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