God’s Presence and What’s To Come

Text: Rev 21-22

Revelation 21-2,3

Over the last six days, I’ve been sharing with you some big moments in scripture where heaven and earth come together. It’s been a journey through and a celebration of the story of God’s presence among us, through the ups and downs. Yesterday I teased that where the story goes from here is going to be much bigger than what we expect.

 

If we zoom out from scripture and get a big picture of it all, we see that at the very beginning, God’s intent is to be with us, here on Earth. For a while, it was great. We screwed some things up and got ourselves kicked out of the garden, and so we lost access to God’s presence. The story since then has been a record of God’s attempts to dwell with us again, to bring us closer to him, and to bring more people in to be his children. Scripture leaves us with the hope, promise, and expectation that this trajectory continues in the future. God is faithful!

 

Allow me to admit that I don’t have a perfect understanding of what the future holds. It seems there are as many different takes on end-time prophecy as there are grains of sand on all the beaches. So I am going to conveniently sidestep most of that and stick to only a few things that I believe are clearly taught in scripture about our hope for the future.

 

Resurrection

 

The idea of resurrection has been around for a long time in the scriptures, well before Jesus. We see hints in Job 19:25-27, Dan 12:13, Isa 26:19, a strange zombie army passage in Ezekiel 37, and several other places. But it isn’t until the resurrection of Christ that the concept comes into the forefront. After all, his resurrection was the defining moment and hinge-pin of the Christian faith.

 

Paul tells us that Jesus is the “first fruits” of the resurrection (1Co 15:20,23), meaning he is the forerunner. He is the first to go forward into this resurrected state, and someday we will follow suit. Our bodies will be made new and different somehow, like how Christ’s body was made new, raised imperishable, in glory, in power, and “spiritual” (1Co 15:42-44), much more than simply being raised from the dead.

 

But it isn’t just our bodies that get resurrected. Heaven and earth get resurrected too. Scripture promises a new heaven and a new earth (Isa 65:17, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 21). Let this declaration from Rev 21:5 ring out in your heart: “Behold, I am making all things new.”

 

I’d encourage you today or in the near future to reflect on some classic resurrection passages/verses: 1Cor 15, 1Thess 4, 2Cor 4-5, Phil 3, Col 3:4, Rom 8:9-11, 1Jn 3:2, 1Cor 6:14. I know I have been heavy on versage this week, but if you find the time for these passages, it will be worth it.

 

The Return of Christ

 

A return or reappearing of Christ accompanies the resurrection. Many of the resurrection passages above mention his return as well, sometimes in the same breath. The events are apparently closely linked, if not the same instant. To me, it brings up the question whether his return is the catalyst for our resurrection, or if there is something about being in the resurrected state that allows us to see through the veil into the heavenly realm and see our king just as he is (1Jn 3:2). They both sound great to me. Someday we’ll find out together.

While we do have Christ with us in a way now, through the Holy Spirit in us, being together with our Lord in person (and as fellow “resurrectees”) will be much better. Everything, even death, will be subject to him, and then he will hand everything over to God, himself included, so that God will be “all in all” (1Co 15: 24-28). This is the true rule of God, his Kingdom!

 

God Dwells With Us

 

At some moment, any moment, everything is going to change in the twinkling of an eye (1Cor 15:52). We’ll have new resurrected bodies, live on a new resurrected earth, permeated by a new resurrected heaven, with no more sea (chaos) or death or crying or pain, together as a new Jerusalem, adorned as a bride for our resurrected Lord.

 

That’s not all… “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them…” (Rev 21:3). This should sound very familiar this week. This is an almost identical echo of what God has been saying to his people all over scripture. It’s been his goal all along.

 

With heaven and earth joined completely, the temple is now obsolete. There doesn’t need to be a special room where they come together. It’s everywhere! John observes the city in Rev 21:22: “I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”

 

Revelation 22 opens with visions of a river, and a tree of life…wait…is this the garden again? That imagery is very intentional, designed to connect your thoughts and heart back to Eden, reflecting on God dwelling with mankind with no barriers. Yes, God is restoring that kind of relationship with him.

 

Through scripture, we don’t often see God trying to get things back to exactly how they were. Usually, he is moving forward in ways that surprise us, both because we didn’t see it coming, and because what he did was actually quite a bit better than what we could have gone back to. Case in point: Having Jesus cover for us is way better than going back to the law and trying to fulfill it on our own.

 

In a similar fashion, I contend that John’s description of our future with God in Revelation 21-22 isn’t just a restoration of Eden, it is even better.

 

Well, certainly John can’t do it justice. And if he can’t, there is no way I can. However we envision these events unfolding, however powerful our imaginations are, we won’t be able to help being caught completely off guard, staggered, and surprised at the suddenly revealed beauty of God’s presence among us.

 

It could happen at any moment now. May it be soon.

 

-Jay Laurent

 

(Thank you, Jay for a great week looking at God’s presence throughout Scripture.  Tomorrow we jump back into our New Testament chapter-a-day reading – with the book of Acts to see what God was doing with the early church.  Until then . . . seek Him!)

Advertisements

God’s Presence and the Exile

 

Text: Ezekiel 11

Ezekiel 11 19

This week so far, we’ve talked about creation, the garden, and the tabernacle, exploring how they fit into the theme and story of God’s presence. Today I want to talk about exile, or that feeling you get when you know you aren’t home, and things aren’t right. It’s an ongoing theme for the Israelites. We see it when Adam and Eve are kicked out of the garden, we see it when the Israelites are held captive in Egypt, and now we’re going to see it again as Israel and Judah are given into the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

 

Let’s do a quick fly-by to bring us to this point from where we left off in history. Moses and the Israelites wander around in the desert for a while and eventually reach their promised land in Canaan. The Israelites capture the land under the leadership of Joshua. After Joshua, Israel is led by a series of Judges, people who get Israel out of a bind after they have been stupid over and over (and over) again. After that, Israel is brought together under the kingships of Saul, David, and Solomon. David, like Moses, receives plans for a temple from God, and his son, Solomon completes them, the difference being that Solomon’s temple was much more grand and permanent than Moses’s tent. Moving on, after Solomon’s death, the people divide into northern (Israel) and southern (Judah) kingdoms.

 

God’s people at this point have an ongoing problem. They aren’t following their covenant with God. They prostitute themselves to other gods. Even under dire warnings (Dt 29 and Jer 25, among many others), they continue to make their own way. They aren’t even getting along with each other, hence the divided kingdom. They simply do not get the point, and as a result, God, even while being slow to anger (Exo 34:6), has reached a point where he has to serve justice. And by that, I mean allow Assyrians and Babylonians to come clean house on them.

 

And clean house they do. Israel is pummeled and scattered by the Assyrians. Judah is taken by the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar sieges Jerusalem in about 598 BC and 587 BC, taking the people of Judah into captivity. The second time, the temple of Solomon is destroyed, too. You can find a particularly devastating account of this siege in Jeremiah 52. It’s great bedtime reading for all the kids.

 

What. In. The. World. At this point, it would sure seem like God’s people are done for. They had a pretty good run, but this must be the end.

 

But not all is lost. In Ezekiel 11:16-20, God shows Ezekiel a glimmer of hope, and has him relay the message to the others who are in exile. Even though they are scattered and captive, God is still their sanctuary (or their temple, if you will). He is going to give them back their land, and turn their hearts of stone soft. They’re going to be his people, and he’s going to be their God. Yet, in verses 22 and 23, God shows Ezekiel that his presence is leaving the temple, in the form of a strange cherubim-driven chariot. So God’s not even in his temple anymore, but he’s still with a few of his faithful people who are in exile, sustaining them.

 

Through Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel, among others, we see God making some pretty big promises about coming out of exile, a new temple, a messianic king, and a renewed rule (kingdom) of God, for starters. But for the time being, exile is the reality for God’s people.

 

The Persians eventually conquer the Babylonians in 539 BC, and Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites in exile to go home if they want. Only a small portion go back. Maybe now things will get better, back to the good old days. We can get a new king, build the temple again, and God will be with us. We’ll have rest from our enemies.

 

And they do rebuild the temple (see Ezra and Nehemiah about all of this), but it isn’t anything near what it used to be (Hag 2:3), and there is no indication that God’s presence ever fills it like the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple. Something is still not right. God’s people are back to their land, but it doesn’t really feel like home. They are struggling to find their identity again. They’re still not following God’s covenant. Where’s God? What is going on? It’s like the exile never really ended. And perhaps it still hasn’t ended. It has, at best, been replaced by new exiles into new Babylons over the centuries, and that’ll likely be what we continue to see until everything is restored.

 

If this whole thing makes you feel a little bummed, that’s just a taste of the exile feeling. The exile was massively painful for God’s people, and so much of scripture is dedicated to wrestling with the questions and emotions brought up by it. According to many, the narrative of scripture is shaped around it. And exile isn’t just the experience of Israel, it is a reality we share in, as well. While we give Caesar his due, really we are citizens of God’s dimension, heaven (Phil 3:20). So we remain faithful to our God, and hold on to a hope that there is something better just around the corner.

 

“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” -Malachi 4:2

 

I hope that verse made you smile as it made me smile. There’s hope and a new day. There is indeed a new temple for the Israelites, with the presence of God, even. But it’s not the kind they’re expecting. More on this tomorrow.

 

-Jay Laurent

A Hope, a Command and a Reassurance

Matthew 28

Matthew 28 20b

In the matter of a few sentences, we have a hope, a command and a reassurance. This hope is the greatest hope that anyone could have: the hope of a resurrection. The simple fact that Jesus walked out of His grave is proof enough that we too will walk out of our graves. God has given us a taste of His power, showed us that death isn’t something to fear. All throughout Matthew, we have seen the way that Jesus has lived and have heard His words. We know the way in which we are to live our lives. Jesus was the perfect example for us. If we follow in his footsteps just imagine the reward the we will receive knowing that Jesus was rewarded with eternal life.

This hope that Jesus left us with is accompanied with a command, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples all the commands I have given you.” This command is a heavy one, although it seems straightforward. First Jesus commands us to go. We need to move to carry out this command. The second part is to make disciples. This is a daunting task these days. It seems like no one wants to hear about religion of any kind, let alone discipleship. Maybe people don’t want to listen to you, this just means that you must go. Jesus said in Matthew 10:14, if someone won’t receive you, then shake the dust off your feet and move on. This applies to us in our daily lives even if we aren’t going to move to Peru to minister. If our friendships aren’t moving towards discipleships, then perhaps it’s time to go.

Jesus, knowing how hard this command would be to follow, provided a reassurance to go along with it. He said, “Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Jesus held firm until the very end of His life. He weathered the taunts and the persecution, the beatings and the crucifixion. If anyone understands hardship, He does. And He is with you always. When you are struggling in the face of trial, look to Jesus. Understand how he endured His trials and let His way work in your life. Allow Jesus to give you strength as you strive to follow his command, holding fast to the hope that we all share in the resurrection to come.

-Nathaniel Johnson

 

Where’s the Truth?

John 17 17

 

Building off of what a very wise woman shared yesterday in this same FUEL Bible Reading blog, I would also like to focus on the truth of the Bible.

This is what I appreciate most about God’s word. We can trust that it is true.

Culture, morals and laws are always changing. Things that were once taboo, largely in part because of God’s word, are now celebrated. How can we know if those things should be accepted morally or not? God’s word.

Many scientists believe that the entire universe exists only because of an accident, billions of years ago, and that each one of us is a result of billions of small built-up accidents over the last several hundred million years. In other words, there is no purpose or thought behind our existence. How sad is that sentiment? How can we know how we were created and if we truly have a purpose? God’s word.

There are many today that say that once you are dead, that is the end of your existence, and thus, we have no hope for a better future. And there are any numbers of world-ending scenarios that exist as well. But how can we know what our future truly holds? God’s word.

Truth, in the secular world, is always changing, always “evolving.” What is “truth” for one person may not be “truth” for another. That should clearly reveal that at least one person’s “truth” is not truth at all. We obviously need to all have a standard of truth when it comes to such things as morality, our origin and purpose, and our future hope. Thanks be to God that He was so wise as to have others write down and keep for all time the truths of His word.

How can we know that scripture is true? Proverbs 119:160 says that all of God’s words are true. Jesus confirms that God’s word is true in John 17:17. And we can know that Jesus does indeed exist and that God’s word is indeed truth because it has stood up under historical scrutiny, it has correctly predicted hundreds of specific prophecies, and as Hebrews 4:12 says, “…sharper than any double-edged sword, [God’s word] penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow…”

As yesterday’s devotion pointed out, we need to constantly be in God’s word so that we KNOW the truth that it contains. This is both for our benefit, and for others that we can then share that truth with, as God’s word instructs us. I encourage you to begin and end each day in God’s word, so as to not be swayed by the untruths of this current age.

-Greg Landry

 

Today, we are pleased to have Greg Landry writing on the importance of God’s Word.  Greg and his wife Susan (who wrote yesterday) are active in many ministries.  Greg has a great passion for researching and teaching on the lies of evolution.  His website, https://onegodsixdays.com/, offers readers many opportunities to become better informed on this important topic, which has sadly become a great stumbling block for many young Christians.  Susan has a great blog (https://thesparrowshome.com/) with a good variety of content for faith, family, food, games and homeschool. She has also started a website called http://onelegacy.net/ where she works to provide resources for Biblical Unitarian homeschoolers, families and churches working to actively instill a Godly worldview in their children.  Greg and Susan are a delight as they love and apply God’s Word in their own lives – and help grow that love in others.

Lessons from the Wilderness: Elijah

Wilderness Wandering Lesson #2: Remembering past circumstances can help to steady our heart in the midst of our current despair.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was at that moment though that the sky got a little cloudy and the wind started to pick up. We wanted to hike a little, so we to hike the trail towards the top of the mountain, with cattle lazily grazing along the rocky path. Quickly, the picturesque scene turned gray. We made it to the summit, but the mountain had clouded over, so much so that it was difficult to see straight in front of you. We quickly walked back down and waited out the fog in a small cafe, trying to warm up our hands with a coffee, before making our way to the tram.

That hike was beautiful and totally worth our short brush with the fog. But, what I’ve found is that our lives sometimes mirror that hike, but the fog can be much more dangerous. Sometimes, our lives are steady, and we exist in the happy medium of contentment and love. At other times though, our lives can be a stormy cycle of highs and lows, mountains and valleys. In our case, we were on a mountain, a mountain where we were elated. We had traveled far to get there and wanted to rest in the view and the glory. But, it was on this mountain that what we had traveled far to see and done a lot of work to do (including a 1 hour train ride and a flustered conversation in German) that we experienced a storm that clouded our experiences and made us doubt if it was really worth it.

Elijah the prophet experienced his own brush with the wilderness right after he experienced the high of his life. He was no stranger to the wilderness after relying on God’s provision in 1 Kings 17. In 1 Kings 18, he is able to testify to God’s glory and work as he goes through a showdown with the prophets of Baal. He actually gets to see the fire of Yahweh fall from heaven and rid the people of the prophets of Baal!

If we saw these things, we might be tempted to say that we would never doubt God. After seeing this, we might be elated, speechless, high on our mountaintop moment. But, for Elijah, the fog rolled in. In chapter 19, Jezebel sends word to Elijah that she was planning on killing him as soon as she could get her hands on him. Elijah panics and runs for his life into the wilderness. There, he lays down and prays for God to take his life (v. 4). Sometimes, our wilderness moments can lead us to places like this. Our vision can get cloudy if it’s focused on our circumstances that may stormy and volatile. And, in those moments, dark despair can set in, and we may think it would be better to just give up.

But then I recall all you have done, O LORD; I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.If you are in that moment, remember that God does not leave Elijah there, and he doesn’t want to leave you there either. Instead, he says, “Get up and eat (v. 5). After Elijah eats twice, he goes on a journey forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God. There, Elijah waits, first through a great wind, then through an earthquake, and lastly through a fire. In each of these places, he does not hear God’s voice. Finally, he hears it in the soft whisper, as God asks him “What are you doing here Elijah?” (v. 13) Elijah responds by saying, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of Hosts, but the Israelites have abandoned your covenant, torn down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they’re looking for me to take my life” (v. 14). Elijah feels this despair because he had forgotten what God just showed him. In the desert when he was hungry, God was there with provision. He had forgotten that in the showdown, God was there with provision. When we turn our eyes from God to focus on our fractured circumstances, it can lead us to doubt. But, one remedy for that doubt is not only to remember the character of God but also to remember how God has exhibited that character in previous actions of faithfulness. We can trust in him not only because of what we know from the Bible but also because of what we know from our own lives. So, if you are in a wilderness period in your life, pause and remember God’s past faithfulness instead of dwelling on your despair. These reminders can help us to remember that even in our darkest times, God will carry us through.

~ Cayce Fletcher

Wandering in the Wilderness

Text placeholderChristmastime can bring so much joy to our lives. It’s during this short period at the end of the year that we reconnect with family and friends and enjoy time spent resting from work and school. I think it’s so fitting to end our year reflecting on the importance of who Jesus is in our lives. As seen in the carols that Jill discussed last week, we spend the month of December reflecting on and resting in the truth of who Jesus is before moving into the new year with high hopes and resolutions.

Though it’s not a Christmas carol, I love the song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” partly because of Andy Wiliams’ voice and partly because I agree that Christmas is the most wonderful time because it is the “hap-, happiest time of the year.” However, some Christmases don’t always bring this cheer. Sometimes, in the midst of the crowds of happy faces and the busyness of the year, we can feel lost in the drift of the season. Feeling this way can make us feel lonely, upset, or isolated from those that we love, and crucially, it can also make us feel isolated from the voice of God. I like to call these times in our lives our ‘wilderness wanderings.’ It’s the moments when it seems like God isn’t near you, has ‘turned his face from you,’ and that feeling affects every part of your life. Though this can happen in the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season when we’ve forgotten to focus on God, it can also happen throughout the year, in the low points and in the high points.

Too often, I think we choose to focus on the high points of our relationship with God or on the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of our faith. Though our relationship with God can bring us blessings after blessings and should be the foundation of our faith and though a life that reflects a heart that loves God is incredibly important both for our relationship with God and the credibility of our witness to others, I think focusing on these moments of wilderness wanderings is crucial to fostering a life that honors God. Because, it can be hard to get back to those high points if we are crippled in the wilderness by doubt and sin. 1 Peter 5:8-9a says that “Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith.” If we lose ourselves in the wilderness and allow Satan to steal our joy, we can be destroyed in that wilderness.

So, this week, we’ll be looking through scripture to see what the purpose of the wilderness is and how to make it through. Words translated as wilderness “occur nearly 300 times in our Bible.”** By looking through some of these occurrences, we will gain the tools to understand the purpose of our own wildernesses. We’ll look at the wilderness experiences of the Israelites, Elijah, David, and Jesus to learn from their examples. And, at the heart of this, we’ll focus on the importance of joy, both at this time of the year and every other time. Don’t despair if you are going through a time in the wilderness. Have hope. And most importantly, have joy, because “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10b)

joy to the world

 

 

~ Cayce Fletcher

** View this link for more information on wilderness in the Bible: http://www.environmentandsociety.org/exhibitions/wilderness/midbar-arabah-and-eremos-biblical-wilderness

“O Holy Night”

O Holy Night

 

The Christmas carol, “O Holy Night” has a fascinating history.  It was first written as a French poem in 1847 by Placide de Roquemaure, and was set to music by Adolphe Charles Adams that same year.  In 1855, the Unitarian minister, John Sullivan Dwight translated the song into English.  The song was made popular in the United States by abolitionist during the American Civil War.  According to tradition, “O Holy Night” played a significant role in causing a Christmas day cease fire during the Franco-Prussian War.  And in 1906 it was the first song ever played over the radio.  You can read more details about the history of the song here, https://www.beliefnet.com/entertainment/movies/the-nativity-story/the-amazing-story-of-o-holy-night.aspx, a reprint from “Stories Behind the Best-Loved Songs of Christmas” by Zondervan.

O Holy Night!

The stars are brightly shining.
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees!

O hear the angels’ voices!
O night divine,

Oh night when Christ was born,
O night divine
O night divine.

            One of my favorite lines in the carol is, “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices.”  Jesus came to bring us hope. Paul, in I Timothy 1:1, states that Christ Jesus is our hope.  Peter explains that hope further in I Peter.  “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (I Peter 1:3-4). “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (I Peter 1:13).  Our hope is in the fact that Jesus died for our sins, was raised back to life, and is coming back to Earth to live with us eternally.

Today, we are accustomed to talking about hope as wishful thinking.  I hope for a large, year-end bonus.  I hope one day the Lions will win the Super Bowl.  I hope to win a new car.  Each of these statements are just my desires or my wishes; they do not foretell the future. However, Jesus came to bring us an entirely certain hope.  A definite hope that cannot change.  The hope talked of in the Bible is not wishful thinking, but rather an absolutely true promise of things to come.  A hope that will never fail us, never disappoint.  We can choose to put our hope in our church, our job, our spouse, or other earthly things.  However, over the course of time all of those options will bring disappointment. On the other hand, living for the promise of the kingdom will bring us perfect, eternal life.

Everyone puts their hope in something.  Kyle Idleman suggests you can tell what you have put your hope in, by observing what you spend your time and money on, or what makes you worried or mad.  So what about you?  What are you putting your hope in?

 

-Jill McClain