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

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

Worship, Our Present and Our Future

In the apostle John’s vision that he is given on the island of Patmos, he sees people from every nation singing praises to Christ. This is a picture of what it will be like in heaven. God’s message of salvation through faith in Christ is not limited by race, ethnicity, culture or national origin. What a beautiful picture of eternal life!

All these people are singing to praise the work of Jesus. He was killed so that he could pay a ransom for our souls with his own blood. He gathered us into a kingdom. He turned all of us into priests who serve him. And one day we will reign with him in the new heavens and the new earth.

Worship is a beautiful privilege. It’s something we get to enjoy now, and by God’s grace, something we will enjoy forever in heaven.

Jesus makes all of that possible. More than that, actually. Jesus makes it all a present and future reality.

And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
    and with your blood you purchased for God
    persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
    and they will reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:9-10, NIV).

Lord, thank you for redeeming me and giving me every reason in the world to thank and praise you. I will worship you now, and eternally, for all that you have done for me.

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 14, is Esther 9:1 – 10:3, Revelation 5:1-14 and Proverbs 30:11-23.

Header image based on "Worship" by Ashley Campbell, CC By 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.

Header image based on "chained" by Trevor Leyenhorst, CC By 2.0

Imperishable Inheritance

There are a lot of things in life that get old, fade, spoil and eventually go away. Relationships end. Health fails. Money is squandered. Old t-shirts become rags. Possessions end up at the dump.

It gets old that everything in life gets old. It’s all temporary. And the suffering that results from our grief is inevitable. Because, sadly, the momentary, transitory nature of things applies also to the things we love the most.

But in the gospel there is hope. We have the promise of something that will never, ever get old. Something that will not fade or spoil. Something that will never perish.

There is something that is permanent.

That something is our eternal inheritance being kept for us in heaven. This is the inheritance that Jesus won for us through his death on the cross and three days later, his resurrection.

When the apostle Peter thought of the permanence of this inheritance, he couldn’t keep himself from rejoicing. The joy overflowed from his heart, tumbling from his lips in poetic words of praise.

Even in the midst of suffering, Peter proclaims, this promised inheritance brings us great joy. It gives us patience and perseverance. It stills our troubled hearts.

As the Psalmist wrote, “Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Psalm 30:5, NIV). And Peter says it this way:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials” (1 Peter 1:3-6, NIV).

Heavenly Father, I praise you for your gift of heaven, and I thank you that because of your Son, Jesus, I can be confident that by faith in him, this inheritance is assuredly mine.

Our Bible reading for Sunday, November 22, is Ezekiel 41:1 – 42:20, 1 Peter 1:1 -2:3 and Psalm 131:1-3.

Header image based on "Entrance to heaven" by Wonderlane, CC By 2.0

Anchor for the Soul

Merriam-Webster defines the word “anchor” this way:

  1. a device usually of metal attached to a ship or boat by a cable and cast overboard to hold it in a particular place by means of a fluke that digs into the bottom 
  2. a reliable or principal support :  mainstay
  3. something that serves to hold an object firmly

The author of the book of Hebrews recalls the hope we have in Jesus — our hope of forgiveness despite the ugliness of our sins, our hope to have the power and the help of the Holy Spirit to change our way of life, our hope that heaven is real and that Jesus is preparing a place for us there.

And in his letter to the Hebrews, the author calls this hope an “anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”

The words strongly imply that our souls are never steady all by themselves. But you already recognize that, don’t you? Experience alone would tell you that. Worry, anxiety, guilt, shame, anger, frustration, greed, lust, envy, jealousy — these are all winds that blow our soul around and create waves, waves that cause our soul to bob unsteadily and erratically through life.

Nothing within us will keep us steady. We need something outside of ourselves to hold our souls steady. We need something reliable to be our support and mainstay. We need something that can resist the force of the winds and the waves and hold us firmly in place in the grace, mercy and peace of Jesus Christ.

And that “something” is the hope that Jesus gives us. Hope secures us to the bedrock of God’s promises and holds our soul steadily in place.

So the bottom line is this: Don’t set sail in life without an anchor on board. Don’t allow anyone to tell you that you don’t need an anchor for your soul. Take Jesus, and the hope he gives you, with you everyday wherever you go.

Then you will have a soul that is firm and secure.

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19, NIV).

Lord, I thank you for the hope that I have in Jesus Christ, your Son, my Lord and Savior. Help me to carry this hope with me every day in life and use it as an anchor for my soul. I want to live a life and have a soul that is firm and secure.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, November 5, is Ezekiel 7:1 – 9:11, Hebrews 6:13 – 7:10 and Psalm 119:161-168.

Header image based on "Ancora, ancla, anchor." by Miguel Campo, CC By-SA 2.0

Just Imagine!

The Corinthians were curious about this physical resurrection that Paul kept teaching about. It was quite different than what most Greeks traditionally believed about the after-life.

The Greek religion taught that after death, a person’s spirit would be delivered to the river Styx. There, if the person’s body had received a proper burial, he would be ferried across the river by the ferryman, Charon. Once across the river, the person would be faced with three potential fates.

The worst fate, reserved for those who sinned against the gods, was Tartarus, a dark place of eternal punishment. You might recall the story of Sisyphus, who had to keep pushing a large rock up a hill, only to have it roll back down the hill again and again. Or maybe you’ve heard about Tantalus who was made to eternally stand nearby a table laden with delicious food, but the table remains eternally out of reach.

The Fields of Asphodel were reserved for the vast majority. This was where you ended up if you were a regular joe, not too offensive to the gods, but not exactly a hero of the faith, either. The Fields of Asphodel were, as the name suggests, a vast plain containing grass and flowers upon which the dead lived and wandered aimlessly. Not exactly a glorious existence!

For the heroes and those who impressed the gods with their virtue and piety there was Elysium, a paradise where their spirits lived on in everlasting life.

None of these included a resurrected body. So it was a shocking thought to most Greeks that the afterlife would be a physical existence. They were curious, because this was like nothing they had ever heard before.

Paul’s response to their question was, “It’s going to be amazing! Your perishable body will become imperishable. Your not-so-glorious corpse will become glorious. The body that was placed in the ground motionless and powerless will be raised and be brought forth a powerful body. The body sown into the ground like a seed was a natural body. The body that will rise will be a supernatural body.

It’ll be the same body, Paul says. It will be your body. But what a difference between what you physically experience now, and what your physical existence will be then! It will be glorious. It will be amazing. The best way to put it is this: Your body today is modeled after Adam, the earthly man. But in heaven, your body will be modeled after Jesus’ glorified body.

Just imagine!

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” …So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body… And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man” (1 Corinthians 15:35, 42-44, 49, NIV).

Lord Jesus, thank you for salvation. Thank you for heaven. Thank you that because of the cross and the empty tomb, I will enjoy an eternal — and physical — existence in your presence forever. I can barely imagine how amazing it will be!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, August 23, is 2 Chronicles 18:28 – 21:3, 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 and Psalm 102:12-17.

Header image based on "Elysium" by Sundaram Ramaswamy, CC By 2.0