Month: January 2017

New Year – New Creation Reflexions (2 Corinthians 5:17)

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Amazingly, the first month of 2017 is nearly over. Yet by the end of January, “New Year’s Day” seems a bit small in the rear view mirror. That’s why it’s nice that today is the first new moon of the year and thus the beginning of the lunar year: Chinese New Year as it’s commonly known amongst my circles.

My family started the (solar) year with a holiday in Northern NSW, visiting the lovely Scottish toun of Maclean upon the pleasant Clarence River and hitting the beach at nearby Yamba, before heading further south for a lovely country retreat around 45 mins in-land from Coffs Harbour – just off Waterfall Way, the road which leads to Armidale. Even though travelling with a newborn makes for a range of new challenges, we found it a refreshing way to spend the first couple of weeks of the beginning of the year.

This was followed immediately by an intense week at the always fantastic-yet-exhausting Ignite Training Conference, where I had the wonderful opportunity of training a group of local Christians in Systematic Theology. The conference topic was the especially challenging and confronting role and nature of the heart in the Christian life. Not only was it great to be reminded of the vital importance of having a “new heart”, but I was able to get a renewed perspective on certain aspects of Christian life through the evening sermons on James, which were shared by my long-time ministry mentor and sometime co-pastor Steve Nation.

On that note, as I reflect this weekend on the impending close of the first month of 2017 and a “second” New Year’s Day today, I am also conscious that it is the first weekend in 8 years (excluding extraordinary events) that there will not be a service for the congregation in which I served as a student minister and then pastor from 2011-2015.

As Steve and his family begin a new chapter of life and ministry in Canberra, and other key members of the congregation also happen to be relocating for work/study/ministry reasons, the decision was made by the church council and members to join with another like-minded congregation in the local area – rather than continue without a pastor and with serious personnel constraints.

The decision seems wise in light of where the life of the congregation was at and I’m very glad that most of the members of 5:17 Church have elected to stay together and demonstrate maturity, resilience and solidarity as they seek to integrate into a new congregation and come under the ministry of a new pastor.

But although I have not been part of regular, weekly services for nearly two years now, I was never really removed from the life of this special church and had frequent opportunities to return to preach, or even just to visit. So this weekend my fond thoughts are with those making this new journey together in a bold move to start off the year.

The name 5:17 Church existed for at least a couple of years before my involvement in the congregation, but it pointed us (and many others who asked about the name!) to the grand truth of 2 Corinthians 5:17.

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”    

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Our church sought to be a place that emphasised the radical, spiritual transformation that came through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Thankfully, people’s lives really were changed and transformed in the 8 years the church existed and many of us were able to experience the newness that comes through union with Christ, as we grew together in Him.

I remember receiving a somewhat jocular reproof from the deputy principal of my Bible College, when a student minister, that the verse from which we took our name should be rendered “(there is) new creation”, i.e. it referred not to the individual being a new creation, but to Christians experiencing the beginnings of the new creation we will enjoy for eternity when the new heavens and new earth fully come into place.  But of course, the two interpretations are not mutually exclusive.

Every person at our church who experienced the grace of God and forgiveness of sins through Christ’s work on the Cross was being renewed by the Spirit of God continually. The spiritual regeneration that caused each of us to come alive in Christ was surely the first taste of the resurrection we will experience when we begin to enjoy God in all His fullness in the new creation. The experience of gradually eroding ethnic, social and other barriers and the practice of forgiveness and love were surely signs that the Kingdom of God was in and among us and we were enjoying the beginning of a Christ-centered society: an imperfect but nourishing and encouraging picture of the one we’ll participate in for all eternity.

As the gospel was faithfully preached, studied, applied, internalised and obeyed, we continued to become new creations and enjoy new creation, all the while being pointed forward to our ultimate hope of God’s complete new creation.  And now as we reach the end of one chapter – the life of a congregation – we must engage every new challenge as God’s new creations.

2017 is a new year that will bring many changes, for better or for worse. But it also means “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed” (Rom 13:11) – the fullness of new creation is closer at hand than it was in 2016.

Jesus Christ is constant – the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8) – but we are being changed from glory to glory as we are transformed into His glorious image (2 Cor 3:18). This season sees some things end and others begin, but those who have begun to taste the new creation press on towards it, however many or few days and years they have ahead in this present age.

[1] craig. “Moving on” flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Are you a Maranatha Christian?

This post originally appeared on the blog of 517 Church Brisbane, where the author served in various ministries from 2011-2015. It reappears on Lion & Phoenix on the occasion of the church and it’s website shutting down, as the members move to join another like-minded church in the local area. 

Australian Indigenous Christian Artwork depicting the Second coming of Christ (Author's collection, all rights reserved)
 Australian Indigenous Christian Artwork depicting the Second coming of Christ hanging in a church at Tennant Creek, NT (Photograph from author’s collection, all rights reserved)

Right towards the end of 1 Corinthians, Paul utters a very short prayer. The prayer in 16:22 has sometimes been left untranslated in English Bibles as “Maranatha!” If we go by it’s size, we could call this a mini-prayer, but if we consider its meaning it’s an incredibly huge thing to pray. So what does it mean?

Maranatha is Aramaic (the language Jesus would have spoken) for “Come Lord!” This simple, yet profound phrase is possibly bigger than anything else we regularly pray for. It’s essentially calling for the King of the Universe, the Risen Son of God, to appear in all His glory, bring an end to the world as we know it, rescue all of His people from every distress they face and bring in the Kingdom of God in all its fullness for all of eternity.

This is a prayer that will soon be answered. A prayer that we can all be certain is God’s will. As surely as Jesus came the first time – He will return again to rule and judge. As surely as He rose from the dead He will bring life and transformation to His people and His creation. It’s guaranteed to happen. And soon. This is the most wonderful thing in history that could well occur in our lifetime. It’s the glorious tomorrow that should affect even the most mundane, monotonous or melancholy today. It’s what we’re waiting for: “our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13, ESVUK).

My question is, are you a Maranatha Christian? Do you pray for this to happen? Do you even want it to happen? Or is the return of Jesus something you dread? Do you think it would ruin your plans, unfulfilled desires and hopes in this life? You want to go to heaven and be with God, but you really want to have a good life of doing the things you want to do before that happens. You’re not desperate for Jesus to return. Eternal life in the kingdom seems more like a pleasant retirement after a busy eighty years of working hard and doing the things we wanted to do in this present age.

I often struggle in my thinking about the past, present and future. The past sometimes haunts. The present sometimes seems bleak. Will the future also be trying, difficult and bring pain and sorrow? Sometimes when I am by myself, this way of thinking can get so bad it teeters on the brink of despair. But God has used some of these occasions to challenge me to think about how tainted my perceptions can be. For the Christian, no matter how painful the past, no matter how bland the present – the future is bright. And it’s bright because Jesus is returning.

It’s true that Thursday could be just as hard as Wednesday. Friday could be worse. But the hope we have is not how the remaining days of our life will turn out and whether they’ll bring all the things we wanted in this life. Our hope is that one day very soon, God is going cancel Night. It will be Jesus Day – a single day of glory, joy and life that never ends.

Do you long for that day? Is it where your hope is? What desire, what worldly hope or ambition, what attachment is keeping you from praying “Maranatha!” “O Lord, Come!”?

Sometimes we need to see this life for what it really is. Whenever you find it dissatisfying or disappointing you and see the things you once lived for quickly fading – I pray that it won’t be a moment that drives you despair. Instead, I pray it will help you “set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:13, ESV). This is the tomorrow that shapes today. This is the future that means everything for how we live, think and pray right now.

Are you a “Maranatha Christian?” Could you become one by starting to pray “Come Lord Jesus” today?