Reconciliation: A New Heaven and a New Earth

When God surveys the depraved mess mankind has become, he notes Noah’s righteousness but describes the pervasiveness of sin and the repercussions of it this way: “As far as God was concerned, the Earth has become a sewer; there was violence everywhere. God took one look and saw how bad it was, everyone corrupt and corrupting – life itself corrupt to the core. God said to Noah, ‘It’s all over. It’s the end of the human race. The violence is everywhere; I’m making a clean sweep.'” (Genesis 6:11-13, MSG)

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Why would God flood the whole Earth? What did the Earth ever do to God? The answer, of course, is nothing, but the destruction of all living things – save those in the ark – shows the deep ramifications of our cosmic treason against God. Because the stewards of creation are corrupt, the Earth is corrupt. We are the opposites of King Midas – everything we touch turns not to gold but to ash. The ground is accursed on account of Adam and Eve’s sin, on account of our sin, because the consequences of sin must reflect the expanse of God’s glory.

His glory is eternal; therefore, sin is an eternal offense. This is why we believe in an eternal life, an eternal hell, and a remaking of not just some things but all things. The good news is that God’s plan for redemption is scaled to His glory, encompassing all creation. What is corrupt will be declared “very good” again. At the tail end of the story of Noah and the ark, as Noah finally plants his feet on dry land again and makes a burnt offering to the Lord, God promises, “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.” (Genesis 8:21, NIV)

God’s promise back then is actually a foreshadow of that day still to come when the curse will finally be eradicated from the earth, from pole to pole and from east to west. God’s plan of redemption is gigantic. The vision He has for the world, then, is not destruction, as many Christians have believed over the years, but redemption. Not annihilation but restoration. A new heaven and a new earth. Purified by fire. Clearly, the reconciliation God has in mind through the atoning work of Jesus Christ is both personal and global. Because all things in the earth have been corrupted by man’s fall, God will be “reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor. 5:19) and putting “all things in subjection under his feet.” (1 Cor. 15:27)

When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray, His example included the words “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) This was in essence the purpose of His ministry; to bring the kingdom of God to bear on the earth. Right now, the entire creation is out of wack. The stain of sin affects creation. The very ground we walk on is cursed on account of man’s sin. Jesus’s ministry of ultimately inaugurating God’s kingdom, with Himself as King, is not simply a mission of recruitment of subjects; it is about reversing the curse. Again, His was both a personal and a global mission. Consider the hopes of God’s people in the Old Testament: It was not just about individual salvation, but about national redemption, restoration of covenant, “real world” reconciliation.

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The Gospel of Jesus is epic. When Jesus says he saw Satan fall like lightning from the sky, He is saying that the Gospel is about the overthrow of evil itself. It’s not just about forgiveness of our sinful behavior. When Jesus casts out demons, He is demonstrating the authority of God’s sovereignty. When He heals the sick and the lame, He is saying that the Gospel is about the eradication of physical brokenness: the effects of sin. In fact, the mission of Jesus is so big that John the Baptist, in Matthew 3:3, quotes Isaiah 40:3-4. Here’s a look at that passage from Eugene Peterson’s translation The Message: “Thunder in the desert! ‘Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it. Yes. Just as God said.'”

One of the dangers of a Gospel that stays on the ground too long is that it becomes man-centered. The idea, for instance, that the Bible is God’s love letter to us has a bit of truth to it,  but this shows how easily we trade the centrality of God’s glory for the centrality of our need. Colossians 1:18 puts this man-centeredness to rest as follows: “And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the first born from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.” (NIV) The peace that is made by the blood of the cross covers everything. The scope of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross spans the brokenness between man and God and the brokenness between earth and heaven.

The cross of Christ is first and centrally God’s means of reconciling sinful people to His sinless self. But it is bigger than that too. From the ground, we see the cross as our bridge to God. From the air, the cross is our bridge to the restoration of all things. The cross of the battered Son of God is the battering ram through the blockade back to the Garden of Eden. Back to the wonders of the new covenant kingdom, of which the old was but a foreshadow. The cross is the keystone in God’s plan to restore all creation. And although we are each saved as an individual life, we are not saved to an individual life. Rather, we stand as part of God’s restoration of all things. When you and I are reconciled by Jesus Christ to God, we are brought into the covenant community of faith. Remember, we have been made members of the Body of Christ.

In Christ, we’ve also been called not just into the universal church but to the local church. I my case, I was called back to the church of my youth, where I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and was baptized at thirteen years old. This is where I became part of the work of reconciliation. I, like nearly all of us, went astray. Although I was covered by the blood, and saved by grace, I failed to participate in God’s plan of reconciliation. I discovered drugs and alcohol, and, through associating with the wrong people, and a series of very bad decisions, I ended up in state prison. There were times, even in those darkest hours, when I again participated in God’s plan of reconciliation. I organized and conducted a Bible study during free time known as “block out.” At times, as many as seven or eight prisoners joined me to study the Word of God.

Sadly, I continued to step off the narrow path, on to the wide path, which leads to destruction. It has taken me nearly four decades to return to the path God has chosen for me. Now, I am finishing my undergraduate degree in psychology at Colorado Christian University, and have applied to the graduate studies program at Lancaster Bible College for fall of 2018. I will be ministering to teens and young adults struggling with mental illness and addiction. Yes, we are awaiting the coming of a new heaven and a new earth, but of that hour no man knows. Our great commission, in the meantime, is to spread the Good News, and to bring freedom to the captives.

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God’s promise of a new heaven and a new earth is about a refreshing of the earth rather than destruction of the existing earth. Dr. David Jeremiah tells of purification by fire. There will be renewal, not annihilation. 2 Peter 3:10-12 describes the heavens disappearing with a roar, and  the elements (the earth) being “laid bare” by fire. Heaven and earth will be new not in time but in quality. In other words, it is about renovation. Not something that never existed before. Something made better. Just as our bodies are redeemed and will be changed, so it will be with heaven and earth. Because the whole of creation has been affected by the curse, and further polluted by man’s sin, it is not a suitable place for resurrected, perfect people to live. How could we live among fossils, graveyards, and reminders of death, and a flood-scarred earth that bore evidence of God’s great judgment of sin? How can we live on a planet next to a sun that has a limited lifespan, or within a universe that has a build-in timer our physicists have labeled entropy?

Here is another way to look at it. Did the Great Flood destroy or annihilate the earth? No! Neither will God’s purifying fire. Just as our bodies die and return to dust, ultimately raised as new bodies that have continuity with who we were before our death, likewise the earth is fallen and will be renewed. The renewal of the earth is directly analogous with the resurrection of the redeemed in Christ. Just as we have to die before we are resurrected, the earth must be destroyed before it is renewed. It is not an ultimate or final destruction; it is a destruction that purifies and clears the way for re-creation.

Somehow we’ve managed to get away from the message of the Bible: Redeem. Restore. Recover. Return. Renew. Resurrect. Each of these words begins with the prefix re-, which means return to an original condition that was ruined or lost. God always sees us in light of what He intended us to be, and He always seeks to restore us to that design. Likewise, He sees the earth in terms of what He intended it to be, and He seeks to restore it to its original design. Realize this: If God doesn’t redeem or restore the physical world, then Satan wins, because he would have foiled God’s original purpose of Creation. The Bible promises that God will undo everything Satan did, and He will make creation even better than before. Frankly, man has an innate longing for a Golden Age; we’re homesick for the Garden of Eden. Paul tells us, “However, as it is written: ‘What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived – the things God has prepared for those who love Him – these are the things God has revealed to us by His Spirit…” (1 Cor. 2:9-10a, NIV)

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“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17, NIV)

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The Principles of Satan’s Oppression

“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.”
PSALM 9:9 (NIV)

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THE WORD OF GOD clearly identifies who our enemy is, how he came to be, and how he operates to attack and oppress mankind. The best way for the Christian to prepare for spiritual warfare against Satan and his forces – and to be victorious – is to thoroughly understand the principles of Satan’s oppression. We must know the enemy – understanding how he works – if we want to live a victorious life. Ignorance will keep a child of God living a defeated life.

It is crucial that we begin with a base knowledge of the authority, victory, protection, and position given to the believer over Satan and his demonic oppression through the Name of Jesus. Luke 9:1 says, “And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons, and to heal diseases.” (NASB) Accordingly, we are not to fear or defer to demons; they are not colleagues to be respected; they are not our spiritual equals, counterparts, or mere sparring partners. They have been placed under the feet of all believers, and are subject to the delegated authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. They have already been defeated!

Spiritual oppression is an attempt by Satan to make us live in fear of him and what he can do to us. It is important to remember that Satan lost all his rights and power when Jesus won victory over him at the cross. The only right to power he has today is through deception. As long as we believe he can attack us, he will be able to use fear to keep us from fulfilling the will of God for us. Satan only has power to the degree we believe his lies. Though demons can enter and possess any unbeliever, they cannot enter into the body of those who belong to the Lord.

Oppression, on the other hand, does occur, and it can lead to illness, depression, financial difficulties, phobias, marital strife, and other types of disharmony. Oppression is a series of events coordinated by the demonic realm designed to derail our faith, rob us of our prosperity, and stall our destiny. We know too well that the devil has numerous plots and schemes in his arsenal. He’s been tempting human beings since the beginning of time. (Genesis 3)

What are some symptoms of a spiritual attack? One of the first things to suffer during spiritual oppression is your prayer life. Your very commitment to God is often strained. I am fond of the word tenacity. Oppression will test your spiritual tenacity. It will make you doubt the absolute certainty you had that what God promises in His Word will transpire. Spiritual tenacity is best expressed in the statement, “Be still and know that I am God.” (NIV) It allows us to wait on the Lord. So imagine how challenging it is to be under demonic oppression to the extent that you lose touch with the certainty that God is God, and that He will accomplish that which He has promised.

During a spiritual attack, the enemy uses a variety of circumstances to oppress the mind and bring great frustration. The believer who is under siege finds himself on edge and anxious. His thinking becomes sluggish. Confusion sets in. This leads to irritability and exhaustion. It becomes increasingly difficult to make decisions. Satan hates when a Christian is on the beam, walking with God, fulfilling his calling, and making a positive impact on the world. This is precisely why he goes on the attack in the first place! In a long spiritual battle, a person is often pulled back toward negative cycles they broke free from. Satan wants to enslave them once again in the same old bondage.

As the enemy attacks the life of a believer, he begins to give them reasons to give up on the very thing that God called them to do. This is one of Satan’s greatest weapons. He releases confusion, doubt, shame, intimidation, and a myriad of vile schemes to create a cloud of uncertainty. His ultimate goal is to get the believer off his path. Once under attack, the Christian begins to reexamine decisions that were once crystal clear. It is likely, after prolonged attack, to start questioning prophetic words, spiritual breakthroughs, and significant experiences they’ve had in their life.

It is unfortunate that many Christians live their lives being troubled by evil spirits simply because they think it’s normal and consider it an acceptable form of daily spiritual warfare. Oppression is not normal in a believer’s life. Yes, it is possible for a Christian to be troubled at times by demons, but Acts 10:38 says Jesus made it clear that God’s will was not for His people to be oppressed, harassed, or troubled by evil spirits: “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him.” Jesus came to set the captives free. In other words, we don’t have to stay in oppression.

“The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Jesus Calling

EXCERPT FROM JESUS CALLING
©2014 Sarah Young
September 4

DO EVERYTHING IN DEPENDENCE on Me. The desire to act independently – apart from Me – springs from the root of pride. Self-sufficiency is subtle, insinuating its way into your thoughts and actions without you realizing it. But apart from Me, you can do nothing: that is, nothing of eternal value. My deepest desire for you is that you learn to depend on Me in every situation. I move heaven and earth to accomplish this purpose, but you must collaborate with Me in this training. Teaching you would be simple if I negated your free will or overwhelmed you with My Power. However, I love you too much to withdraw the godlike privilege I bestowed on you as My image-bearer. Use your freedom wisely by relying on Me constantly. Thus you enjoy My Presence and My Peace.

JOHN 15:5; EPHESIANS 6:10; GENESIS 1:26-27

Poets and Poetry in the Eyes of William Wordsworth

“Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.” – William Wordsworth

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“In spite of difference of soil and climate, of language and manners, of laws and customs, in spite of things silently gone out of mind and things violently destroyed, the Poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time. The objects of the Poet’s thoughts are everywhere; though the eyes and senses of man are, it is true, his favorite guides, yet he will follow wheresoever he can find an atmosphere of sensation in which to move his wings. Poetry is the first and last of all knowledge – it is as immortal as the heart of man.” – William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth was a major English poet who helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature. He and Samuel Taylor Coleridge published Lyrical Ballads in 1798. Wordsworth’s debut as a writer was in 1787 when he published a sonnet in The European Magazine. He received a B.A. from Cambridge in 1791. Wordsworth’s magnum opus was The Prelude, which was published in 1850 by his wife three months after his death. It is considered by many to be the crowning achievement of English romanticism. The poem chronicles the spiritual life of the poet, and marks the birth of a new genre of poetry.

Wordsworth developed an interest and sympathy for the life, troubles, and speech of the “common man.” He had a keen interest in politics and poetry, and had a particular disdain for tyranny. Wordsworth saw a necessary relationship between writing and political justice. He disliked complicated, fanciful writing, and instead believed poetry should be written “in the real language of men.” He understood poetry to be “the spontaneous overflow of feelings,” saying, “it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.” He selected incidents and situations of common life as his subject matter, but described such situations with language “really used by men.”

Prior to Wordsworth, the ordinary life of ordinary people was not typically the subject of poetry. He democratized poetry, giving it a universal appeal. Poetry to date had featured urban subjects regarding artificial lives of people living far away from the simplicity of nature. Wordsworth preferred humble, rustic life as his subject matter because it is here that essential passions of the heart find a better soil in which they can grow into maturity and come to realize their full potential. He believed such a humble and rustic life to be more simplistic, serene, and tranquil. He was contented with the manner in which rustic people expressed their feelings through quaint, non-elaborate and unsophisticated means. Their language was more passionate, more vivid, and more emphatic. Wordsworth believed poetry should express common human feelings, without restriction on the telling of man’s experiences.

In his preface to Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth is basically “thinking aloud” on poems he’d already written in an attempt to formulate revised ideas about poetry. The two central ideas of the preface are the need for reforming poetic diction – which according to Wordsworth had become far too artificial – and the role of the poet in society. Wordsworth thought poetry had become too marginal. He had also come to the conclusion that the troubles of society were specifically urban in nature. He believed the insight of a poet to be higher than other people, but he did not think the poet should shout down from a lofty height. Rather, he should be one of the common human beings, who feels what others feel, and, accordingly, be able to describe common feelings and passions. The rub is that he must do so in the language of the everyday man.  According to Wordsworth, the responsibility of the poet is great because what others cannot express, he is to present in a comprehensible format.  He knows others think and see, but many lack the same comprehensive access to their sensory perception the poet can reach.

In 1843 Wordsworth was named poet laureate of England, though by this time he had pretty much put his pen to use only when revising or rearranging his poems. He had basically retired to merely publishing various editions, and entertaining guests and friends. When he died in 1850, he had for some years been venerated as a sage, his most ardent detractors glossing over the radical origins of his poetics and politics. Wordsworth’s prose, while not extensive – and often difficult – reveals the poet’s historical context. A careful reading of his prose will likely lead the reader to a clearer understanding of the path he traveled from the eighteenth century to the Victorian age, aiding modern readers in recognizing the origins of their own literary and political culture.

Romantic poets cultivated individualism, reverence for the natural world, idealism, physical and emotional passion, and an interest in the mystical and supernatural. Romantics set themselves in opposition to the order and rationality of classical and neoclassical artistic precepts in order to embrace freedom and revolution in their art and politics. Notable romantic poets include Fredrich Schiller, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, John Keats, and Victor Hugo.

Romanticism crossed the Atlantic through the work of American poets like Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe. The romantic era produced many of the stereotypes of poets that persist today, including the poet as a tortured and melancholy visionary. Romantic ideals never died out in poetry, but were largely absorbed into the precepts of many other movements. Traces of romanticism have lived on in French symbolism and surrealism, and in the work of prominent poets such as Charles Baudelaire and Rainer Maria Rilke.

God’s Point of View

Ron Dermer, current Israeli ambassador to the United States, recently said that a Christian’s identity comes from the teachings of the Old and New Testaments; and the deeper Christians are rooted in God’s Word, the more likely they will support Israel. Of course, without the right hermeneutic, even devout Christians go astray when it comes to Israel. But Ambassador Dermer’s statement has merit. When we read the Scriptures, we cannot escape the fact that, from Genesis to Revelation, God has a unique plan for the Jewish nation. After all, out of the bosom of Abraham, through the lineage of David, a Savior was born.

But what happens when Christians stop reading the Bible? What happens when we forget how David defeated Goliath or how Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes? Or worse, we never learn of these events or teach them to our children? According to LifeWay Research, this isn’t a hypothetical problem. The crisis of biblical illiteracy in America, including in the church, is real. A survey taken this year reveals that almost 87 percent of American households own a Bible and 81 percent believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God; but for 53 percent of these Americans, that’s not enough reason to pick it up and read it. To make matters worse, only 3 percent of teenagers read the Bible daily.

Years ago, researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli concluded, “Americans revere the Bible – but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” What happens when Christians don’t read the Bible? They lose God’s point of view and adopt a worldview of their own. Biblical illiteracy is profoundly affecting the church and the way it views the core tenets of the faith. The LifeWay Research survey discovered that one in five evangelical Christians believe there are multiple ways to get to heaven, even though Scripture clearly teaches the only way is through faith in Christ.

There has been controversy surrounding Joel Osteen’s “cotton candy” Christianity, and his tendency to avoid topics such as the wages of sin, God’s wrath, hellfire, or Christ returning at the Second Coming to judge the wicked. When asked if unbelievers can go to Heaven, Osteen told the Huffington Post, “I don’t claim to understand who’s all going to Heaven. I just believe and I teach in all my messages that when you have a relationship with Christ — that’s the reason why He came, to have a relationship with him, that is the guarantee from Heaven. People don’t all believe like me; they see it bigger. I believe God’s mercy is very big. I thank God I’m not the judge of who gets to come.” But here’s the thing: John 14:6 says, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” [Italics added.]

Major doctrinal issues concerning salvation in Christ alone, the Trinity, and God’s plan for Israel become less substantive when the Bible becomes less important in a Christian’s life. Another symptom of biblical illiteracy is the moral deterioration in both home and society. Of those surveyed, 81 percent believe America is in a steady moral decline. The Scriptures once anchored us to home and society. But as more and more people know less and less about God’s Word, the biblical worldview fades, supplanted by personal opinion. The result: the death of right and wrong.

It’s time to go back to square one. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, wrote, “Churches must recover the centrality and urgency of biblical teaching and preaching, and refuse to sideline the teaching ministry of the preacher. Pastors and churches too busy – or too distracted – to make biblical knowledge a central aim of ministry will produce believers who simply do not know enough to be faithful disciples.” Even more dire is that believers drift away from doctrinal truth and fall prey to false teachings.

At home, we need a resurgence of simple Bible reading. We need to introduce our children and grandchildren to the life-changing Scriptures and instill in them a love for and discipline in reading God’s Word. It’s never too late to start. In fact, today is a great day to begin. After dinner tonight, open the Bible and read a chapter to your family. Encourage your children or grandchildren to spend five minutes a day reading God’s Word and then pray with them. If we all take these small steps, perhaps we can ignite new generations whose Christian identities are found in the Scriptures and who have God’s point of view.