You can be Brand New! – 2 Corinthians 5:16-21

Sermon for 12/30/07

16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (NRSV)
Verse 17 – 17 What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun! (NLT)
Becoming a Christian is supposed to make us new. No, it does make us new. In John 11, we read the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead – not resurrection like Jesus experienced, where he went forward into eternal life – back into life. After Lazarus comes out of the tomb, Jesus turns to the gathered family and friends and says, “Unbind him and set him free!” You see, Lazarus still had the death clothes on him, even though he was alive! And, he needed the help of others to get out of them.
Within the Christian experience there exists a notion of the ‘already-not-yet.’ The Kingdom of God is here…. with in you…. at hand…. — but the Kingdom of God is yet to come. Eternal life is knowing the Father and the Son, his Christ — but eternal life is something we enter into after death. By faith we are freed from the power of sin — and yet sin still works around and in us. We are new creatures — and yet we still carry much of the old creatures on and around us.
And you know our answer? Shopping. How much easier it is to just go buy some new shoes, than to actually do the work of spiritual discipline, and to let go of our grudges and start forgiving and loving, and to cut ouselves and others some slack, and to live into the new life we have in Christ.
Galatians is a great letter where Paul writes about our struggle between the new life and the old. In one place he puts it this way “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1) Here he is speaking specifically of slavery to the law, but its all connected, because the law is the way of serving God in the flesh, absent the power of the Holy Spirit from Christ.
I imagine an image, like the original Billy Joel video for “We didn’t start the Fire” – a fast running series of images from tv, movies, magazines, newspaper adds, store displays – images of stuff – and even places we go to consume experiences – places we go ‘to escape’. We want a new thing, a new experience, because we have a deep spiritual need to be new – at the deepest core of self we know we need this thing that Paul says is ours in Christ. I suspect it is a universal human need, though our consumer-driven society and economy simply feed it in a particular way. Non-consumer cultures likely address the need differently.
But lets return to the text. What does Paul say is ours to have – this ‘newness’? Reconciliation with God, with one another, and the ministry and work of leading others into this reconciliation. The root for ‘reconciliation’ is ‘council’ – An assembly of persons called together for consultation, deliberation, or discussion. (American Heritage Dictionary) Reconciliation is to gather back together or restore a togetherness that was, but has been interrupted, fractured, broken. It is to restore and make new – to return to a previous state of togetherness. Reconcile is also used in accounting – its the process of bringing two sets of numbers into agreement – for example reconciling the bank statement with the check register.
And in our relationship with God, we do not go back into a unity with God. But rather, we journey through our relationship with Christ forward into new life, into the resurrected life. Thru faith, Paul says, this is already accessible to us in this life.
I would argue that we avoid reconciliation with God and others because we realize it will cost us some of our old patterns of behaviour, and our old ways of thinking. The short fix and instant gratification comes in getting something new. It may be a new suit, a new ipod, a new car or house, or even a new spouse. What we have grows stale, and we finally realize it won’t really meet our need. So our solution is to go get a newer and shinier one, rather than stopping to realize that God alone can meet the need we have.
In Christ we are new! The journey of faith (sometimes called ‘sanctification‘), lived out in Christian community (where we are learning to be reconciled to one another) it a journey to be freed from the death clothes of our old life that still hang on us. They must not simply be cleaned and straightened and freshened with Fabreeze – they must be removed so that we can live into the new life Christ has given us – and be worthy witnesses to others of what He desires to give to them.

The Power of Repentance

One may never know how seemingly disconnected events may actually be linked. That said, here’s what happened to me:

Earlier I’ve written about an experience of self-awareness – “Confusion and Anger look similar”. Toward the end of that, I described taking on a role that wasn’t mine to take – arrogantly presuming to take over rather than assist in a situation. Well, once I realized this, I went back to the person I’d walked over and said, “I’m sorry,” and explained what I’d realized. He was able to say, “Thank you.”

Great! I’ve uncovered a sinful pattern of arrogance, and begun the journey of repentance. Praise God, again, for that.

Well, the very next day I had a conversation with someone, but the roles were reversed. This person came to me to appologize for the way situations had been handled. It was really stunning to be on the receiving end of a genuine repentant apology. It was gracious and liberating and lovely. I do not know, but suspect that my own experience of repentance is somehow connected – that I needed to have a break through before I was freed to receive this person in their repentance. It certainly felt that connected for me.
I believe that many things happen in the spiritual realm which we can not perceive. What I think I’ve learned from this is that the humility and courage of repentance bring rewards and blessings from unexpected places, and may open up blessings for others that we will never know. I have for a long time been drawn to 12 Step programs and the spiritual power they teach. Central to them all is the process of repentance and confession. What I had never seen is how repentance and confession can have such a cascading effect in our lives and the lives of others.
I desire to live boldly for God. Part of this will mean for me being more direct and honest about my failures, humbly repenting, confessing and seeking forgiveness. If I have wronged you, and not yet repented and confessed, please pray for us both.

Confusion and Anger look similar – Part deux

A few follow-up thoughts from – Confusion and Anger look similar

Well, the next day the young man was able to secure housing in the home of a friend, whose mother said, “We want you to stay here with us. We’ve been homeless before, and we want you to have a home for Christmas.” Thank God for people like this woman who was willing to extend and inconvenience herself for the sake of someone in need…

And another thing – Turns out that I assumed a role with this young man that wasn’t mine to fill. Someone else had been helping him, and my role was to tell this person, “Let me know how, if at all, I may be of assistance,” and then to remain in the background. I shudder to think how many times I may have been guilty of this same sin – no doubt as often as several times each day! God forgive me for my arrogance and presumption. And thank God for the work of the Holy Spirit which is able to accomplish anything at all, given my weakness.

"God has a plan for your life"

What do we mean when we say this? Consider the following images –
 
GPS
God’s Plan Saves
God’s Positioning System
etc.
 
Bible and gps images superimposed with the
Let God give you direction for your life.
 

Confusion and Anger look similar

A story: recently we were working with a young homeless man who is here in the area, living out of his car. A local shelter we know to be a very nice facility, successful in helping folks make progress on their goals and get to a more stable place in their lives. We took him there for a tour, during which he was very quiet. They told him that they have beds available, and would be able to do the intake process that afternoon. I was very surprised that he did not want to stay, and tried to be sure he understood what was being offered, which he said he did, but was not interested at that time.
This left/leaves me confused and frustrated for him that he is choosing to live in his car rather than get good help from good people in a safe, warm environment. A few minutes later, the young man (quite boldly, I think) said, “Are you angry with me?” After reflecting a moment, I told him no, just confused and frustrated for him in this situation. Then I said, “Maybe confused and angry look similar on me.” to which a friend with us immediately said, to me and to him, “Yes, they do. Yes, they do.” What an interesting revelation/awareness for me. Amazing the gifts that others have to give to us, even when they seem to be the ones in need! Thinking more about this later, I decided that I did have some anger around the situation, but it is for him, not at him. I’m angry that the world can be so cruel to someone that at 20 they are homeless and convinced that no one loves them.
So I roll back through my scrapbook of memories – unproductive relationships and moments of significant miscommunication. When have I been frustrated and confused, or even had a sort of righteous indignation about a situation, but not anger toward the person or people? But what people perceive is that I am angry with them. How troubling that is!
May God grant me the wisdom and power to be renewed, restored and reconciled. And if you’ve got insights to share, I’d gratefully receive them.

God has a plan for you.

Synchronous Life Ministries Logo 3You may have heard this phrase before. “God has a plan for your life.” One of the most often used scriptures in this conversation is from Jeremiah 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD, “Plans to bless you, not to harm you.” What a great promise God made through Jeremiah to the people of Jerusalem and Judah, his chosen people. As a community, as a family of faith under God, God desired and intended to bless them in a time to come. We need to be clear that this promise is not spoken to an individual, or a collection of individuals, but to the nation as a whole. Individualization of the text is a departure from Jeremiah’s message.
We also need to look at the preceding versed from the beginning of the chapter.(In fact, I might argue that if we want to claim any promise that we believe God offers in scripture, we ought to at least do the work of reading and understanding the message of the entire book in which that promise is found.) Earlier in chapter 29, The God of Israel says that the divine plan for the people of Judah is that they will remain exiled in Babylon for 70 years – at least 2.5 generations! So the promise of deliverance that is made to one group of adults will find its fulfillment in their great grandchildren! And what does God direct in the meantime? Settle in, and be a blessing to those around you so that you also may be blessed (Jer 29:4-7).
So we do have an expression of God’s plan and will for individuals in that particular situation – live where you are (“bloom where you’re planted”) and bless the people around you. And if we then revisit vs 11ff, we can see that God’s plan is to bless us, but God’s plan for us is dependent on our faithfulness toward God. When we go all the way back to the Exodus, we see that God’s plan was to lead the people from Egypt into the promised land – but they refused to go. So, god had that generation wander and die in the wilderness and allow their children to enter the land. The God of Israel has a general plan to bless the peopel of Judah out of Babylon in the future. God has a very specific plan for how they are to live out their relationship with God in the present by being just and righteous and gracious and merciful and loving toward the people around them – who by the way might be considered captors and thus enemies!
Take a moment to read Jeremiah chapter 24. It speaks not of God’s plan for the people in captivity – but of God’s opinion about them, attitude toward them. God sees them as good fruit, worthy to be blessed. God loves them and wants them to return to worship Him. It was their leaders who failed to keep them near to God and the covenant who are like rotten fruit before God’s eyes – they will be punished and set aside, says God. How often might we think of our times in captivity as God’s punishment toward us? In this story, the prophet tells us that the time of captivity is God’s way of drawing the people back, not of punishing them.
If we jump way forward to the teaching of Jesus, we find sermon upon sermon and story upon story about how we are to live. Paul, Peter, James and John offer the same kind of teaching in their letters. God’s plan for us is to live righteous and holy lives wherever we are, withwhom ever we find ourselves. And when God does call someone specifically to a particular task or ministry, they were not beforehand wandering around asking, “What is God’s plan for my life?” as though God had a job and a house and a spouse picked out for each person. Rather, they were seeking to live faithful lives in the families and professions they had chosen or made. Peter was content to be a fisherman when Jesus called him. Paul was a tentmaker content to do battle against the church in the name of the Mosaic law and way of serving God. Moses (to go back again) was content to be a shepherd on the mountains working for his father-in-law.
God does have a plan for you, but it most likely is for you to live your life according to the teachings of Jesus, to share his love and gospel of salvation with others, however and wherever you find yourself. If God has something more specific for you, God will let you know. You do not need to expend great energy or anxiety trying to read God’s mind. Simply bless those around you and seek their welfare, for as they are blessed, so you will be blessed.