the Bible focuses on such moral qualities as purity (1 John 3:2ff., 9); righteousness (Ephesians 4:24); and holiness (Ephesians 4:24).  All these represent ways in which man resembles God.
            The image of God also means that man represents God. In that role, man is ruler of this planet (Genesis 1:26), exercising control and authority in His name. Cultivating the land to improve and control the environment. Establishing laws so communities of people can live in harmony with one another. Governing those communities. "As vassal lord," according to theologian John Frame, "Adam is to extend God's control over the world...." Adam exercised this control at the beginning by naming the animals God brought before him (Genesis 2:19).

            But...! Ransom referred to fallen images. On earth, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, man fell into sin. Still they remained the image of God (Genesis 9:6), but now the image is corrupted by sin--fallen!

            In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul describes in part how the fallen image can be restored. "In reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."

            In speaking to the King and Queen of Perelandra (Venus), Ransom indicates the goal of restoring God's image in man. He said to them, "Take me for your son." This is why God restores His image. "As many as received Him, to them gave He the power to become the sons of God...." (John 1:12, KJV). After that, He is gradually reshaping us into "the image of His Son...." (Romans 8:29). But first, we must receive Him into our hearts and trust Him to finish what He starts in us (Philippians 1:6). Then the new self will gradually replace the old self, the shadows will vanish, and the broken image will take the shape of a restored image.

Note: This article was originally written as a study for the youth at Sagamore Baptist Church, Fort Worth, Texas. I post it here to share it with all who may benefit by it. ~~krc

Monday, February 2, 2015

Worship is no longer worship when it reflects the culture around us more than the Christ within us.  ~~A. W. Tozer
The Cup of Praise

Although we naturally grieve the loss of a loved one, for Christians, the time of their departure is really a time for celebration.  As an example, a few years ago I attended the funeral of my brother-in-law, Slim Fulton, in Pennsylvania.  So many people had gathered at my niece's house afterward to grieve his death and to glorify God, I was amazed.  But my mind lingered on the words of the minister when he reminded us all that "while, indeed, we have sorrow over his earthly departure, we also have the joy of knowing that the real Slim--the one you know and love--has never been more alive."  That is why we celebrate.  Our loved one has entered the presence of the Lord to share in His life.

            The Lord Himself set the precedent.  Just before His death, He initiated a ceremony for celebrating - of all things, His death.  Why not His resurrection?  Maybe that's included.  Let's check it out and see.  In 1 Corinthians 10.16, the Apostle Paul says, "Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ?  Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?"  From just these words, it's clear he's talking about communion, the Lord's supper.  But since both his expressions suggest the death of Christ, how does the resurrection fit in?  And how does this reflect blessing much less a cause for celebration?

            By focusing on the cup and its meaning, I believe I can answer these questions.  When Jesus initiated the Lord's supper, He was right in the middle of the Passover celebration.  He took both the cup and the bread from the Passover table during the Passover observance.  The cup of the Passover became the cup of Communion.  But which cup of Passover?  there are at least four.  Let's look at all four for a minute.  From them, we may learn about the one cup and why Paul calls it the cup of praise!

            The first of the cup is the Cup of Remembrance.  As they drink it at the Passover, the participants remember the mighty acts of God on their behalf as well as the mighty God who acts on their behalf.  Remember that you were once slaves to the world and its powers (Deuteronomy 15.15).  Remember the name of the Lord your God (Psalm 20.7), its majesty, its beauty, its glory, its power, its gentleness.  Remember the Lord who is great and terrible (Nehemiah 4.14).  Remember the day of deliverance when He brought you out of bondage (Deuteronomy 16.3).  Remember the marvelous works of the Lord (Psalm 105.5).  And when He first took the cup, Jesus blessed it and said, "This do in remembrance of Me." (1 Corinthians 11.24)

            The second cup is the Cup of Redemption.  It naturally follows and is inextricably linked with the first cup because it, too, focuses on remembering, in this case remembering the redemption of the Lord.  First, there is focus on the Redeemer Himself.  The Lord is our Redeemer (Isaiah 43.14).  The Holy One of Israel is our Savior (Isaiah 43.3).  Then there is the need - yea, the requirement of the redeemer to be a kinsman (cp. Ruth 4; Deuteronomy 25.5).  So much of Biblical society revolved around the family unit and the extended family to include all who were related by blood.  Before He acted as our Redeemer, Jesus became one of us, one of the sons of Adam (yet without sin), becoming our kinsman so He could make us one of the kinsmen of God (Hebrews 2.14, 17).

            The third cup, the Cup of Salvation, is closely linked with the second cup, because it is the cup of salvation.  It, too, reflects on the redemption of the Lord in its effects.  It is filled until the wine flows over the rim of the cup onto the table, so we could say with the Psalmist, "My cup runneth over...." (Psalm 23.5).  It reveals God's salvation, so great there is no vessel on earth that can contain it.  Like the Lord Himself who is our salvation, of whom it is said, "if the heaven, even the heaven of heavens cannot contain Thee, how much less this house [the temple, Solomon's or even the temple of our body]."  (1 Kings 8.27)  Like the wine in the cup, the presence of the Lord in us should so overflow from our lives that it spreads to the "table" around us (cp. Matthew 5.16).

            The fourth cup looks forward to the coming of the Lord.  It is the Cup of Messiah.  This cup focuses on the return of the Lord to complete His conquest of the enemies of His people and to establish His reign over the whole earth (Daniel 2.37; 7.13-14; 1 Corinthians 15.23-25).  It brings the message of the cups full circle, drawing our attention to the completion of the glory of God in His final redemption of His people (Revelation 11.15).

            But which cup is the cup of Communion?  Actually, the one I believe He took was a fifth cup known as the cup of Elijah.  When each of the other cups was filled, some of their substance was also poured into the cup of Elijah, so that in a very real sense, this cup contains the substance of all the cups.  Thus the message of each is summed up in this cup.  When we drink it, we show the Lord's death (for redemption and salvation) until He comes (as Messiah of Israel and Redeemer of the world).  This cup is the Cup of Elijah because it represents one who was the fore-runner of the Messiah and the first prophet known to have ministered to Gentiles, the widow of Zarephath. (1 Kings 17:9-15) When this cup is drunk, it is the only time in the service that Gentiles are invited to share in the celebration of deliverance, in the worship of and praises to the God of Israel.  So, this cup is for all the nations, for all mankind, just as the blood of Christ was shed for the deliverance of all mankind.  No wonder, Paul calls it the cup of Praise!