A New Heaven and a New Earth

I wonder what your favourite Christmas present was? Perhaps you got some new clothes, or a new device such as a phone? Maybe some new books to read or something connected to your favourite hobby?  Most of us enjoy getting new things, but when we do we quickly lose interest in what we had before. Last year’s prized possessions get forgotten as they are superseded by new ones.

New Year too, often signals time for reflection on the year gone by and thoughts turn to hopes and aspirations for the year to come. Whatever 2015 was like for you it is natural to hope that 2016 will bring joy and happiness, and that the disappointments of the past will be left behind.

The Christian faith has much to say about newness. For example Paul wrote that ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ (2 Cor 5:17 ESV). This amazing statement describes a present reality for all who truly believe in Christ. However the message of the Bible is not simply comfort for this present life. Rather it offers us hope for a glorious eternity.

John, the Evangelist, was privileged to be given a wonderful vision of the future of creation which he recorded in the book of Revelation. Towards the end of that revelation John sees ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ (Rev 21:1 NIV) which he then goes on to describe. We learn that this present world with all its pain and suffering, disappointment will cease to exist. In its place God will create a new, eternal order. In this new world God himself will dwell among his people. It will be a place of outstanding beauty and incredible happiness. We are told: ‘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.” (Rev 21:4 NIV)

Wow! There can be few people who would not wish for such a world!

My desire for everyone that reads this is that 2016 is truly a Happy New Year for you. I hope that every day from 1st January – 31st December is full of joy and hope. The experience of Christians throughout the centuries is that the greatest joy and hope is found when we have assurance that our eternity with Christ in the new heaven and new earth is secure. The joy and happiness of the new heaven and new earth will surpass the greatest pleasures we could possibly know in this life. The joy and happiness of the new heaven and new earth will more than compensate for the deepest sadness of this present life.

Whatever else you do in preparation for 2016, make this the year you secure your place in the new heaven and new earth by becoming a follower of Jesus!

This blog post featured in the January 2016 edition of Hook Focus

I am making everything new

Millions of people across the world will be celebrating the start of 2015 at parties and firework displays. The day itself is arbitrary and derives from the Gregorian calendar which was devised in 1582 but wasn’t adopted in the UK until 1752, 170 years later. The Gregorian calendar is the one most used worldwide, however there are different New Year’s days in the Hindu, Chinese, Coptic, Jewish and Islamic calendars.

For most of us, apart from the date, not much is new in January. Yet the significance of each New Year is something that is embedded deep within our culture. For the first few weeks of the year you may struggle to write 2015 at the end of dates but it quickly becomes second nature. In fact that is true of everything new! We quickly become accustomed to a new job, a new phone, a new car, a new house. In time the novelty wears off, and we become aware of other opportunities for something newer

Often we associate this hankering after something new with materialism, and sadly it can all too easily be a manifestation of that disease. However, I wonder if even deeper down in our beings there may be an innate expectation of one of Jesus’ final promises in the book of Revelation. John has just been given a vision of ‘a new heaven and a new earth’ when Jesus says ‘I am making everything new’. Consider the most wonderful sights you have seen on this present earth – they can be breathtakingly beautiful. Yet a day is coming when even these places will be transformed and renewed beyond our imagination. This new creation will never fade or wear out, and we will never become jaded with what we see through familiarity. Our desire for something new will finally be satisfied.

Why?

Because in this new creation God’s original intention to dwell among us will finally be realised. Paradise is not defined by beautiful surroundings, rather it is defined by the presence of God. The opening chapters of Genesis describe how Paradise was lost in the Garden of Eden. The closing chapters of Revelation show how Paradise will be restored on the New Earth.

As you reflect upon this glorious vision, allow it to give you hope. Hope that will lift your eyes above the brokenness of this present world in a way that trinkets like smartphones, flat screen TVs and new cars never will. Live each moment of today in the light of our glorious eternity.

This blog post featured in the January 2015 edition of Lifelines

The prayers of God’s People

In my experience followers of Jesus universally struggle from time to time to know that their prayers are heard and have an impact. Sometimes we get an almost immediate answer, this week I have had the joy of seeing two prayers answered in the space of just a few hours. More often it seems that we bang on, again and again, with no apparent impact. It is not that our prayers bounce back off the ceiling, it can seem they don’t even get that far! Is this the reality? What happens to the prayers that seem unanswered, or when the answer does not pan out the way we were looking for? A verse jumped out at me from Revelation that I find provides a helpful insight.

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. Revelation 5:8 (NIV2011)

At the start of chapter 4 John sees a door standing open in heaven and together with him we are invited to enter the Throne Room of God. What we see is the present reality of what is happening in the spiritual realm; the usually unseen parallel reality where good and evil are exposed for what they are. It is into this context that we encounter the twenty-four elders, representing all of God’s people. If, as I believe is the case, we are to understand that this is a picture of what we are doing in the spiritual realm when we engage with God in worship and prayer in the physical realm then this is massively encouraging. In Revelation 5:8 God’s people are depicted as having harps, musical instruments for worship, and golden bowls of incense which we are told are our prayers.  This reassures us that our prayers reach their destination, and furthermore are a pleasing aroma to God. The image is extended in chapter 8 where we read:

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Revelation 8:3–4 (NIV2011)

Even though our physical senses may not always be touched, and although our emotions may not always be engaged as we worship and pray, that is only half the picture. Revelation draws back the curtain and reveals that our prayers do in fact reach the very throne of God. The next few verses of chapter 5 tell us that God’s people sing a new song of praise to Jesus, the Lamb who was slain. This is an indicator that the balance of our praying needs to be praise and worship towards God so that we get caught up with his kingdom purposes, rather than seeking to bend his will to ours though our requests.

This blog post featured in the March 2014 edition of Lifelines