Tagged: New Creation

Reflections on Gratitude and the Holy Supper

gratitude

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? 1 Cor 10:16

Eucharisteo is the Greek word for gratitude.

The posture of thanksgiving is what the biblical narrative points to as the proper posture of the imago dei in man. This stands in contrast to our North American culture of excessive hoarding and addiction through the gratification of insatiable desires. Hans Boersma makes the observation that this is quite understandable since our words is astonishingly beautiful: “When we smell, when we taste, when we hear, when we see, when we touch—the pleasure that follows can be overwhelmingly powerful.” But the purpose of our lives is not for increased gratification of the instinctual sort. What separates us from animals and what makes us rightful candidates of the imago dei—that uniquely human calling to image the Creator—is a posture of eucharisteo: gratitude. But not just any gratitude, but the kind that leads to self-giving, the kind that recognizes that all of creation—all that we can taste, touch, smell, hear and see—is merely a gift to be offered back to God.

In response to Jesus’ instructions, christians have made what has come to be known by countless names (holy communion, eucharist, holy supper, etc) as the definitive marker of the Christian identity.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said. Then word “communion” refers to the greek word, koinonia, which is also translated as fellowship, and participation. This special Christian act is precisely that: fellowship, participation, a unique and unexplainable mystery of entering into the Trinitarian life. And as we enter into the life of the Trinitarian God, we are launched into a life of eucharisteo.

To be authentically human, according to Christian faith and practice, is constituted by the posture of thanksgiving that leads to self-giving.

Paradoxically, and in opposition to everything we’re told by a culture of rampant consumerism, a life of gratitude is the life that is most satisfying of all.

Studies have shown that gratitude in itself is a healthy posture, and daily practices of expressing gratitude will contribute to happier life. But who are we to thank? How we answer this question will determine whether or not we will move from thanksgiving to self-giving.

Thoughts on Art, Salvation and Being Human

creative

The question of vocation has loomed over my head and heart for many years. I’ve heard that most people don’t discover their true vocation until their mid 30s, likely because they’ve reached a certain degree of self-awareness. I’m in my late 20s and fighting to discover where my heart is. I’ve heard it said that God calls us to things we love, and makes us love the thing he calls us to. Joy is a big part of the process. Someone asked me recently: when did you last experience joy? Sadly, I couldn’t remember. As I thought about it, I realized that one thing that gives me great joy is helping others discover their creative potential, whatever that may be.

A few months ago I taught a two-part series on salvation. The first part was more of a doctrinal survey, and the second part asked the question: what does salvation have to do with culture? What are we saved for? With help from Andy Crouch, I discovered that salvation has a lot to do with restoring our human, creative calling. Man’s ability to create was not lost at the Fall, but his motive for making was marred. After the Fall, Mankind explored his creative powers for his own glory—for violence, oppression, idolatry. Christ, the true Culture Maker and Redeemer, transformed a cultural symbol of violence and evil—the cross—into a symbol of victory, power, forgiveness and redemption.  In our being reconciled to God, we are being restored to our original human calling as co-creators with Christ in this great drama of redemption.

I am thrilled to help others find their creative gifts, move past the insecurities that inhibit them, and watch them flourish as they contribute to what God is doing.  Let’s move past the typical stereotypes of who an artist is and what art is.  If you’re a human, you are made in God’s image, and you were made to create–you are an artist. Cultivate those creative impulses and put them out into the world in a way that glorifies God—and by that I mean, in way that reflects his plan for a New Heavens and New Earth—one in which suffering, oppression and injustice are wiped away.

“The Garden” by Phil Aud

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I found this song online here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l1bvlU8eKTss. It beautifully conveys the biblical narrative and human longing for true home, that can only be found through and in Christ. Here are the lyrics:

I remember / days of pleasure / days of purpose / filled with laughter and song
Sights of beauty / and sounds of waters / in the garden that I once called home
East of Eden / I am broken / east of eden / I feel shame / I feel cold
I am left with / my decision / as I work this hard soil
As I work this hard soil.

I was weeping / when he asked me / why the crying / who do you seek / As he called me / my eyes were opened / on the first day of new creation’s week /
in the garden I find healing / in the garden I’m made new I’m made whole /
I find life and restoration / in the garden of the Lord / in the garden of the Lord

No more weeping / no more sorrow / no more pain and / no more death / but sights of beauty / and sound of waters / in that City that we’ll soon call home / in that city built from a garden / there the lamb will / be our source / be our life / there the nations / find their healing / coming from / the tree of life / coming from the tree of life.

Schmemann on modern escapist spirituality

“Tired and disillusioned by the chaos and confusion he himself has brought about, crushed by his own ‘progress,’ scared by seemingly triumphant evil, disenchanted with all theories and explanations, depersonalized and enslaved by technology, man instinctively looks for an escape, for a ‘way out’ of this hopelessly wicked world, for a spiritual haven, for a ‘spirituality’ that will confirm and justify him in his disgust for the world and his fear of it, yet at the same time give him the security and the spiritual comfort he seeks. Hence the multiplication and the amazing success today of all kinds of escapist spiritualities—Christian and non-Christian alike—whose common and basic tonality is precisely negation, apocalypticism, fear and a truly Manichean ‘disgust’ for the world”
– Alexander Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit, 84.

Cross-Shaped Community

We often seek to be in relationship with people that are like us, in terms of ethnicity, dress, socio-economic status, etc.  But the Gospel transcends these categories. It creates a people that are part of the new creation: “neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).  The “how” of the community of this “new creation” requires a posture of self-giving that takes its shape from the Cross. Earlier in the chapter, Paul tells us that we must

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2)

 So what is distinctive about this new creation community?  What’s the purpose of relationships if it isn’t to meet people that have similar sentiments?  I want to examine three truths from this passage that may help us make sense of Christian life in new creation community, which must take the shape of the cross.

1. We all have burdens.

The easy-road consumer-driven “prosperity gospel”  promises a burden-less wealth-filled good-life, rather than a cross-shaped life. Its popularity is a witness to the pervasiveness of our consumer mentality: it seeks to “sell” the gospel by promising  physical well-being and status. Sadly, it overlooks the Christian life portrayed by the Scriptures. . Jesus instructs his followers  that they too must bear their cross, a prerequisite to being his disciple (Luke 14:27). Peter says suffering is a means of “sharing in the sufferings of Christ.” The church at Corinth suffered from persecution; Paul doesn’t tell them that they don’t have enough faith, but tells of his own suffering and exults in them, claiming that they are to bear the marks of  ministering for a crucified messiah. The reason why I mention the “prosperity gospel” is because I think it has so deeply pervaded our thinking that we have come to believe that sharing our burdens is a bad, faithless thing to do. In reality, we all have burdens, we all have struggles, we all have emotional or physical pain. We must begin with the concession that “we all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2), and therefore, we all have burdens, to be shared within our new creation community.

2. A personal relationship with Jesus does not mean a private relationship with Jesus.

We love our privacy. I know I do. But a close relative of privacy is a subtle resolution for self-sufficiency. Culture  tells us that we must seek to be self-made men and women. As a result, we establish a framework in which we view people as tools to serve our independent purposes rather than as humans to share life with. It’s time to stop living as though a “personal relationship with God” means doing Christian life alone. In verse 6 (in Galatians 6) Paul warns, “if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” Something who “thinks he is something” thinks it too menial a task to bear the burden of another, and will keep their own burdens private, since that would require an acknowledgment of need. If we’re not careful, we will use the language of “having a personal relationship to Jesus” as a justification for pride, and thereby avoid participation in the new creation community. 

3. Burden bearing, not being the morality police, fulfills the law of Christ.

In Galatians, Paul addresses the moral imposition of the so-called Judaizers. They wanted circumcision to be the identifying mark of the Christian, a scheme that sought to salvage a defining ethnic element of the Jewish tradition.  Paul, annoyed, writes: “I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (5:12).  It seems the Judaizers cared little for the burdens of the people.  They focused their energies instead on keeping their ethnic tradition intact and so imposed many laws and instructions  in a burdensome manner.  The question for the new creation community is: Will we impose burdens on each other, or will we bear each others burdens?

The Canadian way tends to be the private way, and as a result, we don’t know the deep struggles, temptations, and sufferings of those in our church communities. Despite this, within the new creation community, we are directed to bear each others burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. This requires a cross-shaped  faith and lifestyle that seeks to acknowledge our own failures, embrace the way of humility, and lovingly fulfills the law of Christ, that is, the law of love. 

Cruciform Life: Faith, Hope, Love

I grew up hearing the language of “inviting Jesus into your heart.”

It is very cute, and I’m sure Jesus appreciates it, but it’s not exactly biblical.

What we see most commonly in Scripture is not that we invite Jesus into our hearts, but that HE invites us into his story. The language of being “in Christ” is a recurring theme throughout the New Testament (appearing an approximate 83 times in the Pauline Epistles alone), pointing us to the reality that Christian humans (I think I prefer being identified as such, since I am primarily a human, then a Christian), enter into the story of Christ; a story marked by the cross and the resurrection, and resulting in a new life.

Conformity to Christ crucified, which one authors calls ‘cruciformity’ (‘cruciform’ literally means ‘shape of the cross’), is an ongoing reality in the life of the believer, beginning at the first moment of faith, expressed in baptism, and continues on throughout life. About baptism, Paul writes,

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Romans 6:3-4.

So what does the cruciform life look like? It’s characterized by faith, hope, and love. Faith is fidelity and loyalty to God, patterned after Jesus’ life of faithful obedience. Hope is the confidence of God’s future glorification in the life of the believer despite present suffering and tribulation. Love, patterned after the cross, is the costly covenant fidelity toward others within the ekklēsia; also taking the shape of cruciformity.

This life is only possible through the empowering of the Spirit; which enables fidelity to God by connecting believers to the cross and thereby creating individual and corporate newness.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

1 Cor. 5:17

This points us to an even grander story: the story of God’s plan for New Creation. God promised, through Isaiah that God would one day re-create creation: “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth” (Isa. 65:17; cf. 66:22). For Paul, this has already begun in the resurrection of Christ, but will only finish in the future. The community who is “in Christ” (Romans 8:1) has the “first fruits of the Spirit” (Romans 8:23), and exists and lives as result of and anticipation for the New Creation (8:23-25).

Like an author who loves his story so much that he will include himself in it, God enters into his story as the Rescuer – inviting us, and our story, to join his, into the cruciform life of faith, hope, and love, looking to the promise of a New Heaven and New Earth.

Amen.

Psalm 1 & 2: The Already and Not Yet of Blessing, Worship, & Hope

I love the Psalms. Here’s a reason why:

Structured like the Pentateuch (on purpose), it is 5 books into one. We’re given a doxology to mark out the end of one book and the beginning of the next (24, 72, 89, 106). The individual books were particular collections (i.e. “From Korah”), and eventually put together into one.

The Psalms, in the format that we have them, were probably not completed until Israel’s post-exilic period. They represent many centuries of Israelite worship.

We shouldn’t encounter them as a loose collection but as a book. They aren’t randomly scattered, but it seems clear that in the compilation, there is a consciousness of what is going on.

Psalm 1 is a great case study.

What’s is curious about this psalm is that it is not a prayer but a blessing; a blessing for those who go on the right way in contrast with those who do not. The reader is greeted not as a worshiper but as a journeyer, an individual not as a group. Private mediation on the law is commended. It implicitly provides an important point of entry for the whole book; inviting the reader into blessing by lawful mediation, guiding the reader on how they are to read.

Chapter 2 seems to be read in continuity with chapter 1.

Chapter 2 is kingly. As mentioned, what is interesting about the whole book, this anthology was only put together after the exile, yet there were no kings in Israel at that time. This raises the obvious question, why include psalms in an anthology closely tied to the king when there is no king? Here’s why: language of Kingship in the prophets often point to the eternal kingdom established by God’s Messiah. Conclusion: Psalm 2, and the other “royal” psalms are understood to refer to a king to come, and in that way they become messianic texts. In fact, Qumran writings interpret them as such.

Eschatological hope becomes the context for worship.

Psalm 1 outlines 2 ways for individuals and psalm 2 outlines 2 ways for nations. This is about messianic future and righteous government, with a here and now dimension while holding in tension the future hope; the already and not yet.

The Psalms provide a place of identification with the post-exilic people of Israel. We, like them, are in a state of tension, experiencing our own Exodus journey, and like them we can proclaim in hope that “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).

He is faithful.

Jesus Baptized: The Holy Spirit and the New Thing

The Holy Spirit is a dominant theme throughout the book of Luke.  The Holy Spirit fills individuals in Luke (John, Elizabeth, Mary, Jesus, Zechariah, Simeon, cf. 1:15, 1:35, 1:41, 1:67, 2:25, 3:22, etc), and the work of the Spirit is spoken of in contrast to the many “evil spirits” that cause damage to the individual (7:21, 8:2). The Spirit is associated in the births of both John and Jesus; John will be “filled with the Holy Spirit before birth” (1:15) and Jesus will be conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:35).  A common result from the infilling of the Holy Spirit is prophecy and praise (1:42-45, 1:64, 2:13). Joel Green and Scot Mcknight associate Luke’s use of the Spirit with prophetic acts that point to the recognition and assurance of salvation: “Elizabeth and Zechariah experience the Spirit of prophecy in invasive prophetic speech (the invasive quality denoted here by the Lukan favorite idiom “filled with” the Holy Spirit) … and as a result give oracles of recognition and assurance of salvation.”[1]

The Holy Spirit appears in a very special way at Jesus’ water baptism (Lk 3:21-22;  Mk 1:9-11; Mt 3:13-17; Jn 1:29-34).

It is interesting to note that in each of the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ baptism narrative introduces the rest of his ministry. What is really going on? What were the writers of the gospels telling their readers?

This moment is intentionally placed (in Luke’s account) in order to draw attention away from John the Baptism and centre in on Jesus. What Luke is saying to his readers, is that something special is going on here, a prophetic act in which the New Covenant is being announced.  It’s like he’s saying “It’s time for the project of the New Creation to begin, and it begins here, with Jesus.”

Scholars don’t agree on the purpose of the dove ascending on Jesus, and what that may intend to mean. I believe that it’s meant to allude to 1) the Noah narrative, where the dove was a messenger of new beginnings (Gen. 8:8-12), and 2) the creation narrative, where God’s Spirit hovers over the waters right as he is about to bring forth creation ex nihilo (Gen. 1:2). The point, I think, is that God is now doing something NEW in Jesus. The project of New Creation is beginning in Jesus who is the Christ.

Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan is meant to signify this powerful new thing that God is doing in history. It is “unique moment in history: the beginning of a new epoch in salvation-history – the beginning, albeit in a restricted sense, of the End-time, the messianic age, the new covenant.”[2]

With regards to this narrative, NT Wright claims that “John the Baptist is playing Samuel to Jesus’ David,” and thus, Luke’s readers are given notice that “there is a new kingdom, a kingdom of Israel’s god, and that the young man now anointed by his cousin in the Jordan is the king through whom it is to be set up.”[3]
The baptism of Jesus signifies the beginning of the in-breaking of the kingdom of God, Jesus the Messiah, empowered by the Spirit, is bringing forth the year of the Lord’s favor: good news to the poor, liberty to the captives, the recovering of sight to the blind, and liberty those who are oppressed (Lk 4:18-19, cf Isa 61:1-2).

It is likely that Luke’s frequent mention of the Holy Spirit (much more than any other Gospel) is put to use in order to remind his readers that God “gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (11:13), and may shed light on Luke’s intention to convey to the readers that now is the time of the new covenant, where God’s spirit is given to all flesh (C.F. Joel 2:28, Ez 33-36, Jer 36, Is 40-55).
The key here, is ALL flesh. This project is going to bring in the plan God had from the beginning, to make himself known to all the nations (cf Ez 36, Gen. 15, Jer 36). The allusion to Creation and the Noachic covenant points to God’s commitment to the whole of creation and serves to intensify the universal nature of God’s plan of salvation. It is likely that Luke intended the readers to recognize Jesus’ identification as the Messiah endowed with the Spirit in order to bring forth God’s eschatological program of salvation to all the nations. 
It makes sense that Luke, throughout his gospel account, focuses on the outcasts of society; women, the poor, tax collectors, samaritans, etc. The point, I think, is that the Holy Spirit is offered to all (11:13), just as forgiveness is offered to all (3:3, 24:47). The gift of the Holy Spirit, it seems; will lead to Prayer, Praise, and Prophecy (yes, three P’s… my homiletics teacher would be proud).  Through the Holy Spirit Jesus Promises Power (that’s got to be an A+)…and will eventually lead up to ….the day of Pentecost… (Okay I don’t know how this is happening right now)…
And finally it is on that day of Pentecost where the Spirit falls on all flesh. The New Covenant is materializing in a new and powerful way.
A little after Jesus’ baptism, he himself announces this New Thing that is happening, in him:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

 

Amen.
 


[1] Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green and Scot Mcknight (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 342.

 


[2] James D.G. Dunn, Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A re-examination of the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecostalism Today (London: SCM Press, 1970), 24.

 


[3] N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1992), 379.

The Blessings of the Kingdom

There are countless interpretations of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

One wonders, was Matthew being a legalist with regards to these teachings? Commonly, it is suggested that Matthew is warding off legalism with respects to the dominant Pharisaic presence, while at the same time, warning against an antinomianism common to those who “live by faith” (but not by works).

This seems to be a common struggle for many Christians, particularly Evangelicals. That is, the struggle of “faith” vs “religion/works,” as it is commonly referred to. Most often, Christians agree that it begins with faith and the works will follow. This is good, but not enough.

The beatitudes, (i.e “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…” etc etc) don’t seem to fit in very cleanly with the above mentioned perspective. There is something missing. What is important to note about these sayings of Jesus, is that they are not describing the “way things are now” but rather

“they are annoucing a new state of affairs, a new reality which is in the process of bursting into the world. They are declaring that something that wasnt’ previously the case is now going to be; that the life of heaven, which had seemed so distant and unreal, is in the process of coming true on earth” (NT Wright, After You Believe, 105).

Now that Jesus is here, God’s kingdom of blessing is coming, a kingdom of renewal of creation, mercy, justice, peace, and love. And as the Kingdom arrives, the qualities of humility, meekness, purity and so on will shine through most powerfully.

So, his teaching is not a “rewards based” retribution theology, (ie behave this way and you will be rewarded), nor is it a “now that you believe in me, this is how you must behave.” Rather, Jesus is saying that God’s new world, God’s plan to bring restoration to the world – a plan beautifully exposed in Isaiah 11 – is coming to birth in Jesus.

These qualities become a reality as we anticipate the coming Kingdom – the New Creation.

Anticipation is a funny thing. When playing soccer, if I anticipate the ball coming towards me, the power of that anticipation will result in bodily movement; I will run towards the ball. Similarly, anticipation of the New Creation will result in new behaviour; transformation of Character. That happens as we follow Jesus.

There’s this interesting Greek word, telos. It connotes a sense of completion, goal, and fulfilment. A full word study may not be appurtenant here, but often, the word is mentioned in the context of the biblical vision for the New Creation, and to top that off, it is in view and anticipation of the telos that a Christ-like character is being formed. 1 Corinthians 15 is a great example of this, as well as the entire book of Revelation. Also, 1 Peter 4:7, which says:

7The end of all things is at hand; therefore be self-controlled and sober-minded for the sake of your prayers.

There are many more directives throughout the New Testament that we can look at.

One author summarizes the big idea beautifully:

“When [the New Testament writers] present us with a vision for the future, they refuse to move from the present to the future. They move from the future to the present. They are captivated above all by a conviction about what God will finally do – the panorama unveiled in Revelation 21 and 22 – a future when God will dwell with his people in the new Jerusalem, a future promised by and guaranteed in the raising of Jesus from the dead. And in the light of this ultimate hope, they dare to claim that this future can start now. They tell us that their lives are being breathed into by the breath of God, being reenergized by God’s Spirit, that they are already enjoying the life of the future.” (David Taylor, editor of “For the Beauty of the Church”).

Jesus tells his hearers, “Be perfect (teleios) because your heavenly father is perfect (teleios)” (Mt. 5:48). Teleios, is usually translated as “whole, complete, perfect.” Essentially, he’s saying, that you are people of the goal – people of genuine humanness.

The Blessing of the Kingdom is in light of the New Creation – And that is happening here and now because of Jesus. We are living in the “already and not yet” – we live in view of the “not yet” and we live it out “already.”