Why New Covenanters See God in Everything
Part 1: Why New Covenanters See God in Everything
Sometime around the fall of AD 50 or early 51, a lone figure stands before a group of Stoic and Epicurean men atop a hill devoted to Ares, the god of war. Having recently escaped prison chains and a riotous mob, fighting with a pagan deity is not high on his list. How had he gotten here? Did he belong?
Earlier, playing the tourist, the man had gone for a walk. He was supposed to be waiting for his friends, but, greatly troubled at the city’s condition, he could not help but begin The Search. Observing everything around him, he had wandered for some time. Looking, for what, he did not yet know… but surely the Shepherd’s staff was with him.
On the hill now, the ground-breaking mojo of a genuine apostle is about to manifest. Needing no lectern or teleprompter, this emissary from Planet Love* addresses the crowd, having discovered the object of his search at the site of a pagan altar. The gaze of his spirit man widens to encompass, if not the whole of human experience, enough of theirs to sidestep their formidable intellect. With the clarity of an open heart, he sees the arts as the yearning of all men’s hearts for the Unknown. He is not afraid to carve revival from their own stones, nor does he think it carnal to interweave his evangélion with Greek verse— even that of Zeus, the king of their idolatrous pantheon. For, if in God we all live and move and have our being, then in Him no bone is disconnected.
Just as Jesus, the apostle to the dead, descended while in the rich man’s tomb to address the spirits in prison (1Pe 3:18–19, 4:5–6), Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, has taken captive a captivated audience and, on wings, bears them past all the idols and all the gods into the throne room of the one true Allfather. Some in the crowd open to him, “We will listen to you again concerning this.” Others wilt in the light, chafing at the notion of rising from the dead. But, in revealing an Abba who is ready to receive all His offspring, the man of Tarsus declares,
None are too distant.
No one too far gone.
In my early twenties, after many years avoiding anything to do with God or religion, I reached an endpoint. It was then that I too had an unexpected encounter with a Christian, and later that night, found myself on my knees beside my bed. For the first time in years, I tried to pray. Awkwardly, but sincerely, I asked the ceiling if God was truly there. I have never forgotten the good-natured reply:
“I never left you.”
One word from Him can change a life. As Bill Johnson once said, “The gospel begins when God calls your name.”
The world is groaning for lovers. Lovers like God, “for God so loved the world.” They alone have ears to hear, but also to understand what the Spirit is saying— in any medium, through any vessel, be it refined or wildly, inappropriately, raw. How many layers of dirt and dust, how many spider webs and serpent threads had sought to obscure the lost coin of Luke 15? Yet the woman left all to find it. Had she glimpsed a bare silvery edge in the darkness? Some reflected gleam captured in the strength of her lamplight?
In the great task of human redemption — what Paul called the ministry of reconciliation —a life-or-death principle is that “we no longer judge anyone according to the flesh.” Appearance, background, position, education, hearsay, none of it affects our weigh-scale of value. As one prophet, Daniel Aytes, says, if we want to actually build something, we can no longer afford to see people in any way other than the spirit.
Any ministry that discriminates based on outward appearances will inevitably define success as re-branding sheep as opposed to reaching the lost. Their gospels will presume hardness of heart, rejection of truth and glass-half-empty, Pyrrhic-style failure. Their missions will be replete with scorched earth tactics, personnel conflicts and legions of the burnt-out.
But all of our evangelistic endeavours seem to be failing! What if, in leading horses to water, we can’t make them drink?
First of all, I don’t believe the issue is that the horse is unthirsty. Any backpacker in a bunk hostel knows the stuff that crosses cultures, languages and religious backgrounds, missiology aside. Deep down, we all know something of that distinct human pain.
I believe the real issue is that the horse does not know that it is a water-drinker. From Jesus’ perspective, sin is merely an expression of thirst falsely satisfied. Not “merely” as in of no consequence — sin is still deadly — but the solution could be simpler then we think. “Dead in your trespasses and sins” does not imply immunity to drink, it means not knowing that the tree of life “is not far from each one of us.” All the minister need do then is, when drinking, make sure to splash around a little!
“Oh! Taste and see that YHWH is good.” — Psalm 34:8
As Jesus demonstrated, with the woman at the well and so many others, our job is not to continue incriminating men for eating of the tree of right and wrong, but to offer feasts from the tree of life. This is why Jesus took such care to host a last supper with his disciples, all of whom would go on to forsake, deny and even betray him within twenty-four hours. It is why a breakfast of fish was his welcome-back gift on the beach. Going to the cross — real atonement — means not giving up on feeding even if you die.
Part 2: How New Covenanters Find God in Everything
The Search is the spirit of adoption, and New Covenant ministry is driven by it. The devil would have us believe that every person revels in listening to his voice, but satan is a liar from the beginning and the father of lies. No matter how much evidence we observe to the contrary, there is a deeper Truth at work.
Once, in Asia, I watched as a police academy graduate stood up and declare that a deep desire she had had for so long was at last filled in hearing the gospel of Jesus. He is the Word that gives definition to the inexpressible in every person’s heart, the Joy that finally heals every other mis-aimed attempt at happiness.
The heart of creation is clamoring for Abba, if not by name, then most certainly in spirit. It is hidden in our songs, in our poetry, in our TV shows, our comic books, our tattoos, late night pub conversations and even comments in live chat rooms.
It is ingrained in our cultures. The ground-breaking work Eternity in Their Hearts demonstrates how cleverly God has prepared people groups across the world for the gospel.** But is it also possible that we have unwittingly been acculturating echoes of our forgotten divine heritage all along? Whatever the case, littering the trails of every human society are God-shaped lodestones designed to lead us to answers for our deepest questions. It shows how eager He is to meet us.
The beauty of musician and minstrel, poet and playwright, storyteller and spiritualist are that they are de facto lore-keepers of the universal human cry. Stories, songs, scripts, and sculptures come from somewhere. It is part of us. It is us. The problem for some of our religious connoisseurs, however, is that the cry often looks and sounds messy. It’s in our blood, and I don’t know what you’ve been told, but blood, like life, is messy.
In Scripture, blood speaks. Jesus, through all the lies, the trials, the whipping post, the cross, He went through it not only to shed His blood, but to be, arms-wide, the universal donor. His mess was our way out. “The blood is life itself,” says the Torah, and as one shepherd’s soaked the earth of Skull Hill red, the wails of another, murdered millennia before, began to soften. Not only was the voice of robbed Abel heard, he was answered. In its place arose the voice of the transfusing blood of Christ: My life for your pain. My DNA is spilling out New Shepherds, my sons.
Examples of the spirit of adoption abound. One of the best is surely a prototype of Paul’s Athenian adventure. It is a story that only John relates, in a gospel that seems to be written remarkably for lovers.
At the end of the first chapter, a man named Nathanel delivers an off-the-cuff insult that nothing good could ever come from Nazareth.*** Though aimed at Him personally, Jesus proceeds to do what can only be described as absorb it. Where some would see bitterness, God senses breakthrough. Man looks upon the outward. But this is the New Man:
“Before Philip called you,
I saw you
under the fig tree.”
I saw you. It is a word of knowledge, the first blow of what will be many against an inferior kosmos ruled by hatred and indifference. Where other ministers may have lawfully shaken the dust off their feet against this future apostle, Jesus released a higher law. Through the old, sin-crusted atmosphere came a far older sound, one so ancient it had become new again. It hit Nathanael like a breath of air from a forgotten world. The result was magical: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the king of Israel.”
In Moana, an animated Disney film of a few years ago, the climactic face-off takes a similar surprise turn.
Our heroine, on a quest to restore the missing heart of Te Fiti — a goddess with life-making power — suddenly realizes that the monster Te Ka is none other than Te Fiti sans her life-giving heart. In a decisive moment, Moana asks the ocean to clear a path for the enemy to approach her. Sensing an opportunity to destroy, the fiery “demon” hurls itself forward, sending sand and debris billowing forward in blind, malignant rage. But Moana slowly, magnificently, steps onto the seabed, head held high in the boldness possessed only by those with True Sight. Something stirs within, and as she lifts her voice, a song from another world floats to this one in gentle countermand to the onrushing chaos:
I have crossed the horizon to find you.
I know your name.
They have stolen the heart from inside you,
But this does not define you.
This is not who you are.
You know who you are,
Who you truly are.
The goddess stops. Angry flames born only from the grief that follows lost identity are soothed away to nothing. As the once fearsome eyes close, Moana reaches up and administers the lost heart (Eze 36:26) — chasing away the darkness forever. New life begins.
If we can see a person in the spirit, we can reach them. If we cannot, we will not. It is that simple. Physics tells us, true colour cannot be seen without the full spectrum of light.
Believers across the earth are awakening to The Search. Jesus said of truth, I am it, and we are coming to realize that truth is therefore not defined by dogma, but incarnated in a Person. As such, it can be apprehended in anyone who possesses a deposit of that Person (Gen 1:26). No one is excluded. It is as if, from the womb, mankind had been marked by the brush of God all along.
Everyone is to feel the joy of being personally found. Adopted, not by paperwork or agencies, but in the intimacy of tailor-made encounter.
Surrounding today’s Edenic New Covenant, there remains what some might think a hostile wilderness. But the command has not changed. May all the Lovers be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. May The Search continue, not only where people are at, but in the way in which they can be discovered.
Part 3: What God Will Do to Win the World
Mankind’s search for meaning, it turns out, is not only about identity, but relevance too. In a thought-provoking message about the future of ministry in a world of spiritual pluralism (at 38:00), Dr. William Curtis relates one familiar story in an altogether unfamiliar way.
Moses said to the voice from the burning bush, “If I go down to the sons of Israel, and say, the God of your fathers has sent me, and they ask, What is His name, what should I tell them?”
It is an interesting question, because he knows that he is being called to go back to a people who have been crying out to the God he is now announcing is coming to deliver them. But, if you look at the culture of the time period, we find that the issue is not really about identity. The issue is about relevance.
In the Eastern world, your name, your good name, your family name meant your renown, your reputation, what you were known for.
So it is not, What should we call Him? The people are wondering, What is your name, among us, after all this time? That name hasn’t freed us. That name hasn’t lessened the severity of our oppression. That name didn’t stop us from having to make bricks without straw. So what good is that name around here, now?
Knowing relevance is the issue, God replies,
I AM THAT I AM. Say this to the sons of Israel, I AM, has sent me to you.
Which is to say, the same relevance I had when they arrived in Egypt is the same relevance I had in their slavery and the same relevance I will have when I usher them into freedom.
As Dr. Curtis concludes, today, our culture is asking the same question.
Of all the gifts given to the church upon Christ’s ascension, it is probably the evangelist who best embodies The Search. As the first evangelist then, Jesus is both prototype and paragon. How then do we see Him reaching out, relating, being relevant to the lost?
Like connoisseurs, we like to remind unbelievers that there is only one way to the Father — His Son. While it is true that No one comes to the Father but through Me, Jesus possesses such an all-encompassing empathy that in reaching Himself, on the way to the Father, He gave the world several possibilities—
The Way, for those crying out for direction and purpose, and those trapped in a personal hell.
The Truth, for those who have been paralyzed by deception and lies.
The Life, for the sick, the dying, and those plummeting into despair and hopelessness.
Having identified with humanity so completely, Jesus knew that not everyone is ready for a head full of truth, so He first led The Way.
“Come, follow me.”
And, knowing that not everyone can stand up, much less walk out a way, He soothes with His Life.
“Woman, you are loosed.”
And for those who cannot handle another’s life at the moment, He offers soul-piercing Truth.
“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no guile!”
Though eventually all three must take root, from this perspective, there can be no such thing as a generic gospel message. It is impossible. Just as each human being is born with unique fingerprints and a unique genetic code, it is as if God is saying, You came into the world an original, you will be born again into mine the same.
For the Way, Truth and Life to take root, each one of us, in a world teeming with often contradictory voices, is to experience his or her own burning bush. As seen in the life of Moses, Gideon, Joshua, Nathanael, Peter, one of the things God is completely intentional about is the awakening of lost identity and worth.
Lord, I see you inviting us to join You on this quest. As we have seen, if You place the search for mankind uppermost in Your mind, and I can see Your heart eight billion different ways, then So Will I.
You’re the one who never leaves the one behind.
* A term famously used by Dr. Jonathan Welton in his supernatural Bible school
** In the Bible, nation does not refer to our modern sense of an autonomous state
*** At that time, false messiahs, prophets and zealots from Galilee (in which Nazareth was a town) were, like a living game of whack-a-mole, stirring up the populace and troubling the Roman prefects. Nathanael, then, was presumably a moderate who favoured the Sadducee sect. Further proof that Jesus’ twelve-piece band was quite the rag-tag bunch!
Colin MacIntyre is the maker of www.bettercovenant.cards. He is a teacher and graphic designer who loves revealing Jesus and the Bible down to their roots with a peculiar Eastern flavour.