Return to Eden

Today we come full circle. One year ends. And tomorrow, another begins.

We experienced another year of God’s grace. And we will experience another year of God’s grace in the coming year. We will discover new talents and abilities. New jobs, new friends, new babies and new adventures will merge into our lives. More forgiveness, more peace, more hope will work its way into our hearts because of our Savior Jesus.

Because we live in a fallen world, under the curse of sin, we will need God’s grace in the coming year. Alongside the many blessings, there will also be pain and sorrow, hardship and difficulty. In the coming year there will be illnesses and accidents. There will be losses and grief. There will be guilt and shame over sins committed, and hurts caused.

Here we want to thrive, yet often we find ourselves struggling to survive.

We have not yet arrived in heaven. But we should know that our sin-cursed and fallen world is moving toward a destination. One day, it will be destroyed by fire, and its elements will melt in the heat.

And then will come a new heaven and a new earth. As John, the apostle, draws back the veil on this wonderful home for mankind, we see a place God has built for his people to thrive for eternity.

It’s a place very similar — perhaps identical — to the first place God created for mankind. That too was a place built for God’s people to thrive for eternity.

There we will drink from the river of life, and eat the fruit of the tree of life. There will be not one, but twelve harvests a year. Health will be a permanent state. The curse — along with the death it brings with it — will be gone forever.

There God will live with us. We will see him face to face. And his name will be imprinted on us for all to know whose we are.

No more darkness or night. No more fears (or sins) brought about by the darkness either. Hunger and thirst, gone forever. Pain and sorrow will never be seen again. Nor will loneliness or discord ever be known there.

We will have returned to life as God originally intended it. Through the work of Jesus Christ, our Savior, we will enter a restored Eden. A fallen existence will end. A glorious future will begin.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Revelation 22:1-5, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for another year of your grace, blessing, providence and protection. Grant that in 2016 I will continue to experience your forgiveness, mercy, peace and hope. Through the teaching of the gospel, send me your Holy Spirit as my Comforter and Counselor, so that I may trust in you always, and one day enjoy your presence forever in a restored Eden.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 31, is Nehemiah 13:1-31, Revelation 22:1-21 and Psalm 150:1-6.

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Everything New

Benjamin Franklin is famous for many things. But one of his most well-known sayings, written in 1789, is this: “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Death and taxes. And having lived in places in the world where taxes are far from certain, I would reduce that to one: death. Death is the single, solitary experience that all mankind will experience in common.

So one would think that more people would be truly interested in the question, “Is this life — this world — all there is?” Because all of us are certainly going to find out the answer to this question one day.

But what if God has shared the answer with us already? What if the author of the universe has written into the script of our universe — his word — hints of what’s coming next? What if he gave one of his apostles a vision of a future universe — a new heaven and new earth that will one day replace our current heaven and earth?

Well, in fact, that’s exactly what he did. And John, the apostle, gives us a report of what he witnessed when God gave him a preview.

There will be, following the death of this world, a new material world. The church, the “bride of Christ,” will find a home there. And God himself will come down and live in our midst.

God will be with us there for eternity. He will make everything new, and everything will always be safe and good. Grief and sorrow will be a thing of the past. Pain will be unknown in this new heaven and earth.

The old sin-mangled, death-demolished order of things will pass away. And he will make everything new.

As the “old order” of 2015 passes away, and God takes us into a new year, let’s take the cue that the passing of the years is a hardy reminder to us: A far more important new beginning is coming soon.

And we can be certain of it.

“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 I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes.There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. 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'” (Revelation 21:1-5, NIV).

Jesus, thank you for saving me from sin, death and the power of the devil. Thank you for dying on the cross for me, and for rising from the grave for me. Thank you for promising to prepare a new heaven and new earth where I will live with you forever, and never again experience grief or pain.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, December 30, is Nehemiah 11:22 – 12:47, Revelation 21:1-27 and Proverbs 31:21-31.

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Coronation

It’s Christmas time and that’s the time of year when we frequently get to hear the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah. It’s such an amazing work of art that even unreligious people are struck by the divine nature of this music.

A few years ago, Michael Christie, musical director of the Phoenix symphony said to the Arizona Republic that although he is not a particularly religious person, “I come out of ‘The Messiah’ and think, ‘Wow. I feel devout in this moment.’ It’s like I’m converted for those couple of hours whilst it’s happening. And I’ve felt that way every time.”

While it’s a familiar piece of music, many may not recognize that the words of the chorus are quoted directly from the book of Revelation. These words are sung at the “coronation” of Christ as the eternal King. The old world of sin, death, and decay is passing, making way for a new world of everlasting purity, peace and joy.

When the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation from the isle of Patmos, he was writing to people undergoing extreme persecution for their Christian faith. Their property was being confiscated. Their loved ones were being arrested and tortured. Their movements and actions were under constant scrutiny and suspicion. They had no power or clout. Their freedom was severely curtailed.

Through John, God gives these people a prophetic vision of a future kingdom where their freedom will be perfect. Their power will be restored, their peace will be eternal, and their joy will exceed all boundaries.

All of this will be brought about by the coronation of their eternal King, Jesus. Because of him, they have hope and a future. Because of him, they have an eternal kingdom waiting for them.

For any Christian of two thousand years ago or today, no matter what troubles we are facing in life we are confident. Because of Jesus, we may be hard pressed, but we are not crushed. We may be perplexed, but we’re not in despair. We may be persecuted, but we’re not abandoned. We may be struck down, but we’re not destroyed.

Because of Jesus, we are more than conquerors and our reward awaits.

“The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said:

‘The kingdom of the world has become
    the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah,
    and he will reign for ever and ever.’

And the twenty-four elders, who were seated on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying:

‘We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    the One who is and who was,
because you have taken your great power
    and have begun to reign.
The nations were angry,
    and your wrath has come.
The time has come for judging the dead,
    and for rewarding your servants the prophets
and your people who revere your name,
    both great and small—
and for destroying those who destroy the earth'” (Revelation 11:15-18, NIV).

Jesus, you are my hope and future. Thank you for making me more than a conqueror, despite my sins and guilt. Thank you for rescuing me from my troubles, giving me strength to endure, and an eternal place in your kingdom, under your everlasting rule.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 19, is Ezra 4:6 – 5:17, Revelation 11:1-19 and Psalm 145:1-7.

Header image based on "Hallelujah Chorus - it's Handel Messiah season." by brownpau, CC By 2.0

Jesus’ Long-Range Vision

Jesus has a vision for you. Did you know that? Right now today, he sees you sometime in the future seated next to him on his heavenly throne. You and I may not always be able to keep that vision — that long-range victory — in mind.

But it never leaves Jesus’ mind.

First of all, it never leaves Jesus’ mind because he himself experienced the thrill of that victory. Following the agony of the cross, God the Father raised his Son from the dead and seated him at this right hand on his throne.

Jesus wants you and me to experience that same eternal thrill. That’s why he is unafraid to do whatever it takes to keep us on track to receive our crown of victory. If it means rebuking and disciplining us, well, that’s OK. If it means calling us out, and urging us to make a U-Turn, that’s what he’ll do.

Jesus is the very best of coaches. He is outside the door of our heart, knocking and wanting to be invited in. He can’t do anything for us as long as we keep the door locked and barred. But if we hear his voice, the good news he speaks to us will transform our hearts and remold our minds. And it will impel us to open the door to him.

That good news of the cross and the empty tomb is the power for our salvation from sin, death and the power of the devil. His voice — the gospel — is the power to fully restore our sin-broken relationship with God. Through Jesus, our connection will be so thoroughly restored, so completely reconciled, that we will sit down and eat dinner with Jesus.

So if you feel like you may be under God’s discipline right now, rejoice! It means God loves you. It means he wants to eat with you at the heavenly banquet. It means he wants you to sit next to him on his throne, and share his power and authority forever.

That’s his vision. And he is not about to give up on it. Or give up on you.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 3:19-22, NIV).

Lord, I want to receive the victory you’ve envisioned for me. Grant me a repentant heart, and faith in your redemptive authority. By nature, I have no power or desire to open the door of my heart to you. So, please change me. Transform my cold, dead heart into a heart of flesh, so that I may trust you as my Savior, and one day take my seat alongside you in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 12, is Esther 2:19 – 5:14, Revelation 3:7-22 and Psalm 141:1-10.

Header image based on "Twyfelfontein Binoculars" by Santiago Medem, CC By-SA 2.0

The Strongest Link

“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

The well-known saying goes all the way back to the early days of our country’s history. In the year 1786, a gentleman by the name of Thomas Reid wrote, “In every chain of reasoning, the evidence of the last conclusion can be no greater than that of the weakest link of the chain, whatever may be the strength of the rest” (Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man).

So, the proverbial saying clearly has a long and illustrious history. And it’s hard to deny that it’s clearly true in the case of a literal chain. Nevertheless, in at least one case, the chain is really as strong as its strongest link.

The apostle John points out that our relationship with God the Father is linked to our relationship with Jesus. Jesus is the strong link in our relationship with him. A strong relationship to Jesus will always mean a strong relationship to our heavenly Father. And our possession of our eternal reward in heaven is linked to our restored relationship to the Father.

This is why John tells us to be very careful to guard and protect our faith in Jesus. If we lose Christ, we lose the Father. If we lose the Father, we lose our reward.

How do we maintain a strong relationship with Christ? How do keep our faith in him strong? John says, continue in the teaching of Christ. The more frequently we are reminded of the gospel, the stronger our faith will become. Grace, mercy, forgiveness, the cross, the empty tomb are our tie to Jesus. And his to us.

So the chain looks like this.

Me – the gospel – JESUS – God the Father – our heavenly reward.

What a chain that is! Step back for just a moment, and rejoice that with Jesus as the strong link in the middle, you stand at one end, and heaven stands at the other.

Pretty cool!

“Watch out that you do not lose what we have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son” (‭‭2 John‬ ‭1:8-9‬, NIV‬‬).

Jesus, thank you for being the strong link in the chain that will one day bring me into eternal life in heaven. Because of you, I know that my sins are forgiven, and the barrier of anger between the Father and me has been broken down. Thank you for your grace and mercy. Thank you for all the blessings you give me every day.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 6, is Haggai 1:1 – 2:23, 2 John 1-13 and Proverbs 29:19-27.

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Advent: He Comes!

In the “church year,” a calendar that many churches use to plan their weekly worship, this coming Sunday will be celebrated as “The First Sunday in Advent.” The Advent season is a time when Christ-followers look back to Christ’s first coming, and look forward to his second coming.

It’s valuable to have the perspective that Advent gives us, because it reminds us that God makes promises. And regardless of the opinions of the doubters and skeptics, he keeps his promises, too.

In Old Testament times, he promised to come as the Messiah. People waited a long, long time for that promise to be fulfilled. But when the timing was just right, God sent his Son to be born of Mary.

In New Testament times like today, we have the promise that Jesus will return to judge all mankind. Jesus told us that we cannot predict when this will be. But it will be rapid and unexpected.

The apostles — such as Peter — encourage the church (us) to have an “end times mentality.” In other words, we are wise to keep Jesus’ second coming in mind at all times.

Doing so will inform our decisions in life, and our character.

It defines our decisions because if we believe the end of all things is coming, we want to really think through each decision in light of the temporary nature of this life, and the permanent nature of the life to come.

It defines our character because when we believe that the Jesus who is coming again is not simply our Judge, but also our Savior and our Lord, we look forward to that day with joy.

We know we are loved, because the cross of Jesus proves his love. And so, flowing from gratitude, and filled with joy because of Jesus’ forgiveness and the gift of eternal life, we are drawn to become a little more like Jesus every day.

  • We live a little more alertly and a bit more expectantly, with a sober sense of life and self.
  • We love more deeply, knowing that love covers over all kinds of wrongs — our own wrongs, and the sins of others too.
  • Every talent we have is God’s gift. So we use the talents and gifts we’ve been given not to serve ourselves, but to serve others.
  • When we speak, we don’t express our own ideas and worldview. We express the ideas and worldview that God has taught us in the Bible.
  • When we serve, we know that it is God’s strength that keeps us going, growing and working.
  • We know full well that God deserves the glory and the praise for anything we are able to accomplish.

It’s Advent. Jesus is certainly coming. From our perspective, it may be sooner, or it may be later. But from God’s point of view, it’s very, very soon.

And knowing that changes everything.

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:7-11, NIV).

Lord, grant that I wait expectantly for your return every day. Forgive me for all the times when I have lost perspective and forgotten that you are coming soon. You have loved me and sacrificed your life so that I could be in heaven with you. Give me an eternal perspective to inform my every thought, decision and action in this life.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, November 25, is Ezekiel 47:1 – 48:35, 1 Peter 4:1-19 and Psalm 133:1-3.

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Focus On What You Can’t Yet See

Are you thinking about giving up right now? All of us have been in those shoes at some point in our lives. We’re tired. We’re in pain. The constant criticism gets to us. It feels like things are falling apart.

We lose heart. And it seems like the only logical choice is to plan our escape.

Paul surely understood what this feels like. He acknowledges to the Corinthians that he and his companions are all too human — nothing more than clay jars. Very fragile. Very breakable. Very weak.

And the pressures of Paul’s ministry were extreme. In chapter 1, Paul had told the Corinthians that he and his companions had been “under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8, NIV).

So how was it that Paul was still hanging in there, ministering to the Corinthians, sharing the gospel with them, and working hard to get them aligned to God’s will for them?

He tells us his secret. And the way he puts it is more than a little ironic. He tells the Corinthians that he keeps going by fixing his eyes on things he can’t see.

At first, we might think, “Huh?”

But really, it’s not that hard to understand what Paul means here. When we’re thinking about giving up on our work, or on a relationship, or even on life itself, Paul reminds us to focus on the eternal glory that awaits all those who trust in Jesus as their Savior.

By comparison to the immense joys of heaven, the hurt and pain we’re undergoing now are really minuscule and microscopic. They are — as painful as they seem to us today — light and momentary compared to the hefty glory that will be bestowed on us, a glory we will enjoy for eternity!

So, are you tired of feeling tired? Are you ready to give up on giving up? Do you want to find the heart that you lost?

Focus on something you can’t see right now. Fix your eyes on the finish line. And keep on keepin’ on — running hard and fast toward Jesus. He is really all you want and all you need. Even though you can’t see it now, Jesus — by grace alone — has good things waiting for you on the other side of that finish line.

Amazingly good things!

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18, NIV).

Lord, help me to see the unseen with great clarity. Keep me focused on your gracious promises of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. I want to know that the “finish line” with all its rewards will come, and much sooner than I realize. May that be a daily encouragement to me to persevere and keep on trying, even when I am hurting and tired, and thinking of giving up.

Our Bible reading for Monday, August 31, is Micah 1:1 – 4:13, 2 Corinthians 4:1-18 and Psalm 104:31-35

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