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

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

Tough and Resilient

In the first century B.C., the Roman poet Virgil wrote, “Come what may, all bad fortune is to be conquered by endurance.”

But where does such endurance come from? Because it certainly doesn’t seem to come easy, does it!? Is it only through repeated exposure to adverse conditions that we can develop endurance? Or is there another — perhaps even better — way to build endurance?

The prophet Isaiah gives us his answer. Speaking around 700 years before Christ, he describes Jesus so clearly it’s astounding. In fact, in Luke chapter 4, Jesus himself told the people of his own home town that he was the fulfillment of words spoken by Isaiah, words that we find in Isaiah 61.

What a beautiful portrait Isaiah paints of Jesus! He is the Chosen One, sent to proclaim good news to the poor. He is the one sent to heal broken hearts, to release people from their captivity to sin, guilt and shame. He is on a mission to bring comfort to all who grieve and mourn. He restores hope and praise to the lips of those who are hopeless and in despair.

Then Isaiah gives us insight into his view of what creates endurance, toughness and resilience. And this is so important for us to hear. Because life can sometimes knock the stuffing right out of us. And getting back up afterwards, after a fall or a failure, is is never easy. But Isaiah tells us that it’s Jesus who helps us do that. Faith in Jesus will drastically increase our endurance capability.

Isaiah likes to put it in more picturesque terms. He says that Jesus turns us into “oak trees.” And that’s a good metaphor. Oak trees have a tap root that sinks deep into the soil. They also have an extensive root system that spreads horizontally underneath the soil in a network that goes as far as four to seven times the diameter of the tree’s crown.

This makes oak trees very durable and able to withstand strong storms. They are tough and resilient.

Even when an oak tree is cut down for lumber, the wood itself is extremely strong. The U.S.S. Constitution reportedly received its nickname “Old Ironsides” during the War of 1812 because of its oak hull. The hull was so tough that the cannon balls of the British war ships literally bounced off it.

So, if you would like to be more tough and resilient, if you would like to build endurance for this very tough race we call life, going through adverse conditions can no doubt help. But true endurance builds when we, by faith, are in the hands of our everlasting (and everlastingly kind and powerful) Savior, Jesus.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor” (Isaiah 61:1-3, NIV).

Our Bible reading for Friday, September 25, is Isaiah 60:1 – 62:12, Ephesians 4:1-16 and Proverbs 23:19-28.

Lord Jesus, you are my everlasting Savior and my Lord. Send me your Holy Spirit to strengthen my heart and mind, and make me resilient, tough and enduring by faith in you.

Header image based on "Oak Tree" by Marilyn Peddle, CC By 2.0

Shake Off the Gloom

It was a very dark period in the history of the children of Israel. Despite warning after warning, they had hard-headedly developed a longstanding habit of idolatry and rebellion. This led to God sending various nations against the children of Israel intended to shake their faith in their false gods and erroneous, deceptive beliefs.

God’s intent was that the children of Israel would notice how little their false gods could protect them. He wanted them to repent of their sins and be renewed in their trust of his promises. Most of all, he wanted them to turn around, and return to him.

God’s discipline led to periods of gloom and despair for the children of Israel. This teaches us that God does not always keep us from trouble and sorrow — in fact, sometimes they are part of his discipline, his attempt to get us to think!

If we have rejected God over and over again, is there not some point where he is going to try and get us to connect the dots? Will a loving God not demonstrate for us where our sinful choices will eventually lead us?

He does that to shake things up and lead us back to him. He does that to get us to realize the choices we are making are leading to failure, not success.

We may sometimes fear that our period of gloom and distress will never end. We begin to believe that we are doomed to failure, trouble and sorrow. But God assures us that this is not his goal. His goal is to get us back into the light.

And that goal becomes clear when we remember that our Father sent us Jesus, his one and only Son, to make it possible for us to be forgiven, restored, and reunited with him. Jesus is our true light. You might recall that Jesus made this claim about himself: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8;12, NIV).

If you’re going through a period of distress right now, it may be that God is trying to teach you something. Step back, look carefully at what the Bible teaches about God’s holy will for your life, and ask yourself, “What changes is God asking me to make? Do I need to return and place my faith in Jesus? Is it time for me come back and walk in the light of his truth and love?”

Then remember that God does not intend to leave you in distress forever. So, take your sins to Jesus. In him, you are forgiven. You are free. Stand up and walk into the light of Jesus’ love for you. Shake off the gloom and experience the peace that the Prince of Peace has for you!

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

“The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned…

… For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:1-2, 6, NIV).

Lord, grant me a humble heart. Help me to willingly and regularly examine myself — my heart, my mind, my words and my actions, too — to see where there are changes that need to be made. Where there is gloom and distress, direct my eyes to your Son, Jesus. He is the true light. He is my forgiveness, my peace, and my joy. He is the One and Only who can help me turn my life around — with eternal benefits!

Our Bible reading for Saturday, September 5, is Isaiah 8:11 – 10:19, 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 and Proverbs 21:27 – 22:6.

Header image based on "Gloom Clouds" by Joel, CC By-SA 2.0

Prophetic Evidence

It’s interesting to see how many prophecies Jesus fulfilled. One scholar has stated that Jesus fulfilled 353 prophecies that are found in the Old Testament. Still others are more general, but they indicate that the number of prophecies fulfilled was clearly over 300.

It’s also interesting to see that some of those prophecies had to do with some pretty unique and unusually detailed things. Obscure things, really.

One of those had to do with the disposal of Jesus’ clothes at his death. Who would anticipate that there would be a prophecy about something like that?

Yet, there was such a prophecy. And Jesus fulfilled it perfectly.

What are the chances? Unless, of course, he is who he says he is. Unless this really was the plan of salvation that God had laid out ever since the time Adam and Eve fell into sin. Unless this is just one more piece of evidence that God gave us to show that Jesus is the true Messiah.

One more piece of evidence among more than 300 pieces of prophetic evidence that Jesus is my Savior and yours! One more piece of evidence that all our sins are really, truly forgiven.

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.

“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”

This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said,

“They divided my clothes among them
    and cast lots for my garment.”

So this is what the soldiers did. (John 19:23-24, NIV)

Our Bible reading for Saturday, May 30, is 1 Samuel 26:1 -28:25, John 19:1-27 and Psalm 68:21-27.

Lord, thank you for clearly pointing to your Son, Jesus, through prophecy and assuring me he is the long-promised Messiah. Send me your Spirit so that my faith in Jesus may grow stronger every day.

Header image based on "IT IS FINISHED" by Waiting for the Word, CC By 2.0

David Called It

David called it. More than a thousand years before it even happened, David tells the story of Jesus’ arrest, death and resurrection.

“Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me. But may you have mercy on me, Lord; raise me up, that I may repay them. I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. Because of my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever” (Psalm 41:9-12, NIV).

If ever there was a convincing argument for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this is it. If ever there was a solid case for God having a plan to redeem mankind, well, this is definitely it.

And what more beautiful time of year to celebrate both of these than Easter?

David’s words in Psalm 41 let you know two things for sure. First, you have a God who loves you enough to communicate his love to you. Over and over again for thousands of years. And second, you have a God who values you so much that he would send his one and only Son to be your substitute.

And here’s a third. As a bonus. That one and only Son won an eternal victory for you. And his name is Jesus.

Happy Easter!

Our Bible reading for Easter Sunday, April 5, is Deuteronomy 2:24 – 4:14, Luke 10:25 – 11:4 and Psalm 41:7-14.

Lord, thank you for your death and resurrection. Because of these, I am assured of forgiveness and salvation. I have a new life to look forward to. You have given me a future!

Header image based on "Bluebell Heaven" by Nana B Agyei, CC By 2.0

Righteous, Devout and Waiting

Simeon is described by three words: righteous, devout, and waiting. And then a very important phrase follows: “…and the Holy Spirit was on him.”

This is what the Holy Spirit does. He makes us righteous by faith. He turns our heart away from sin and makes us devoted to Jesus. He causes us to wait for the Lord in faith.

In Simeon’s case, the Holy Spirit did something a little extra. He also revealed to Simeon that he would not die before seeing the birth of the Messiah.

One day, he was moved by the Spirit to go to the temple in Jerusalem. When Mary and Joseph walked in with the baby Jesus, Simeon knew this was exactly why the Spirit had motivated him to go into God’s house:

“Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel'” (Luke 2:28-32, NIV).

What was it that this righteous man had been waiting devotedly for? What was he hoping to see?

He was hoping to see Jesus, the one who would bring comfort and peace to God’s people. He was waiting for the one who would prepare salvation for all nations.

If Simeon, a mere man, could be waiting so devotedly and so expectantly, imagine how passionately a righteous and devoted Savior waited to arrive so he could begin to carry out the plan of salvation!

Consider how passionately a righteous and devoted Savior waits — even now — for you to listen to his Spirit’s call, the way Simeon did, and come into his house.

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, March 18, is Numbers 7:1-65, Luke 2:21-40 and Psalm 35:1-10.

Header image based on "Waiting for the Word" by Hacker, CC By 2.0