Thinking about the New Heavens and the New Earth for the New Year

Earlier this week, I was thinking about how appropriate it would be to spend some time contemplating the coming glory of the new heavens and the new earth as we’re ringing in a new year … and shortly after that, I read a very appropriate passage in Tim Keller’s book The Reason For God.  I think it’s neat how Keller’s thoughts here not only contemplate the coming glory, but it complements what Fred’s been posting about and what I wrote about for our Christmas edition of “Peace on Earth” — how “Glory to God in the Highest” goes with “Peace on Earth.”

How, then, will the story of human history end? At the end of the final book of the Bible, we see the very opposite of what other religions predict. We do not see the illusion fo the world melt away nor do we see spiritual souls escaping the physical world into heaven. Rather, we see heaven descending into our world to unite with it and purify it of all its brokenness and imperfection. It will be a “new heavens and new earth.” The prophet Isaiah depicts this as a new Garden of Eden, in which there is again absolute harmony of humanity with nature and the end of injury, disease, and death, along with the end of all racial animosity and war. There will be no more poor, slaves, criminals, or broken-hearted mourners.

This all follows from what we know about creation as a dance. The Trinity virtually “rejoiced” the world into being. Out of delight God created a universe of beings to step into his joy, and the new-made stars sang of it. Even now creation continually tells of God’s glory and looks to him, it “shouts for joy and sings” (Psalms 65:12-13). God moves toward his world in care and love. He is committed to every part of his creation, loving it and upholding it. And though sin and evil have marred the world, so it is just a shadow of its true self, at the end of time, nature will be restored to its full glory and we with it. “Creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The whole world will be healed as it is drawn into the fullness of God’s glory. Evil will be destroyed and all the potentialities in creation, latent until that moment, will explode into fullness and beauty. Compared to what we will be then, we are no mere vegetables. Even the trees will sing and make music before the face of the returning King, who, by his presence, always turns mourning into dancing.

Because creation was made in the image of a God who is equally one and many, the human race will finally be reunited and yet our racial and cultural diversity will remain intact in the renewed world. The human race finally lives together in peace and interdependence. Glory to God in the highest goes with peace on earth.

Tim Keller, The Reason for God, pages 222-223.

What does Peace on Earth mean?

The top 3 articles this morning in my feed for world news had to do with Israel/Gaza, Pakistan/India, and Afghanistan. It’s obvious that the “Peace on Earth” we just celebrated as heralded at Christ’s birth doesn’t mean that all wars have ceased. So what does it mean?

Since we’re still pretty close to the Christmas holiday (my Christmas decorations are still up, after all) it seems like fair game to ask this question of you all: 

Given what’s going on in your life right now (could be your personal life, your church or your community), what does the Christmas message of Peace on Earth mean to you?

Add your own thoughts in the comments if you like. We asked this question of several friends around the world (including our own International Division), and here’s what they had to say:

What’s most on my mind during this Christmas season is that it is my first Christmas as a married woman! How does that intersect with peacemaking? Our wedding in August was a celebration of new beginnings, made possible by Christ’s power, and a celebration of his grace to sustain our relationship through the difficult times that will inevitably come. So this special time of our first Christmas together is a time to continue celebrating the joy and wonder of the ongoing newness and peace that Christ makes possible in our relationship with him as well as with those around us.
Molly Friesen
United States of America

In this world full of terror, human tragedies and death, generated in the name of peace and religion, we once again see the shortcomings of the best human intentions. This brings the realization that the only way for shalom is to accept God’s gracious gift of the Prince of Peace — Jesus Christ — to be reconciled to God, oneself and the neighbor. His ambassadors have this task through the way of the cross, constrained by Christ’s love to bring this shalom to our suffering humanity.
Ashish Crispal
India

The birth of our Saviour gave Earth hope to acquire peace with our creator, our Father in Heaven. His life set an example of how our lives should be lived in peace, harmony, and love towards others, not just a seasonal style of living. His death satisfied the Father’s anger because of our sinful behaviour, teaching us the ministry of reconciliation. Let us be ambassadors of peace through Jesus Christ. Let us announce the need to be reconciled with God. It should be the desire of our lives, families, churches and communities to be at peace with God in the midst of the world’s crises.
Lucymarie Cabrera
Dominican Republic

I live in Mexico and work as the director of a small theological school in Puebla. Crime is up here: corruption, fraud, auto theft, kidnapping and murder. Someone tried to scam me out of money on the phone the other day and our little male Pug dog, Napo, was stolen from our yard. The recession is hitting us hard and we don’t know how we are going to meet the seminary’s payroll at the end of the month. At this moment, peace on earth for me is Psalm 4:8, “I will lie down and sleep peacefully, for you, Lord, make me safe and secure.”
Roger Oliver
Mexico

“Peace on Earth.” What a wonderful topic to reflect on! I understand it as “God on Earth.” My definition for peace is “God dwelling on the Earth.” As the Apostle Paul says, our God creates “the bonds of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Peace is the nature of God. Without God in their hearts, people fight and destroy each other (please view the World Wars). Living in a season of God’s grace we should always recall that God has written through apostle John, that he will “take the peace from the Earth” (his Spirit of peace) and then the man will come not only to contemporary, but to complete destruction.

Christ is risen and dwells on Heaven and on Earth! Thanks to God and Alleluia for this season! He has granted it to us free, and we have had the sacred privilege to celebrate it for the last 2,000 years!
Latcho Popov
Bulgaria


To me, the phrase “peace on earth” means living out in the present what is a certain future reality. In doing so, we announce the kingdom of God and demonstrate its reality in our everyday lives.
Chip Zimmer
United States of America

Our family loves to put up Christmas lights at this special time of the year. I went searching for the words ‘Peace on Earth’ in lights, but no shop sold it — they wouldn’t have enough customers! At a recent Christmas lunch I went to for a non-Christian organisation, the wisdom expressed at the table was that the “real meaning of Christmas — if you leave aside the religious stuff — is the children.” So at a time when the phrase “Peace on Earth” has lost its commercial appeal, and people would rather have Christmas mean anything but what it really does, the words “Peace on Earth” are nevertheless still offered by people like TV hosts at televised carol events as some kind of vague unachievable goal of what they’d like the world to be like if only…
So for me personally, I always see Christmas time as a special opportunity to try to weave into my conversation references to my being a Christian and what Christmas means — not “the religious stuff” or some kind of vague peace panacea — but rather the promise of true peace between God and humanity and even, between people, more loving, forgiving, just and gracious relationships. And all made possible by the gift of God through his Son, the one and only Prince of Peace.
Bruce Burgess
Australia

“Peace on Earth” represents a mandate to me more than anything else. As a Christian Palestinian living in a country tormented by war and division, the words of the angels remind me of the urgent need to remind my people that a better kingdom, a better reality, is making its way through in the birth of Jesus. It is a kingdom of peace and justice. When I lead my choir this Christmas in various Palestinian villages and towns, we will be continuing this 2,000-year-old tradition of singing “Peace on Earth” in the same land where this song was first sung. Though this time sung in the voices of humans, I pray that through it, we can help the worshipers imagine a better reality by embodying, living and promoting this peace on earth.
Munther Isaac
Palestine

Fraud in the Flock

As a bit of a tag-on to Molly’s recent post on church discipline and membership, I saw a recent post elsewhere about a case where a church attendee (not a member) defrauded many other church members to the tune of about $600,000. There is no mention of church discipline in the article, though one wonders what recourse the church would have had in the process had it not been criminally prosecuted.  A sad, but all-too-common situation. Complete story via NY Times here.

This post also references an article Ken Sande put together with Leadership Journal, which might have some other helpful thoughts for you, if this is a topic of interest.

(HT: Skyebox)

Peace on Earth, Good Will to Men

Molly just wrote a terrific and timely piece for one of our e-publications (Peace on Earth) on the connection between peacemaking and Christmas. If you missed it, here it is:

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men
on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14, NIV)

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” This was the angels’ message to the shepherds on the occasion of Jesus’ birth. I’ve been hearing Luke’s account of this event for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t until recently that I paused to consider, “Why this particular message?” and, “What does it mean?” Of all the things that angels could have said concerning Christ’s birth, they pronounced glory to God and peace for people on whom God’s favor rests.

These two key words sound familiar for someone at Peacemaker Ministries! After all, we believe that one of the main opportunities in conflict (the opposite of peace) is to bring glory to God. We learn later in the New Testament that God’s glory and peace — with God and with other people — were key purposes for Christ’s coming to earth. Paul speaks of this in Colossians 1:19-20, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Christ], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” What a sweeping statement of Christ’s mission!

Not only that, but this was the message that the whole of the Old Testament had been leading up to. Ever since the fall, mankind has failed to obey and glorify God, and we have lived in a state of conflict with God, with ourselves, with other people, and with the world around us. Throughout Israel’s history in the Old Testament, God had given his people glimpses of his glory and tastes of peace and rest. They experienced a measure of peace and lived lives honoring to God under various prophets, judges, and kings, but life always fell short of true and lasting shalom … so they continued to wait for God to fulfill his promises of peace for his chosen people.

And now angels are on the scene — along with visits to Mary, Joseph, and Zechariah, and a propitious star appearing to wise men — suggesting that the final conveyor of this peace has at last arrived. From a literary perspective, there is a tremendous build-up of tension during Christ’s life on earth — he performs miraculous deeds, he makes preposterous statements, he gathers an unlikely bunch of followers … all in the midst of growing animosity from those who oppose him and growing anticipation from those who consider him to be the Messiah, the deliverer whom God has been promising his people for thousands of years. They wonder, “Will he usher in an era of peace for the men on whom God’s favor rests?” But then he is killed. His is a shameful death on a cross.

What happened to this Christmas message, “Glory to God, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests”? Oh, that message is still there!

There in the ground His body lay,
Light of the world by darkness slain;
Then bursting forth in glorious day,
Up from the grave He rose again!
And as He stands in victory,
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me;
For I am His and He is mine–
Bought with the precious blood of Christ.
(from “In Christ Alone,” by Keith Getty & Stuart Townend)

The glory is in Christ’s resurrection, and in his victory over all our pain and suffering, our sin, and all that causes conflict, sorrow, and fear. The glory is in who Christ is — “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” — as our joy and our hope for peace in both this life and the life to come.

Every year, Christmas means something a little different to me, depending on what is happening in my life at that time, in terms of my relationships, my job, even world events. And yet the message that the angels proclaimed to the shepherds in Luke 2 remains constant — because of Christ’s birth, we consistently see God’s glory and are able to enjoy peace on earth… and look forward to an eternal life of peace, rest and good will toward all.

As you celebrate Christmas, we pray that you will enjoy the glory of our Savior and the peace that he brings, even as we continue to strive here on earth for a peace that will only be fully realized when Christ returns.

Gratefully Celebrating,

Molly Friesen
Director of Global Education Partnerships

I guess that’s one way to do it …

My brother sent me this link today — a couple in Cambodia who, after 40 years of marriage, decided to go their separate ways by literally cutting their home in half.  “Neighbours said the couple saw the radical action as the most cost-efficient and equitable way to avoid each other in a country where divorce lawyers can be expensive.”

WOW.  That’s both sad and comical at the same time.

On a related subject, I’ve been enjoying reading Mark Driscoll’s new book Death by Love: Letters from the Cross.  I’m currently reading a letter about family relationships, written to “Dave,” a man who seems like a good Christian guy (i.e., he follows all the rules), but whose life is so rigid that there is no passion, spontaneity or joy in his family’s life.

I wanted to share two quotes with you that I found particularly compelling:

The reason that idolatry is so alluring is that idols promise to make life worth living, bring us happiness, and provide for us a sense of righteousness. All of these desires are good, but they become evil when they become our focus rather than Jesus, who alone makes life worth living and gives true joy and righteousness. For you, it seems that control, comfort and quiet are the idols that you are devoted to worshiping. While an organized home and occasional Sabbath and silence are good things, you have elevated them to a level of god-like status.

Subsequently, your functional concept of heaven is not eternal life with Jesus, but rather a manicured yard, money in the bank, a tidy house, obedient children, a wife without any needs, peace and quiet, eight hours of sleep, dinner on the table at 6:00 pm, time for your hobbies, and functional sex that meets your biological desires. To live in your functional heaven, you have made rigid scheduling, budgeting, rule-making, chart-keeping, silence, cleanliness, orderliness, routine, and predictability your functional saviors that will give you your functional heaven, which has become for your wife and children their hell on earth. (page 93)

And…

 Religion sees hardship as unloving punishment rather than sanctifying discipline. To be sure, God does deal with the sins of Christians …Because the Father is good and loving, and because of Jesus’ finished work on the cross, God is not condemning us with suffering but will use suffering to sanctify us through affliction and make us more like Jesus, who ‘learned obedience through what he suffered’ (Heb. 5:8). Hebrews 12:1-11 also says that when we are suffering, we are to find encouragement by reminding ourselves of the cross of Jesus so that we will not grow weary or give up. Furthermore, we are told that God is a loving Father who will use the hardships we face in life as opportunities for discipline to grow us in holiness to live lives of ever-increasing righteousness.

Practically, I must say that this truth needs to be immediately incorporated into your parenting. Because you, Dave, are a religious person who has wrongly seen God as someone who is supremely concerned with the rules, you have unmercifully punished your children for breaking rules. You have withdrawn your relationship and love from them, condemning them to make them pay for their wrongdoing. Your children are confused about the gospel because you teach them that Jesus was condemned on the cross for their sins, and then you also condemn them when they sin. (pages 95-96)

I really appreciate how practical Driscoll’s application of the Gospel is into “Dave’s” family life.  As I pointed out last week, the holidays can be a particularly stressful time for family relationships.  Let’s not cut our houses in half (even metaphorically), but rather seek ways to live out the Father’s redemptive love for us within our families!

Church Discipline in the News

A note from Justin Taylor for whose who are interested in the process of church discipline, on a case that’s gone public:

A couple of stories about a church discipline case in Florida that has gone public. Here’s the letter from the church to the woman undergoing discipline. (FoxNews calls it an “extortion letter”!!)

Mike Mckinley and Greg Gilbert offer their thoughts, including some helpful counsel to churches.

I particularly appreciated the 9Marks’ guys comments for churches about how to proceed with biblical church discipline in a way that has also historically been protected by our US court system.  We have a couple of great articles on our website, too, to help churches protect themselves and proactively explain church discipline… if you’re curious, check out:

  • Biblical Accountability and Discipline (the biblical basis, reducing exposure to legal liability, and how loving accountability can actually be attractive to people)
  • Informed Consent (“One of the most effective defenses to any lawsuit is informed consent. To secure this defense, a church needs to prove to a court that the person complaining of a wrong was in fact fully aware of the church’s policies and procedures and knowingly agreed to be bound by them.”)
  • and, our recommended Relational Commitments, where churches can be upfront with members about their commitment to the member as well as their expectation of commitments being made by the member.

Forgiveness, repentance & consequences

Justin Taylor relates the story of a Christian couple whose 6 children died as a result of someone’s sin.

What caught my eye in the posting was its discussion of forgiveness, repentance, and the interplay between forgiveness and consequences. My colleague Molly Friesen points out that the family bases a lot of their interactions with the press on (occasional commenter to this blog) Chris Brauns’ book Unpacking Forgiveness.  In their interview with the Chicago Tribune, they quote Brauns’ definition of forgiveness.

What’s so interesting is that they are bringing a uniquely Christian understanding of forgiveness into public dialogue, since they’ve sort of been put on a stage by being asked about their forgiveness.

Guest Post: As a Former Worship Leader

Today’s post is from our media guy, JR Friesen:


In Two Keys at the Same Time from Sovereign Grace Ministries on Vimeo.


As a former worship leader, this mistake really makes me chuckle but their response also brought a lot of joy. Instantly, we’re taken to back to God, our humanness and the fact that we’re going to screw up.  The example in this clip is analogous to conflict.

As you listen back to the clip, do you hear the start of the song and just cringe? I did. They’re not in the same key and there’s a conflict in the notes they’re playing. This results in discord. We hear this in music a lot and good musicians and composers will always resolve a discord or tension in the music.

Conflict acts much the same way. In our relationships we’ll frequently be in different keys. Or in other words, on different pages. Our messages and attempts at doing something jointly are going to conflict. So what’s our response? Let’s take a look at the video.

They stopped. That’s an obvious one, but when the band is playing their notes, they can’t hear the others. It takes someone in the group to say, “Hey, whoa. This is way off.” When we’re in conflict over something, we can’t hear the other person over the sound of our own words.

The admitted a mistake. Pastor Kauflin stood up and said, “We’re stupid…let’s try this again.” In conflict, we need to stop and look at what we did and say, “I’m stupid, let’s try this again.” Work at getting on the same page, “…we’re in the key of G right?” and if we’re not, figure out what key we need to be in. This might be in going back to our “music book” or the Bible.

Finally, start over. This is reconciliation. It’s making the relationship happen. Making the song unifying and bringing the glory to God through the song. God doesn’t need our perfect worship, but he does ask us to “…as much as it depends upon you, be at peace with all men.” We’re to work at it. That means as we can, try again.

So I encourage, look at your team, your relationships and if you’re not in the same key, stop and take a look at what the song sheet says.

Christmas and Confidence in Conflict

Yesterday I was sharing with a group of friends about a video called “That’s Christmas,” a thought-provoking video about the true meaning of Christmas that was produced by a church in London.  It’s about 9 minutes long, but I think it’s definitely worth watching.

Here’s the portion of the video that really arrested my attention (emphasis mine):

Blasphemy! God can’t become a human being. But it’s not blasphemous, it’s brilliant. God became one of us… Most people think they have to guess what God is like. You look at baby Jesus smiling and you hope that God is nice and smiles at you. The whole point of being born as a man is to remove all the guesswork, all the uncertainty.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about confidence as part of the core meaning of Christmas — that God, by becoming man, identifying with us and eventually dying for us, sealed himself to his people and we can be sure that he is consistently for us.  As Paul says in Romans 8:28, 31, we can be confident that “In all things, God works for the good of those who love him” … and “if God is for us, who can be against us?”

As  I was going home yesterday evening,  I started thinking about how much relevance this message has for us as peacemakers.  One of the most unsettling things about conflict — why I default to being a peacefaker — is the fear and uncertainty in it all.  Why are they treating me this way?  Will I be okay?  Will our relationship even be close to restored?  How much longer will this go on?  How much more hurt?  How could we have gotten to this point?

Enter Christ, that baby who confirms that, yes, God does smile at us.  It doesn’t exactly answer all of those other questions, but I can’t help but think that by remembering how resoundingly the cradle and the cross declare God’s love for us, we can gain an underlying sense of security in the midst of the turbulence of conflict.

So, in addition to wishing people Joy, Peace, etc., this Christmas, I am now wishing them the much-less-glamorous, but yet-still-important Confidence.  Here’s to a Confident Christmas!

For the Weary Christian

Dear Fellow Believer,

I’ve spent several years working through difficult issues with someone I love very much.  As the years pass, the same hard conflicts come up again and again. 

 I am weary of fighting the good fight. I see now that the issues that rend our relationship are deeply embedded in who we’ve become and are not likely to change any time soon. And believe me, I’ve run the gamut, from anger and bitterness to an intense and righteous desire to serve this person as we work through these difficult things.  I’ve “gotten the log out”a hundred times over, sought and granted forgiveness just as much, and overlooked more offenses than I can recount.

I’d say “I’m sorry” again in an instant if I thought it would make a difference this time. These days I feel mostly numb. I’m exhausted.  Not angry or bitter, but not interested in pursuing the pointless goal of reconciliation with someone who is wired fundamentally different than myself. These days it seems much easier to simply find a neutral, arms-length spot in our relationship and carry on with life.  Why address difficult things again only to have the same heart-breaking issues hurt us again a few months down the road?

My heart is as the Psalmist:

“Turn your footsteps to the perpetual ruins; The enemy has damaged everything within the sanctuary. Your adversaries have roared in the midst of Your meeting place…they have burned your sanctuary to the ground; they have defiled the dwelling place of your name. We do not see our signs, there is no longer any prophet, nor is there any among us who knows how long. How long, O God, will the adversary revile and the enemy spurn your name?” (Psalm 74)

Yet the same man clung to this truth-

“Nevertheless I am continually with you; You have taken hold of my right hand. With your counsel You will guide me, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And besides You, the earth has nothing I desire. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and portion forever…as for me, the nearness of God is my good; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73)

And so this evening I will seek reconciliation again, and again tomorrow, and the day after that.  The failure of my feeble heart cannot relinquish the sustaining strength of the Creator- my desire, my portion, my refuge.  For God’s glory, for my loved one’s heart, and for my good I will seek reconciliation until my very breath is gone. 

I believe this is the heart of God manifested in His people.