A New Earth

Twenty years ago, when I was in seminary, I failed a test. I was invited to speak to some kids in a Christian school about heaven. I should have been able to do that, but I learned two things that day. One: you can't fool kids. Two: I knew squat about heaven.

I think I spoke of images: streets of gold, the waters of the river of life, and so on. But I had a hard time explaining exactly what it would be like. And no matter what I said, I had to admit that the way I explained it, it sounded kind of boring.

I wish I had just read and unpacked Isaiah 35:1-10.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad;
the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;
it shall blossom abundantly
and rejoice with joy and singing...
They shall see the glory of the Lord,
the majesty of our God.

Strengthen the weak hands,
and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart,
“Be strong; fear not!..."

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the mute sing for joy...

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Read the whole thing. It's an amazing chapter.

What strikes me is how physical all of this is: deserts exploding with life, bodies that work the way they're supposed to. I also love the images of joy: anxious hearts strengthened, leaping, singing, gladness.

You see this in the ministry of Jesus as well. His miracles point to what life will be like when his kingdom comes. Dead are raised. The unclean are made clean. The sick are healed, and there is bread enough for all.

I used to be bummed about the part about no marriage (Matthew 22:30). But maybe that means that the emotional intimacy that some of us now experience with only one person will be a reality in all of our relationships. What's most rare now will be enjoyed by all.

It's not boring. It's not about floating in clouds. It's the earth being restored to what it was in the first place. We'll enjoy the best of food; we'll do our best work; we'll drink deeply from the joy we've only tasted sparingly in this life. And, to top it off, God will dwell with us, and we will be his people, and God himself will be with us as our God (Revelation 21:3).

I don't always long for this as much as I should. But that's only because I don't think of it enough. I'm thinking about it now, and as Advent begins, I'm filled with longing. Even so, come Lord Jesus.

A Pastor's Prayer

From Martin Luther:

Lord, you have placed me in your church as an overseer and pastor. You see how unfit I am to administer this great and difficult office. Had I previously been without help from you, I would have ruined everything long ago. Therefore I call upon you. I gladly offer my mouth and heart to your service. I would teach the people and I would continue to learn. To this end I shall meditate diligently on your Word. Use me, dear Lord, as your instrument. Only do not forsake me; for if I were to continue alone, I would quickly ruin everything. Amen. (Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis)

HT: Justin Buzzard

Saturday Links

Kevin DeYoung on The Gospel Old and New: "The New Gospel will not sustain the church. It cannot change the heart. And it does not save. It is crucial, therefore, that our evangelical schools, camps, conferences, publishing houses, and churches can discern the new gospel from the old."

Three questions on productivity

Internet Monk: “Will We Have To Leave?”

Having problems keeping up with a ton of blogs? I'm really enjoying Feed a Fever.

Thanksgiving is over, but the Swedish chef from Sesame Street lives on.

Frustrated with Church? Calvin Understands.

I suspected I would enjoy Calvin's Institutes, and I shouldn't even be surprised by how things really haven't changed even though we live in very different times. Take this section by Calvin in which he discusses the marks of the church:

When we say that the pure ministry of the word and pure celebration of the sacraments is a fit pledge and earnest, so that we may safely recognize a church in every society in which both exist, our meaning is, that we are never to discard it so long as these remain, though it may otherwise teem with numerous faults. Nay, even in the administration of word and sacraments defects may creep in which ought not to alienate us from its communion. For all the heads of true doctrine are not in the same position.

Translation: You're never going to find a perfect church, or one with perfect doctrine, so be satisfied with one that preaches God's Word and celebrates the sacraments - and they may not even do that perfectly.

But what about the people who can be so frustrating? You know who I'm talking about. Calvin warns us that some are imbued with "a false persuasion of absolute holiness" and "spurn the society of all in whom they see that something human still remains."

Still others sin "not so much from that insane pride as from inconsiderate zeal." These people get carried away with wanting a pure church. "For where the Lord requires mercy they omit it, and give themselves up to immoderate severity." We shouldn't do this. Calvin uses the example of the church in Corinth. Despite its many faults, Paul "acknowledges and heralds them as a Church of Christ, and a society of saints."

Lots more on this topic. I have a feeling that Calvin would have something to say about many of our discussions about institutional churches vs. house churches and so on.

I find his approach refreshing these days when we tend to want church just as we like it. In general: find a church that has the marks of being a true church, and that's pretty much enough. Don't expect everything to agree with you on every matter, don't expect perfection, and don't get too discouraged by the mess. They may look like a mess, but they're actually a community of saints.

Frustrated with church? Calvin understands, but sure doesn't want us to give up on it.

A Noble Work

C.H. Spurgeon on preaching to the glory of God:

The grand object of the Christian ministry is the glory of God. Whether souls are converted or not, if Jesus Christ be faithfully preached, the minister has not labored in vain, for he is a sweet savour unto God as well in them that perish as in them that are saved. Yet as a rule, God has sent us to preach in order that through the gospel of Jesus Christ the sons of men may be reconciled to him...It is ours to sow even in the stony places, where no fruit rewards our toil; but still we are bound to look for a harvest, and mourn, if it does not appear in due time.

The glory of God being our chief object we aim at it by seeking the edification of saints and the salvation of sinners. It is a noble work to instruct the people of God, and to build them up in their most holy faith: we may by no means neglect this duty. To this end we must give clear statements of gospel doctrine, of vital experience, and of Christian duty, and never shrink from declaring the whole counsel of God. (Lectures to My Students)