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.

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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.

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Tread on the Heights

Often we gauge God’s love for us by the outward circumstances of our lives. We begin to believe that what’s taking place around us defines how much God cares about us.

When Habakkuk wrote, Babylon was becoming the dominant world power. Habakkuk, a prophet in Judah, was trying to forewarn the people of Judah that cruel Babylon would soon be coming to crush their nation.

This raised major questions, and Habakkuk puts those questions directly to God. Why is there so much evil in our world? How is it that the wicked seem to prosper more than those who are righteous? Do evil people get off scot-free?

Right away, Habakkuk starts off the book with a complaint, a bitter complaint he takes directly to God: How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save?” (Habakkuk 1:2, NIV).

God listens to Habakkuk’s complaint. And he responds. God wants others to hear his response and he instructs Habakkuk to make it plain to them.

The answer God gives is that Habakkuk must take the long view. In the short term, it may sometimes seem as if the wicked are getting away with their wickedness — and doing so with impunity. But eventually, God assures Habakkuk, they will be judged and justice will prevail.

God’s answer takes up all but the first verse of chapter two. Habakkuk absorbs God’s answer, and he responds with a prayer of triumph that concludes the book. The beauty of Habakkuk’s prayer is that it gives us a peek inside the heart of a man whose faith has been refreshed and renewed by God’s words and promises.

Habakkuk vows to stop judging God’s love by the circumstances and events that he is witnessing and simply trust God’s heart and God’s promises. Habakkuk commits to no longer allowing his feelings to be controlled by the externals, but rather by God’s willingness and ability to give him strength and help him through the tough times.

What we learn from Habakkuk is made plain. We do not see all that God is doing. And we cannot see all that God will do. But we can be completely confident that God is God, and he will do what is right in the end.

We can also know that God will strengthen us and carry us upward through the difficult times. God will renew our courage and confidence. Ultimately, through Christ, all God’s people will see victory and tread on the heights.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LordI will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights” (Habakkuk 3:17-19, NIV).

Lord, help me to find joy in you, even when my outward circumstances are not joyful. You, Lord, are my strength, in good times and difficult times. In Jesus, I am confident you will enable me to tread on the heights of eternal victory.

Our Bible reading for Tuesday, October 27, is Habakkuk 1:1 – 3:19, Titus 2:1-15 and Proverbs 26:3-12.

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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.

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It’s All God, From Start to Fuel to Finish!

What God starts, God fuels. What God fuels, God finishes.

Sounds a little bit like running a distance race, doesn’t it? You make your start. You make sure you’re fueled up during the race. And then you overcome all the obstacles and “walls” and make it through to the finish line.

But in the race of faith, the subject of all those sentences is God. God makes my start. God fuels me up. God overcomes the obstacles and walls and sees to it I make it through to the end. That’s important to know. Because what this means is that we don’t have to start this race, fuel it, or finish it.

That might sound pretty crazy at first, but think of it this way. God chose us and called us by the work of the Spirit to come to the starting line. He did this by having the gospel taught to us — typically through someone he sent. It might have been a parent, a friend, a family member, or just someone we know at work or in our neighborhood who invited us to church.

God then fuels our faith. Again, this is not our work, but the work of the Spirit. He does this through Bible teaching, and through sacraments like baptism and the Lord’s Supper. This fueling of faith is typically done at a church. Paul told the Thessalonians, they had only to stand firm and hold fast. In other words, don’t push the Spirit away. Don’t stop listening to the word. And as it imperfect as it can certainly be at times, don’t despise the church.

And it’s God who finishes the work, too. By grace he encourages us to eternity. By his steadfast love he gives us good hope. And with his forgiveness and power, he strengthens us to experience life-change. Our deeds and words change over time and become more and more attuned to the deeds and words of Jesus. Stay in touch with word and sacrament, with Christian friends and leaders, with growing and serving, and God will finish his work in you.

In the book of Hebrews, God is called “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” And in the book of Philippians, we read that the apostle Paul is confident that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”

That’s really what Paul is also saying in today’s reading. But here in his second letter to the Thessalonians, he gives us just a little more detail about how that works. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther described the process beautifully in his explanation to the third article of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church he forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.

But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-17, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you are the impetus, the fuel and the finishing power in my race of faith. Give me the strength to overcome every obstacle and wall in my race. By your forgiveness, your wisdom, your power, and most of all, your love, take me through to victory!

Our Bible reading for Wednesday, October 14, is Jeremiah 29:24 – 31:14, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 and Psalm 119:33-40.

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What God Works In, We Work Out

There’s an old saying that when you see the word “therefore” in the Bible, the first thing you should do is ask, “What’s it there for?”

In the case of Philippians 2:12, the “therefore” is pointing back to the previous section of Paul’s letter (Philippians 2:1-11), where he poetically describes the humility of Christ in going to the cross, and his subsequent exaltation to the right hand of God.

Paul coaches his Philippian friends: “Therefore,” since Jesus went to the wall for you to win your eternal salvation, now you go to the wall to take the gift of salvation you’ve been given and put it to work. Whatever you do, don’t let the gift just sit there and gather dust.

This gift of salvation is such a great and priceless gift that it should actually be put to use with fear and trembling. And how do we put it to use? It’s not complicated. It’s really quite strait-forward. Take Jesus’ words and actually practice them in your life.

In other words, really believe that what you believe is really real — and then obediently act on your faith:

  • Trust Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life — and find true peace in this
  • Trust that God’s commandments are the way to be attuned to God’s heart — and find joy in living according to them
  • Trust that putting the interests of God and others ahead of your own interests will bring you great blessing
  • Trust that this life is not all there is — God has an amazing inheritance in store for you in eternity
  • Trust that the Bible is God’s word, and therefore, your perfect guide to walking in step with the Holy Spirit

You won’t need to do any of this by your own willpower or energy. God will give you everything you need. He will provide you with the willpower, and he will give you the energy. To believe. And to obey.

Because whatever God demands, he also always graciously provides — just as God first graciously provided us with Jesus, the Savior we all need.

God first works in us by being gracious to us. And what God works in, we then work out by being obedient and faithful to him.

“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13, NIV).

Lord Jesus, you humbled yourself and became obedient to death to win forgiveness of sins and salvation for me. Lord, I want to express my gratitude by being faithful and obedient to you. Work in me to will and to act according to your good pleasure.

Our Bible reading for Thursday, October 1, is Jeremiah 2:31 – 4:9, Philippians 2:12-30 and Psalm 115:12-18.

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Stand Firm!

Abraham Lincoln once said, “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”

Paul, the apostle, once said, “When you take your stand in the Lord, you are standing in the right place. Stand firm in him.”

And then he clearly described the way to take a firm stand in Jesus. Don’t do it in your own strength. Instead, put on God’s armor. God’s armor is your best defense. And God’s armor is your best offense, too.

There are six pieces to that armor. Put them all on. And keep them on.

  • Truth
  • Righteousness
  • The Gospel
  • Faith
  • Salvation
  • God’s Word

Once you have your armor on, talk to God. Because God’s armor comes with a comms unit. And that comms unit — it’s called prayer — allows you to speak directly to God himself.

The right armor, and talking to the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier — the One who controls everything, will help you plant your feet firmly and be steadfast and unmovable.

Like a rock. Even when Satan himself, and all his evil angels with him, are trying to bring you down.

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people” (Ephesians 6:10-18, NIV).

Lord, help me to take my stand in you. I know that Satan wants to bring me down and take me out. But you have given me the right protective armor to wear, and you have declared yourself available at all times to assure me of your love and grant me your wisdom. Help me to wear the armor, and keep my communications with you an open line.

Our Bible reading for Monday, September 28, is Nahum 1:1 – 3:19, Ephesians 6:1-24 and Psalm 114:1-8.

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