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.

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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.

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Transparent Waiting

Transparency of heart is when the thoughts and feelings of our heart are apparent to all who watch us in action. For the follower of Jesus Christ, one of the marks of a transparent heart is a deep desire to do the will of God — to live a holy and godly life. It is not self-centeredness, but “Christ-centeredness.”

In the apostle Peter’s day, those who wanted to live a self-centered life would scoff at the idea that we are waiting for Christ, our King, to return. They wanted to live their selfish lives as if there was no King, no Judge and no day of judgment.

Sadly, their selfish way of life was deceiving some of Peter’s listeners. So Peter is forced to reaffirm that Christ is not going to be a “no-show.” His return is timed perfectly to match God’s patience. And God is patient because he wants as many people as possible to repent and be saved.

We don’t know what that timing is. But come he will. Swiftly and unexpectedly. And on that day, everything around us will be destroyed. Our entire material world will be laid bare.

As we wait for our King’s return, we are to live as people who know that the King is alive. We know this because we daily witness the living King’s work in our own hearts. Being transparent people, our actions allow people to see through to our hearts. And to see Jesus living in our hearts.

Meanwhile, we look forward to the glorious return of our King. And we wait for it expectantly — we speed its coming, as Peter says — when we live holy and godly lives. Living with a transparent heart is, in other words, the very best preparation for the return of our King.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (2 Peter 3:9-12a, NIV).

Jesus, my King, as I wait for your return, help me to live transparently, with holiness and godliness. Forgive me for the times when my sinful heart takes over. Wash me clean again in your blood, shed on the cross for me. I want to give you glory every day as I anticipate your coming.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 29, is Daniel 4:19 – 5:16, 2 Peter 3:1-18 and Psalm 135:13-21.

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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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How to Be Patient

“Great works are performed not by strength but by perseverance,” wrote Samuel Johnson.

There’s a reason for the fact that great works are performed by perseverance. It’s because truly great works are performed by God. Sometimes we go through troubled times because God needs to teach us to know this. He wants us to rely on him rather than our own wisdom, ability or strength.

Wise farmers  get this. And they are also smart enough to know that you can’t rush the harvest. The finish line is the finish line. Crops cannot be rushed. There are no shortcuts. You do what you can do, and you trust God, and you keep your eye on the day when the harvest will be brought in.

The Old Testament prophets also got it. There were times when life was pretty unbearable for them. Think of Elijah under the constant threat of Ahab and Jezebel. Or consider Hosea being asked to marry — and then redeem and remarry — his unfaithful wife. Or recall Jeremiah who was thrown into a muddy, mucky cistern for a prison cell and left to barely survive.

Job understood too. Job’s patience in all his troubles is legendary. After all Job went through — including losing his property, his possessions, his friends and most of his family — he was hurting and he struggled, but he persevered in his faith in God.

You get the picture. Life was often extremely difficult for an Old Testament man or woman of God. The only thing that kept them going was their Lord, and their faith that God would make good on his promises. Patience and perseverance was the result of having an eternal perspective. They knew there would be a finish line. They knew a harvest day was coming.

And so, in the midst of all their difficulties, they kept their eye on the end goal, not knowing exactly when it would arrive, and they waited for God to perform a great work in their lives. Whatever events were telling them, they clung to their faith that God’s plan for them was full of compassion and mercy.

The truth is, when our trials and troubles seem to provide proof that God has disappeared from the scene, God’s promises assure us that his plans never fail. There is an end in sight, because the Lord is coming.

So in the meantime, we can recall that great works are performed not by our strength, but by God’s strength. Knowing that, we can be patient and persevere.

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near… Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy” (James 5: 7-8, 10-11, NIV).

Lord, I know your plans and promises for me are great. It is hard for me to be patient and to wait for your plans to come to fruition. I fail many times at being patient. Please forgive me and help me to always keep the finish line in mind as I wait for you to do great things in my life.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, November 21, is Ezekiel 40:1-49, James 5:1-20 and Psalm 130:1-8.

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