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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Who Is Your Go-To?

Do you have a “go to” person in your life — someone you can share your hurts and troubles with? Or maybe it’s a “go to” place where you’re certain you’ll be safe and protected?

Philip Philips has a song titled, “Gone, Gone, Gone.” In the song, there are some lines that go like this,

You’re my backbone.
You’re my cornerstone.
You’re my crutch when my legs stop moving.
You’re my head start.
You’re my rugged heart.
You’re the pulse that I’ve always needed.

In a time of uncertainty, we need something reliable to keep us going. In a time of powerlessness, we need to know that there is a source of power that we can access. In a time of loneliness, we need to know there is someone who loves us. In a time of danger, we need to know there is a shield that can protect us from harm.

Who better than the One who came down from heaven, who though truly divine, became fully human? Who better than He who has power over the wind and the waves? Who better than the Creator of the heavens and the earth? Who better than the Speaker of prophecies and promises?

Surely you know who I’m talking about. We have God the Father. And his Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The living Word. He is our shield from harm.

This is why the book of Proverbs teaches us that the “fear of God” is the beginning of wisdom. When we respect God, when we trust his love and power, when we listen to his word as absolutely flawless, we have certainty in uncertain times, power in our powerlessness, a friend in our loneliness and a shield in times of danger.

He is our backbone, our cornerstone, our crutch, our head start, our rugged heart. Our very pulse.

“Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
    Whose hands have gathered up the wind?
Who has wrapped up the waters in a cloak?
    Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name, and what is the name of his son?
    Surely you know!

‘Every word of God is flawless;
    he is a shield to those who take refuge in him'” (Proverbs 30:4-5, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Thursday, December 10, is Zechariah 12:1 – 14:21, Revelation 2:1-17 and Proverbs 30:1-10.

Lord God, thank you for being my certainty, my power, my friend, and my shield. When times are troubled and difficult, you are my “go to” and my refuge. Help me to always seek to be in you when my heart is hurting and weak. Your word is flawless, and your promises are my courage. You, Jesus, are my shield and refuge.

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Cut Through the Clutter

“Most people don’t have that willingness to break bad habits. They have a lot of excuses and they talk like victims,” says Carlos Santana, pioneer musician, winner of multiple Grammy awards, and the person listed by Rolling Stone magazine as number 20 on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”

The author of the book of Hebrews understood this little “secret” about people too. We of the human race tend to have a self-defense mechanism that resembles the defense system of modern military aircraft. When a radar-guided missile is fired at it, it dispenses a cloud of chaff — small, thin pieces of aluminum or metallized glass fiber — in an attempt to distract the missile from its target.

In our case, the missile is guilt. When guilt threatens to strike us in a vulnerable place, a place that strikes close to home, we tend to dispense the chaff of our excuses. The reality is just as Santana said. It’s really a self-protective measure we use to stanch the hurt, and avoid having to break our bad habits.

We forget that God sees past all the excuses. He knows our hearts and our minds. He can see to the core of our being. With him, we have no secrets.

Praise God, he loves us enough that he has given us a tool to help us move beyond the excuses. He gave us his word, and it knifes through all the excuse-making and the blame-shifting. The word of God cuts through all the clutter and gets straight to the heart of the matter.

God knows and sees everything very clearly. With the help of his word, we can begin to see everything very clearly, too — even the motives of our own heart. And that will help us break our self-destructive bad habits, eliminate excuses, and put an end to the victim-mentality.

“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13, NIV).

Lord, help me to set aside all my excuses. I want to trade in all my excuses for the forgiveness of Jesus and true life-change. Keep me studying the Bible so that your word can cut through all the clutter and help me to break bad habits. I know your love and your mercy are the true power to change my heart and my life.

Our Bible reading for Monday, November 2, is Joel 2:18 – 3:21, Hebrews 4:1-13 and Psalm 119:145-152.

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Light for Your Path

It’s one thing to fear physical darkness and things that go bump in the night. Every year, at the end of October, we get our fill of movies and TV programs that feed off of those kinds of fears.

It’s another thing entirely to endure emotional darkness. Emotional darkness takes many forms, and none of them are the least bit pleasant. Confusion, depression, feelings of deep shame and guilt, fears of being exposed as a fraud, obsessions and compulsions that we feel powerless to overcome — all of these can lead to feelings of deep darkness.

But the worst kind of darkness is spiritual darkness. Because it’s a deceptive, stealthy kind of darkness — a deep shroud of darkness we may not initially recognize as darkness. In fact, many who walk in spiritual darkness are absolutely convinced that they’re walking in the brightest of light. But sadly, it’s the complete opposite. It’s the very deepest kind of darkness.

Paul, the apostle, talks about those trapped in spiritual darkness as he writes to Titus. He says, In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good” (Titus 1:15b-16).

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

By the grace of God, we have been given a light that can drive out the deepest spiritual darkness. It can flood our hearts with light. It can shine a spotlight on our footsteps, and show us the path to God.

God’s word is that light. And you can pick up that light as easily as picking up your Bible. It probably doesn’t even weigh as much as that flashlight you keep in your kitchen drawer. But spiritually, it has megawatt power and great luminous intensity!

“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path” (Psalm 119:105, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I thank you for your word. And I thank you that your word points me to you, my Savior and my Lord. May the Bible always shed the light of your grace into my heart, guide my footsteps, and light my path until I am at your side eternally.

Our Bible reading for Monday, October 26, is Jeremiah 52:1-34, Titus 1:1-16 and Psalm 119:105-112.

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Letters from Home

Augustine of Hippo (350-430 AD), one of the early Church Fathers, and a deeply respected theologian and philosopher, once said about the Bible, “The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.”

If you’ve ever lived far from home, you know the power of that statement. When you are on the other side of the country (or the other side of the world) and you get a letter from home — you treasure every word. You pore over it again and again. Those words reconnect you with your loved ones.

Paul encourages young pastor Timothy to treasure every word of the Bible like a letter from home. In the previous verses, he has just reminded Timothy that he lives in a world that is not friendly territory for the Christ-follower. He says, “There will be terrible times in the last days… in fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:1, 12, NIV).

But as Timothy lives like a stranger in a strange and hostile land, he can stay connected to his Father through these letters from home. Timothy had grown up in the scriptures. They were familiar territory to him. And this was not the time to abandon them. Rather, he should double-down on them.

Paul explains why. The Bible is useful. And the Bible is inspired. If Timothy wants to be wise and ready for eternal salvation, he simply needs to keep on studying the Bible. If Timothy wants to know the things that will make him wise for life right here, right now, he can read the Bible and meditate on it.

There’s nothing like the Bible to show us the truth, and keep us safe from self-deception, the world’s myths, and the devil’s lies.

There’s nothing like the written word of God for exposing our personal rebellion against God, for correcting our mistakes, or for training us to live God’s way.

Better yet, there’s nothing like the gospel to point out Jesus’ love for rebellious sinners, Jesus’ willingness to pay the price for our mistakes, or Jesus’ self-sacrificial kindness in taking our place and living God’s way on our behalf.

These letters from home remind us where we came from and whose we are. And they show us how to get home again from this strange, hostile land we now live in.

“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:14-17, NIV).

Lord, help me to continue in what I have learned from you in the Bible. Help me to stay convinced by your Spirit’s power that Jesus is my Lord and my Savior. Help me to place full confidence in your word, and to know that it is truly useful to me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 24, is Jeremiah 50:11 – 51:14, 2 Timothy 3:1-17 and Psalm 119:89-96.

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Memorize and Meditate

Sadly, both memorization and meditation have become lost arts in today’s world.

Stephanie Weisman, author of the book, The Secrets of Top Students, and founder of the valedictoriansguide.com, writes about the serious consequences, “Memorization has gotten a bad rap recently. Lots of students, and even some educators, say that being able to reason is more important than knowing facts; and besides, why bother committing things to memory when you’ve got Google?”

Stephanie continues, “My response to this – after I’ve finished inwardly groaning – is that of course reasoning is important, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know facts as well. It’s not like you have to choose between one or the other. Besides, facts give you a foundation on which to reason about things.”

That last statement is so important: “Facts give us a foundation on which to reason about things.”

The author of Psalm 119 would have supported that. Clearly he believed in memorization: “I have hidden your word in my heart.”

And just as importantly, he also knew the value of meditation: “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”

So what is your memorization plan to “hide” some of God’s word in your own heart? Do you have a list of 5 or 10 key verses that you’d like to always have at your fingertips because you’ve got them memorized?

And what is your meditation plan? Do you have a regularly planned “quiet time” each day when you can simply reflect on God’s words and promises?

The practical advice offered us in Psalm 119 would suggest that it would be extremely wise to weave both memorizing and meditating into the daily fabric of our lives.

Looking for a place to start? Here are a few passages that I really enjoy, and find useful for meditation:

“I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Praise be to you, Lordteach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word” (Psalm 119:10-16, NIV).

Lord, help me to hide your word in my heart, meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I want to seek you with all my heart, as the Psalmist did. I want to remain on the path of your commands. And most of all, Jesus, I want to know your grace and forgiveness, won for me at the cross.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, October 10, is Jeremiah 21:1 – 23:8, 1 Thessalonians 2:17 – 3:13 and Psalm 119:9-16.

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Holding It All Together

Who’s in charge around here?

Isn’t that what we want to know when things aren’t going the way we would hope? When the situation is deteriorating, when our life seems to be disintegrating, we want to know to whom we can go for help.

This is exactly where Paul starts as he writes to the Colossians: Jesus is in charge. He is at the front of the line, before everyone and everything else. He is the gravitational force that holds the universe together. He is the sole head of the church family.

Jesus Christ is true God. All the divine character and all the divine attributes dwell inside of him. The totality of God, with everything God is, is found in Jesus.

God’s purpose for him was clear. Jesus, the divine Son of God, was sent to bridge the chasm that sin had created between God and mankind. He was on a mission that would cost him his life, but at the same time it would restore peace between God and humanity.

As the One who is before everything else in creation, and the firstborn in the resurrection from the dead, he is the true source of our hope.

So, you now know who is in charge. And you also know just how powerful he really is. Finally, you know his loving purpose for you — to bring you back to God, fully reconciled and at peace with him.

If your life is going well right now. Jesus is the one to thank.

But if your life is deteriorating and disintegrating right now, Jesus is the one in charge. And he has huge shoulders. He will carry the load for you. He is your peace. And he is your hope.

Remember, he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. The created universe. The church of the redeemed. You, and your life.

“He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 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” (Colossians 1:17-20, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you are first. You hold all things together. Send me your Holy Spirit, and give me the will to make you first in my heart. Grant me faith, and hold me together. You are my Savior and my one true hope.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, October 4, is Jeremiah 7:30 – 9:16, Colossians 1:1-23 and Psalm 116:12-19.

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