Going straight to the Cross

The Hope of Creation

by Michael E. Brooks

"For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God" (Romans 8:19).

One of the great disappointments I have experienced over the years is the frequent desecration of wonderful places I have been able to visit. Nepal, for instance, is a beautiful country with its magnificent Himalayan mountains. Yet it is scarred and defaced with erosion and blighted with litter. The effect of both tremendous over-population and unconcern with the environment are devastating. The contrast between the wondrous vistas that one looks up to and the ugly pollution that one looks down at is dramatic.

Why do we so defile our world? Is it ignorance, or greed, or simply the inevitable consequence of too many people? All of these play some part, no doubt, but they are not the complete answer. Paul, in Romans, explains,

"For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who has subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now" (Romans 8:20-22).

This is a complex and difficult passage and interpretation is not certain. Yet it seems to indicate clearly at least two things. One, that the created universe is in a bondage which is linked to mankind's "fall," that is our sinfulness. Second, that mankind's salvation will also liberate and free our world.

In the story of mankind's fall, one immediate consequence was the "cursing" of the earth (Genesis 3:17). Simply put, because of sin, the earth is not as productive or as benevolent as it was its nature to be. Weeds and thorns grow freely. Beneficial crops must be coaxed from the earth. Just as sin has corrupted humanity, so it has corrupted our environment. The universe suffers from our evil deeds.

But there is also hope. As we may be made free from sin in Christ Jesus, so the creation "will be delivered from the bondage of corruption." This, apparently, is not speaking of an eternal deliverance, for the New Testament elsewhere teaches plainly that this earth and sky will be destroyed in the Last Day (cf 2 Peter 3:10-13). Some believe that Paul is, rather, describing the responsibility that Christians will take towards their God-given home, the earth. As sinners corrupt, so the saints deliver. As the greedy and thoughtless pollute and defile, so the righteous nurture and protect. Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden "to tend and keep it" (Genesis 2:15). As we are restored to fellowship with God, do we not also have the same duty? This is His creation. Let us seek to deliver it from the corruption of sin.

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by Michael E. Brooks

"But exhort one another daily, while it is called 'Today' ... Today, if you will hear his voice ..." (Hebrews 3:13,15).

I am currently in the process of purchasing tickets and confirming schedules for yet another trip to South Asia. Dates must be fixed, times of departure and arrival determined, and arrangements made. This is done several weeks or even months in advance of the beginning of the trip. It is an essential part of the planning, yet I cannot help but remember James' admonition against arrogant assumption of the future.

"Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit'; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that'" (James 4:13-15).

James does not condemn planning. Rather, he reminds us to remember that we do not control the future, and we must always submit to the one who does. As we recognize this truth, however, we also realize that we do have control (at least in some senses) of one particular period of time –- the present. Whatever we do is always done now -– today. The past cannot be revisited or altered. The future cannot be guaranteed. Only the present is ours to use.

The Hebrew writer calls upon us to encourage and teach others today (Hebrews 3:13). The Psalmist commands us to hear God and obey his word today (Psalm 95:7). Paul says, "Now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

There is a critical difference between planning for the future and putting things off for another "more convenient" time (cf Acts 24:25). There is also a great difference between providing for the future and assuming it will surely come. As Christians, and as wise people, we must choose the first of each alternative and avoid the second. Act today, before all opportunity ceases. Submit to God and pray to him for tomorrow.

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By Michael E. Brooks

"Now it happened…that Sanballat and Geshem sent to me, saying, 'Come, let us meet together in one of the villages in the plain of Ono.' But they thought to do me harm. So I sent messengers to them, saying, 'I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down. Why should the work cease while I leave it and go down to you?'" (Nehemiah 6:1-3).

When Christians seek to evangelize, they often find themselves at cross purposes with the culture surrounding them. Agendas and priorities differ. This is rather obvious and certainly natural. It is the very reason why evangelism is urgent. The world does not seek or care for the things of God. When we urge those things upon it, there is reaction and often rejection and conflict.

During my last trip to Bangladesh I was frequently frustrated by interruptions from "outsiders" who wanted to see me and discuss business. Their business was far more important to them than to me, and had little to do with my purpose for being there, which was primarily to teach classes at Khulna Bible College. Frequently they would come just before time for class to meet, and at other times I would be called out of class to visit with them. Courtesy seemed to demand that I accede to at least some of these demands. Sometimes I did not know the identity of the visitor or the nature of his request to meet with me, so felt unable to refuse at least a brief interruption to gain this information.

I have no reason to believe that these uninvited guests wished me harm, as Sanballat did to Nehemiah, nor to believe that they were deliberately trying to obstruct our efforts at the school. Nevertheless, their demands were obstructive. The distractions which they provided cost time, energy and attention that were needed in the work that I was doing.

Often our distractions are not quite so obvious. However, they are still very real and very obstructive. We just never seem to have all the time we need for personal Bible study and devotions, for family time, for worship services and fellowship, and for "being fruitful in every good work" (Colossians 1:10). Our work, unexpected guests, and many other things keep us busy. Often these are good things in themselves – there may be nothing "wrong" in the things that fill our schedules. But they are not the most important things. They should not be, and are probably not, our top priorities. Their great evil is simply that they prevent us from ever getting to those priorities. We never accomplish our true purpose.

Nehemiah had the solution. He kept his eye firmly on his goals. He knew who he was, what his job was, and what was necessary to accomplish it. Why should he drop his task to meet the agenda of his enemies? He would not be distracted. When we have the same sense of purpose and urgency for the tasks God has given us, we may be as successful as Nehemiah. May God bless us that that will indeed be the case.

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Neither to the Right nor to the Left

by Michael E. Brooks

"Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go" (Joshua 1:7).
When trekking to remote villages in the mountains of Nepal I often go ahead of my Nepali companions and guides. At some point however I always come to a crossing of or fork in the path(s). Sometimes I guess as to the correct route and go on, only to usually be called back to take the other way. It always amazes me however how easily even those Nepalis who have never traveled this way before can determine the proper path. On one early trip a young boy of eleven or twelve would often lead and invariably he would take the right turn, although he had never been in that particular area before.

One develops a feel for direction and a sense of the proper route. Experienced drivers in our country can often predict a turn or route from the general direction indicated, the appearance of the roads, or even subtle differences in road surface and quality. If a wrong turn is taken the mistake is frequently "felt" within only a few miles.

This principle also works in the spiritual realm. Most people want to "do right." They desire consistency of faith and virtue. Yet temptation is strong and sin is frequent. As Paul said, "The good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (Romans 7:19). As we often paraphrase it, "the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Matthew 26:41).

The answer to this dilemma is found in God’s command to Joshua: "Observe to do all the law which Moses my servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left."

There is a correct path which we must travel. It is defined by the commands of the law of God. If we continue in that path, never deviating from it, we will prosper. If we leave that path we will fail. Jesus endorsed this principal with these words:

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21).

Those who seek the will of God soon develop a feel and a preference for the right path. We learn quickly the kinds of things God approves and the kinds of things which are temptations from Satan. God’s path looks different, feels different, and points in a different direction. To those accustomed to it, no other route holds the promises of the "strait and narrow path that leads to life" (Matthew 7:14).

Do not turn to the right or to the left. Observe and do the commands of God, and you shall prosper.

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by Michael E. Brooks

"Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalm 116:15).

Two major news stories in the United States during the last week of December, 2004, involved death. One, of course, was global in scope, involving the huge earthquake and tidal wave in the Indian Ocean, which killed more than one hundred thousand persons and caused almost unbelievable damage in many countries. The other was probably not noticed much in other countries. It was the sudden, unexpected death of Reggie White, a former NFL football great, known also for his faith and ministry. Both events were covered widely, and millions of people were followed the stories with great interest. Not just because of death, but because of how and to whom death came.

Death is a universal, everyday experience. "It is appointed for men to die once" (Hebrews 9:27). For this reason, the "ordinary" death of most individuals is not particularly newsworthy or remarkable. Only when death comes to many people together, or to a true celebrity, or through some unusual or horrifying circumstance, does the world take notice.

But to those directly affected (family and friends) every death is important. We sorrow and grieve because of the personal loss; the more personal the loss, the greater the sorrow. Our loved ones are special and their deaths touch us deeply.

The Psalmist observes that even God reacts in this same way to our deaths. When "his saints" die, he notices and he takes it personally. Nowhere is this more plainly demonstrated than in John 11:35, when Jesus wept at the death of his friend Lazarus. Faithful Christians are God's "family". He loves us, and he cares about everything that happens to us.

Does this mean that God grieves at our death? Probably not, but it is an event of importance. It makes a difference to the eternal, almighty Creator. That is truly remarkable. It indicates just how much we matter. Human life is the greatest single component of this created universe. Nothing is as important. Nothing matters so much.

Jesus taught, "Are not two sparrows sold for a copper coin? And not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father's will. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows" (Matthew 10:29-31).

The world may not really notice or care when we pass from this life. But God does. And that alone guarantees our worth.

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