SECOND CHRISTMAS

2nd Christmas

Christmas has a way of awakening our desires. What we often don’t understand, however, is that our deepest desires are mere echoes of the great Reality that awaits us on the other side of time.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Advent 2015 Part 3

 

2 Peter 3:1-18. ADVENT 2015 #3 (fourth week in Advent)

Remember when you were a kid, and it seemed like Christmas would never come? I sometimes enjoy the movie A Christmas Story. It really captures the combination of yearning, excitement and apprehension that some children feel about the holiday. In that movie, Ralph, a young boy, desperately wants a BB gun. He needs it. His heart will not be at peace until he possesses it. Throughout the whole movie he is aching for Christmas to come, but also a bit fearful that he’ll be disappointed.

As I have pointed out during the past few weeks, Jesus also promised us a “second Christmas.” He said he would return some day. In some ways, I think we look at the return of Jesus the same way Ralph in A Christmas Story looks at Christmas. We want the gifts we might get: eternal life, an end to sorrow and suffering, being reunited with those we loved and have lost. Revelation 21:1-5 puts it like this:

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. 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. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 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.”

5 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.”

That sounds exciting. That sounds like a present we could really look forward to. In fact, in my better moments, I yearn for this. I know my soul won’t be at rest until I receive it.

But at the same time, we have a certain amount of apprehension about second Christmas. What if, when it comes, we are disappointed? What if Jesus was just messing with us when he promised to take us to be with him (John 14:1-6)? I think our fears about his return fall into a few different categories. I fear that won’t enjoy the time leading up to it. The holidays between Thanksgiving and Christmas can get hectic and stressful. In the same way, the Bible indicates that the time before Jesus returns will be stressful.

Another thing we tend to worry about it, is this: will heaven really be all it cracked up to be? I mean, I might get bored, singing in the choir, after a thousand years or so. Is our “second Christmas” present really as good as we think it is?

Finally, I think some us worry about this: will we really get the present we want? Or will we be left out? Jesus promised, but what could be taking him so long? Is the promise really for me? Is he even coming back at all?

The apostle Peter, in his second general letter to Christians, addressed some of these issues in 2 Peter 3:1-18. When Jesus first promised to come back, the apostles and the early church expected him within their lifetimes. No one ever dreamed he would wait for 2,000 years or more. So many Christians had begun to doubt, or at least wonder, about this promise. They were excited, but also worried. Here are several points from what Peter writes, that might help us as we look forward to the second Christmas.

1. Second Christmas (the return of Jesus) is going to come. Scoffers are mocking the promise of Jesus, saying he is never really going to come back. But Peter reminds us that God is not bound by the same rules of time that bind us. A thousand years might be like a day to the Lord, or vice versa. If that is the case, the church of Jesus Christ has only been waiting two days for him to return. It seems like forever – just like Christmas seemed forever away when you were a kid – but it is not forever. God doesn’t count time the same way we do, just like adults see time differently than kids. But he has not forgotten or changed his promise. He will come back. The time-delay is because of God’s mercy and grace (2 Peter 3:9 & 15). He doesn’t want anyone to miss out on a chance to receive the incredible gifts he is bringing. So he is giving the world a chance to repent of sins and self-centeredness, and receive him. We may be apprehensive, but we are dealing with a loving and gracious God.

2. It really will be good. In fact, it will be better than we can fully understand. This world is full of things that disappoint us. Remember that Christmas present you yearned for as a kid? How much joy does it bring you on a day-to-day basis today? By the time we are adults, if we are wise, we have learned that lasting joy does not come from temporary things. However, heaven is the opposite of temporary. We are promised eternal life, eternal joy. C.S. Lewis, among several other great Christian writers, suggests that our deepest desires are signals to us of what will be fulfilled in heaven:

Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object.

Heaven is not a place where we wear robes and sing in a choir all day. It is the place where our entire purpose for existence is consummated. Our deepest desires are mere echoes of the great Reality that awaits us on the other side of time. Let me give you a specific and surprising example: A lot of people wonder if there will be sex in heaven. The biblical picture we have is unclear. But what is quite clear to me is that the joy and pleasure and intimacy with another person that we want to experience through sex is a pale, weak shadow compared to the stunning fulfillment we will find in heaven. The kinds of questions we raise about heaven are like a little child who is on his way to visit his grandparents, and wants to know if he will still be able to talk to them on the phone when he gets there. We are promised that it is better than we can ask or imagine. C.S. Lewis puts it this way:

These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.

3. This Gift has been promised to us, and we can rely on the promise. Peter says the earth and sky will be consumed in fire, but: “In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. (2 Peter 3:13)” Again this is the same promise reiterated in Revelation 21, quoted above. It is unimaginably good; better than we could ask or conceive of.

4. The expectation of second Christmas should affect how we live today (2 Peter 3:14).

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

Let’s understand something clearly. Too many people get the cart before the horse. We don’t make efforts to be blameless and at peace with God in order to get to heaven and receive these promises. No. It goes like this: because we have these promises, and because we believe Jesus has given them to us out of his grace, our response to get ready for the life he offers. We don’t try to act right in order to receive God’s grace – we receive God’s grace first, and as a result, we make every effort to be blameless and at peace with him. The promise of Christmas can have a wonderful effect on young children. Sometimes, it is because they think they must be good in order to get good presents. But more often, it is the knowledge that at this time of the year, there is plenty of goodness and to go around. They are going to get goodness, and their response is often to be good in return. Ours should be the same, whether we are adults or children. The Lord has promised good to us (Jeremiah 29:11) – let that goodness flow back to him in a response of gratitude.

The fact is this: if we really are looking forward to the return of Jesus as the ultimate Christmas present, it should affect our lives. Worries that might otherwise be a big deal, don’t have to be so dominant. Things that others to do hurt me, don’t have to be unforgivable. God is being generous with me at Second Christmas, so I can spare some of the goodwill, and be generous with love and forgiveness toward others. There are a lot of things we get all tied in knots about, that simply won’t matter very much once Second Christmas comes.

5. We can be secure in grace. (2 Peter 3:17-18)

17 Therefore, dear friends, since you already know this, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. 18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

Peter writes that we should be on our guard. We are not invincible. We might be carried away by the opinions of others, or our own love of sin. However, though we are not invulnerable, we can be secure – Peter himself calls our position secure. He tells us to grow in grace. What does that mean? I think it means that we grow in our understanding of how powerful and incredible God’s grace and love are. Because of what Jesus has done, there is no sin you commit than cannot be forgiven if you repent. There is nothing that can keep God’s love from you. Second Christmas is coming, and it is good, and the promise is yours simply by trusting that it is for you. These verses are about the end of the world. But they are not meant to scare us – they are written to encourage us, and comfort us.

Enjoy Christmas this year. But keep your eyes on the real promise – the Second Christmas, the return of the One who came the first time as a little baby. To focus our thoughts right now, let me close with two more quotes from C.S. Lewis and the weight of glory:

At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of the morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so someday, God willing, we shall get in.

Nature is mortal; we shall outlive her. When all the suns and nublae have passed away, each one of you will still be alive. Nature is only the image, the symbol; but it is the symbol Scripture invites us to use. We are summoned to pass in through nature, beyond her, into that splendor which she fitfully reflects.

CHILD-LIKE GREATNESS

toddler wide eyed

 

Only those who abandon control and learn to trust can truly let Jesus give them his grace. To the extent you do not trust, you cannot receive.

There is something else we need to get from all this. Jesus’ main point to his disciples about being great is that great Christians don’t look like “great Christians.”

 

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 61

 

 

Matthew #61. Matthew 18:1-14

Thanks for making use of Clear Bible. We’ll be talking this time about true greatness, and the willingness to give up whatever we need to in order to enter the life that Jesus offers us. Before we get into all that, however, I’d like to remind you that we deeply appreciate your prayers for this ministry. Please pray that this ministry will continue to be a blessing to those who hear it. Ask God, if it is his will, to touch even more lives with these messages. Ask him to use this ministry in making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Please also pray for our finances. Pray for us to receive everything we need. Please pray for us in this way before you give anything. And then, as you pray, if the Lord leads you to give us a gift, please go ahead and do that. Click on the “Donate” at the top of the page for more information about how to give. But if the Lord doesn’t want you to give financially to us, that is absolutely fine. We don’t want you to feel bad about it. We want you to follow Jesus in this matter. But do continue to pray for our finances and the ministry as a whole.

Now, on to the main message.

This teaching of Jesus begins, as so many of his teaching do, with the disciples messing up. That’s a happy thought for me. I think when I mess up that I have, well, you know, messed things up. But Jesus sees the mistakes of his followers as opportunities to help them grow.

In this case, their way of messing up was to seek greatness for themselves. It is just possible that Matthew was slightly ashamed of this incident: he merely records that the disciples raised the issue with Jesus. Mark and Luke both record that in fact, the disciples were arguing about it while away from the presence Jesus, and Jesus, finding out, spoke with them.

It is also encouraging to see how gentle Jesus is with them in this particular instance. He brings a child into their midst, and says basically, “turn from your ambitions and become like this child.”

Now, like any of Jesus’ parables or analogies, he has just a few main points in mind. If you can remember your own childhood, or if you can remember being the parent of young children, you know that children come with their own sets of issues. They can be selfish, angry, easily upset, stubborn, rebellious and so on. But Jesus didn’t mean that his followers should become like children in every possible way. Other places in the New Testament tell Jesus-followers not to be like children – at least not in our thinking:

Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. Ephesians 4:14 (HCSB)

I think probably Jesus had three or four characteristics of children in mind. First, I believe, is humility. A young child does not usually have ambitions to rule the world, or to be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. Particularly in the presence of adults, a child knows his limitations and accepts them humbly. Jesus is telling these men who are jockeying for position in the kingdom of heaven: “Forget all that. Instead, be humble, like a child.” In fact, he mentions humility specifically in verse 4. Psalm 131 portrays this childlike humility:

1LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too difficult for me.2Instead, I have calmed and quieted myself like a little weaned child with its mother; I am like a little child.3Israel, put your hope in the LORD, both now and forever. (Ps 131:1-3, HCSB)

Another characteristic of children that Jesus might have had in mind is innocence. I don’t mean children don’t sin – obviously, they do. But they usually haven’t been exposed to the full depth of evil in the world. So Paul writes:

Brothers, don’t be childish in your thinking, but be infants in regard to evil and adult in your thinking. 1 Corinthians 14:20 (HCSB)

A third possibility that Jesus might have meant us to understand is that a child’s main job is to learn. A child has not mastered any subject, but humbly learns from others, and in fact, at least until we ruin it with school, most children are naturally inclined to learn. Peter puts it this way:

Like newborn infants, desire the pure spiritual milk, so that you may grow by it for your salvation, 1 Peter 2:2 (HCSB)

So, the followers of Jesus should regard themselves as learners.

Finally, I think one thing Jesus definitely meant by “become like children” was to learn to trust. Children know how to trust – they have to. Unless a child has been very unfortunate, trusting is the one thing that very young children are better at than anyone else. They are dependent upon adults for their entire survival. I think this is precisely what Jesus means when he says, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Only those who abandon control and learn to trust can truly let Jesus give them his grace. To the extent you do not trust, you cannot receive. Psalm 131(quoted above) connects childlike humility to trust.

There is something very important we need to get from all this. Jesus’ main point to his disciples about being great is that great Christians don’t look like “great Christians.” I don’t mean they look like bad Christians, but what Jesus does mean is that He judges greatness based upon entirely different criteria than the world.

I think this is very relevant. We live in a culture that is obsessed with celebrity. The world reveres people who have managed to become famous, no matter how they achieved it. A large number of famous people today, regardless of their notoriety, have achieved almost nothing worthwhile. Think about it: the people we most admire and talk about either play games for a living (athletes), or pretend to be other people for a living (actors). Their lasting contributions to the human race are almost worthless. It would be hard to argue that the world will be a better place one-hundred years from now because of Leonardo DiCaprio or Anne Hathaway or Jennifer Anniston.

It’s almost impossible to over-emphasize how backwards our culture’s view of greatness has become. Recently Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner won an award for courage. What did he to do to merit the award? Rather than face his own brokenness with the courage to pursue healing, instead of learning to accept himself how he was, he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to physically change the body he was born with, all the while knowing that the media would be eager to praise him for it. That’s not courage. That’s not greatness – but we have called it such.

Unfortunately, many Christians have bought into society’s model for greatness. We don’t necessarily honor the same people as great, but we honor “Christian Celebrities” as great, and often they have done just as little or less than secular celebrities. We merely replace the Kardashians with the Robertsons (of Duck Dynasty fame). Or instead of admiring One Direction, we admire Hillsong (or, more probably, both). In fact, recently I saw an ad for a movie about the success and fame of the musicians at Hillsong. It looked like any other movie about a bunch of celebrities; these just happen to be Christian ones.

You know what I am talking about. You know that the Christian celebrity culture is alive and well. Chris Tomlin and Matt Redmond are celebrity worship leaders. Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer are celebrity preachers. David Platt is a celebrity author. Christian culture in America thrives on this stuff, because “Christian culture” is not very different from secular culture in how it judges greatness.

But Jesus said, “this is not how greatness looks in the kingdom of heaven.” In heaven, greatness looks like a child: humble, willing to learn, not caught up in the entanglements of what the world has to offer, and above all, trusting the Lord for everything. I doubt we will know who the real celebrities in God’s kingdom are until we are resurrected in the new heavens and new earth. If we could somehow see it truly, I think we would be surprised at who the great ones are in our present generation. I doubt it is anyone we have heard about from our Christian Celebrity culture.

I am not judging the ministries of the people I have named. I am merely saying that even we Christians have lost sight of how Jesus defines true greatness.

After this, Jesus turns the conversation slightly. He was telling the disciples to be like children, and now he goes on to talk about “little ones.” I think Jesus is probably referring both to actual children, and also to those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven like a child.

First he warns against causing the downfall of one of the little ones. I have said before that all sins are equal in that no matter what sin we commit, it separates us from God. However, not all sins have the same earthly consequences. Jesus now says something that is as close as he ever gets to “There is a special place in hell for sinners like that.”

6 “But whoever causes the downfall of one of these little ones who believe in Me — it would be better for him if a heavy millstone4 were hung around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea!

It seems that when someone corrupts a child, or a naïve disciple, this makes Jesus especially angry. People are going to sin, but if you are the one who leads another person into sin, you have done something particularly contemptible. That sin – corrupting others, seducing them into sin – can be forgiven, of course. It isn’t the unforgiveable sin. If you think you have done this, repent now, quit corrupting others and trust that Jesus has forgiven and changed you. If not, you’d be better off swimming with the giant stone necklace than facing the wrath of Jesus.

Next, Jesus reiterates something he said earlier in his ministry, during the sermon on the mount:

8 If your hand or your foot causes your downfall, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes your downfall, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, rather than to have two eyes and be thrown into hellfire!

I think there are two helpful thoughts here. First, sin is serious. Jesus isn’t messing around here. Sin is the cancer of the soul. If your foot has cancer in it, you have an operation to get the cancer removed. If you can’t remove the cancer without amputating, you amputate, because otherwise the cancer will spread, and your whole body will eventually die. When dealing with cancer, we understand, this is life or death. We do what is necessary to get rid of the cancer, including removing major body parts.

Jesus is telling us that sin is just as serious as cancer. If alcohol is causing you to sin, quit drinking. If watching certain TV shows or movies is getting your head into a bad place, quit watching. If friends are influencing you to sin, maybe you aren’t strong enough to keep those friendships at this time. I don’t mean you should never have non-Christian friends. But I do mean that if it becomes a choice between following Jesus faithfully, or having a certain person in your life, you would be better off to choose Jesus. Jesus is telling us that this is serious business. Do what it takes to keep on following him.

There is a second piece to what Jesus is saying here. He says: “It is better for you to enter life maimed or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into the eternal fire.” The eternal fire is the serious, scary thing. But there is a serious, good thing too: Life. The promise is that we can indeed enter life. There is something good up ahead – a life waiting for us. This life now is temporary. What’s ahead is the real thing.

Would you give up a thousand dollars right now if you knew it would get you a million dollars when you retire? Of course. A temporary sacrifice is worth a long-term reward.

So, what if you’re never allowed to get drunk and party again in this temporary life – the life is coming that will be better than any party you’ve been to, and you can enjoy it fully without the aid of alcohol, and remember the whole thing clearly, too.

Is it worth giving up a few temporary pleasures (which don’t bring lasting fulfilment anyway) in order to enter eternal life? The answer should be obvious.

There’s an old song written by Rich Mullins, that wasn’t well known, called Heaven is waiting. Perhaps fittingly considering the message today, it is one of his least-known songs, and was only ever recorded once. I strongly encourage you to go listen to the song, and reflect on all these things as you do. Unfortunately the best recording I could find was here, and there is a little bit of distortion; even so, it’s a great song:

Heaven is Waiting (You Tube Music Video)

HEAVEN IS WAITING

By Rich Mullins and Mitch McVicker

“I don’t need no woman to kiss me
And I don’t need no man to stand by my side
I don’t need to slake my thirst with whiskey
Don’t need to shuffle cards to pass the time
‘Cause the stars are bright and silvery
And with the dry ache of a lone coyote’s whine
My Savior’s calling and I’m listening
Time to saddle up my pony and ride
‘Cause heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
I ain’t looking for no seven golden cities
But I know there’s a fortune somewhere to find
There’s a peace that I hear whisperin’ through the
pinyons
And a love that’s taller than the ponderosa pines
And heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
So don’t ask for no lengthy explanation
When there ain’t no reason quite wild enough
No words could be as tender
It’s greater than the fears that we imagine
More than the warmth that we remember
It’s always just beyond the pass
And I must go
‘Cause heaven is waiting
Just past the horizon
Just over the mesas
Across the great divide
And faith is blazing
This trail that I ride on up this mountain
I’m prayin’ I have the strength to climb
Oh heaven is waiting
Oh heaven is waiting
Heaven is waiting”

TREASURING WHAT IS MOST VALUABLE

treasure

When we store treasure for ourselves in this life, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointment. The relationships we cherish so much won’t ever be all that we want them to be. We are very unlikely to achieve the success and accolades we desire. Financial security escapes all but a few. Death takes every single person. We can’t count on our dreams here. Even those dreams which are fulfilled are still missing some indefinable thing that leaves us with lingering doubt and emptiness.

I think sometimes one reason we get so angry and disappointed with God is that we want to have it all in this life. But the Lord never promises we will have it all (or, necessarily any of “it”) here in this life.

The answer is not in this life. Our mistake is to seek it here. But the call for Christians is to keep our focus on real treasure.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Matthew Part 20.5

Matthew #20.5 Matthew 6:19-21

In our church last week, someone suggested that it would be a good idea to dwell a little bit more on what our treasure in Heaven will be. It’s hard to focus on something, to aim your life at something, when you only have a vague idea of what it is. So, I’m going to go back from where we are in the text, and re-visit Matthew 6:19-21. Jesus said:

“Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But collect for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves don’t break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:19-21, HCSB)

Prior to this, Jesus was talking about how our Heavenly Father will reward us, and we should seek that reward, rather than the praise of other people. So, what is heavenly treasure? What is heavenly reward?

So often, we don’t really believe that our real treasure is in Heaven. We are still looking for it on earth. So our eternal future does not figure very much in our day to day plans and decisions.

For Most Christians, heaven is a backup plan. Our primary work is finding a life we can at least get a little pleasure from here. Heaven is an investment we’ve made, like Treasury bonds, or a retirement account, which we we’re hoping will take care of us in the future sometime, but which we do not give much thought to at present. (John Eldredge, Desire, chapter 6).

Part of the difficulty about heaven is that we’ve never been there. Even those Christians who have had death-experiences and returned, have not really been to heaven, but only to the entrance of the afterlife, so to speak, and we cannot give their experiences the same kind of authority that we give to the Bible; and yet the Bible doesn’t seem to have very many specifics. However, the Bible does give us some big-picture ideas about eternity for those who are in Jesus.

First, when the bible talks about “eternal life” the Greek word for life is a special one: zoe. Jesus said that whoever trusts in Him will have zoe (John 3:15). It means much more than just “live forever.” Zoe means not only life that is indestructible, that lasts forever, but also a certain higher quality of life, better life. John says we have zoe when we trust Jesus:

The one who has the Son has zoe. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have zoe. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal zoe. (1John 5:12-13, HCSB I have substituted the Greek word for the English, where it occurs)

This is important. If by eternal life we meant just a long life exactly as we have known it, that sounds a little daunting. This life leaves a lot to be desired, and extending it forever would not fix most of the problems we have. If eternal life was just more of this life, we would continue to struggle with broken relationships. We would still face unfulfilled desires (only now, for eternity). We would go on being disappointed by others, and ourselves, and not finding as much joy as we think we should from getting what we think we want. We might go on struggling with finances, and with worry, and with feeling insecure, and unattractive. Continuing to live this life forever sounds more like a punishment than a blessing.

Thankfully, the Bible promises not more of the same, but rather, something different; eternal zoe. Our eternal life will be of a different, better quality. In the first place, we will have new bodies. Many Christians don’t realize this. The promise of eternal life is not some ghost-existence where we float around like disembodied spirits. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us that we will have bodies, but that they will be different in important ways from our present bodies.

But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? What kind of body will they have when they come? ” Foolish one! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And as for what you sow — you are not sowing the future body, but only a seed, perhaps of wheat or another grain. But God gives it a body as He wants, and to each of the seeds its own body. (1Cor 15:35-38, HCSB)

We are like seeds, sitting in a seed packet, wondering what happens after we are planted, but having no point of reference. Back when I thought I could grow a garden, I planted some zucchini squash. The seeds are smooth and flat, roughly the size of a fingernail, but oval shaped. There is kind of beveled border all around the edge of the seed. The seed is cream colored. Now, that seed is pure zucchini. There is nothing in the seed that is anything other than zucchini. It contains every part of the DNA of a full zucchini plant. And yet, the seed is nothing at all like the whole plant – in fact it isn’t even very much like the zucchini squash. The plant is green. It grows to over two feet tall, and more than four feet around of spreading green stalks and leaves. The flowers are long and yellow or orange. The zucchini “fruit” is a foot long or more, with white flesh and dark green skin.

The seeds do not change their essential nature, and yet they are destroyed in order for the plant to grow. The DNA of the grown plant is the same as the DNA of the seed that dies to produce the plant. Yet the plant is so much more than the seed. And no matter how long you took, you would never be able to imagine the plant merely from examining the seed.

So it will be with our new bodies. They will be fully us, and yet very different from how we are at the moment. They will not experience disease or pain or death.

Our new bodies will have a new creation to inhabit. Paul writes that all of creation was “subjected to futility.” That creation will be redeemed when we ourselves are finally resurrected into eternal zoe with our new bodies:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility — not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it — in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that, but we ourselves who have the Spirit as the firstfruits — we also groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience. (Rom 8:18-25, HCSB)

John writes about his vision of the end of the universe as we know it:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. (Rev 21:1, HCSB)

This world is a beautiful place still. As I type this, I can see three pictures on my wall, all of them taken by me while traveling. One is a sunset scene on the Gulf of Mexico.

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Another is from a mountainside in Northern California, overlooking meadows, forests and the ocean. The third is a majestic and stunning view of Mount Hood in Oregon, clad in winter white, draped with dark green fir forests. I love these MtnViewplaces, and many more equally beautiful, but different parts of the world. And yet, the beach on the Gulf was only recently threatened by a massive oil spill. Just a few miles from my Northern California scene, the city of San Francisco spreads asphalt over the beautiful land, and belches smog above the bay. The north side of Mount Hood has been artificially protected from fire, and the forests there are now filled with dead wood, and primed to go up in smoke across half the mountain. Even if they don’t, Hood is a volcano that could someday erupt, and turn the beautiful scenery into smoking slag rock.

And let’s be honest. In Gulf lurk bull sharks and stingrays that threaten our enjoyments, and at times even our lives. The mountainsides are gorgeous, but a fall, or an avalanche, or a falling tree, or a snake, or a cougar, or a bear, or just getting lost could kill us easily. Even if we don’t die, we can experience discomfort from insect-bites, illness from drinking untreated water and hunger if we can find no food. Our world is beautiful, but it is also still very imperfect and unsafe.

As beautiful as our world is, it is subject to futility. It is not eternal. It is not perfect. It is fragile, and even often unsafe for us. But the promise of the Bible is that we will get a new world, even more beautiful, one that is redeemed and perfected along with us. We can swim in beautiful waters with no fear of sharks. We can wander in the wilderness with no discomfort from mosquitoes, no fear of hunger or wildlife. This is indeed a treasure to look forward to.

John also says this about the new creation to come:

Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look! God’s dwelling is with humanity, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will no longer exist; grief, crying, and pain will exist no longer, because the previous things have passed away. Then the One seated on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new.” He also said, “Write, because these words are faithful and true.” And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give water as a gift to the thirsty from the spring of life. (Rev 21:3-6, HCSB)

Our eternal zoe-life will be free from death, grief, and pain. Every time you experience grief, or emotional pain, or physical pain, or sorrow, use it to remind yourself of the treasure that awaits you in the New Creation.

In eternal life, we will be reunited with everyone else who has trusted in Jesus and died with faith in Him. A day will come when we see those who have gone before us. Death does not have to be forever. Pause for a minute, and think of those you have lost in this life who are waiting for you now in eternal life. These loved ones are a very great treasure for us. In Jesus, all goodbyes are temporary.

I think one of the clues to our treasure in heaven is the Garden of Eden, before Adam and Eve sinned. They lived in perfect health in a beautiful place, at harmony with nature. Most especially, Adam and Eve lived in complete vulnerability and intimacy with God and with each other. In their intimacy and vulnerability, there was no shame, no danger, no hurt or disappointment. In many ways, the Bible hints that the New Creation will be like the Garden of Eden – only better, and without the snake. Our relationships with God and with each other will be healed and whole and open and joyful and fun.

Sometimes we might think heaven will be boring. Isn’t it just one long worship service? I don’t think so. I think the worship takes place in many ways. In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had work to do. It wasn’t toilsome – it was joyful. They found fulfillment in doing what they loved to do, and they found that it all came together as they lived according to their purpose. Here on earth, when you try to live for your purpose, it is usually a struggle. Others don’t care about your purpose. It’s hard to make a living doing what you were created to do. Many don’t appreciate the gifts and unique person that God made you to be. But in heaven, our yearning to be significant and our drive to do certain things we love will be fulfilled, not removed. Jesus, in the parable of the talents, describes the Master giving the faithful servants responsibilities and goals that are suited to them. You won’t be bored. You will finally get to do what you were created to do, with no hindrance or frustration.

John Eldredge writes about the eternal life to come for those who trust Jesus. He suggests that maybe one reason we don’t put our treasure in heaven is because we have incorrect expectations of it.

How can the church service that never ends be more desirable than the richest experiences of life here? It would be no small difference if you knew in your heart that the life you prize is just around the corner, that your deepest desires have been whispering to you all along about what’s coming. (John Eldredge, Desire, chapter 7 emphasis mine).

I think Eldredge is on to something. It is true, we can have sinful desires, and these will not find fulfillment in heaven. But our longing for closeness with God and with other people, our desire to be significant and to accomplish something worthwhile, our yearning for beauty and refreshment – all these are little signposts here on earth, pointing toward the eternal treasure that is waiting for us when God renews the heavens and the earth.

Let me give you one surprising example. Many people love the experience of sexual intimacy. At times, it feels almost necessary. That desire is really much more than physical. It is a desire to be close to another person, to be almost “immersed” in the one you love. Sexual desire is a pull to experience the beauty of another person fully, and to be known yourself fully. Of course, on earth, it gets distorted and twisted into all sorts of lesser things, sometimes very ugly and sinful things. But the desire itself is not wrong, and I believe that desire for intimacy and beauty and safe vulnerability will be fulfilled in heaven in a far greater way than it ever can be on earth. If you died without ever having sex in this life, you have not missed out – the real thing, the thing that sex is merely a shadow of – that is waiting for us in heaven, and it is better than what we call sex.

All of the things we love here on earth, and the things that desire most deeply are mere copies and shadows of the reality that is to come.

Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah. (Col 2:16-17, HCSB)

These serve as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was warned when he was about to complete the tabernacle. (Heb 8:5, HCSB)

Even our sinful desires are often just a distortion and deception of something that began as a righteous desire for the heavenly reality. The point is this: one of the great treasures of heaven is that the true deep desires of our soul will be fulfilled. God created us with yearning for heaven. Sin and the devil have distorted and confused the yearning, but they haven’t eliminated it. To put it another way, in heaven is what you truly want. Heaven contains what you’ve been trying to find, trying to achieve all these years, and even more. If that is not something to treasure, I don’t know what is.

When I was in High School, some of the kids acted as if High School was all there was. They immersed themselves in becoming sports stars and prom queens and part of the “in” clique. These folks didn’t want to be “losers,” but they were quite free in calling others by that name. Many of them achieved their High School dreams. But when they graduated, and High School was over, it was almost as if they were surprised. They were lost, and it took some of them a long time to realize that High School is only one very short part of life, and not the most important part, either. Some of these “popular” ended up as “losers” in real life.

Brothers and sisters, this is High School. This isn’t real life. What we have here, what we treasure, is just a shadow of the real thing. What everyone seems to chase after is shallow and it doesn’t last – it isn’t real treasure. You’ve heard the saying “there are no dress-rehearsals; this is real life.” I beg to differ. This is the dress rehearsal. Real life hasn’t even started yet.

So many of us don’t want to acknowledge this. We keep pursuing things that don’t last, things that don’t matter. We keep storing up treasure that we can’t take with us and focusing on what is meaningless. Isaiah wrote about such people:

You were wearied by all your ways, but you would not say ‘it is hopeless.’ You found renewal of your strength, so that you would not faint. (Isaiah 57:10).

He was talking to people who would not give up trying to get what they wanted in this life, people who wouldn’t trust that God had something better for them in eternity.

When we store treasure for ourselves in this life, we are setting ourselves up for major disappointment. The relationships we cherish so much won’t ever be all that we want them to be. We are very unlikely to achieve the success and accolades we desire. Financial security escapes all but a few. Death takes every single person. Some die too young, and others wish they could die sooner, but it comes to every single human being. We can’t count on our dreams here. Even those dreams which are fulfilled are still missing some indefinable thing that leaves us with lingering doubt and emptiness.

I think sometimes one reason we get so angry and disappointed with God is that we want to have it all in this life. But the Lord never promises we will have it all (or, necessarily any of “it”) here in this life. What Jesus said about this life was this:

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33, ESV2011)

David writes it like this:

Our lives last seventy years or, if we are strong, eighty years. Even the best of them are struggle and sorrow; indeed, they pass quickly and we fly away. (Ps 90:10, HCSB)

The answer is not in this life. Our mistake is to seek it here. But the call for Christians is to keep our focus on real treasure, real zoe-life:

Therefore, with your minds ready for action, be serious and set your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1Pet 1:13, HCSB)

So if you have been raised with the Messiah, seek what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with the Messiah in God. When the Messiah, who is your life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. (Col 3:1-4, HCSB)

Set your minds on what is above, not on what is on the earth. Put your treasure in heaven. Keep your life aimed toward real life, eternal life, not this temporary thing. Let your hope be not for this life, but for heaven. Don’t seek just for a comfortable eighty years passing the time on earth, but for an eternity of abundant better life. Store up your hope and treasure for heaven.

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