Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Teacher Appreciation Day

Yesterday was Teacher Appreciation Day and I posted this on Facebook.

It's National Teacher Appreciation Day. I'm thankful to the many great teachers who have changed my life through the years.
I think of several in particular.

The first is Mrs. Dorothy Everett, my fourth grade teacher. She was demanding and fair, knowledgeable and caring.

Cleo Goldsberry, my fifth grade teacher, deepened my passion for reading as a means of knowing more of the world.

In junior high school, I appreciated Mr. O'Leary. He was our PhysEd teacher and though I was no athlete, he always encouraged me and my love for sports, a lifelong passion.

In senior high school, I especially appreciated Mrs. Rosemary Leuchter, the English teacher who taught us so much and demanded so much of us. Because of her, I was able to proficiency test out of all my English requirements at Ohio State.

Also, my Journalism teachers, Mrs. Becker and Mrs. Dritz, in their roles as sponsors of our high school paper, 'The Occident,' encouraged us to write succinctly and well.

Another high school faculty member, a man from whom I never took a class, had a positive impact on me. He was our head football and basketball coach, who won championships in both sports, Dave Koblentz. As noted above, I was no athlete and he coached a ton of good ones. But he also knew and interacted with every student in our school. Twenty years after graduating from high school, I saw Mr. Koblentz at a restaurant. I went over to him and said, "Mr. Koblentz, you won't remember me, but..." "Mark Daniels!" he said. "How are you?" Good teachers pay attention and Mr. Koblentz clearly did!

In college, I was blessed with so many great professors. Stan Swart, Jim Kweder, and Don Van Meter were just three. Stan was my history professor for my first two quarters at OSU. He used to tease me about coming to class in my West High School jacket, but he became a terrific friend and mentor. He and his wife attended our wedding.

In seminary, the professor and mentor who, more than anyone, challenged me to go deeper with Christ, to live in and study God's Word, to live my faith with passion, to employ whatever intellect I have to God's glory, and who, by the way he lived toward some often scornful critics, taught us how to love those who hate us, was Pastor Bruce Schein. Pastor Schein died just two years after I was ordained. But there isn't a day that passes when I don't think of him and remember what he taught us.
From each of these teachers, at every level of my life and schooling, I learned so much.

The saying, of course, is that those who can't teach. That's not true.

There are some teachers who have no business teaching, of course. But my experience is that the best teachers have a God-given passion for teaching. They love their students and then, out of that love, demand the best from them.

My teachers have, for the most part, been far better as teachers than I have been as a student. But God empowered the really good ones to take this unpromising lump of clay and do things that have changed and continue to change my life each day.

Thanks to all my teachers!

[UPDATE: I should add that I had a number of other great profs at seminary: Merlin Hoops, Tryg Skarsten, Wally Taylor, Jim Schaaf, Ralph Doermann, and Ron Hals.]

The "success" habit

OK, success is hard to define.

And I'd rather be successful at being faithful than have money, power, or position. I really do believe that, in the eyes of God, the only One Whose opinion matters, "...the last will be first, and the first will be last" (Jesus said that, quoted in Matthew 20:16). 

But this article from TIME, talks about a habit that all "successful" people share. 

I believe that no matter what your definition of success is, avid reading is the key to arriving there.

I once read that Pastor Rick Warren, founder of Saddleback Valley Community Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life, reads a book every day. That has to be one part of his "success" in faithfully seeking to make disciples for Jesus Christ.

As the linked article from TIME points out, investor Warren Buffet spends 80% of his waking hours reading. That's got to be one factor in his success as an investor.

As a Christian, I am only beginning to learn the importance of spending time reading, soaking in, and talking in prayer with God about His Word, the Bible.

I also believe that reading other books--history, theology, science, biography, novels, social commentary like you can find in Malcolm Gladwell's books--can help me become more successful at what I want to be: a disciple of Christ who makes other disciples. 

I don't want to be a Buffet or a Warren. But I do hope, even in my seventh decade on earth, to overcome more of my deficiencies and become more successful at being Mark Daniels. That's why I read.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

When Christ Comes to Us (Understanding Revelation, Part 5)

Revelation 21:9-14, 21-27
In today’s message, the last of our five-part series on Revelation, I’ll be departing from my usual verse-by-verse consideration of the lesson. I’m going to try to summarize what I think should be the big take-away from what God is telling us in the last book of the Bible.

I once read about a reporter who spent time with a young man whose life was, in many ways, a sad inner city cliché.

His father left when he was a baby. He and his mother lived in decrepit housing. All around him were kids his age involved with drink, drugs, and crime. His classmates regarded doing well in school as a waste of time.

Yet this young man was an honor student. He kept out of trouble. He had dreams.

The reporter wondered why this young man was so different. So, he followed him for a week. The reporter had been with him for several days and still didn’t know what made the teen different.

But then he accompanied the young man one Wednesday evening to the balcony of a local church, where there was a prayer meeting. The reporter watched as this teen, often tempted to depart from the straight and narrow, shared the enthusiasm of several hundred others that night in worshiping God.

At times, the teen sobbed with other worshipers over the challenges and tragedies that are an undeniable daily inner city reality.

At others, he called out to God in songs and with fervent amens as he listened to God’s Word being preached.

He sang God’s praises at the tops of his lungs.

The young man had arrived for worship crushed by his burdens, tempted to give in to the easy sins of his environment. But as he praised the God made known in Jesus Christ, he abandoned his fears, sins, and temptations, and took the hand of God to walk with Jesus.

We all need to know that God doesn’t want to be separated from us.

We all need to know that if we truly want Him, God will come to us always, and when He does, He will lift us up!

These are the very things of which God has been assuring us as we’ve looked at the book of Revelation these past five Sundays.

And I believe that the apostle John, exiled on the island of Patmos, back sometime between 81 and 96AD, needed to be assured of these same things as he lived as a prisoner of the Roman Empire for his faith in Christ.

And I believe that for John, it was easier to believe that God was with him when he worshiped God, whether he did so in the company of others or during Quiet Time he spent studying God’s Word and praying.

The book of Revelation was born in worship! I’m not making that up. Scholars tell us that whenever the phrase “in the spirit” is used in Revelation, it narrates a time when John was worshiping God.

In verse 10 of our second lesson for today, John writes: “[One of seven angels]...carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.”

Listen: John worshiped God and God came to him.

Consider some of what John saw. First: He saw what he calls “the new Jerusalem” come down from heaven. God came to him.

Second: John describes this new Jerusalem, which we talked about last week. In this new Jerusalem, there will be no temple, because, John explains, “its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.”

This is what Jesus had been talking about when once, knowing that a conspiracy was being hatched to kill Him, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

Jesus, God in the flesh, is the temple.

Even today, before God sends the new Jerusalem, all who believe in Jesus are part of it and Jesus can come to us where we work, where we go to school, where we live.

If God can come to a man in chains on a little Mediterranean Island, he can come to us when we worship God too!

Third: John tells us that the new Jerusalem will be a place in which the blazing light of God will illumine everything.

Unlike ancient cities, the gates will never be shut. There will be no reason for gates to be closed, locks to be secured, or alarm systems set. There will be no night, no fear.

And, beyond the gates of death, in the new Jerusalem, life as it was meant to be will belong to all who have trusted in Jesus Christ.

God wants to come to you and me with this promise and His presence each day; He will, when we worship Him.

John presents us with staggering images in Revelation. And even if we can’t sometimes fully understand them, when life lays us low or when death stares us in the face, or even when the everydayness of life overwhelms us, these images can sustain and encourage us because in them we see the promise of the new Jerusalem we have in Christ. We are not forgotten ever. Christ will come to us when we reach up to Him, when we worship!

Many know the name of George Frideric Handel. Handel was already writing cantatas when he was nine years old. Not long after that, he presented his music to the king of Prussia.

But then, things took a turn for the worse. His father died. Handel’s music was no longer appreciated. If he were around today, we’d day no one was favoriting his music on iTunes or Spotify. He was yesterday's Elvis to today’s Beyonce. He was passe.

Bankrupt and hopeless, Handel locked himself away for twenty-four hours and in the end, emerged with an oratorio, The Messiah, based partly on John’s vision as recorded in the book of Revelation.

Something like 15% of all adult Americans living today have sung the The Messiah at some point in their lives. That’s pretty good for a musician who died 257 years ago!

But think of that: A work of art composed at what was a low point in Handel’s life has lifted millions of people into an experience of God and of what it means to be blessed by God’s love.

When asked how he was able to compose The Messiah, Handel said, “I [saw] the heavens opened and the great God himself seated on his throne.”

Handel worshiped God and, as he did so, God came to him.

Imagine how God might come to you and me if we daily spent time worshiping God, studying His Word and praying over those words and praising God for being God, for sending Jesus, and for caring about us and everything that happens in our lives!

One of my favorite twentieth century Christian heroes is a man named Frank Laubach.

Laubach was a missionary concerned with the grinding poverty in which most of people lived. He wanted to do something about it, but had no idea what it might be.

So, this man of prayer turned his eyes on Jesus, asking for guidance. It was while praying that God gave Laubach a vision: Teach adults to read, God seemed tell Laubach, and they could learn...about agricultural methods, about the importance of clean drinking water and hygiene, about the God Who loved them in Christ and Who could help them pursue love and justice in their everyday lives. Teach adults to read!

Laubach began what became a worldwide adult literacy movement still active today. Frank Laubach worshiped God and God came to him! (Are you beginning to detect a pattern?)

One of the lessons God is teaching me is that when we take the time to worship God, praise God, thank God, study His Word, and seek the will of God, it displaces things on which our minds and lives would otherwise be focused.

You don’t have as much time or energy, for example, to feel sorry for yourself when you’re intent on worshiping God.

There’ll be room for people you would otherwise ignore when you worship God.

Resentment is replaced by gratitude to God and compassion for others when you worship God.

In short, when we focus more of our lives on God and less on ourselves, we become a lot less distasteful to ourselves and more useful to God and to the people around us.

When we worship God, we learn that God is still God, still there, still for us!

Do you need assurance that God won’t turn you away, now or in eternity?

Do you have a problem you’re trying to figure out?

Is there some need in your family, our community, or our church you’d like to address, but you’re uncertain how?

Do what John was doing when God gave him the book of Revelation.

Do what that inner city youth did when facing the challenges of growing up.

Do what Handel did when his music was hated and his life seemed meaningless.

Do what Laubach did when he wanted to address poverty.

Worship! Reach up to God!

Give yourself over to the praise of God.

Worship God by reading God’s Word, loving God, loving neighbor, surrendering your life to Christ, making disciples, doing your best for everyone because, in fact, whatever good we do for others, we really do for God.

Worship! Reach up and give God the opportunity to descend to you the way He did in the new Jerusalem to John.

Worship, always on Sundays with others and on your own every day!

Reach up and you’ll be strengthened in the knowledge that God really is with you.

Worship and you’ll know that all believers in Christ belong to God forever, including you.

Worship! Reach up to the One Who is always reaching out to you.

And even when things seem dark, God will lighten your way. If we will come to God, God will always come to us.

Besides, one day in the new Jerusalem, we will be constantly worshiping and enjoying God's fellowship. So, we may as well start practicing worshiping and enjoying God right now, here, each and every day!

That, when all is said and done, is the ultimate message of Revelation: Worship God and live! Amen

[This was shared with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church, Centerville, Ohio, earlier today.]

Saturday, April 30, 2016

The love you need, the love you need to share

1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Love. It may be the most overused and least understood word in any language.

I got a text message from my cousin in yesterday; she ended it by saying, “Love you.”

A friend I've known forever writes and says, “Love ya.”

I talk with my son or daughter on the phone and we both say, “Love you.”

When we express our love to different people like this, the chances are that we don’t mean to say that we love each of them in exactly the same way. I don’t love my cousin in the same way that I love my kids, although I do love them both.

And when we talk about the love required to get a marriage started or to keep a marriage going, the nature of that love is different from other kinds of love.

Yet, there’s a commonality among all the ways in which we love, however special or unique a particular love may be.

Eric and Nancy, you’ve chosen as one of your Bible lessons for today 1 Corinthians, chapter 13. It’s often called the love chapter and it’s also often read at weddings.

That’s completely appropriate.

But it should be remembered that the words of the love chapter weren’t written about the covenant of marriage involving a man, a woman, and God established by God.

The love chapter was written by the apostle Paul to a congregation in the first century Greek city of Corinth. The congregation was torn by conflicts and factions.

Some church members looked down their noses at other members because they had the gift of tongues and the people they looked down on didn’t. They thought that made them superior.

Some wealthy members wouldn’t share their food with poorer members when they all gathered for worship.

It was a mess!

Paul was basically saying, “Look, you may have all sorts of faith, God may give you all sorts of spiritual gifts, and you may be filled with hope because God has blessed you in many ways, but if you don’t have love, you’re just pompous noisemakers. Without love, you are nothing.”

Much of what Paul writes in the love chapter is so beautiful that, down through the centuries, people have stitched his words onto pillows and samplers, put them on posters, even included them in songs.

But I’m not sure that people fully take into account the description of love that Paul gives in this chapter. He says, for example: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

Eric and Nancy, a simple question. Do you always love like that? Do you always love each other like that?

Before you embarrass yourselves by answering that publicly, I can tell you, honestly and forthrightly, that I am not always patient or kind. There are times when I do envy, boast, feel and act proud; when I do dishonor others and look out for number one, get angry over nothing, and keep records of the wrongs done to me even by the people I say I love.

So, here is the Christian’s dilemma when it comes to all of our relationships, but especially when it comes to our marriages: We believe that selfless, patient, kind love is what makes marriages work. Yet, when we’re honest, we know that we are incapable of the selflessness, patience, and kindness that are among the basic necessities of marriage, the basic elements of marriages that work.

I say all of this not to try to convince you or anyone else not to get married.

But I say it so that as you marry, I just ask you to remember that good marriages require love like Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians--just as good friendships do.

I ask you to remember this: No human being I know is capable of loving like that in their own power.

This dilemma shouldn’t cause anyone to throw up their hands in hopelessness though!

There is a source for the kind of love needed to make marriages work. It’s found in the God we meet in Jesus Christ.

The Bible tells us that, “God is love.” This doesn’t mean that God is an abstract concept!

God is the supreme being of the universe, who made all of creation--including you and me--out of self-giving, patient, kind, and powerful love.

And this is the God Who so loved the world--including you and me--that He gave His only Son Jesus so that all who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life with God.

For marriages to work, for families to work, for friendships to work, for work to work, there must be love.

Not constantly sentimental, syrupy love, though that can have its place.

But love that says, as God says to those who come to Him with their sins, seeking forgiveness and fresh starts, “In spite of everything, I love you. In spite of everything, I seek what is best for you. Despite everything, I am with you through thick, thin, and thinner still.”

The Christian lives in the assurance that, as Saint Paul writes elsewhere, nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And those who walk together with Jesus Christ can say, “No matter your quirks or your decisions that don’t quite make sense to me, even when you leave the commode seat up, even when you make social arrangements I’d rather not keep, because I’m a sinner saved by grace through faith in Christ, because God loves and forgives me, because God is patient with me, I won’t hold grudges, I will talk things through, I will stay with you until death parts us. I will love you as I have been loved by Christ.”

Marriages without Christ at their center don’t have a chance of becoming any of what they could be.

Marriages with Christ at their center--expressed in regular prayer and Bible study together, worship together, repentance and renewal together--marriages like that can be celebrations and laboratories of love that give inspiration to others and give confidence and security and joy to the husband and wife who live this way.

Eric and Nancy, may Christ be at the center of your marriage. Amen

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bono and Eugene Peterson talk about the Psalms

Great insights from two great artists: Bono, lead singer of U2, and Pastor Eugene Peterson, writer, poet, and translator of The Message version of the Bible.

By the way, 'Raised by Wolves' to which Bono makes reference, is my favorite song on U2's most recent LP, Songs of Innocence.

Want to Get to Know Jesus Christ?

Depraved Wretch, over on Facebook, posted this last night. Love it! (Have no idea who Paul Washer is, by the way.)

Get to really know Jesus. If you're interested in doing that, start by reading the Gospel of John. (The English translation of John linked is the Good News Translation, the version from which I first read when I came to faith in Christ after spending a decade as an avowed atheist.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Beyonce's Visual Album

Lots of people are talking about Beyonce's new LP, released as a one-hour set visual album over the weekend. Even PBS Newshour just finished running an interview with a Penn State prof enthralled with the release.

If I were a recording artist, I'd try to go Bey one better. I'd release a visual album, only instead of imagery, I'd post a single message to run through the release's entirety. It would say:


By the way, Beyonce has a terrible swing. She could never break into the majors with it.

If we can't elect a Garfield, maybe we each can be a Garfield

On Saturday, returning from a daylong meeting with church members, someone mentioned the name of an Ohio town. "Isn't that where Garfield was from?" I asked, realizing in an instant that people would think I was referring to James A. Garfield, America's twentieth president, and not to the orange cat in comic strips.

Garfield doesn't come up often in conversation and the only biography I've read of him wasn't very good.

But most people who know a little about him remember that he was assassinated. (That was the subject of an excellent recent installment of the PBS series, The American Experience.)

Others will know that Garfield was an ordained minister, the only such person to ever be president.

None of that came up during the Saturday drive. But having briefly mentioned Garfield one day, I was surprised the next day to find an article in Christianity Today's The Local Church about Garfield.

According to Brannon Marshall, the writer of the piece, Garfield also exemplified humility, being one of the few people elected president who didn't actually want the job. (I've talked before how much I would love for us to elect people to public office who aren't desperately grasping for power.)

In this, Marshall asserts, Garfield has a lot to teach modern Christians (and, I'd say, others):
Garfield’s modesty would make him seem wildly out of place in today's political arena, but it fits his role as a lay-minister well. Of the church leaders I’ve known, those who have contributed the most to those in their care have achieved their influence as a result of character that’s unseen and humility that’s steady. It’s never been done through declarative muscle; instead, like Garfield, they faithfully followed the humble path and have inspired others to do the same. They’re the pastors who hang around after everyone’s gone, get out the mop, and clean up red Kool-Aid stains in the church kitchen without thought of recompense or recognition. They’re the tired-but-tireless Sunday school teachers who are in their fifth decade of helping children understand what Jesus meant when he said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” They’re everywhere—but rarely rewarded. And that’s probably how they want things to be...

Garfield’s relative anonymity in history shouldn’t surprise us—an assassin’s bullet tragically ended his life less than seven months into his term. His legacy, however, is important because his story relates an enduring lesson: true, dignified influence is often achieved not through force or compulsion, but through quiet humility.
In the midst of this year's wretchedly depressing presidential campaign, as we watch more than a few candidates pander, grovel, assault, and misconstrue the records or beliefs of others, it would be refreshing to be surprised by the nomination of a Garfield, a candidate not seeking the office, but seeking to do the first thing all leaders must do, serve. It's something to pray for.

But barring that miracle, maybe we who follow Christ could pray that, like Garfield, we could learn what it means to humbly follow the crucified and risen Jesus. We probably won't ever be elected president. But filled with the power of our Lord, God may use us to change the lives of the people we encounter each day for the better. And doing that would be a great ambition for each of us to hold.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

"Among the founders, Hamilton was probably the most passionate advocate of national unity...

...He wanted people to think of themselves as Americans, not as citizens of separate states."

Alexander Hamilton was among the foremost purveyors of New York Values, says Cass Sunstein. I think he's right.

And one part of those values is the very American idea that we need not be trapped by our heritage, that we can be more than an indifferent world or so-called fate would have us be. (An idea that we need to extend to more people if we are to fulfill the promise of America.)

This is precisely the story of Hamilton, the illegitimate son of a man who eventually abandoned him, born in the Caribbean, a immigrant to America, where he graduated from King's College (now Columbia University), became a leader in the Revolutionary War, wrote the lion's share of The Federalist Papers, and, while serving as George Washington's secretary of the treasury, created the American economy.

That economic system has led not only to the nation with the most sustained prosperity in world history, it also was one major factor in fostering American national unity.

That represents another of Hamilton's New York Values. He saw himself more as an American than as a New Yorker. Like Washington, he understood the importance for the nation that fought a revolution for liberty to complete that revolution by a commitment to mutual dependence and accountability, resulting in the US Constitution.

Hamilton's commitment to nationhood and his conception of what it means to be a federalist puts the lie to those who squawk about states' rights as a means of avoiding full participation in American national life (liberty and mutual accountability) and undermining America. As Sunstein writes:
Most politicians who run for national office develop a deep affection for the nation’s diverse states, with all their unique quirks and histories. It’s much worse than bad politics for a candidate to complain about “Vermont values,” “Nebraska values,” “Georgia values,” “Ohio values,” or the values of any of the states. In light of the nation’s hard-won unity, it’s a betrayal of the great motto of the United States, which can also be found on our currency: E pluribus unum (from many, one).

Hamilton was in a very real sense not only the quintessential New Yorker, but because of his commitment to New York Values, was, along with the Virginian Washington, one member of a new species that has been around now for more than two centuries. Alexander Hamilton was an American.

Uncomfortable (again) by Andy Mineo

I've posted this video for Andy Mineo's Uncomfortable before, back in January. But I was listening to the LP again tonight on the way back from Middle School Ministry (MSM or Catechism) class...and it's so good!

Look up the lyrics here.

"I think I got too comfortable..."

The Spoiler You Can Love (Understanding Revelation, Part 4)

Revelation 21:1-7
Imagine that you’re the fan of a best-selling series of novels. For several years, you’ve been waiting for the last book in the series to be published. You’re so dedicated to the stories, in fact, that you stand outside in the shivering cold to be among the first million or so people who rush into a bookstore in order to snap up a copy of the latest installment just past midnight.

You purchase your copy and head home intent on binge reading through the night in order to know how the central mysteries of the series are resolved. You can’t wait to get started!

On the way home, you turn on your car radio and hear a news report on how millions around the world, just like you, are buying the book.

Then the news reader reports: “By the way, set free by the actions of the series’ protagonist, the evil princess is transformed into the embodiment of good, the evil lord turns out to be the hero’s father and repents, thereby unleashing a millennia of happiness and peace. That’s how the series ends.”

Everything you’d been wanting to learn through hours of enjoyable reading is now revealed to you in a matter of seconds by a big-mouthed radio announcer. You know the end the story.

Will you turn your car around and return the book for a refund, the experience of reading the book now ruined for you?

Will you join a class action lawsuit against the newscaster and his employers for spilling the beans?

Or will you, so in love with the universe created by the author of this series of books, shrug your shoulders and read the final book differently than you would have otherwise?

Will you now, read the book knowing that, while bad things will come, in the end all will be well?

Knowing how things turn out, in fact, may help you to go through the story with a comfort and enjoyment you might not otherwise have. You know what’s important and what plot twists are really red herrings that have no power to change the definite good end the author has in mind.

Today, as we continue our series Understanding Revelation, we near the end of a book designed to let God’s people who follow Christ know that in the unfolding history of life in this creation--in the life of this universe, in our personal and communal lives as Christians--there will be adversity, persecution, and death. But Revelation also comes to tell us that those who endure in following Jesus are part of the new and eternal thing that God began in Jesus Christ.

John, the author of Revelation, the recipient of the great vision from God that makes up the book, would agree with the apostle Paul when he writes in 2 Corinthians: “...if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Like the big-mouthed newscaster, John wants to tell us how the story ends for those who believe in and follow and trust and worship the God we know in Jesus Christ!

Is John wrong in doing this?

Knowing how the story of this universe ends, knowing how the story of your life ends if you will daily trust and obey the God we meet in Jesus Christ, does it ruin everything?

Do you want to sue God for spoiling the story?

Or, instead, doesn’t knowing that God is in control of history and how it ends and that the Author of life wants you for all eternity, make you want to change how you live each day?

Doesn’t it make you want to side with the whole great story’s writer and hero, Jesus Christ?

Doesn’t it help you to see your life, your relationships, your life’s work and daily activities differently?

I think that knowing how the story turns out for those who follow Christ can do all those things!

And believing that as I do, let me give you a spoiler alert as I invite you to look at our second lesson, Revelation 21:1-7. John is the speaker. “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.”

The problem with the old heaven and old earth, the creation you and I now occupy, isn’t that it’s intrinsically bad. It isn’t. When God first created this place we now call home, Genesis tells us: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” [Genesis 1:31] The problem with this universe with all its intricacy and beauty, isn’t with how it was made.

The problem is that the rebellion of humanity, the only of God’s creatures made in His image, has dragged the whole creation down to sin, death, and darkness.

So, God has resolved to give a new heaven and earth--a new Eden--to those who turn from sin and the death that comes from sin and turn instead to Jesus for forgiveness and new life.

In the meantime, as Paul says in Romans 8:22: “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth” for the new creation.

John sees this new creation--the new heaven and new earth. In describing it, it seems sometimes easier for him to tell us what isn’t part of the new creation than it is for him to describe what it actually looks like. He starts by saying “that there was no longer any sea.”

If you’re like me and enjoy oceanside vacations, that may not sound very good. But remember that Genesis 1 begins with God’s Spirit moving over the thrashing seas of chaos. The first creation happened when God pushed back this chaos, carving out a universe of peace and order for His creatures. When humanity fell into sin, we ushered chaos, disorder, and darkness back into our lives. Jesus, the Lord Who, you remember, stilled the stormy waters of the Sea of Galilee, is going to subdue all the chaos, suffering, and death which bedevils us in this world and give all who follow Him a new creation of still waters.

Verse 2: “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

For the ancients, cities were places of safety and light in the midst of a dark, chaotic world, filled with thieves and wild animals. At night, people didn't want to be left outside the city gates because it was beyond the city that real danger loomed. This is part of what gave Jesus' parable of the prodigal son so much power to His original hearers. The road from Jerusalem to Jericho was well known as a place beyond city gates where thieves hiding in crags of rock would pounce on defenseless travelers.

God is going to send and usher His people into a new city, a new Jerusalem, which His people will inhabit in eternal safety and joy.

The morning that my great-grandmother died, my mom woke me and said, “Mark, Grandma is walking the streets of gold with Pop today.” Mom was saying that this woman who meant, and still means, so much to me, was in the new Jerusalem. It gave me comfort to know that my great-grandmother was with God. It comforts me now to know that if I will persist in trusting Christ in this world, I too will one day walk on the streets of gold in the city God has in store for His people.

We members of Christ’s Church wait for God to descend to us like brides awaiting the return of their husband.

Verse 3: “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…’”

In former times, you know, the presence of God on earth dwelt in the holy of holies at the temple in the old Jerusalem. The words will dwell translate the word in the original Greek in which Revelation was written, skenosei, literally meaning, will tabernacle. God will pitch His tent among His people.

This is the same word we find in John 1, which tells us that God in the flesh, Jesus, dwelt or tabernacled in this world.

In the new creation, we will never feel far from God. We will know intimacy with God. We won’t need a holy of holies; we will be living in the holy presence of God. Sin, death, and darkness will never get in the way of our fellowship with Him.

In verse 4, we read: “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 [God, then] said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’”

Apparently, God doesn’t think that knowing how the story ends for those who follow Jesus--tears wiped away, death done forever, grief and pain dispensed with--will hurt us. In fact, I think it's safe to say that knowing the end of the story helps us.

When we lose loved ones, knowing that all who trust in Christ live with God forever, can give us strength.

When we know that we belong to God for eternity, it can free us to love even those who hate us and to bring God’s compassion and love to the lost and the hurting of this old creation.

Revelation tells us that death isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a Christian.

Beyond the gates of death is perfect life in the perfect city of God!

Knowing how the story ends for followers of Christ can, if we will let it, make us downright bold and reckless about loving God and neighbor!

Verses 6 and 7: “He said to me: ‘It is done.’ [Or, we might hear God saying as Jesus did from the cross, “It is finished. I have completed what I set out to do.”] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.”

Apparently, those who believe in Jesus Christ, won’t miss the sea with all its chaos, darkness, and sin. Instead, we will be given oceans of fresh and living water!

God will slake our thirst for life and we will inherit a creation rich with the very life of God.

The new heaven and the new earth will make Eden look like it was, just the beginning.

In the end, there will be no end, only God and us living life as it was meant to be lived: filled with new creations, new stories, new adventures, new fellowship, new fulfillment.

God will make all things new.

I hope that knowing the end of the story for those who dare to follow Jesus doesn’t ruin your experience of the story of your life, a life that God wants desperately to make continuously and eternally new.

I hope that knowing how it all ends for those who follow Christ will, instead, help you to do the one thing God most wants you to do: To well and truly live. Amen

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day

"The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it" (Psalm 24). May we care for earth, God's gift to us, our home for now.

Obedience, Faith, & Listening to God

For my daily quiet time with God, I use a method taught by the Navigators called Stop. Look. Listen. Respond. Today, I asked God to show me the truth I needed to see as I read Matthew 12.

In my personal effort to gain the new insights I believe God wants to give all of us when we read His Word, I've been using Eugene Peterson's translation/paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. This is helping me to overcome the danger of familiarity, which is the failure to see things in the Bible exactly because I know the Scriptures fairly well.

Portions of two verses, spoken by Jesus to self-righteous people known as Pharisees especially struck me today. Jesus is speaking of how faith in Him is truly authenticated in our lives:
"...Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:49-50)
Jesus said this after being told that His family wanted to see Him.

What the Lord led me to see in this passage today wasn't a new truth to me, but one I needed to have underscored for me at two levels.

The first level on which I needed to have this truth underscored is this. I get on myself for the temptations to sin with which I consciously wrestle and the sins I perceive in myself for which I repent.

It's right that I invoke Christ's help in fighting off temptation and in repenting for my identified sins. But sometimes I unconsciously look at the fact that I have to fight temptation or have sins for which to repent as a blot on my character.

But the fact is that fighting my temptations and repenting for the sin I see in myself are both examples of obedience to God, the very thing that Jesus says demonstrates that believers are close to God.

Temptations will come to us. They came to Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), though He never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). So, we can't be exempt from temptations. They're part of life for every person no matter how close they are to God.

And repentance for our sins is a sign of the Holy Spirit's work in me through God's Word. I wouldn't repent if I weren't close enough to the God I know in Christ to know when the Holy Spirit is pressing me to repent and so, to be changed and renewed by God's grace (Matthew 12:31-32).

This level of the passage's truth was and is reassuring to me, an instance of God's grace for my life.

The second level on which I needed this truth underscored is this. Earlier today, someone to whom I'm close confronted me for a way I had been acting toward them: defensive, snotty, unkind.

I hadn't even been fully aware that this was the case. While I was busy struggling with other issues--temptations and sins I had been open to letting the Spirit identify for me, I was being deaf to the Spirit's clear call to change how I was treating this person.

I need to be careful to not be so focused on evicting one demonic element from my life that, not really attending to Christ's call to obedience to God's commands in all of my life, I let other sins take root in my life.

This is exactly what Jesus warns the Pharisees, so focused on combating some evils in their lives while totally ignoring the ways in which they disobeyed God in other ways, against, also in Matthew 12:
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” [Matthew 12:33-35]
This is an instance of God's law and command for my life. I need it too as I pursue my relationship with God each day.

I realized again that I need to let Christ be Lord of and let the Holy Spirit speak to, my whole life, to never presume that I see all my sins (and, like the Pharisees, think that I've got it all together).

I also need to relish the knowledge that God gives grace to me to wrestle with my temptations and my sins. The wrestling doesn't show that I'm far from God. The wrestling shows that I'm walking with, listening to, and seeking to obey God.

Lord, help me to stay related to You through Christ and to obey You by seeking to do Your will. Help me also, to seek to do Your will in every facet of my life, heeding what the Spirit tells me through Your Word. Show me the unseen places where I let sin into my life and, as I repent, make me new. In Jesus' name. Amen