Happy New Year!

One of the things I’ve noticed over my time in ministry is that the ‘ministry calendar’ doesn’t really fall in line with our annual calendar. It seems that the ministry new year is somewhere around the end of July, in a very un-nail-down-able way. This is especially true in the case of youth ministry, where you spend your entire year with students, pressing toward camp with the hope that God will move in incredible ways in the lives of students. Camp ends, life settles down, and it’s time to start all over again, losing some students you’ve grown close to and gaining a new batch of loud (and sometimes pungent) 7th graders. Happy new year!

I guess in light of the current timing, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the idea of ‘newness.’ It seems to be a theme that comes up over and over again, and one that God is really hammering at in my heart.

A Season of Change

I’ve been through my fair share of ‘new’ things as of late. The last year has seen the addition of Micah Aaron to our family, a move from our home of 8 years, a new ministry position, with a new church, in a new city, in a new house, with all new friends, students, and co-workers. We’ve even lived here now during both of Texas’ seasons (summer and not-quite-summer). Looking back, it’s been a sweet time of seeing God’s faithfulness and provision. Watching the building project inch forward has in some ways been a visual of what my life has looked like over the last year. As the new building comes up outside, it reminds me of the life that God is building for me and for my family here in White Oak. We are blessed.

Old Things New

All of these things continue to bring me back to this idea of newness, and point to the great reality of Gospel regeneration. Here’s how J.I. Packer defines regeneration:

“Regeneration is the spiritual change wrought in the heart of man by the Holy Spirit in which his/her inherently sinful nature is changed so that he/she can respond to God in Faith, and live in accordance with His Will (Matt. 19:28; John 3:3,5,7; Titus 3:5). It extends to the whole nature of man, altering his governing disposition, illuminating his mind, freeing his will, and renewing his nature.”

Simply put, regeneration is God taking old things (us in our sin) and making them totally new in Him. II Corinthians 5:17 says,

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

I think sometimes we miss the truth of regeneration in our lives. Sometimes we think that when we come to Christ, He simply begins to make us ‘better people.’ We almost liken our decision to follow Christ with a simple recognition that there are things in our lives that need to change. But this isn’t what the Bible teaches. The Bible teaches us that in Christ, who I was before has been put to death, and that God has wrought a new life inside of me. I’m not just ‘Same-Old-Brian with a new paint job,’ I’m totally new Brian in Christ.

Jesus’ first miracle, performed at the wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12) is a beautiful example of this. If you haven’t read it in a while, here’s a recap. Jesus shows up at a wedding with His mom, and apparently someone at the wedding didn’t plan ahead as well as they should have. Weddings in first century Palestine were not a one day affair, rather they could go on all week, with celebration feasts every night. They would of course start out with the best things that they had first, and then as guests dwindled and everyone had enjoyed themselves thoroughly they would move on to the less prestigious things. Unfortunately in the midst of their celebrations, they ran out of wine. So Mary, knowing who Jesus is, goes to Him for help. Jesus tells her that ‘this isn’t [His] time’ before going and performing a miracle. It’s important to stop here and point out what Jesus means when He says this, because at first glance it seems like Jesus is being kind of fickle. Mary comes to Jesus about a physical need that they have at the wedding. Her thought seems to be that this would be a great opportunity for Jesus to show off who He was. Jesus’ response to His mother is essentially saying that He’s here for something far greater than meeting physical needs – His time of meeting needs would be on the cross. But Jesus does step out and meet their physical need here, anyway. He has them fill six large jugs with water, and then He proceeds to turn that water into wine.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever really considered the process of turning water to wine, but let’s be clear: water cannot turn into wine. They’re two different substances. Their nature is entirely different. Wine is made from the fermented juice of crushed grapes. Water … well, has no juice in it. Once the water “became” wine, the water was no longer there. It had ceased to exist. Jesus didn’t just perform some kind of weird magic trick where he altered water to be wine, no, he took something and totally transformed its entire nature. Originally there was water. But then the water was gone and the finest wine ever made existed in its place. That’s regeneration. Not that God waves His hands and we start to change, but that what once was there is there no longer, and a new nature, a new Christ-like nature exists in its place. Not a nature that’s perfect and never struggles, but a nature that is now desirous of pleasing God instead of self, and actually has the will to do so.

The Greatest Miracles

We often take for granted the awe of regeneration. We lose our minds over miracles of healing or answers to prayers about financial burdens. These things are wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but somewhere along the line our thinking has been skewed so that we no longer see salvation as the pinnacle of God’s miraculous works.

The passage right before Jesus’ miracle at Cana is specifically of interest in this conversation.

The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me!”
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him.
“Come and see,” Philip answered.
Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered.
“Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” Then He said, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
John 1:43-51

Nathanael is blown away by Jesus’ description of him here, as well he should be. It was miraculous, and something that only God could have done. But Jesus seems to almost scoff at this, as though this thing that is completely amazing to us is routine. Then He speaks of greater things, specifically saying that they would see heaven opened and angels going up and down from heaven on Him. This seems weird. But that’s because it’s an old testament reference. In Genesis 28, Jacob has a vision in which he sees a ladder to heaven, with angels going up and down. It’s an odd vision, but the Jewish people recognized it as a salvation reference. This was the way from our sinful state into the presence of God. That’s what Jesus says here – that He is the ladder. He is the Way (John 14:6) into the presence of God. The greater thing that Jesus says they would see is salvation, regeneration. The old becoming new. The (spiritually) dead coming to life. The miracle then at the wedding in Cana is a continuation of this idea, that Jesus would perform awesome physical miracles, but that they would all be dwarfed by the ultimate miracle of bringing salvation and regeneration to lost sinners.

Recent Miracles

This is fresh on my mind for the reasons mentioned above, but also for another reason. The last two weeks have seen the completion of two separate camps, one for teens and the other for pre-teens. Through these two weeks we witnessed a number of miracles, as numerous students from each camp committed their lives to Christ, receiving His salvation and being regenerated before our very eyes. Our physical eyes didn’t necessarily see any phenomenal change take place (except perhaps the unbelievable and sudden joy that engulfed these students!), but that doesn’t change the fact that Christ said these were the greatest miracles. Have we lost some of the wonder that accompanies this unbelievable transformation? I know that for me, sometimes these things can become routine. They become routine as I fail to remind myself of the true beauty of what actually took place. Not that a person had an epiphany, but that God just regenerated someone and made them a new creation right before my eyes. These are the miracles that I want to seek. These are the miracles that I want to pray for, and yearn for.

“Heavenly Father, thank You for the wonder of new life. Thank You, Jesus, for Your sacrifice on the cross for my sins, and for creating in me a new person that possesses both the will and desire to honor You. Holy Spirit, thank You for Your continued conviction and encouragement in my life, and for pointing out both sin and righteousness as I seek to follow You. I pray for these students who have recently asked You for salvation, these students that You brought into new life. I pray that you would strengthen them, and cause them always to seek after You. Thank you for your faithfulness, and may I never lose the joy or the wonder of your salvation. Amen.”

 

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