Offense Kills!

 

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As humans, we’re easily offended. We fail to understand, however, that offense can become resentment; this, in turn, can lead to anger. Ultimately, unresolved anger can morph into hatred. Hatred, if left unchecked, can destroy us.

Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.

John Bevere, in his book The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense, tells us the issue of offense is often the most difficult obstacle an individual will face in his or her life. Jesus wisely told His disciples, “…if your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them” (Luke 17:3, NIV). Bevere writes, “Often when we are offended we see ourselves as victims and blame those who have hurt us. We justify our bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, envy, and resentment as they surface. Sometimes we even resent those who remind us of others who have hurt us” (p.10). Hatred actually walls us off—from God and from others. Proverbs 18:19 says, “A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.”

THE WALLS WE BUILD

We build walls when we are hurt to safeguard our hearts and prevent any future wounds. We become selective, denying entry to all we fear might hurt us. This could not be more true when it comes to romantic relationships. We’ve all heard the phrase, “He comes with a lot of emotional baggage.” Perhaps you’re married and have spent the night on the couch after offending your spouse. Unfortunately, without our knowing, these walls we construct become a prison. We guard our rights and personal relationships carefully. But there is a huge trade-off here. If we don’t risk being hurt, we cannot give unconditional love. We avoid the hurt, yes, but we inadvertently cut off the good as well. I’m a huge Garth Brooks fan. One of my favorite songs by him is The Dance, which brilliantly and poignantly touches on this topic.

Bevere believes when we are offended and in unforgiveness and refuse to repent of this sin, we fail to walk in the knowledge of the truth. We are deceived, and we confuse other Christians and non-believers with our hypocritical lifestyle. We become a spring that spews forth bitter waters. You see, those who are planted in the love of Christ and the will of God will flourish. But those who harbor resentment, anger, and hatred will isolate. They will begin to avoid those with whom they are angry. Social connections will begin to die off. Wither on the vine. They become miserable and their prayer life begins to suffer. The unavoidable result is a faltering relationship with Jesus. This can only lead to a diminished capacity to forgive and to love. This is nothing less than a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Worse yet, offended people begin to believe everyone is out to get them. With this attitude it is difficult for them to see areas in their own lives that need to be changed. God simply did not create us to live alone on an island. We are to love and care for one another. We are social beings. We are flesh and blood, but we are also spiritual. If we stop confronting our own character flaws, we fail to grow. Spiritual perfection is not about being perfect—never making a mistake. If you’re attending a church where that message is taught, it’s time to find a biblical church. Spiritual maturity is about growth. It’s about maturity. When we blame everyone else, we stymie our growth. We fail to see the plank in our own eye. In this regard, we are literally hiding from reality.

THE THREE MOST HARMFUL EMOTIONS

In her book Living Beyond Your Feelings, Joyce Meyer addresses the topic of anger. She says the three most harmful negative emotions are anger, guilt, and fear. She believes anger is number one. When a crime is described as being one of passion, that means it was incited by anger. Anger is such a dangerous emotion that people end up in prison because of what it causes them to do. This begs the question, “Is hate instinctive?” What I do know is unconditional love—true, God-like agape love—comes only from God (see 1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In the flesh, we have no capacity for this kind of love.

Nothing justifies an attitude of hatred. I must admit I’ve hated in the past. I did not get along with my father. I allowed my anger to boil over into hatred. It poisoned my relationship with him. It created a dark film over my eyes; I saw everything he did through that distorted view. It robbed me of the opportunity to learn from him. It caused me to fear and avoid him. Hatred will change your worldview. We see the world not so much as it is but as we are—as we are conditioned to see it. You see yourself and the world in a particular way, mostly based on environmental factors. This is both paralyzing and empowering. It is not uncommon to find yourself wondering How did I get here, to this place, at this point in my life?

Anger shows up in many ways: it criticizes, withdraws, ridicules, humiliates, teases, puts down, strikes out physically (against people and property); it causes poor concentration, bad decisions, a miserable life, depression (when turned inward), drug and alcohol abuse, bullying, passive-aggressive behavior, disrespect. It causes a spike in adrenaline and cortisol, which creates anxiety and the sensation of fight-or-flight. It can lead to headaches, digestive problems, insomnia, high blood pressure, skin problems, heart attack, or stroke.

WHAT ABOUT RECONCILIATION?

Jesus told His disciples, “What you are in your heart is how you really are!” That is quite an accusation. Humility and meekness were paramount to His ministry. So was gentleness and kindness; forgiveness and compassion. He illustrated the importance of letting go of anger and bitter offense. He indicated that not dealing with anger can lead to hatred. Reconciliation was far more important than being right. Obviously, there are limitless scenarios for offense. Maybe the person who offended us was truly wrong. Perhaps we’re convinced of the reasonableness of our anger. We feel justified. However, Jesus exhorts us to reconcile even if the offense is not our fault. It takes maturity to walk in humility in order to bring reconciliation. This is what is meant by being a peacemaker. Romans 14:19 says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (NIV).

Reconciliation involves a change in a relationship, either between you and God or between you and another person. It assumes a breakdown in the relationship and a need for restoration. Of course, reconciliation is the objective work between God and man through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross (2 Corinthians 5:19). Reconciliation is also the subjective work between a man and his wife; between a brother and his sibling; between a supervisor and his or her subordinate; between two best friends. We are to pursue that which makes for peace between us. We need to remember that pride is anathema to this process. Pride defends. Pride blames others. Humility agrees, and says, “You’re right. I should not have acted that way. Please forgive me.” This takes Godly wisdom. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1 that we are to imitate God.

THE WAR WITHIN

We often feel like a war is going on within us. Our renewed inner man wants to do what we know is right. The apostle Paul fought this battle. He wrote, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the Law is good… for I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15, 16, 19, NIV). The key is learning to understand the difference between flesh and spirit. We need to practice crucifying the flesh daily, walking instead in the Spirit. In newness of life. Scripture tells us that when we receive Christ as our Savior and Lord, He gives us a new nature (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). He imparts to us His nature. He grants us access to a spirit of temperance. He gives us not a spirit of fear but of sound mind (see 2 Timothy 1:7).

This battle also applies to forgiving those who have offended us. Many people—believers and non-believers alike—decide forgiving others is just too hard. They choose avoidance instead. They wallow in unforgiveness. They stew. They allow resentment to build. They become callous. They build walls. Stop making friends. After all, they’ll only get hurt again. People suck, right? But deciding not to forgive can be spiritually crippling. The Bible clearly says that if we don’t forgive others, God will not forgive us (see Matthew 6:14-15). If we allow this to happen, we’re permitting sin to stand between us and God. We will find it difficult to hear His will for us. We won’t be able to sense His presence. I know firsthand that harboring resentment robs us of peace, restful sleep, happiness, relationships, contentment, joy. It affects our physical and mental health. It robs us of our spiritual well being.

Do you have someone in your life that has wronged you? Have you been harboring anger, resentment, unforgiveness? Speak to God about it. Ask Him to forgive you of your unforgiveness. Seek His guidance on how to best approach that individual. Then, when you feel led by the Holy Spirit, go to him or her. And whatever you do, give that person the freedom to be themselves in the same manner you expect to be given the freedom to be you. We’re all children of God. Love and forgive others in the same manner that He loves and forgives you.

References

Bevere, J. (2004). The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House Publishing.

Meyer, J. (2011). Living Beyond Your Feelings. New York, NY: Faith Words

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are from the King James Version.

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Christ Suffered and Died: To Reconcile Us to God

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I have presented seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating today with To Reconcile Us to God. Of course, there are countless more reasons for Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection: To show His own love for us; to become an ransom for many; to bring us to faith and keep us faithful; to give us a clear conscience; to obtain for us all things that are good for us; to heal us from moral and physical sickness; to secure our resurrection from the dead; to disarm the principalities and powers, the rulers of the darkness of this world; to destroy the hostility between races and religions, and others.

For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life. (Romans 5:10)

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THE RECONCILIATION THAT NEEDS to happen between sinful man and God goes both ways. Our attitude toward God must be changed from defiance to faith. And God’s attitude to us must be changed from wrath to mercy. But the two are not the same. I need God’s help to change; but God does not need mine. My change will have to come from outside of me, but God’s change originates in His own nature. Which means that overall, it is not a change in God at all. It is God’s own planned action to stop being against me and start being for me.

The all-important words are “while we were enemies.” This is when “we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). While we were enemies. In other words, the first “change” was God’s, not ours. We were still enemies. Not that we were consciously on the warpath. Most people don’t feel conscious hostility to God. The hostility is manifest more subtly with a quiet insubordination and indifference. The Bible describes it like this: “The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Romans 8:7).

While we were still like that, God put Christ forward to bear our wrath-kindling sins and make it possible for Him to treat us with mercy alone. God’s first act in reconciling us to Himself was to remove the obstacle that made Him irreconcilable, namely, the God-belittling guilt of our sin. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

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Consider this analogy of reconciliation among men. Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24). When he says, “Be reconciled to your brother,” notice that it is the brother who must remove his judgment. The brother is the one who “has something against you,” just as God has something against us. “Be reconciled to your brother” means do what you must so that your brother’s judgment against you will be removed.

But when we hear the Gospel of Christ, we find that God has already done that: He took the steps we could not take to remove His own judgment. He sent Christ to suffer in our place. The decisive reconciliation  happened “while we were enemies.” Reconciliation from our side is simply to receive what God has already done, the way we receive an infinitely valuable gift.

 

Christ Suffered and Died: To Make Us Holy, Blameless, and Perfect

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying to make us holy, blameless, and perfect before the Father.

He has now reconciled [you] in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him. (Colossians 1:22)

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ONE OF THE GREATEST heartaches in the Christian life is the slowness of our change. We hear the summons of God to love Him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30). But do we ever rise to that totality of affection and devotion? We cry out regularly with the apostle Paul, “O Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). We groan even as we take fresh resolve: “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own” (Philippians 3:12).

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That very statement is the key to endurance and joy. “Christ Jesus has made me His own.” All my reaching and yearning and striving is not to belong to Christ (which has already happened), but to complete what is lacking in my likeness to Him. One of the greatest sources of joy and endurance for the Christian is knowing that in the imperfection of our progress we have already been perfected—and that this is owing to the suffering and death of Christ. “For by a single offering [namely, Himself!] He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). This is amazing! In the same sentence He says we are “being sanctified” and we are already “perfected.”

Being sanctified means that we are imperfect and in process. We are becoming holy—but are not yet fully holy. And it is precisely these—and only these—who are already perfected. The joyful encouragement here is that the evidence of our perfection before God is not our experienced perfection, but our experienced progress. The good news is that being on the way is proof that we have arrived.

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The Bible pictures this again in the old language of dough and leaven (yeast). In the picture, leaven is evil. We are the lump of dough. It says, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Corinthians 5:7). Christians are “unleavened.” There is no leaven—no evil. We are perfected. For this reason we are to “cleanse out the old leaven.” We have been made unleavened in Christ. So we should now become unleavened in practice. In other words, we should become what we are.

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The basis of all this? “For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” The suffering of Christ secures our perfection so firmly that it is already now a reality. Therefore, we fight against our sin not simply to become perfect, but because we are. The death of Jesus is the key to battling our imperfections on the firm foundation of our perfection.

Christ Suffered and Died: For the Forgiveness of Our Sins

DURING THE WEEK LEADING up to Easter I will present seven distinct reasons why Christ suffered and died, culminating on Easter Sunday with To Reconcile Us to God. Today we look at Christ suffering and dying for the forgiveness of our sins.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses. (Ephesians 1:7)

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WHEN WE FORGIVE a debt or an offense or an injury, we don’t require a payment for settlement. That would be the opposite of forgiveness. If repayment is made to us for what we lost, there is no need for forgiveness. We have our due. Forgiveness assumes grace. If I am injured by you, grace lets it go. I don’t sue you. I forgive you. Grace gives what someone doesn’t deserve. That’s why forgiveness has the word give in it. Forgiveness is not “getting” even. It is giving away the right to get even.

That is what God does to us when we trust Christ: “Everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name” (Acts 10:43). If we believe in Christ, God no longer holds our sins against us. This is God’s own testimony in the Bible: “I, I am He who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake” (Isaiah 43:25). “As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12).

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But this raises a problem. We all know that forgiveness is not enough. We may only see it clearly when the injury is great—like murder or rape. Neither society nor the universe can hold together if judges (or God) simply say to every murderer and rapist, “Are you sorry? Okay. The state forgives you. You may go.” In cases like these we see that while a victim may have a forgiving spirit, the state cannot forsake justice.

So it is with God’s justice. All sin is serious, because it is against God. He is the one whose glory is injured when we ignore or disobey or blaspheme Him. His justice will no more allow him simply to set us free than a human judge can cancel all  the debts that criminals owe to society. The injury done to God’s glory by our sin must be repaired so that in justice his glory shines more brightly. And if we criminals are to go free and be forgiven, there must be some dramatic demonstration that the honor of God is upheld even though former blasphemers are being set free.

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That is why Christ suffered and died. “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7). Forgiveness costs us nothing. All our costly obedience is the fruit, not the root, of being forgiven. That’s why we call it grace. But it cost Jesus His life. That is why we call it just. O how precious is the news that God does not hold our sins against us! And how beautiful is Christ, whose blood made it right for God to do this.

Forming a Christian Worldview

IMPLICATIONS OF A WORLDVIEW

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Every worldview frames how one understands the world and how one acts in that world. Understanding the phenomenon of worldviews has implications for our thinking in at least three fundamental ways: (1) understanding what happens when variant worldviews meet, (2) recognizing the degree to which worldviews are inherited, and (3) acknowledging the limited degree to which we can objectively reflect upon and alter our own worldviews. Conflict between worldviews usually stems from incompatibility at the level of our assumptions. For instance, if one assumes that the material realm is all that exists, then talk of the immaterial seems absurd. Dialog between individuals who hold differing worldviews must begin by talking about the assumptions inherent in their respective worldviews.

A second implication of the fact that we all hold worldviews is, perhaps, more troubling; it must be admitted that worldviews are less chosen than inherited. From the moment we are born, our views of the world are shaped by the culture and subcultures within which we are raised. Our families, religious traditions, educational institutions, media, and a host of other forces instill within us assumptions about the world and our place in it. We are less aware of these influences than we might imagine or wish. Most of what we know and believe has been given to us by our parents, friends, community, and society. We learn more about the world from others than we conceptualize on our own. We accept and assimilate more than we reject or deny. In short, we do not develop our own private worldviews. At most, we refine and re-conceptualize what we have learned.

The repercussions of this claim are astounding. Very few people have been able to rise above their cultural prejudices to challenge institutionalized slavery, ethnic cleansing, gender bias, or a host of other societal ills. It is humbling to consider how many incorrect beliefs we have adopted – and how many immoral actions we engage in – because of how deeply acculturated they are in our own worldviews. The fact that so many of our beliefs and behaviors are blindly accepted and ignorantly followed is alarming. We are not completely without hope because of our observation about worldview thinking: We can, to a limited degree, perceive and reflect on our worldview. Willingness to look at our assumptions with humble recognition of our own finitude and failings, though, presents an opportunity for re-examination.

FORMING A CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW

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Worldviews ask four basic questions: “Who am I?” “Where am I?” “What’s wrong?” and “What’s the remedy?” The worldview with which you were raised, modified by your personal experiences and reflection, will inevitably affect how you answer.

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Creation

A biblical understanding of Creation informs our concept of who we are, the nature of the world in which we live, and the proper ends toward which we should strive. The biblical account begins not with an anthropocentric focus centered on humanity, but with a theocentric focus centered on God. It is God who creates. It is God who gives graciously and lavishly. It is God who declares the Creation to be “good,” and after it is completed with the making of an image-bearer, it is God who declares it to be “very good.” Humanity is intimately connected to the Creation, and yet is set in a unique relationship to the rest of Creation.

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The biblical sense in which humankind is an image of God, who is given dominion over Creation, is easily misunderstood. The image of a god was a familiar concept within the Ancient Near Eastern cultural context in which Genesis was first read. Images such as idols were thought to contain the essence of a god, and human beings were thought to have been created to care for that god and his or her god-image. Politically, however, Ancient Near Eastern religions promoted social stratification, where kings and priests had more access to the gods – and hence more power – than common folk. Kings and idols were carried in front of and venerated by those who were not royalty. In Egypt, it was not uncommon for kings to claim that they had been suckled by a goddess to buttress their own claims of divinity. The blending of the god-image with the elevation of the king afforded them an incredible amount of power.

Kings ruled their provinces as the gods’ representatives – as the caretakers of the land, resources, and people belonging to a local deity. Oppressive kings created and sustained economic, political, and educational systems that favored the elite and oppressed the marginalized. In contrast to the surrounding religious cultural context, the God of Genesis reveals that all of humanity was created to bear His image. To be His representatives on earth, to do what God would do: to lovingly rule and care for the creation (including not only what we might call “nature,” but also all other aspects of God’s Creation – including societal and cultural institutions). The Judeo-Christian belief that humans are the image of God and have dominion over Creation is not one in which some people have divine right over others, nor one in which nature is to be pillaged, but rather that all of Creation (natural and cultural) is to be tended and developed in loving submission to God’s sovereign rule over all things.

Creation holds two truths in tension, first, that humans are part of the created order, and thus, in many ways similar to the other creatures, and second, that they are made in the very image of God and given a caretaker role over the realm to which they belong. We are part of Creation, and yet uniquely set over it to steward it. More importantly, we are social beings, and only through community can we reflect the image of God.  First, God created man from the dust of the ground. Then, God decided that is not good for man to be alone. God made “a helper fit for him.” Loneliness is not good. It is clear that human beings are viewed as the pinnacle of Creation, with the affirmation by God that Creation is very good coming only after the creation of humanity. David felt this, and expressed his emotion in Psalm 119:14a, “I will give thanks to you, because I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (NASB).

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The Bible shows Creation as infused with potential. God’s creative power bequeaths power and creativity to the Creation. Humans are told to tend the garden, that is, to develop its potentials. Certainly, there is a great deal of creativity involved in tilling the earth and mining its countless treasures. The presence of the first couple in the garden creates the beginnings of social and cultural life. It is through mankind that Creation will be shaped as people bring to fruition the possibilities of development implicit in the work of God’s hands. Creation is pregnant with potential for art, agriculture, education, civil government, science, and literature, waiting to be developed by those who bear the image of God. That is, after all, the very definition of Creation.

A final point about Creation must be made: that man, a created being, is given freedom. He can name the animals. He can till and tend and shape the garden as he wishes. But this freedom is also given limits: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Genesis 2:16-17, RSV). There is a paradox in the concept of created freedom. It is the use of free will to transgress against God’s will that is the next part of the story, what theologians sometimes refer to as original sin.

The Fall

While Christianity affirms the goodness of Creation, it also teaches that this goodness is only part of the story. The next chapter in the story recounts the rebellion of the first human beings against their God-given boundaries, and a failure of their responsibility to tend the garden faithfully as God’s representatives. The result was a fundamental alteration of the entire created realm. As a result of human disobedience, pain was multiplied, relationships were damaged, the ground itself became cursed, and death entered the world (Genesis 3:14-19). From that point on, the Bible recognizes a twisted nature within the human condition: “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9, NASB). Moreover, it is precisely because those who were given authority over the creation rebelled that the created realm over which they rule is subject to the curse.

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It is worth pointing out that the created realm is not just physical nature, but it also encompasses the potentials for culture and technology, and all of these things are affected by the curse. Thus, art, architecture, politics, science, commerce, and every human endeavor is now marred and easily twisted away from their proper ends – bringing glory  to God, stewarding the creation in love, and living in peace with each other and with nature.

As we read on through Genesis, we see that the sin of Adam and Eve leads in quick succession to sibling conflict and fratricide, to an antediluvian culture where God laments at how great the wickedness of the human race had become on earth. Every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time, and the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence. (See Genesis 6:5,11). We are able to see sin as a corporate phenomenon. We begin to catch a glimpse of how sin becomes embedded within cultures and institutions, so that its members become blind to the sins of their culture. It’s sometimes easy to forget that evil is a feature of our existence – a certain undertow – separate from our personal choices and decisions. We are born into a world shaped and distorted by such evils as violence and abuse in families, apartheid, genocide, ethnic cleansing, discrimination, violent jihad, sexual immorality, and the wrongful taking of life.

Throughout Scripture we see not just an individual inclination to sin, but the corporate nature of sin, such that the last five of the Ten Commandments focus on social consequences of individual sin (murder, adultery, theft, false witness, covetousness). The permanent vices and crimes of adults are not transmitted by heredity, but by being socialized. The “gospel” of individualism has taught us to see the sinfulness of every human heart, and has inspired us with faith in the willingness and power of God to save every soul that comes to Him. But it has not given us an adequate understanding of the sinfulness of the social order and its share in the sins of all individuals within it. It has not yet evoked faith in the will and power of God to redeem the permanent institutions of human society from their inherited guilt of oppression and extortion.

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While it is entirely appropriate for us to attend to individual sinfulness, doing so is incomplete unless we also focus on our participation in the social and corporate sins of our social practices and social structures. Spiritual conversion, then, is not just repenting of individual sin, but also examining our participation in collective sin, and prophetically challenging sins that become embedded within a society, including economic systems which disadvantage some and privilege others. Unfortunately, many Christian denominations tend to focus either on individual sin and the need for individual repentance or on culturally embedded sin and the need for social reform and social justice. A fully biblical picture must acknowledge and address both personal and social dimensions of sin.

We must also note that sin has widespread effects throughout the created realm. While sin itself has both individual and social dimensions, the biblical view is that sin affects the entirety of creation. God told Adam and Eve, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-20, NIV). The effects of the Fall are pervasive, and yet we often fail to notice them, because they are part of the fabric of our lives. When sin shattered a perfect creation, everything changed. It’s not just that we sin or that we are sinned against; it’s that everything is different from the way God intended it to be, and all of these differences can be attributed to the consequences of sin. There are weeds in our garden now, and in our personalities. We have mental illness, disease, discontentment, failure, and a lack of vision. Since the Fall, creation now groans with birth defects and disease and poverty. Everything around us is broken. Things are not the way they are supposed to be.

Notice that we look forward not only to individuals being released from the consequences of personal sin, as we see in Romans 8:1-2, but now we see that all of the created order is being released from the consequences of the Fall. In part, the release of Creation from the bondage of the Fall comes about when the image bearers begin to rule properly as God intended, rather than in selfishness and idolatry.

A Christian understanding of human nature affirms our created origin in the image of God, and it recognizes the reality of human sin and its pervasive effects throughout the created realm. Decay, suffering and morality are among the unavoidable realities that led the author of Ecclesiastes to remark on the seeming futility of life. While a Christian worldview insists that we acknowledge the reality of sin – both individual and corporate – the Bible also speaks of God’s continuing interest in humankind, and recognizes remnants of the splendor in which humanity was created. In the Reformed view, Creation and Fall both frame important aspects of human nature, but it is the story of redemption that speaks to the deepest hopes of humanity.

Redemption

The biblical story proceeds from Creation and Fall to the unfolding story of Redemption and Restoration. The story advances through God’s interactions with characters such as Noah and Abraham and Sarah, and to events such as the deliverance of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and the giving of the Law to God’s people. It includes the progressive history of God’s interactions with the Israelites, the proclamations of the prophets, and the rise and fall of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. It reaches its climax in the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It proceeds through the early church, and continues today through God’s activity in reconciling all things to Himself (Colossians 1:20). Throughout these encounters, we see Redemption cast in both individual and social terms. Individuals are called to turn from their evil ways, and the entire nation of Israel is called upon to enact justice.

Since sin has social consequences, and is corporate as well as individual, Redemption involves confronting both individual and corporate sin. Reconciliation of relationships is clearly a major focus of Christ’s redemptive work. But Redemption goes well beyond individual and social life. Colossians tells us that Christ is reconciling all things to Himself. This means that every aspect of creation is to be redeemed and restored: Art, music business, economics, politics, our caretaker role over the environment and our fellow creatures, and so forth. In every conceivable area of life, Christians are called to be agents of Redemption.

Consummation

The biblical story as discussed explains why human nature has elements of both good and evil. It explains why the world around us is subject to decay and disease. It introduces God’s desire to reconcile humanity and the entire created realm to Himself. If we were to leave the biblical narrative at this point, we would have an incomplete picture, because it has yet to address questions about our ultimate end and the final shape of God’s Kingdom. Christians believe that they live in the “now and not yet” of salvation. While a Christian has been saved from the penalty of his or her sin, the struggle with sin and the effects remain very real.

The term Consummation refers to the completion of God’s rule over the Creation that has been in rebellion against His sovereignty. The concept of Consummation is sometimes framed as re-creation – that is, that God restores the Creation from its fallen state. Fulfillment comes in the eschaton, the end of the present age, which begins when God’s rule is firmly established. Much of what the Bible has to say about this is difficult to interpret because it is often presented in apocalyptic imagery. It is also easily misunderstood, since modern, western, individualistic Christianity often focuses on the salvation of the individual rather than on the Restoration of all Creation.

Re-creation culminates in the reversal of sin’s effects on the fallen, judged Creation. The biblical account climaxes with the “new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness is at home” (2 Peter 3:13, NRSV). It is clear that this picture is not just one of individuals saved from personal sin. It is also an image of the people of God living in community where righteousness reigns. Thus, the complete reign of Christ offers the solution to both individual and social dimensions of the Fall. Moreover, Restoration involves the redemption of all created things. It is my belief that Christ intended for us to live in a manner that promotes the redemption of all things within our present circumstances.

Concluding Remarks

To hope for a better future in this world – for the poor, the sick, the lonely and depressed, for the slaves, the refugees, the hungry and homeless, for the abused, the paranoid, the downtrodden and despairing, those who are mentally or physically ill, and in fact for the whole wide, wonderful, and wounded world – is not something else, something extra, something tacked on to the Gospel as an afterthought. And to work for that intermediate hope, the surprising hope that comes forward from God’s ultimate future into God’s urgent present, is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism in the present. It is a central, essential, vital, and life-giving part of it.

The whole point of what Jesus was up to was not merely saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of Creation which is God’s ultimate purpose. So, Consummation is the final outworking of what God will bring to completion, but which He is already beginning to bring about in and through His people in restoring all things to His rule.

 

The Gospel: Part Three – The Consummation of all Things

Consummation, from a biblical perspective, deals with eschatology. The part of theology concerned with death, judgment and the final destiny of the soul and of all of mankind. It is commonly referred to as the end of the world, or the “end times.” Of course, most modern fiction regarding this topic does not deal with the end of time, but rather with the end of a certain period of time; the end of life as it is now, and the beginning of a new period of time. Most books or films on this subject depict violent disruption or destruction of the world. Christian eschatologies show the end times as the consummation or perfection of God’s creation of the world.

The Book of Revelation is at the core of Christian eschatology. It shows God in control as life moves toward the consummation of a great goal in accordance with the purposes of His will. Man may hinder, deflect, or delay God’s plans, but he cannot destroy them. Righteousness ultimately will win out. Evil will be utterly destroyed. The God of Revelation is the Creator. All who gather around the throne proclaim, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for Thou hast created all things.” (Revelation 4:11) In Revelation 14:7, the angel says, “Fear God and give Him glory, for the hour of His judgment has come. Worship Him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” (NIV) He made us. He is with His people. He is guiding the course of human events, and His cause will ultimately be victorious.

The climax of the ages-long conflict between Christ and Satan is depicted in those scenes portraying the woman versus the dragon, the Lamb versus the beast, and Jerusalem versus Babylon. In the climax, there will be only two classes of people: those who receive the seal of God and those who receive the mark of the beast. God’s victory will give the church great assurance. Believers will be comforted and encouraged as they recall how God has upheld His faithful throughout the centuries. He has been the guard and the Great Protector of those in the church who have been loyal and true throughout the eons. He still holds the stars in His right hand. He is still the Lion of the Tribe of Judah.

The last battle with be the most spectacular ever seen. Satan and his demons, indeed all his minions, will gather as an army. His opponent? The KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS. According to Isaiah 25:9, “In that day they will say, ‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in Him, and He saved us. This is the LORD, we trusted in Him; let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation.'” (NIV) The complete work of Christ is nothing less than to redeem the entire creation from the effects of sin. His purpose will not be accomplished until He has ushered in the great new earth; until Paradise Lost has become Paradise Regained. It is through a clear understanding of the doctrine of the new earth in order that we fully see God’s redemptive program in cosmic proportions. God will not be satisfied until the entire universe has been purged of all the results of man’s Fall.

Old Testament prophesies speak of a glorious future for the earth. We are told that, at some point, the earth will become far more productive and spectacular than we can possibly imagine. The Old Testament views this future redemption as a restoration of life in creation. God picked the Israelites – His chosen people, the apple of His eye – to show the world how He intended it all to work. He gave the Jews specific instructions, shaping every part of their public and private lives. The Law was meant to govern their environment, their economy, their families, their society, their politics, their worship, their everything. As the Israelites submitted to the Law of God, they would show the nations how life was supposed to go. Israel was going to demonstrate to the world how walking as God’s image-bearers under explicit acknowledgment of His sovereignty and majesty, and in complete rhythm with God’s design, worked.

For those of us who know God’s Word, it is obvious Israel did not do so well in this regard. The Old Testament chronicles  their perfecting the art of failure. As they failed time and time again, the prophets among them looked forward to the day when Israel would return to their land,  repent of their sin, and live according to God’s will. In this way, Israel was meant to be a light to all nations. The prophets would speak, often at great length, about all nations being drawn into God’s kingdom until it encompassed the whole earth.  Escape from earth is not the goal. Old Testament Scripture views the destiny of mankind as inseparably linked with life on earth. Jesus affirms this view of salvation. The announcement of Him being God’s kingdom at hand must be placed in this very context.

Jesus was not trying to change Israel’s understanding of a new heaven and a new earth. Rather, the Gospel ministry of Jesus and his disciples shows Jesus operating in the framework of an Old Testament expectation of a new creation. His miraculous deeds demonstrate His healing of a broken world, revealing that the Gospel of the kingdom includes the eradication of disease, poverty, the usurping of death, and the ushering in of a new order. Jesus inaugurated this new kingdom in His first coming, but He hasn’t consummated it yet. We are living today in the tension of this already-not-yet world where Jesus has purchased reconciliation, but consummation still lies ahead. We get a glimpse in Matthew 19:28 when Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (NIV)

Paul’s understanding is also interconnected with the Old Testament’s forecast of a new creation and Jesus’ affirmation. In Romans 8:19-22, Paul relates that even the non-human aspects of God’s creation share in the destiny of God’s chosen people. The ground is cursed because of one man’s disobedience. It groans. It has been subjected to futility. This is not to say that the earth is alive in a pantheistic or paganistic manner, but only that Paul’s metaphorical language refers to the reality that the earth’s brokenness is bound up with man’s sin, and therefore the solution to the earth’s problems is bound up with man’s redemption through Christ.

It is common every day, all over the globe, to see man is suffering at the hands of extreme weather, wildfires, pestilence, famine, drought, evildoers, rampant sinfulness, sexual identity confusion, violence, rape, murder, envy, strife, drug and alcohol addiction, jealousy, theft, and any number of horrific conditions. All of creation groans in anticipation of its own liberation. Jesus is the answer to deliverance of the entirety of creation from the wages of sin. The end goal of redemption is a resurrected body on a new – resurrected – earth. Isaiah 65:17 tells us, “For behold, I create a new heaven and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind.” [Italics mine.] I love this verse. Having spent nearly forty years in active addiction, and having served three years in state prison, I have seen firsthand the horror of sin. Isaiah prompts me, however, to look forward and envision the day that God will create a new heaven and a new earth, and all the former things – pain, sorrow, difficulty, rebellion, hatred, deliberate infliction of emotional pain will no longer be remembered at all.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” (Revelation 21:1-2)

This is the ultimate fruit of the Gospel mission, and it is undoubtedly what Jesus was praying for when He prayed that God’s kingdom would come in such a way that God’s will would be done perfectly on earth as it is done in heaven. Jesus Himself was the answer to this prayer, inaugurating the kingdom through His earthly ministry and testifying that people who place their faith in Him alone will enjoy the blessings of the kingdom’s future consummation, when all the crooked ways are finally made straight.

 

Objective of Forgiveness: Reconciliation

IT IS MORE IMPORTANT TO HELP A STUMBLING
BROTHER THAN TO
PROVE YOURSELF CORRECT

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill. This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.” (Matthew 5:21-24, MSG)

This quote comes from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus started by saying, “You have heard that it was said to those of old.” Then He added, “But I say to you…” Jesus continues this comparison throughout this portion of His message. First He quotes the law that regulates our outward actions. Then He shows its fulfillment by bringing it into the heart. So in God’s eyes a murderer is not limited to the one who commits murder; he is also the one who hates his brother. What you are in your heart is how you really are.

Jesus clearly delineates the consequences of offense in this portion of His sermon. He illustrates the severity of holding anger or bitter offense. If one is angry with his brother without cause, he is in danger of judgment. He is in danger of the council if that anger bears fruit and he calls his brother raca. This is a biblical term meaning “worthless” or “empty.” It implies that the person is a fool. In the days of the Early Church, calling a person a fool was to imply that they were Godless. Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in his heart ‘there is no God.'” So if anger reaches the point where you call your brother worthless or a fool, you are in danger of hell.

Jesus was showing them that not dealing with anger can lead to hatred. Hatred not properly dealt with would put them in danger of hell. Then He said that if they remembered their brother was offended with them, they were to make it top priority to find him and seek to be reconciled. But why the urgency to seek reconciliation? It it for our sake or our brother’s sake. We should go for his sake that we might be a catalyst to help him out of the offense. Even if we are not offended with him, the love of God does not let him remain angry without attempting to reach out and restore. We may have done nothing wrong. Right or wrong doesn’t matter. It is more important for us to help this stumbling brother than to prove ourselves correct.

There are limitless scenarios for offense.

Maybe the person we have offended believes we were unjust in our treatment of him, when in reality we did him no harm. He may have inaccurate information that has yielded an inaccurate conclusion. On the other hand, he may have accurate information from which he had drawn an inaccurate conclusion. What we said may have been grossly distorted once it was processed through the various channels of communication. Though our intent was not to harm, our words and actions gave a different appearance. Often we judge ourselves by our intentions and everyone else by their actions. It is possible to intend one thing while communicating something totally different. Sometimes our true motives are cleverly hidden even from us. We want to believe they are pure. But as we filter them through the Word of God we see them differently.

Finally, maybe we did sin against the person. We were angry or under pressure, and he got the brunt of it. Or maybe this person has constantly and deliberately lashed out at us, and we were responding in kind. No matter what caused it, this offended person’s understanding is darkened, and he has based his judgments on assumptions, hearsay, and appearances, deceiving himself even though he believes he has discerned our true motives. How can we have an accurate judgment without accurate information? It’s important to be sensitive to the fact that he believes with his whole heart he has been wronged. For whatever reason he feels this way, we must be willing to humble ourselves and apologize.

Jesus is exhorting us to reconcile even if the offense is not our fault. It takes maturity to walk in humility in order to bring reconciliation. But taking the first step is often harder on the one who is hurting. That’s why Jesus told the person who caused the offense to “go to him.”

ASKING FORGIVENESS OF ONE WHO IS OFFENDED

The Apostle Paul said, “Therefore, let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another.” (Romans 14:19) This shows us how to approach a person we have offended. If we go with an attitude of frustration, we will not promote peace. We will only make it difficult for the one who is hurt. We are to maintain an attitude of pursuing peace through humility at the expense of our pride. It is the only way to see true reconciliation. On certain occasions, as part of making amends in the 9th Step, I have approached people I have hurt or who were angry with me, and they have lashed out at me. In fact, I am currently estranged from my brother and one of my sons due to wrongful behavior during active addiction. I have been called selfish, inconsiderate, hopeless, and a continual failure by people whom I love, but whom I stole from or belittled.

My natural response has been to get defensive. No I’m not! You just don’t understand what I’m going through. You don’t understand addiction. Whenever we defend ourselves in this manner, it only fuels the fire of their offense. This is not the proper way to make amends or to pursue peace. Standing up for ourselves and “our rights,” especially when we were wrong in the first place, will never bring true peace. Instead, we need to learn to listen and keep our mouth shut until they have said what they need to say. Whether we agree or not, the key is to respect their feelings. Let them know we love them despite how we treated them. Then tell them we’re sorry and ask for their forgiveness.

Pride defends. Humility agrees and says, “You are right and I was wrong.”

James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy.” Godly wisdom is willing to yield. It is not stiff-necked or stubborn when it comes to personal conflicts. A person submitted to godly wisdom is not afraid to yield or defer to the other person’s viewpoint as long as it does not violate truth.

APPROACHING SOMEONE WHO HAS OFFENDED YOU

Now that we have discussed what to do when we offend our brother, let’s consider what to do if our brother offends us.  Jesus said, “Moreover, if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother.” (Matthew 18:15) Many people apply this Scripture verse in a different attitude from the one Jesus was intending. If they have been hurt, they will go and confront the offender in a spirit of revenge and anger. They use this verse as justification to condemn the one who has hurt them.

But they are missing the whole reason Jesus instructed us to go to one another. It is not for condemnation, but for reconciliation. He does not want us to tell our brother how rotten he has been to us. We are to go to remove the breach preventing the restoration of our relationship. This parallels how God restores us to Himself. We have sinned against God, but, as Paul wrote, Jesus demonstrates His own love toward and for us, in that while we were still sinners, He died for us. (Romans 5:8) Are we willing to lay down our self-protection and die to pride in order to be restored to the one who has offended us? God reached out to us before we asked for forgiveness. Jesus decided to forgive us before we even acknowledged our offense.

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:18-20) The word of reconciliation begins on the common ground that we all have sinned against God. We do not desire reconciliation or salvation unless we know there is a separation.

Although we have sinned against God, He chooses not to condemn us but to reconcile us to Himself. John 3:17 says, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” God’s goodness leads us to repent. His love does not leave us condemned to hell. He proved His love by sending Jesus, His only Son, to the cross to die for us. God reaches out to us first, even though we have offended Him. He reaches out not to condemn, but to restore. Since we are to imitate God, we are to extend reconciliation to a brother who sins against us. Jesus established this pattern: Go to him and show him his sin, not to condemn him or make him wrong, but to remove anything that lies between the two of you and thus be reconciled and restored.

The goodness of God within us will draw our brother to repentance and restoration of the relationship. We keep this bond of peace by maintaining an attitude of humility, gentleness, and long-suffering, and by undergirding each other’s weakness in love. We should not go to a brother who has offended us until we have decided to forgive him from our heart – no matter how he responds to us. We need to get rid of any feelings of animosity toward him before approaching him. If we don’t, we will probably react out of these negative feelings and hurt him, not heal him.

A word about telling everyone what someone has done to us rather than approaching the offending party. I believe we do this because we are looking for people who will take our side. It strengthens our cause and comforts us when others agree with how badly we have been treated. There is only selfishness in this type of behavior. If we keep the love of God as our motivation, we will not fail. Love never fails. When we love others the way Jesus loves us, we will be free even if the other person chooses not to be reconciled to us. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” He says, “If it is possible,” because there are times when others will refuse to be at peace with us. We are to do everything we can to be reconciled with the other person, as long as we remain loyal to truth. We often give up on relationships too soon.

The love of God is the key to freedom from the baited trap of offense. This must be an abounding love, a love that continually grows and is strengthened in our hearts. So many in our society today are deceived by a superficial love, a love that talks but does not act. The love that will keep us from stumbling lays down its life selflessly – even for the good of an enemy. When we walk in this kind of love, we cannot be seduced into taking the bait and living in offense. Instead, we are capable of complete, unconditional forgiveness. We are able, if even for a moment, to be like Christ.

Forgiveness: letting go of grudges and bitterness. When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment, and thoughts of revenge, or embrace forgiveness and move forward. If not, the wounds can leave you with lasting feelings of animosity, hostility, and malevolence.

Reconciliation: A New Heaven and a New Earth

When God surveys the depraved mess mankind has become, he notes Noah’s righteousness but describes the pervasiveness of sin and the repercussions of it this way: “As far as God was concerned, the Earth has become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting – life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.'” (Genesis 6:11-13, MSG)

NoahsArk-58e672625f9b58ef7ec8d846

Why would God flood the whole Earth? What did the Earth ever do to God? The answer, of course, is nothing, but the destruction of all living things – save those in the ark – shows the deep ramifications of our cosmic treason against God. Because the stewards of creation are corrupt, the Earth is corrupt. We are the opposites of King Midas – everything we touch turns not to gold but to ash. The ground is accursed on account of Adam and Eve’s sin, on account of our sin, because the consequences of sin must reflect the expanse of God’s glory.

His glory is eternal; therefore, sin is an eternal offense. This is why we believe in an eternal life, an eternal hell, and a remaking of not just some things but all things. The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to His glory, encompassing all creation. What is corrupt will be declared “very good” again. At the tail end of the story of Noah and the ark, as Noah finally plants his feet on dry land again and makes a burnt offering to the Lord, God promises, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, NIV)

God’s promise back then is actually a foreshadow of that day still to come when the curse will finally be eradicated from the earth, from pole to pole and from east to west. God’s plan of redemption is gigantic. The vision He has for the world, then, is not destruction, as many Christians have believed over the years, but redemption. Not annihilation but restoration. A new heaven and a new earth. Purified by fire. Clearly, the reconciliation God has in mind through the atoning work of Jesus Christ is both personal and global. Because all things in the earth have been corrupted by man’s fall, God will be “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and putting “all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:27)

When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, His example included the words “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) This was in essence the purpose of His ministry; to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the earth. Right now, the entire creation is out of wack. The stain of sin affects creation. The very ground we walk on is cursed on account of man’s sin. Jesus’s ministry of ultimately inaugurating God’s kingdom, with Himself as King, is not simply a mission of recruitment of subjects; it is about reversing the curse. Again, His was both a personal and a global mission. Consider the hopes of God’s people in the Old Testament: It was not just about individual salvation, but about national redemption, restoration of covenant, “real world” reconciliation.

f769055c4f4d064dab754584287d57d2--hush-hush

The Gospel of Jesus is epic. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, He is saying that the Gospel is about the overthrow of evil itself. It’s not just about forgiveness of our sinful behavior. When Jesus casts out demons, He is demonstrating the authority of God’s sovereignty. When He heals the sick and the lame, He is saying that the Gospel is about the eradication of physical brokenness: the effects of sin. In fact, the mission of Jesus is so big that John the Baptist, in Matthew 3:3, quotes Isaiah 40:3-4. Here’s a look at that passage from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message: “Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God said.'”

One of the dangers of a Gospel that stays on the ground too long is that it becomes man-centered. The idea, for instance, that the Bible is God’s love letter to us has a bit of truth to it,  but this shows how easily we trade the centrality of God’s glory for the centrality of our need. Colossians 1:18 puts this man-centeredness to rest as follows: “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” (NIV) The peace that is made by the blood of the cross covers everything. The scope of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross spans the brokenness between man and God and the brokenness between earth and heaven.

The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to His sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground, we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade back to the Garden of Eden. Back to the wonders of the new covenant kingdom, of which the old was but a foreshadow. The cross is the keystone in God’s plan to restore all creation. And although we are each saved as an individual life, we are not saved to an individual life. Rather, we stand as part of God’s restoration of all things. When you and I are reconciled by Jesus Christ to God, we are brought into the covenant community of faith. Remember, we have been made members of the Body of Christ.

In Christ, we’ve also been called not just into the universal church but to the local church. I my case, I was called back to the church of my youth, where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and was baptized at thirteen years old. This is where I became part of the work of reconciliation. I, like nearly all of us, went astray. Although I was covered by the blood, and saved by grace, I failed to participate in God’s plan of reconciliation. I discovered drugs and alcohol, and, through associating with the wrong people, and a series of very bad decisions, I ended up in state prison. There were times, even in those darkest hours, when I again participated in God’s plan of reconciliation. I organized and conducted a Bible study during free time known as “block out.” At times, as many as seven or eight prisoners joined me to study the Word of God.

Sadly, I continued to step off the narrow path, on to the wide path, which leads to destruction. It has taken me nearly four decades to return to the path God has chosen for me. Now, I am finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and have applied to the graduate studies program at Lancaster Bible College for fall of 2018. I will be ministering to teens and young adults struggling with mental illness and addiction. Yes, we are awaiting the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, but of that hour no man knows. Our great commission, in the meantime, is to spread the Good News, and to bring freedom to the captives.

Sunset on green Field Landscape

God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth is about a refreshing of the earth rather than destruction of the existing earth. Dr. David Jeremiah tells of purification by fire. There will be renewal, not annihilation. 2 Peter 3:10-12 describes the heavens disappearing with a roar, and  the elements (the earth) being “laid bare” by fire. Heaven and earth will be new not in time but in quality. In other words, it is about renovation. Not something that never existed before. Something made better. Just as our bodies are redeemed and will be changed, so it will be with heaven and earth. Because the whole of creation has been affected by the curse, and further polluted by man’s sin, it is not a suitable place for resurrected, perfect people to live. How could we live among fossils, graveyards, and reminders of death, and a flood-scarred earth that bore evidence of God’s great judgment of sin? How can we live on a planet next to a sun that has a limited lifespan, or within a universe that has a build-in timer our physicists have labeled entropy?

Here is another way to look at it. Did the Great Flood destroy or annihilate the earth? No! Neither will God’s purifying fire. Just as our bodies die and return to dust, ultimately raised as new bodies that have continuity with who we were before our death, likewise the earth is fallen and will be renewed. The renewal of the earth is directly analogous with the resurrection of the redeemed in Christ. Just as we have to die before we are resurrected, the earth must be destroyed before it is renewed. It is not an ultimate or final destruction; it is a destruction that purifies and clears the way for re-creation.

Somehow we’ve managed to get away from the message of the Bible: Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. Each of these words begins with the prefix re-, which means return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design. Likewise, He sees the earth in terms of what He intended it to be, and He seeks to restore it to its original design. Realize this: If God doesn’t redeem or restore the physical world, then Satan wins, because he would have foiled God’s original purpose of Creation. The Bible promises that God will undo everything Satan did, and He will make creation even better than before. Frankly, man has an innate longing for a Golden Age; we’re homesick for the Garden of Eden. Paul tells us, “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love Him – these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit…” (1 Cor. 2:9-10a, NIV)

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“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17, NIV)