Revelation 21 & 22

A New Heaven and a New Earth…

It’s hard to imagine something we’ve never seen, especially for John who’s trying to describe for us the unfathomable. John is writing the book of Revelation while imprisoned on the island of Patmos. We get a sense of his awe as we read the descriptions of this New Heaven & New Earth. 

He paints word pictures for us, but it can’t fully explain the grandeur of heaven and new earth. Gold as clear as glass. What? Jasper as clear as crystal? Huh? Huge jeweled walls and gates. Wow. 

I liken his attempt to explain what he’s seeing to Dorothy’s expression when she unexpectedly lands in Oz. We see the wonder and astonishment and we get to experience that with her. This is a new place, indescribable–like heaven in a sense. 

Reading through Revelation 21 and 22, here’s what we know–the story ends well for those who have placed their faith in Jesus. 

What John describes is in all reality the reunification of heaven and earth. God is redeeming what was broken in the garden of Eden. We get to be with God, face to face, forever, in a perfect place. No sin. No death. No struggle. And it’s all because of Jesus. 

This promise of a New Heaven and a New Earth not only offered John a hope for his future, but it offers us a hope. It’s a promise that being a follower of Jesus is worth it, and worth giving up everything for. And this promise is also an invitation to those who are not yet followers. Jesus waits for the unbelievers and wants them desperately to follow him and join him in the New Heaven and New Earth. 

Our God of creation is the God of redemption, and all of history, which he controls, is racing toward this very moment–the end of the world and the beginning of forever.

And this is how the greatest story ever told ends…but really, it’s how it begins.

Revelation 3:7-12

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

C.S. Lewis (Mere Christianity)

Some days I simply long for my true home. I know that nothing on this earth can satisfy the desires of my heart, and I know that God has prepared a perfect place for me. I know that Jesus will return and establish a new kingdom in which He is fully glorified! And I long for that day. This well known quote by C.S. Lewis captures the essence of my longings so well (I even have it hanging in my kitchen!). Life in this broken world can feel overwhelming, and the division can run so deep. I believe that is part of what makes the promise of the second advent so exciting–the knowledge that God’s big plan is still unfolding and He’s not done yet. We know who will have victory, and we know who will rule in eternity. That in and of itself should put the proverbial spring in our step!

Despite this glorious promise and the excitement that accompanies it, we also are fully aware of the difficulties of living as a disciple of Christ. In this particular passage of Scripture, we see that the Church in Philadelphia was being encouraged. They lacked power, but they persevered in faith. In the midst of hardships and persecutions, they didn’t lose sight of the glory of their Savior. Here Jesus encourages them to hold fast in their faith as He will be returning soon. He promises to give them a place in the new kingdom and give them a new name. What a fantastic promise this is indeed. Let’s take a note from the page of the Church in Philadelphia…let’s stay faithful. Let’s hold fast. Let’s pray for our brothers and sisters enduring persecution daily. Let’s endure hardship knowing that Jesus always keeps His promises and God’s plan is always best. As we long for our true home in a way this world can’t satisfy, let’s steward our time as sojourners in this world and make disciples for the New Kingdom.

Ephesians 4:17-32

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24

The most important decision anyone will ever make is if they are going to follow Jesus and become one of his disciples. After that comes the difficult task of allowing our old habits, or our old self, to die. I know when I first decided to follow Christ my old habits were hard to give up. It was so easy to fall back into my old routine. I had to allow the Holy Spirit to come and change my daily habits. I was no longer a citizen of this world but had gained citizenship in heaven. I had to stop looking and acting as the world around me did.

Over the past few months, I have looked around me and seen some of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ acting according to their old self. We have all had moments where we placed our hope in a politician, a vaccine, or a something else to give us hope and help us explain what is going on in our lives. All of us who are disciples of Christ need to stop, ask forgiveness, and repent of our misplaced trust. By doing so, we will allow the Holy Spirit to come in and renew our minds so that we can shine the light of hope of Jesus into a dark world that needs a savior.

Take some time today and ask God to show you where you have misplaced your trust or hope. How are you going to live as “the new self” and show that “the old self” has died?

2 Corinthians 5:11-21

Anybody else out there have some control issues? Let’s just be real for a minute–the last 10 months have stretched the limits of even the most go-with-the-flow among us.

  • Overwhelmed by more new information than we’re able to process? Check.
  • Exhausted by a pace of change more rapid than the pace at which we’re able to adjust? Check.
  • Frustrated by those around us who just don’t seem to get it–whatever it is? Check.

The truth is that we know what it is to be beside ourselves because–among other reasons–we know what it is to try to exert control in ways that are simply beyond our grasp. But in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul points us to a better reason to be beside ourselves–for God. He reminds us that what is truly certain in our lives is the love of Christ that controls us. And that love is not changing or wearied or frustrated. It was demonstrated once and for all in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and it is revealed now in our hearts and lives because in Christ, each of us is a new creation. We have been reconciled to God through the love of Christ and are ambassadors of reconciliation to a world that needs to know that love.

So, yes, there is a lot in this world that feels out of control, much that is beyond our finite grasp, but the Christian life is not out of control. Through the finished work of Christ and the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, the love of Christ controls us, and therefore, we can view every interaction we have today through the lens of God’s love toward us. We can treat every person we encounter today with the type of grace that has been extended to us. We can filter our words through our identity as ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. For the love of Christ controls us.

Romans 6:1-11

A little more than 17 years ago I was given a pretty pricey gift. I was given a car by my parents. I had been driving my current car at that point to the total of over 250,000 miles. Quite a few miles. In fact, it was starting to have some issues and I wasn’t sure how many more miles I could get out of it. At some point it was going to stop running and I didn’t know when. The problem was I couldn’t afford a different car. We had four small children, Kim was going to college, we had recently made a ministry change which came with expenses, and my salary as a minister at that point was not able to pay for any additional expenses. So, without me asking, my parents decided to take things into their hands and bought me a new car. Needless to say, it was wonderful to go from driving a car that had 250,000 miles on it to driving a car with a few hundred of miles on it. Not only was the worry of it dying on me gone, but this car got better gas mileage. Now, I will be honest and say it was hard for me to accept that gift. I, like so many people, like to think I can take care of myself. Therefore, to accept such a gracious gift was hard on my pride, even though it was greatly appreciated. But I still could have said no. But having said yes, I did experience a great blessing. If I were to have asked you shortly after receiving the new car if I should return it to my parents and go back to driving my 250,000 mile car what would you say? You would say, “Absolutely not. Enjoy the new car.” You would tell me to be thankful for such a wonderful gift and to make the most of it.

In Romans 6:1-11, Paul is speaking about a gift that his readers had received. They had received the gift of new life through their faith in Jesus Christ. Sin had caused a great need and God in his grace met their need. But some were tempted to keep on sinning believing that it would be good so that grace could continue to abound in their lives. However, Paul had a clear answer to those wondering if they should go on sinning. In Romans 6:2 Paul said,

Romans 6:2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Paul knew it was crazy for someone to have been set free from sin to still walk in it. When my parents gave me the new car I still had my old one. No doubt if I had chosen to leave the new car parked and drive the old one instead you would have thought me crazy. You would ask why would you not drive the new car? I could have said, “I’m used to the way the old car drives” or given other excuses but any excuse would have sounded silly. For those who are believers yet choose to continue to live in sin, that choice is just as crazy. God has provided the ultimate gift. The gift of eternal life and the new life it brings. We would be silly to refuse his gift in the first place but even more crazy would be to fail to walk in the new life he has given. One of the best things I did after getting my new car was giving my old one away. I wasn’t tempted to drive it that way. The best thing a believer can do is put the sin of your old life out of your life and walk in the new life that God provided. As Paul said,

Romans 6:11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

For those of us who are believers let’s walk in the new life that God has provided. There is no need to walk in our old life any longer and it would be silly for us to do so.

John 13:31-35

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. 35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

John 13:31-35

When Jesus was preparing his disciples for what was about to happen on the cross, he gave them a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you. This commandment was and is intended to be the identifying characteristic for those who follow Jesus, and it didn’t fizzle out or lose power over time. As Christians, we are still called to show the love of Christ; it is supposed to be what sets us apart.

Are we loving one another the way that we are supposed to? We tend to love conditionally, favoring those we like or agree with. It’s hard to love those who have wronged us. It’s easy to forget that we’re supposed to show love when we’re caught up in an argument or when issues divide us. I encourage you today to reflect on the way that you love others. At the start of new year, maybe it’s time to realign with this new commandment to love one another just as Jesus has loved us.

Ezekiel 36:22-38

When I start something new, there is always a purpose behind it in my mind. Over the holiday, I created a little indoor treehouse in one of my closets. It was a full day project but so worth it. It’s a cozy place with one purpose. That purpose is to remove distractions and be a place where I can get lost in books. Whether that is digging into God’s Word or reading a good mystery, that’s where all the reading happens. It’s my new favorite place in the house and if you ever ask me about it, you might regret you mentioned it because I’m sure to start showing you before and after pictures and explaining all the elements of it’s formation. But let’s get back to the point of the story. . .purpose. I’m a purpose fanatic and believe that if we are doing something, we better be able to point to the “why” behind it. A clearly given purpose just brings me joy.

I love this passage of Scripture because it points forward to the new covenant God will make with His people. At this point in history, sin and exile had been a point of disgrace for the Israelites and God was speaking of His plan for restoration. He had a plan to give His people a new heart and a new spirit, to make a covenant with His people to bring His name glory, restore His name among the nations, and to bring His people to Himself. He made it clear to the people that the purpose of the new covenant was not for their sake but for His glory. They had done nothing to earn this new heart and new spirit. They had done nothing to deserve a new covenant with the one true God. Regardless of His people’s merit, God always works for His glory and our good. By providing a new heart, His people would be better able to live a teachable life seeking after God. By providing a new spirit, His people would have the guidance to live as He has called them. The new covenant isn’t about following a list of rules but rather living in communion with our God. He has provided a solution to the sin problem of the human heart and offered the assurance of restoration–all for His glory. As we start this fresh year with new projects and goals, let’s remember our purpose. We have been given this new heart and spirit. Thus, everything we do should be for the purpose of glorifying God, both the small things and the big things. Let’s be intentional and sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s guidance as we seek to grow and make disciples.

Lamentations 3

Taking a look back at 2020, we see where God allowed us to be put into some uncomfortable situations.  He moved us from our comfort zone into the unknown.  This caused me to question God at times about what he was doing and why he was doing this.  At times, it seems that there is no end to when this stuff is going to be over. I had moments where I was worn down and tired.  The prophet Jeremiah experienced this same feeling and spoke to this in verse 18. 

so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.

Lamentations 3:18

When these times came upon me, I had only one place to turn for help. I had to turn and trust that God has already taken care of everything that I was going through. My focus had to shift from my problems to the problem solver. Just a few verses later Jeremiah realized this also and penned verses 22 and 23.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
great is they faithfulness.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23

These two verses inspired Thomas Chisholm to write a poem that later was turned into the hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness”. This hymn has been sung in churches for decades now. The chorus is almost a direct quote of these two verses.

“Great is Thy faithfulness!” “Great is Thy faithfulness!”
 Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
“Great is Thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

Thomas Chisholm

Take heart and know that God is not surprised by what happens in our lives. He never changes and is quick to forgive when we doubt and stray. Take time today and think on the new mercies God has given to you today.

Jeremiah 31:31-34

There has been a lot of “new” over the past year. We’ve adjusted to new ways of doing almost everything in our lives–some we like better than others. One thing the last year has shown us is that “new” isn’t always better. Not always, but sometimes. Now, online grocery ordering and pickup? There’s something new to me that I like. I can get my food without anyone trying to run me down with their shopping cart? Sign me up. The rapid pace of change hasn’t always been as enjoyable, though. So, new isn’t always better, but sometimes it is.

Jeremiah 31 points us to a case where new is better–a new covenant. Jeremiah prophesied a new covenant that would be written on the hearts of the people, one where every single member of God’s people would know Him personally. It would be a covenant based on God’s grace to forgive and to redeem, and unlike the old covenant that was broken often by God’s people, this one would be unbreakable.

New isn’t always better, but if there was any doubt in this case, the author of Hebrews tells us that this new covenant is also a better covenant. Hebrews 8:6 says, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.” The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus has established a new and better covenant so that whatever the new year might bring, it also comes with better promises for those who believe in Jesus–the Spirit within us, personal knowledge of our God, the forgiveness of our sins, and the certainty of a God who always keeps His word. Let’s hold on to these promises today and throughout this new year!

Psalm 96

Have you made a commitment to do something new as the year starts? Many people do. Whether you call them new year resolutions or not doesn’t matter but many people start the year determined for things to be different. Some determine to have new eating habits, new exercise habits, new reading habits, new relationship habits, and many other new things. There is nothing wrong with making these new commitments. In fact, if some are kept then one’s life can be changed for the better. In Psalm 96, we see a call to the people of God to something new. A call to sing a new song. If you read the entire Psalm what you see is a call for God’s people to heartfelt worship and witness. The first word of the Psalm “Oh” is a call to something heartfelt. If you took out the word, the Psalm would still make sense but the use of “Oh” calls us to a deep sense of feeling. In the depth of who we are, we are called to sing a new song to God. A new song simply means recognizing what God is doing in the present. In Lamentations 3:23 we are told that God’s mercies are new every morning, so if nothing else, each day we can sing about how merciful God has been to us for the previous day’s failure. But God is so much more. The Psalm declares God’s greatness and reminds us that it is to the Lord we sing. As people we are by nature worshippers. If we don’t worship God we will worship something. Therefore, we are called to sing a new song “to the Lord” to make sure that our hearts are pointed in the right direction. Pointed to the one who is to be feared above all the false gods of the earth, the one who “will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.” As we worship, notice in this Psalm we are also to “declare his glory among the nations.” If we worship God correctly it will result in us witnessing to others about the greatness of God.

Maybe you think all I have said so far is common sense to the people of God. Maybe so. However, coming out of the year marked by COVID-19, we must make sure that we don’t get our eyes off God. Some studies have suggested that thirty percent or more of people who used to come to church will not return even when the pandemic is over, yet the Psalmist says we are to “bring an offering and come into his courts!” It is easy for us all to lose focus on even the basic things. Therefore, as this year is beginning let’s renew our commitment to worship the Lord and to witness to the world. If we do those two basic things we will have many new songs to sing in the coming year about what God is doing in our lives.