what we’ll forget

“See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

Isaiah 65

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

There is no shortage of things in this world we would just as soon forget. I have a tendency to forget the names of people who I think don’t like me. I have a list of cares about the house in which we live, and about what I can actually do about that myself. Then there are the past decisions or consequences of life that we have to live with. There are the many concerns which become especially pointed when we’re older. Of course the burdens we carry for loved ones can be more than we can bear. And there’s the world with all of its problems. The inevitable troubles we have in living in the brokenness and fallenness of it all. The problems in the world’s governance, our own nation with the upcoming presidential election at the forefront of the news. But with the global tragedies continuing, such as in Syria, and in other places. There is no end, really, to difficult, even horrendous, bad news, for sure.

What God promises his people is a complete forgetting of all that is not of the new creation, all that is of the old order of things. That means potentially that there will be plenty for us to remember. To begin with, I’ll not only remember my wife, Deb, but hopefully will be closer to her than ever, and if Scot McKnight is correct in his book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come, I’ll still be married to her. For sure relationships in the communion of Jesus will not only continue on, but flourish as never before. It will be as if we hadn’t been in any relationship before at all, in comparison to what is to come, even though that is only making a point, since we indeed do have close friendships in this life, as well as good associations with others. And all of the beauty of this life, of all of this world from creation, including human creativity will be subsumed in the sense of fulfilled, or even a part of the new creation to come in and through Jesus. So those parts, all that is good and life giving will be present, while all that is destructive and death dealing will be gone.

It is the latter that we will forget, all that is bad in this life. The full redemption to come, already present in and through Jesus even in this life, will have turned creation into something of a joyous celebration of God’s grace and kingdom in Jesus, when at long at last God will be all in all (1 Corinthians 15). And what is hardly imaginable now will be firmly in place and a part of life then.

There’s plenty we would want to forget about this life, and we believe God will in the end take care of all of those matters. But plenty as well to remember, which through the eternal gospel, the good news in Jesus, will realize its potential forever and ever, to the glory and praise of the Triune God.

fight on

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.

1 Timothy 1:18-19

One might as well face it: Trouble in this life is not only inevitable, but is practically endemic, meaning it’s a natural part of life as it is now, one could say from the story in Genesis, fallen, and incomplete. Add to that the possible torment that can come along with it, if we perceive what is isn’t good in some way that is concerning.

There are days for me, and yesterday was one of them, when I can’t help but think that if I don’t get over this, and get better help, I can’t do this anymore. Not really thinking about living in the Christian life, though every bit of that is 100% a gift of grace through which we can enter in and live. I suppose I’m thinking more in terms of ministry, even writing a blog, teaching or preaching, whatever in terms of service. The sense of condemnation and dread, and the accompanying fear can seem overwhelming. And every other possible problem that comes along our way, all added up, one usually coming to the fore and dominating our thoughts for a time.

And behind that one can sense an instigator, as in something of an agent of evil at work, a spirit always plotting and ready to throw in some different wrenching, threatening problem at us, that ordinarily pushes us toward inward condemnation, fear and dread.

As we find ourselves choking on such infernal fumes from the pit, we can fully realize that the source of such is not from God, and not in accord with God’s promises in Jesus, in fact in opposition to them.

And so we need to fortify ourselves with that realization, a good chapter to meditate on with reference to all of that, Romans 8. And we need to resolve and follow through to fight on, come what may. In fact it is good to be determined to fight all the more harder, when it seems all the more futile to do so. We are then basing our actions on the truth, and calling out the lie for what it is, just a bluff, a sheer out and out lie. And so when the enemy pours it on, we need to be determined to pour it on all the more. Certain that God’s outpouring of the Spirit in and through the grace of our Lord Jesus will be more than enough for us to overcome, to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

weak in Jesus

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

1 Corinthians 4 (NIV)

If there’s anything we Americans don’t care for, it might be weakness, or at least that would be close. And what we do hold in high esteem and celebrate is strength. But God’s way in Jesus is once again entirely different.

Reading through 1 Corinthians right now (slowly) has reminded me of where and how God characteristically works. And it’s not in our comfort zones in which we feel at home, and ready to go. Most often it is in the places, or through the experiences in which we feel largely lost, and not at all sure that we can make it, at least thinking we’re up against it.

But those places can actually be the most freeing. For one thing, because troubles in this world are inescapable, and so are the attacks from our spiritual enemy, the devil. There’s no escape from that, so to learn to live under that well, can be liberating. But I’m talking about a grace received and experienced which somehow let’s God’s strength become evident even in our continued weakness. As we receive the needed strength to go on and live in God’s will in Jesus.

Paul, as seen in this passage, was definitely up against it. His life was one of suffering for Christ, and being molded into Christ’s image through that suffering. When all hell seemed to be broken loose against him, the end through God was that all heaven would be poured out on and through him, and his co-workers with him.

I seem to live all too often for my liking in that realm where there is not only plenty of trouble, normally one issue I’m dealing with at a time, but plenty more nearby, but in which I also am not comfortable and at peace. That’s when, of course, I need to draw near to God in prayer, which I do largely through pondering scripture throughout the day as much as I can. And from the above passage, simply choosing to accept and even embrace the weaknesses which seem inherent both in myself and the circumstances of life. Of course I’m not talking about accepting and embracing sin, which we need to continue to confess and turn away from. Even that can be the means of helping us to find God’s grace in Jesus which we so desperately need.

And so let’s accept what not only we ourselves don’t find good, but what others might find lacking in us, as well. Not in the way of offending others ourselves by our own fault, but in the way of Jesus which is the way of weakness, the way of the cross, and the way of God’s kingdom in Jesus, even the way of triumph in him.

 

 

courage

“Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

 Joshua 1

 Although there may be some residual resistance for good and not so good reasons, most things in life are not that hard to do. We do them out of necessity, and because they are the best we can do. But there are certain matters that we naturally shrink back from to the point of putting them off, and perhaps failing to do them at all. In significant part, because we lack courage.

Courage might be defined or described as proceeding with a task, or remaining in a position, in spite of perceived or real dangers. Of course wisdom would dictate that one proceed with due caution. But at times, there’s no escape from the possibility of an injury of some sort, the kind we’re thinking of would ordinarily be something less than physical, even though for some Christians in the world, just to meet together might incur physical risk, even just to be a Christian, period.

I am one myself who probably am a bit contradictory in that I face and complete tasks I have to do usually with some fear and trepidation, or at least an anticipation for what might go wrong. So that I ordinarily do well enough in what I have to do. There are some things not part of the normal routine of life, which though still needing to be done, I can easily shelve for as long as possible, this of course being procrastination. Some of these matters, I put off because of the fear of failure. But as often as not, probably more so, failure is much more likely if I put it off too long. In fact the window of opportunity for some things can end up coming and going, and we’re left out in the cold, so to speak.

We need to see our responsibilities in the light of God’s will and call for us in Jesus, for that matter, we need to process all of life that way. We need to see it in terms of God’s good will for us in Jesus, made known to us in scripture, including the difficult book of Joshua, which along with the rest of scripture receives its fulfillment in Jesus himself, in his coming, declaration and demonstration of the kingdom of God, and death and resurrection. Now ascended at the right hand of God in the place of ultimate authority, and to return to bring in the final judgment and salvation.

We need to take courage in Jesus, because in him is the victory of God over all that is in opposition to God and God’s good will. The courage we need is in the face of trouble no less, but with the promise that we are part of that victory of God in and through Jesus, regardless of what is happening here.

finding God’s grace in the difficult places

One of the major themes I have been thinking a bit more on lately is the place of God’s amazing grace at work in Jesus everywhere, and especially through the gospel in and out from the church. Philip Yancey is perhaps the foremost evangelical writer who specifically targets this subject in a number of his books, the classic being What’s So Amazing About Grace? with at least a couple of books on grace following. I think it’s a needed emphasis in all church traditions, perhaps especially in the more traditional ones of which I am a part. The world for many of us seems to be coming loose at its hinges, but that might betray in us a view of the world which at times might be naive if we once thought that it was close to the kingdom of God.

But actually trying to find grace in the hard places can be a challenge. And yet we need to look no further than the mirror to know where grace is needed. In the midst of what righteousness might be present in God’s gift and the Spirit through Jesus, what is not good can so easily flame up and burn in and out from us. So that we should realize that the need for grace, for finding grace in the difficult places begins in ourselves.

But yet we need to take seriously those hard places where grace may not be as evident or in place as we would like, as we might expect. I’m certainly not referring to any entity of this world. I’m referring actually more to the church. And I’m not at all meaning that grace is hard to find, because it’s certainly present among those who are in Jesus. Just a reminder: Grace is God’s gift to us in Jesus, a gift which saves us from sin and from ourselves, and for what is good and right, for God and God’s good will for the world. Inevitably we will find the need for grace to be applied as we look for grace. The grace applied here is a kindness which is committed to the truth as it is in Jesus. If we don’t do this, we will find ourselves undone ourselves over what is lacking, which is only bad if we fail to recognize that as actually a part of what is true about us (Isaiah 6).

Grace means we don’t give up in spite of everything, not because of what we’re looking at itself, but only because of God, and the goodness from God present and at work. That is one of our most important tasks in this life, to find grace in the hard places. That thought simply being raised here, something we need to think and pray about, and seek to be putting into practice, in and through Jesus.

the importance of the church

There is no doubt that the individual and individuals are important to God. In fact we can say that every individual human being matters to God. God created each of us in his image, and treats every human being with respect as such. Even though so many evils in a world of hurt we have to leave with God, since life often seems unfair, quite broken, our own difficulties that way not even close to the plight others experience. So what is said here is not at all to disparage the importance of the individual before God and in the world.

But while the individual in scripture is far from ignored, in fact, just the opposite, there is a clear emphasis on the importance of community, or individals together in communion in knowing each other, living with each other’s interests in view, and not just their own individual interests. On the most basic level this happen in families in which the spouses inevitably should put their partner’s interest at least on the same level as their own, and surely higher, in the way of Christ. And of course good parents inevitably sacrifice their own wants and desires for the good of their children.

In scripture God called an individual, Abraham, to call a people to himself. Yes, a people. Human beings are meant to live in community. To be human in significant part is to be in relationship to another human; it is not good for the human to be alone. God is creating a people in Jesus who not only enter into communion with God, which by the way is a Trinitarian communion of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, but into communion with other humans in reflecting something of that Triune communion in God himself.

We find the formation of the nation of Israel meant to be a light to the world, in showing God’s light of truth and love to the nations. Blessed to be a blessing, that calling realized in its fullness in Christ’s fulfillment of it. And now the church in Jesus together is to proclaim and be a witness to that fulfillment to the world, by gathering together for the word, the sacraments, and the common life. Everyone who is a member of Christ through faith and baptism, is also a member of his body, the church. We in Jesus not only belong to him, but to each other.

This isn’t easy, given our culture in the United States, the first nation built on the Modernist Enlightenment in which at least one of its pillars is indiviual rights. It becomes all about my rights. And we’re already broken because of sin, not only a personal brokenness, but along with that a brokenness in relationships, even if by common grace much good still goes on. We want to be left alone, but that urge mirrors our bent to want God to leave us alone, or meet us on our own terms. But that is not the way in Jesus, as we see over and over again in scripture. It isn’t easy, but there is no other option in really following the Lord, in truly being Christian.