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

Not the Usual Picture of Jesus

When I think of Jesus, the words that first come into my head are words like this: Savior, Lord, love, forgiveness, grace, mercy, help in time of need. And I find great comfort and peace in thinking about Jesus this way.

So when I read John’s description of Jesus in Revelation chapter 19, it’s a little shocking to think of words like this: king, judge, warrior, ruler, powerful, truth, justice, punishment. Frankly, I feel frightened and discomforted when I think of Jesus in these terms.

And it makes me want to ask, “Will the real Jesus please stand up?

Am I right to be comforted by thoughts of Jesus? Or should I be frightened by him… frightened of him?

The answer, as we’ve seen so many times in the Bible, is that Jesus is “both/and.” And perhaps I’m going against the grain here, but I’m going to argue that “both/and” is not only who Jesus is, it’s also exactly who we would want him to be.

When I’m seriously wronged, treated unjustly, or injured by the selfish, greedy, arrogant, envious acts of others, I want to know that there’s justice in the universe. I long to know that there is someone “officiating” this game called life, someone who is interested in fairness and rightness.

If you don’t like the sound of this — of a Jesus like this — it may just mean that you haven’t yet been truly, deeply, seriously wronged in life.

Then again, when I’m the wrongdoer (which I all too frequently am), and I feel guilty and ashamed of the hurts I’ve caused God and others in my life, I want nothing more than mercy and forgiveness. I want to know I’m loved unconditionally, and will be shown grace by a Savior who doesn’t demand that I earn his love with my goodness.

The following picture of our Lord’s anger at the sin and rebellion he sees in his world is without question a frightening — even terrifying — picture of him. But, as John says here, this is the Savior who is Faithful and True.

And this means that Jesus is also faithful to his promises to forgive your sins and love you. And he remained true to you all the way to the cross, where he bled and died for you. He remained faithful and true to you all the way to the empty tomb, where he rose again, and now lives at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, constantly interceding for you in love.

Let this picture of Jesus — this image of his faithful and true grace — be the picture and the image that lingers in our hearts, even as we acknowledge the truth of (and the need for) the picture John gives us here of a Jesus who fights back against sin and injustice.

“I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. ‘He will rule them with an iron scepter.’ He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written:

KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Revelation 19:11-16, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Monday, December 28, is Nehemiah 9:1-37, Revelation 19:11-21 and Psalm 148:7-14.

Lord, I know that I deserve your justice, your anger and your punishment. I am sinful, and I have far too often rebelled against you. Thank you for remaining faithful in your love and forgiveness toward me. Please be gracious to me and give me what I do not deserve. Give me instead what you have earned for me through your perfect life and innocent death.

Header image based on "Jesus Christ Wallpaper" by spurgeon1888, CC By 2.0

The Beginning of the End

It’s Christmas! And through all the lights and the gifts, the food and the family celebrations, one thing sets this holiday apart from other holidays.

Thousands and thousands of years ago, immediately following Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, God arrived on the scene and saw what the two had done. The world would be cursed. From that point on their labor would be hard.

When they told God that the devil had deceived them, he turned to Satan, and faced down the ancient serpent. God declared war. He told Satan right then and there that he would send an offspring — a descendant — of Eve to strike him, and deliver a crushing blow to his head.

Satan was not willing to concede defeat. He and his evil angels have fought back ever since then. And many people have lost their souls in this interminable series of counter-attacks against God, and against his Son, the Lamb of God.

But Christmas tells us that the unending war is finally coming to an end. God kept his promise to send an “offspring ” of Eve. As the Magi said, the star indicates that this child is the “the king of the Jews.”

More than that, the tiny baby lying in a manger will be named Jesus — Savior. Years later he will show himself to be not only the king of the Jews, but the victorious Lord of lords and King of kings.

He will triumph over Satan, sin and death itself by dying on a cross, and shedding his infinitely precious and priceless blood. He will be the sinless Lamb of God who offers himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. In this self-sacrificial act, he will redeem us from our sins and win eternal life for all who are his called, chosen and faithful followers.

Christmas. It’s God’s kept promise to us. It’s the beginning of the end for Satan and his allies. It’s merely the first taste of triumph and victory for those of us who are with him by faith, who trust that the baby born in Bethlehem is our Savior and our Lord.

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers” (Revelation 17:14, NIV).

Jesus, Lamb of God, today I want to thank you for coming to be my Savior. I am so grateful that you kept the promise made long ago to Adam and Eve, a promise that was made necessary by their sin and mine. But most of all, I need to thank you for coming to triumph over sin, Satan and death. You called me and chose me to follow you. And you keep me in the faith. With you, we enjoy today as the beginning of the end, and the guarantee of our complete victory. Because of you alone, eternal glory is our true and final hope!

Our Bible reading for Friday, December 25, is Nehemiah 3:1 – 4:23, Revelation 17:1-18 and Psalm 147:12-20.

Header image based on "Nativity" by Jeff Weese, 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

The End of Accusation

The Greek word for devil is “diabolos.” And this word refers to someone who is a slanderer or a false accuser.

Satan is our adversary, and one of the ways he loves to fight against us is through lies and accusations. Have you ever wondered why your heart still makes you feel guilty and filled with shame, even when you know in your mind that Jesus has forgiven you for your sin?

This is the way it is when Satan is at work. Even many years — sometimes decades — after we have committed a particular sin, and after being told again and again that Jesus has forgiven us, the devil will still call our past sins to our attention. Guilt floods in. Shame overtakes us.

But the message of Christmas, and the beauty of the book of Revelation, is that the accuser is defeated. We can stop listening to him.

Because Christ, our King, is born. His salvation, his power, his kingdom and his authority are ascendant. And our accuser has been hurled down.

We triumph over Satan today, and over his accusations, when our eyes move from the manger to the cross. There our Savior bled and died to win our forgiveness. We triumph over the power of the devil when we go back to God’s words and promises, and hear once again of the righteousness Jesus won for us through his perfect life and his innocent death.

Christmas (and Good Friday, and Easter) makes us conquerers. It is the end of accusation, because the accuser himself has been banished.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:10-11, NIV).

Lord, Jesus, thank you for becoming a man like us and triumphing over the devil, our accuser. Help me by your gospel promises to remain confident in that forgiveness every day, and to refuse to listen to Satan’s lying accusations. I no longer have to subject myself to his constant accusations because you have overthrown him. I am forgiven, truly forgiven!

Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 20, is Ezra 6:1 – 7:10, Revelation 12:1 – 13:1 and Psalm 145:8-13.

Header image based on "El belen azulgrana" by jacinta lluch valero, CC By-SA 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

Crucial Decisions

Right, or left? Go on, or turn back? Take a stand, or give ground?

Sometimes in life we face decisions like this. And it’s not always easy to know the correct answer.

It may be that we feel like we lack the information we need, or the wisdom required, to make such a decision. And sometimes we worry that our emotions are getting in the way of a rational decision (or is it, instead, that our our head is getting in the way of where our heart wants to lead us?).

David was under constant pressure from his rivals and enemies. He was also quite aware of his own sin and how undeserving he was for the position he’d been given as king of Israel.

Many scholars believe that David wrote Psalm 143 in his desolation after he had been driven from Jerusalem by his own son, Absalom. David knew that he had to deal first with his own sins, and then determine how to respond to this crisis in his leadership.

Not an easy decision when your own son is creating the crisis!

When big, crucial decisions loom, the place to go is to your knees. Seek God in prayer. Martin Luther, the great 16th century reformer wrote: “A man can say to his God, ‘Behold, take my heart, and lead me according to your will. I surrender myself completely to you.'”

This is what David said to God as he was facing his crucial decision. And this is what we can still by grace say to our Lord, when we face crucial decisions in our own lives.

Jesus, our Savior, makes such prayers possible. But even more, he guarantees that our Father’s ears are wide open to our pleas for forgiveness and guidance.

As David promises us, he will show you the way you should go. He will lead you onto level ground.

Lord, hear my prayer,
    listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
    come to my relief.
Do not bring your servant into judgment,
    for no one living is righteous before you…

Answer me quickly, Lord;
    my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
    or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
    for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
    for to you I entrust my life.
Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
    for I hide myself in you.
Teach me to do your will,
    for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
    lead me on level ground (Psalm 143:1-2, 7-10, NIV).

Prayer: Pray Psalm 143.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, December 15, is Malachi 1:1 – 2:16, Revelation 6:1-17 and Psalm 143:1-12.

Header image based on "decisions" by Martin Fisch, CC By-SA 2.0