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.

Header image based on "2014-001 new journey" by Robert Couse-Baker, CC By 2.0

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

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.

Header image based on "Greta Oto (wings open)" by Alias 0591, CC By 2.0

A King’s Ransom

The blood of Jesus — the blood of the perfect Lamb of God offered for our sins — has cleansed us of all our wrongs and transgressions. Our consciences are clear. In the sight of God, we have been pardoned and granted the status of child of God.

Inside and out, we have been purified and readied to receive heaven. This readiness is not the result of anything we’ve done. It is entirely the work of Jesus, who stood between God and mankind and mediated this agreement at the cost of his own life.

The price was far too high for us to pay. It was a king’s ransom. And only the King of kings could have ever paid it.

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews (9:14-15, NIV).

Lord Jesus, I thank you and praise you for mediating a new covenant and freeing me from my sins. You “mediated” by shedding your own blood, and sacrificing your own life. Help me to always remember the sacrifice you made — a kings ransom! — so that I could be called a child of God and have an eternal inheritance in heaven.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 8, is Ezekiel 16:1-63, Hebrews 9:1-15 and Proverbs 27:5-14.

Header image based on "J JAMES TISSOT - eloi eloi" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

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.

Header image based on "Letter from Kenya" by Jeff Turner, CC By 2.0

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

Header image based on "Vision of Eyechart With Glasses" by Ken Teegardin, CC By-SA 2.0