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.

Header image based on "Clouds cover the top of the Andes..." by Matthew Straubmuller, CC By 2.0

New Strength for a New Year

All the research indicates the same thing. More and more young people are shying away from attending church on Sundays. They’re feeling it’s become old school and irrelevant.

Of course, the reality is, it’s not just young people, but people of all ages who have determined to ditch church for greener pastures. And I kind of get it.

Listening to music that might not be anywhere near my preferred musical style, followed by a lengthy monologue — even a relatively interesting one — and then after all that, being asked to fork over some of my hard-earned cash. That kind of sounds like a recipe for disaster in today’s fast-paced, attention grabbing, economically challenged world.

Who wants this anymore? This is supposed to build up our spirits and give us strength to face life’s challenges? How does that work?

I’m going to take a stab at responding to these questions. More than that, I’m going to take on the even more daunting task of challenging you to make getting back to church on Sundays your number 1 New Year’s resolution.

In Old Testament times, the children of Israel had been serving a sentence of exile that lasted — for many of them — over 70 years. When they finally returned from Babylon to their homeland, they were so grateful to be home that they demanded their “pastor” Ezra come out, read the Bible, and teach them.

The sermon lasted something like 6 hours. Yikes!

But something strange happened. The people listened like their lives depended on it. The people stood still, perked their ears up, and asked themselves, “How is this relevant to me? How does it apply to my life?”

What they heard from God’s word brought them to their knees. It grounded them in divine, spiritual reality. It rang true in their hearts and compared favorably to their life’s experiences. “Amen!” (“This is absolutely true!”) sprang from their lips.

So many people were eager to learn that they broke into small groups where they could ask their questions, and have other teachers respond. The Levites dove back into the Bible and worked with the people, explaining the meaning so they could be clear on what God was telling them.

Then their leader Nehemiah stood up and reminded them why they had so strenuously sought to have Ezra and the Levites teach them. It was to bring them out of their grief and restore their strength.

And where would that strength come from? God’s words and promises would remind them always. The joy they receive from the Lord would be their strength. God’s love, mercy, grace, the Lord’s peace, provision and protection — these would be their joy. And that joy would be their daily strength.

Who doesn’t need peace, joy and strength in their lives? My challenge to you this New Year’s is simply this: Take a serious look at the Israelites’ example. They believed the Bible’s teaching would give them these things and they gave God a chance to make good on his promises.

How about you? Will you give God a chance to make good on his promises in 2016?

It might just lead to surprising new strength for you in this new year!

“All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.

So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.

Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.

The Levites… instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.

Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength'” (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-8, 10, NIV).

Lord Jesus, let your joy — the joy of the Lord — be my strength. Help me to stay faithful to you and your word in the coming year, and grant me your Holy Spirit so that I may live in your love, forgiveness and power in the coming year.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 27, is Nehemiah 7:4 – 8:18, Revelation 18:17 – 19:10 and Psalm 148:1-6.

Header image based on "2016 Calendar..." by Jeff Djevdet, CC By 2.0

The Confident Life

Confidence is highly honored and praised in our culture. One of our society’s most well-known quotes comes from Henry David Thoreau, and it shows the esteem we possess for this attribute:

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you’ve imagined.”

 As Christians, we have a high view of confidence, too. Search through the Bible and you’ll find more than a few passages that start with the phrase, “I am confident,” or “we are confident,” or “being confident of this.”

Our culture often builds it’s sense of confidence on what we accomplish in life. Have we, as Thoreau suggests, “lived the life we imagined”? Our preparation, our performance, our years of experience, our willingness to authentically “be who we are” — these are the things on which our society recommends we build our sense of confidence.

Our society says that we should stop looking outside of ourselves. True confidence is found by digging deep and looking within. Self-respect, self-worth and self-love all begin with self. And many in our world today believe this.

The Bible also wants us to learn and build confidence. But it suggests an entirely different path to confidence. This path directs us away from ourselves to God.

It’s tough to be confident with consistency when we base our confidence on ourselves. Our preparation is shaky at times. Our performance can occasionally be sub-optimal. What if we haven’t yet built up those years of experience? Or what about those times when we go through seasons of self-doubt, and aren’t really sure who we are?

Confidence is good. But we can possess a confidence that’s far more solid and consistent if we build it on the Lord.

As David writes, the Lord keeps all his promises. He always does what he says he’s going to do. He reaches down to us when we’ve fallen and gives us a hand up. He gives us our daily sustenance, and he satisfies our desires. Take note, he fulfills not just our needs, but even our desires.

Jesus. And Jesus’ accomplishments. Now there’s a solid place upon which to build our confident life.

“The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises
    and faithful in all he does.
The Lord upholds all who fall
    and lifts up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to you,
    and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand
    and satisfy the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:13b – 21, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you alone are my confidence. Help me turn away from self to you, to resist the temptation to look at my own accomplishments and instead look to you and your accomplishments as my true source of confidence. You keep your promises, and I know you will open your hand and satisfy my desires.

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 21, is Ezra 7:11 – 8:14, Revelation 13:1-18 and Psalm 145:13-21.

Header image based on "Go Confidently" by Son of Groucho, 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

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.

Header image based on "Kinard Beach today" by Barbara Walsh, CC By 2.0

Uniquely You

In today’s world, there’s a huge interest in having a unique identity. And our culture’s answer to discovering our identity, and being able to see ourselves as unique and special, is described beautifully in the song “Let it Go.”

It’s time to see what I can do
To test the limits and break through
No right, no wrong, no rules for me. I’m free!

In other words to discover our true, unique self is to push the boundaries and declare ourselves free from restrictions. It is to pursue freedom without limits.

Interestingly, the Bible also makes the point that each of us possesses a unique identity. It addresses our yearning to be special, and especially loved. But how that identity is established, how our individual uniqueness and giftedness is to be understood is based on something completely different.

The book of Psalms reveals that we were unique from the word go. God himself presided over our DNA at conception, and subsequent creation in our mother’s womb. He carefully knit each of us together, paying attention to crafting our personalities, gifts, abilities and attributes down to the finest detail.

God’s works are wonderful. And that means you are fearfully and wonderfully made.

More importantly, by the blood of Jesus Christ, you were fearfully and wonderfully redeemed and remade into the image of God’s Son. By grace, you have a solid, secure identity as a child of God through faith in Jesus Christ. And now, your unique gifts serve to benefit God’s kingdom and bring glory to God.

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:13-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 7, is Zechariah 1:1 – 4:14, 3 John 1:1-14, and Psalm 139:11-16.

Lord, thank you for your one of a kind love. That love has knit me together into a one of a kind person. Because of how you created me, and how you redeemed me through your Son, Jesus, I can know that I am a truly unique person. My identity is secure. The pressure is off to show how special I am. I can simply be the me you created me to be. What grace you show me!

Header image based on "Stand Out From the Crowd" by Steven DePolo, CC By 2.0

Heroic Quest

We think of love as a feeling.

God says that love is more than a feeling. It’s a feeling followed up by action. When we love God, our actions will align with his will. It becomes not a burden, but a joy to follow God’s commands.

Being obedient to God is no longer a “have to.” It’s a “get to” for the one who loves God.

This is all because spiritually, we’ve been reborn. This rebirth gives us a changed heart, a new state of mind, and a will to no longer be a victim of the world.

We have victory over the world through faith in Christ. Instead of victims, we are overcomers.

As people of our culture, we relate well to putting an end to the victim mentality, taking responsibility and being on a heroic quest to overcome. This is a cultural narrative that we live with, and most of us simply assume it to be the truest and best way to live.

Be aware, however, there’s a huge twist. In our culture, victory over the world is achieved when we vigorously go after and subsequently accomplish our own individual hopes and desires. In this narrative, we are heroes on a quest to actualize our dreams. We are only overcomers if we make an outstanding effort, find our true selves, and in this way fulfill our heroic quest.

John the apostle teaches a completely different way to overcome. It begins with understanding that Jesus is the true hero. And the quest is actually his. He made the outstanding effort to overcome the world by first allowing the world to seemingly overcome him. His quest was to seek us, and save us: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10, NIV).

It’s really quite beautiful. We don’t have to be victims anymore. We can be overcomers from now on!

And it’s really quite simple. We overcome the world when we are attached, by faith, to the One Who Overcame the World.

“In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God” (1 John 5:3-5, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for overcoming the world on my behalf. Grant me your Spirit so that I can trust you, stop being a victim and overcome with you. I know you love me, and with your help, I want to obey your commands so that I can thank you for all you’ve done for me.

Our Bible reading for Saturday, December 5, is Daniel 11:36 – 12:13, 1 John 5:1-21 and Psalm 139:1-10.

Header image based on "Me rappeling." by Mike Petrucci, CC By-SA 2.0