Here and Now: New Creation

Since I professed faith in Jesus Christ in 1963, my favorite Bible verse has been 2 Corinthians 5:17–“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, the new has come. ” [1]

In this post, the only thing I want to point out is that the new creation is a present-moment experience.  Life “in Christ” is for here and now.

In the present moment, we are being transformed. The old has passed away, the new has come.  Paul does not define what is “old” and what is “new,” but the context in which the verse appears helps us to see what he meant.  

The old is regarding anyone from a human point of view (5:16).  John Wesley wrote that this means we no longer determine the value of another person relative to their past, their nationality, genealogy, status, wealth, power, or wisdom. [2]  When we live this way, we do not see or relate to others as God intends.  That kind of thing has “passed away.”

In this context, the new is viewing everyone as a sibling in the human family.  Wesley commented on this as well, “We fear not the great. We regard not the rich or wise. We account no one less than ourselves.” [3] Living in the substance and spirit of 2 Corinthians 5:17, we live “in Christ” here-and-now with a sense of equality with, inclusion of, and ministry to all people.

This is a message Paul repeated in others of his letters (e.g. Colossians 3:11).  Life “in Christ” removed every wall that divides (Galatians 3:28) and made one sacred humanity out of all its pieces and parts (Ephesians 2:15).  This, Paul makes clear, has been God’s plan from the beginning–a plan being fulfilled in and through Christ (Ephesians 1:9-10).

From the new creation we learn that here-and-now living is radical oneness.  It is inclusion, not isolation…humility, not hubris…love, not legalism…joining, not judging…reconciling, not rejecting.  And all of this, and more, is experienced and expressed in the present moment.  Thanks be to God!

[1] Since then, I have added verse 18, which shows that as new creations, we are given a ministry–the ministry of reconciliation.

[2] John Wesley, ‘Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament’ (1755), note for Ephesians 5:16.

[3] Ibid.

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Here and Now: Apostolic Enactment

Jesus created a ripple effect for here-and-now living that continues to the end of the New Testament.  Today I offer only a scratch-the-surface illustration through a few mountain-peak passages where living in the now is emphasized…

Paul: “And now faith, hope, and love abide…” (1Corinthians 13:13).

Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is’the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

James: “The Lord is compassionate and merciful” (James 4:16).

Peter: “Now you are God’s people…Now you have received mercy” (1 Petr 2:10).

John: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are” (1John 3:2).

Jude: “to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and , authority, before all time and now and forever” (v 25)

Revelation: “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah” (Revelation 12:10).

These few passages will ignite your discovery of
 numerous other ones that bring everything included in the Gospel to bear in the present moment.  

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Here and Now: The Jesus Lens

If all we had to go on was the Sermon on the Mount, we could reconstruct much of the Gospel, especially its view of how to live well.  Running through it is the thread of here-and-now living.

It begins in the Beatitudes with the “are” (present tense) verbs.  The blessed life is meant for here and now, not there and later.  The grace to live abundantly is never deferred, it is offered to us moment by moment. [1]

Once we link into Jesus’ opening remarks, we see the theme extending through the rest of the Sermon.  The “are” verbs continue, and there is not a single admonition that cannot be experienced in the present moment.  And when he concluded the sermon, Matthew is sure to let us know that his words had an immediate effect on those who heard him (Matthew 7:28-29).  It is one way his gospel says, “The teachings of Jesus can have an immediate effect on you too.”

And that is the motif which runs through all of Jesus’ teachings and ministry.  “The Kingdom of heaven IS…”. His parables can be applied here-and-now.  “Go and do likewise” is counsel for current reality. Abundant living is in the present moment. 

The other way we see this is in Jesus’ healing ministry, which is not only an expression of his compassion, but also an indication that God is concerned about what is happening to us right now, right here.  Restoration and renewal may be perfected in the new creation, but they are begun  here-and-now.

But something more is happening.  John writes in his gospel of seven “I am” statements that Jesus made about himself. [2] Not only are these an indication of his oneness with the Father (harking back to the “I AM” name of Yahweh we have already noted), they are also John’s way of telling his readers that the One who is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) offers that fullness to us in the present moment, and Jesus’ final promise nails everything down, “I am…with you always” (Matthew 28:20).

With all this, and more, revealed to us it is no wonder that Jesus summarized abundant life in three words: “abide in me” (John 15), another present-tense invitation from which life (inward and outward) emerges.  And this is why life “in Christ” is the essence of the Christian life. [3]

It is for reasons like this that many theologians believe Christology is the lens through which to read Scripture.  I agree, and a major reason I do is because when I read the Bible through the incarnate Jesus and the excarnate Christ, I am invited to receive, apply, and express the Message here-and-now.

[1] E. Stanley Jones, ‘The Christ of the Mount’ (Abingdon Press, 1931).  This is the best book I have found for connecting the Sermon on the Mount to present-moment living.

[2]. The seven “I am” statements are found in John 6:35, 8:12/9:5, 10:7, 10:11, 11:25, 14:6, and 15:1.

[3] E. Stanley Jones, ‘In Christ’ (Abingdon Press, 1961).  Using the page-a-day style, Jones gives us the opportunity (if we wish) to spend a year exploring the “in Christ” life.  A transforming read.  

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Here and Now: At Hand

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthew 3:2).  It was another way of describing here-and-now living.  But the words “at hand” provide us with two additional insights about living in the present moment.

First, life is near.  For some reason, we can come to think it is somewhere else, somewhere later–when we are different, when our circumstances are different, etc. But life shrivels when we think it is elsewhere.  The major religions of the world all teach that the present moment is sufficient.  From it we can receive what we need to be alive to God, to others, and to ourselves.  We do not have to postpone abundant living.  Jesus’ words place the Christian life in this same view.

The nearness of life enables us to concentrate on the present moment, allowing it to nourish us, and making it an occasion to do good to others.  Compassion is born when life is “at hand.”  The invitation to live in the present moment takes us out of ourselves and motivates us to serve others for the sake of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:5).  The Kingdom is near, and we are to live in the world in Jesus’ name.

Second, life is ordinary.  For some reason, we can come to believe it is only when we experience something “big,” something out-of-the-ordinary, something spectacular.  Interestingly, Henri Nouwen viewed such occasions as the antithesis of abundant living–the way Satan tempted Jesus to trade in his God-given life for a knock-off version. [1]  But he did not fall for it, and neither must we.  When Jesus used the words “at hand,” he made everyday living holy.

Similarly, Brother Lawrence counseled us to practice the presence of God in our routine activities.  He said that picking up a stick out of the road so another person would not trip and fall is as holy as receiving holy communion. [2] This kind of spirituality recalibrates the way we look at life, and live it.  It gives us to see God present and active in everyone and everything.

It is when we embrace “ordinary holiness” that we can receive and give joy in the most simple and regular things.  Gratitude is born when life is “at hand.”  

[1] Henri Nouwen, ‘In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Lesdership (Crossroad, 1989).

[2] Brother Lawrence, ‘The Practice of the Presence of God’ (c. 1640).  It remains in print in traditional and ebook formats.

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Here and Now: Where Life Is

Jesus said two things that, when put together, show that he wanted us to live in the present moment.  First, he told us not to worry about tomorrow (Matthew 6:34).  That was his way of saying, “Don’t try to live in the future.”  And second, he told us not to put our hand to the plow and look back (Luke 9:62).  That was his way of saying, “Don’t try to live in the past.”

All that’s left is the present moment.  It’s the only place where life is.  Even our bodies tell us this.  We do not live on yesterday’s heartbeat, nor do we live on the assumption that it will still be beating tomorrow.  We only live because it is beating right now.  That’s why heart attacks are life threatening and have to be addressed immediately.  We cannot live on yesterday’s or tomorrow’s heartbeat.  We have to have a pulse right here.  Here-and-now is the location where life exists.

When we apply this to the spiritual life, it is the same.  The past gives us memory, and the future gives us hope.  But only the present moment gives us life.  And not only is it the location of life, it is the source of life; that is, the present moment is sufficient.  Here and now we can experience God.  Here and now we can understand who we are.  Here and now we can discover what others need and how we can help them.  Right here. Right now. It is enough.

The past and the future drain energy from us, Jesus said.  The future makes us troubled.  The past makes us nostalgic.  The present concentrates energy in the here-and-now, and like a laser beam it is energy that ignites us rather than depleats us. This is one reason why the mystics used the image of fire to describe abundant living.  It is in the present moment where we live, move, and have our being.  It is where the “i am” of our life meets the “I AM” of God.  Fire!

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Here and Now: Incarnation

I agree with Henri Nouwen that Jesus is the Gospel. [1]  He is the Good News.  This applies to every aspect of life and to every article of belief. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  The Incarnation is the peak of revelation.

So…in Jesus…we see the pinnacle of here-and-now living.  Today, I point out two illustrations.

The first is the fact that he spent 90% of his life in Nazareth.  This is quite amazing when put into the context of Jesus’ mission “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  At first glance, it would seem that Jesus would “get on with the program” as soon as possible.  But what we read instead is that he waited quite a while to launch his public ministry.

I use the word ‘public’ deliberately, for I have come to believe that his announcement in the synagogue at Nazareth was not the beginning of his ministry. He had been in ministry every day for a long time in Nazareth.  It was a here-and-now ministry that sanctified the ordinary.  Jesus did not start being holy when he hit the road.  He had been holy walking the city’s streets, honoring his parents, making friends, and plying a trade–all present-moment activities.  

The second illustration comes when we see Jesus’ willingness to alter his plans and pay attention to people around him: talking with the woman at the well, going to Zacchaeus’ house for lunch, blessing children, healing a blind man sitting by the side of the road, taking the opportunity to point out that a field ready to harvest was like the Kingdom of God, etc.

Everyday holiness.  It came so natural to him because it was the way he had lived his life as far back as he could remember…and…something you’d expect from the Son of the “I AM” God, Who is Love…the One through whom all things were made, and cared for all he made.

[1] Henri Nouwen, ‘Jesus: A Gospel’ (Orbis, 2002).

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Here and Now: Behold!

Moving from the Old Testament into the New Testament, the linkage word is, ‘Behold’–or more simply, ‘Look.’  It is what the angel told Joseph to do relative to the unexpected announcement that Mary was going to have a baby (Matthew 1:23).  It was a link between the Testaments because the angel quoted Isaiah 7:14 in the message to Joseph.

What was foretold in the Old Testament was coming to pass in the New Testament–at least from the vantage point Matthew was using to write his gospel.  Mary and Joseph were the bridge between prediction and fulfillment.  The word ‘behold’ was the way for them to recognize it.

The word essentially means ‘paying attention’–that is, to stop, look, and listen to what is happening here-and-now until the moment yields its meaning.  As we have already noted, every moment is a God-moment.  This was certainly true with respect to Mary and Joseph’s experience.  What else could the angel say but, “Listen up.”

Years ago, I read an interview done with Henri Nouwen.  He was asked to define the spiritual life.  He rightly noted that defining it in a single sentence was impossible, but the interviewer persisted with the request.  Nouwen replied, If I had to define the spiritual life in one sentence, I would say it is ‘paying attention’.”  Behold!

Beyond Joseph’s original moment two thousand years ago, the exhortation is the same one we receive moment-by-moment: “Listen up!” until our   chronos time intersects with kairos time– until we “get it” ( or it gets us), and we move into responsiveness rather than reaction.  Joseph’s willingness to ‘behold’ altered his initial plan, and enabled him to be part of God’s plan.  That’s still how it works today.

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