Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Good News for Graduates

This weekend, I had the privilege of speaking at the graduation ceremony of the Christian home school association of Fairfield, Texas. It was a joy to see such gifted, intelligent, and faithful young followers of Jesus begin their next phase of life in the Kingdom of God. The following was the message I delivered. I pray it blesses my readers.

Good News for Graduates

So, what are you going to do now? That’s the question. Isn’t it? That’s the one that is on everyone’s mind, now that you’re graduating from high school. I remember what that was like. The long discussions with mom, sitting on the kitchen counter, feet dangling and arms flailing as I struggled to put into words the anxiety I was feeling. Some of you are feeling the very same thing. Even if you have a plan, even if you’re working the plan, you don’t know for sure that your plan will go as planned. As many of us in this room can attest, more often than not, life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.

What are you going to do now? Although this is the question on your mind as you are formally graduated today, there are a few reasons that I can’t answer it for you. First, I only have 15 minutes. Also, I know that statistically it is highly unlikely that you’ll remember much of what I say today. And, while it is an important question, ultimately, I do not think it is the most important question. So, instead of telling you what you’re going to do now, I would like to address the question, “What is God doing now?”

To do this, first we need to go back to the beginning, where we learn this important truth: God created everything. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Of course, when the writer of Genesis says “heavens and earth,” what he means is everything—every, single thing in the universe is made by God. And, according to later verses in Genesis, God considered his world good—very good.

Now, we know that this includes the physical universe: the 100 billion galaxies, containing somewhere between 10 million and one trillion stars each. And, we know that this includes the 5,400 mammal species roaming around our planet, from the 30-40 mm Bumble-Bee Bat to the 33 m Blue Whale. Not to mention the 10 million different species of insects, which, by the way, represent about 90% of all life forms on planet Earth. Yikes!

Now, all this is to say that most of us understand that God’s creation includes all living things. But, there’s more. As human beings interact with the created world and one another, they produce language, culture, art, architecture, business, agriculture, technology, science, and many other human innovations. These products of human creativity and exploration are reflections of God’s creative nature and manifest infinitely valuable attempts to understand God’s world. This includes the 482 musical instruments around the world, from the Ajaeng of Korea to the Zufolo of Italy. This includes the 6,912 living human languages. God is the author of everything and everything is designed with excellence and purpose.

Unfortunately, as we all know, God’s good creation did not remain good for long. Sin broke everything. The testimony of the Bible reveals that sin and evil have marred God’s beautiful, orderly creation. Our first parents rejected God’s rule for their own and their choice has been and will be perpetuated in every human being to follow. As a result, rather than the harmonious, loving relationship that God intended, humanity chose a position of alienation and enmity with God and the rest of the created order became subject to the resulting chaos.

Personal sins are committed through willful choice by human beings to be and live contrary to the rule of God. These sins are perpetrated on God and one another: pride, idolatry, hatred, murder, envy, greed, theft, and many more. And then, arising out of this tendency for human beings to reject God and cruelly mistreat one another is systemic or structural evil, which is the active procreation and power of sin in corporate or social structures. Systemic evils include extreme poverty, misogyny, and racism, all of which infect society like viruses and work in tandem with the personal evils.

We see the evidence of this brokenness everywhere. Where God intended human government to provide order, justice, and security, the rulers of Burma deny their citizens vital relief following a deadly cyclone, causing the deaths of tens of thousands and prolonging the suffering of 2.4 million more. Where God intended marriage to be a reflection of God’s loving, interdependent relationality, today, in the US alone, every 15 seconds a woman is battered by her husband and every five years, more women are murdered by their husbands than the number of American lives lost in the Vietnam War. And, where God intended industry and business to enrich lives and create opportunity, this year Florida tomato pickers had to fight “tooth and nail” just to convince Burger King to pay them an additional one-cent per pound of tomatoes picked. In the words of Cornelius Plantinga, “Things are not the way they’re supposed to be.”

So now, in the midst of this broken, bleeding, and suffering world, Paul’s words ring out over all:

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.

This verse leads us to the really good news. We know that God created everything and sin broke everything, but I am happy to report to you that Jesus restores everything. In the evangelical world, we tend to think of Jesus’ focus being upon the forgiveness of sins and salvation of souls only. This way of thinking sadly reduces God’s plan of redemption to helping humans escape from hell and enter heaven after death. While the Good News of Jesus is at least these things, it is not only these things. In fact, there is much, much more.

Colossians 1:19-20 says: “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” What this means is that Christ’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension brings about the redemption and restoration of all the things that were broken by the Fall.

The point is not salvation from creation, but salvation of creation. Because the kingdom of darkness has been overcome in Christ, there is nothing over which Jesus doesn’t reign as rightful King. Every inch of this planet, every plant and animal, every art form and language, every academic discipline, every invention, every family, Jesus points to from his throne and says, “That’s mine.”

So, as we asked earlier, “What is God doing now?” Revelation 21:1-5 reads as follows:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…And, he who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

God is making all things new: new heavens and new earth, and everything in between. God has refused to abandon the work of his hands. Humanity, which has totally botched its original mandate and the whole creation along with it, is given another chance in Christ. We are reinstated as God’s managers on earth and the original good creation is to be restored. In the Good News of Jesus, you get to be a part of it.

Albert Wolters describes the implications of this truth in this way:

Emotions should not be repressed, but purified. Sexuality is not to be shunned, but redeemed. Politics should not be declared off-limits, but reformed. Art ought not to be pronounced worldly, but claimed for Christ. Business must no longer be relegated to the secular world, but must be made to conform again to God-honoring standards…Wherever there is disruption of the good creation…there Christ provides the possibility of restoration. If the whole creation is affected by the fall, then the whole creation is also reclaimed in Christ.

Rick Hunter attends our church in Cincinnati, OH. He works for L3 Communications, which is a US defense contractor. He may work on weapons of war, but his love is space. In fact, just a few weeks ago, Rick was a volunteer working for NASA when the Phoenix Mars probe touched down on an arctic plane on the red planet. The Phoenix is collecting icy, muddy samples of Martian soil for detailed chemical and geological analysis. Rick and many others hope to find out if the soil on Mars has the ability to harbor life. But, Rick doesn’t do this just because he can. Rick knows that all creation is God’s and Jesus rules over every inch. With Rick’s presence in NASA, one more region of space is being explored for God’s glory. Truly, he is preaching the good news to "all creation," as Mark 16:15 says to do.

If this is what God is doing now, then the only right conclusion is to ask you question: “Will you join him?” As you consider your future, as you step one foot at a time into the exciting and frightening unknown, will you join God in making all things new? Whether you’re a history buff, a drama queen, an art nut, a jock, a nerd, or a Bible student, God wants you, in cooperation with him, to be apart of his reconciliation of the whole world.

This work must begin with you, within your own heart, and work its way out into every area of your life. Holy Spirit wants to conform you to the image of Jesus and then empower you to renew your surroundings into the good creation God intended.

Jim Wallis tells a story from the life of South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. During the fight against apartheid, the notorious Security Police broke into the Cathedral of St. George during one of Bishop Tutu’s sermons at an ecumenical service. The diminutive bishop stopped preaching and stared intently at the intruders as they filled the cathedral like scurrying ants, lining the walls from back to front. Some carried guns, some carried knives, and some carried writing pads and tape recorders to document whatever he said and threaten him with imprisonment, or worse, for any audacious utterances.

Although the people gathered in the cathedral squirmed in tension and fear of more violence, Bishop Tutu met the eyes of the soldiers with his own steely gaze. In a defiant tone, with narrow eyes and wrinkled forehead, he said, “Yes, you are powerful, very powerful…but I serve a God who cannot be mocked!” Then, Bishop Tutu’s countenance changed and he smiled with genuine warmth. Extending his arms to the gun-toting representatives of South African apartheid, the slight preacher offered this challenge to tyranny: “Since you have already lost, I invite you: come and join the winning side!”

Will you join the winning side? Will you invite others to join the winning side? Will you invite all of creation to join the winning side? Wherever you go from here, may your arms be wide and your eyes sparkling with the confidence and hope of victory as we all join God in his endeavor to make all things new.


traveller said...

Yes, indeed, God is at work redeeming his creation....good word for these graduates about whether they will join God in his good work. Thanks for sharing it.

This generation will join in ever growing numbers in cooperating with the Spirit's work in this world.

Steve said...

Goodness, how you must have energized those kids, especially the girls! I imagine some (and their moms) fairly flew out.
Here's hoping noone from Ft. Worth was standing on the wings with matches or a blow torch to finish off the podium afterward!

Joel said...

Well said! An encouraging word for them and me. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Dr Taylor teaches us how to attain deep inner peace - easily, simply, without drugs, anytime we want it. Forgive me for doing everything I can to be sure everyone reads this book and sees this video, but I think all of us benefit and in the larger sense, if everyone reads this, our world will benefit in a very large way.