Heavenly treasures

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Jesus has been discussing “practicing righteousness.” With these words, he appears to change the subject. Jesus has described how to give to others, how to pray, and how to fast. Now he addresses worldly concerns, such as worry, and loving money more than we love God.

Even if Jesus is making a transition to a new subject, this transition should not be viewed as a sudden change. His new thought remains connected to the previous thought. Jesus taught us to pursue our relationship with God while keeping God in mind. He tells us not to be religious (or “spiritual”) to impress other people. When people admire our holiness, their admiration is also a worldly treasure. If the admiration of other people for our holiness is the only reward we receive for our efforts, then all those good works are wasted efforts.

All the religions of the world agree that worldly riches are inferior to eternal riches. All religions agree that being wealthy in this lifetime is a paltry goal compared to the good that is possible for us in the future. Better teachers in the nonChristian world agree with Jesus that admiration from others is not sufficient reason to pursue a life of holiness and goodness. If we are going to be holy—if we are going to do what is right—we do good things for the sake of what is holy and what is right. We do not display our goodness to impress the neighbors who are less holy than we are.

Good deeds, prayers, and fasting, even when performed with God in mind, still are not heavenly treasures. These good deeds are done on earth, not in heaven. No matter how good we become, our good deeds can never equal the value of what God has stored in heaven for us, the good things that God has done for us.

Jesus lived a perfect life for us. He now gives us credit for the good things he accomplished. He freely gives us the rewards that he alone earned. Jesus fought the forces of evil, including death. He single-handedly won a victory; now he shares that victory with us. We will rise to eternal life in a new, perfect world; the power of that resurrection gives us strength even today. None of the things we do for God—not our gifts to the poor, not our prayers and fasting, not even forgiving those who sin against us—measures up to the value of what Jesus has done for us.

Jesus expects us to do good things. He expects us to strive to imitate his perfection. Whatever good we accomplish is not our treasure. Like money and other worldly wealth, our goodness in this sin-polluted world is easily corrupted or stolen. Our treasure is in heaven. Our treasure contains the gifts of Jesus, the blessings he bestows upon us. No power can corrupt those treasures or steal them away from us. Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. J.

Now, but not yet

As I have been preparing a series of posts on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), a question has arisen about the timing of the blessings Jesus describes. Do we have them now, or must we wait until the Day of the Lord to receive these blessings?

The answer, of course, is yes. In one sense we already have these blessings. In another sense we will not fully have them until the Day of the Lord, the Day when Christ is seen in his glory, the dead are raised, the Judgment is announced, and the saints of the Lord are welcomed into the new creation. This “now, but not yet” reality is one of the paradoxes of Christianity. As one God is three Persons, as one Christ is fully divine and fully human, as the Bible is entirely God’s Word—trustworthy and true—and yet entirely was written by human beings, so we already have the blessings Jesus promised, but at the same time we do not have them yet.

As Jesus says in Matthew 25:34—part of the parable that describes Judgment Day—Jesus will welcome the saints into a kingdom prepared for them since the foundation of the world. That’s right: before God said “Let there be light,” he knew all about us and loved us. He knew the sins we would commit and the price he would have to pay to redeem us and reconcile us to himself. He knew the suffering that sin and evil would cause in his creation. And God decided that we are worth the trouble. He went ahead and created. But his blessings were there from the very beginning.

On the other hand, we are still sinners living in a sin-polluted world. We may be meek, but we have not yet inherited the earth. A quick glance at the Internet reveals that we are not living in the kingdom of heaven, where God’s will is always done. Today we do not see God, but in the new creation we will see him continually.

On the other hand, we have already received mercy. We are already called sons of God, because the only Son of God has already paid for our adoption into his family. God looks at us and sees us redeemed. He sees us as his children. He sees us as we will see ourselves after the resurrection, when we have Christ’s blessings in all their fullness.

So the blessings are ours now, but not yet. They belong to us, because Christ has given them to us, and no one can rob us of them. The car is already in the garage, but we do not yet have the keys to be able to drive it. The trust fund is in our names, but we cannot spend any of the money yet.

Like any Christian paradox, we need to cling to both sides of the contradiction. If we doubt that the blessings belong to us now, we are doubting God’s promise. These blessings are an inheritance, and Jesus has already died, so we are already his heirs. On the other hand, if we think that we have the blessings in all their fullness—if we think that things will never be better for us than they are today—then we are disregarding God’s promise. The Day of the Lord has not yet arrived; we are not yet living in the new creation. Our present troubles are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed (Romans 8:28), and that glory will last forever. What we will be is not yet known, but when Christ is seen we will be like him, for we will see him as he is (I John 3:2). We wait eagerly for the new heavens and the new earth to be revealed. J.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

Clearly hunger and thirst are not blessings; the blessing is in the satisfaction, in being filled. Hunger and thirst are not virtues that earn food and drink. Food and drink are the gift, the blessing. Hunger and thirst are qualities found in those who receive the gift.

In the other blessings, the gift is described as the kingdom of heaven, comfort, inheriting the earth, receiving mercy, seeing God, and being called sons of God. Taken together, all these blessings are fulfilled in the new creation Jesus will provide his people. We will inherit the earth upon the resurrection of the body and the start of life everlasting; we do not inherit it today. All these blessings come to us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. His promise, though, contains more than “pie in the sky, by and by.” We are blessed today; the gift of what will be when Christ returns in glory will come to us in all its fullness on that Day, but bits and pieces of that glory sparkle in our lives today.

Smells flow from the kitchen, as it were, and sample tastes are allowed by the Master Chef. These bits of grace whet our appetites for the coming feast. The comfort and the mercy we receive now prepares us for the peace and joy of the coming kingdom, when we inherit the earth because we belong to Christ. We know that at that time perfect righteousness will guide all the people living on this world; therefore, we long to see righteousness at work in the world today.

The world contains people who do not know Christ yet still fight for certain things that are right and good. Our confidence in Christ does not allow us to sit back and avoid the fight for what is right. Being meek does not include accepting evil, abetting it by our silence. Instead, being people who know the difference between right and wrong—also being people who know that right will prevail in the end—we have an even greater desire to fight on behalf of what is right today.

We are meek. We do not fight for our rights; we fight for that which is truly right. We stand for Jesus and for his principles. We defend the truth, acting out of love. Sometimes the fight involves providing food for the hungry, clothing for the poor, and shelter for the homeless. Sometimes the fight involves striving against crime and violence and injustice. Sometimes we battle the lies of the devil and of the world. We use the resources we have (given to us by God) to make the world a better place. Different Christians respond to different needs. We do not always agree about what needs to be done first. We share faith in Jesus, we share love for Jesus, and therefore we share love for the people Jesus loves. We have a passionate appetite—a hunger and a thirst—for seeing the right things being done in the world today.

We cannot perfect the world. Our best efforts make the world only a little better. Having a hunger and thirst for righteousness means that we are willing to struggle and strive for that slight improvement. Meanwhile, we know that the full blessing is just around the corner. The world will be remade and perfected one Day, not by our efforts, but as a gift from God. Jesus already has done everything necessary to guarantee that perfect new world to us and to all who trust his promises. We will be satisfied. Therefore, we are hungry today. J.

The meek

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

To be meek is not to be weak. A weak person might be weak because he or she has no other choice, but one who chooses to be meek is probably not weak. It takes great inner strength to be meek.

To be meek means to be willing to let others be in control. Meek is the opposite of brash: a brash person is always trying to be in control and to make people do things his or her way. Various insults characterize people who are brash and not meek, because brash people are not well-liked. Yet other people have coined insults for the meek. In this world, people are urged to assert themselves, to demand their rights, and to refuse to be pushed around by others. Those who do not behave this way are sometimes called spineless wimps, lacking in self-esteem, and deserving to be victims since they do not demand the respect they deserve.

It takes great inner strength to be meek when one is strong. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was tried by the Sanhedrin and by Pilate and Herod, he was mistreated by the Temple guards and by Roman soldiers, and he was mocked while hanging on the cross. At any step along the way, Jesus could have freed himself and taken revenge on his enemies. He chose not to fight or to seek revenge because he had a greater plan in mind. He was working to free sinners. Because he was meek to be our Savior and our Redeemer, Christians now are called to imitate Jesus; we are called to be meek.

Forcing people to do things our way and taking revenge on those who don’t is not the path chosen by those who follow Jesus Christ. We are called to exercise self-control rather than trying to control others. We are taught by God to be strong enough to be meek.

How is it possible to be meek like Christ? Holy meekness results from the blessing promised by Christ, the assurance that we will inherit the earth. A Day is coming when the world will be melted in fire and remade (II Peter 3:10). The world will be restored to its original perfection. Only those who are right with God through Christ will be citizens of that new creation. The new creation is his kingdom; because of his loving generosity, it will be our home as well.

We do not earn a place in the new creation by being meek. Jesus describes our reception of the world as an inheritance. His blessing is a gift, guaranteed to us through the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He bought the world with his blood and with his life; but through his death on the cross we inherit what belongs to him. Knowing that we possess this inheritance changes us today. No longer do we care to be involved in the petty disputes of the present world. Our minds are on higher things. We do not mind being meek today, even if our meekness causes us to suffer today, because a better world already belongs to us.

Being meek, though, does not mean that we do nothing. We hunger and thirst for righteousness, and we are peacemakers: we are active in this world, active on the side of good. We fight for what is right. We defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not fight for ourselves. Like Jesus, we are willing to be meek today because of the greater victory that has already been won. J.

The finish-line–Revelation 22

“The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Revelation 22:17—read Revelation 22:1-21).

In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, he made a garden as the home of the first man and the first woman. In that garden grew the tree of life. But when the man and the woman ate the fruit of another tree, fruit that had been forbidden to them, God removed them from the garden. He did not want them to eat the fruit of the tree of life and live forever in their sin and rebellion and separation from him. Instead, he wanted them to pass through death to everlasting life, to be restored to fellowship with him.

God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, promising them a garden-like home in the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. To reach that land, they had to travel through the wilderness. God made a covenant with his people in the wilderness, saying, “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” But the Israelites doubted God’s promise; they feared the Canaanites living in the Promised Land and failed to trust God. Therefore, they remained in the wilderness forty years, and their children crossed the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land.

Like a shepherd searching for lost sheep, Jesus came into this wilderness of sin to rescue us. He battled the devil’s temptations in the wilderness, and Jesus won. When the time came to fulfill his promise of redemption, Jesus went into a garden to pray. He was seized in that garden and taken to trials and to the cross. But, after his death on the cross, he was buried in a garden, and in that garden his victory was proclaimed as Jesus rose from the dead.

Now the new creation is described as a garden. As rivers flowed from Eden to water the earth, so a river flows from the throne of God through the main street of the New Jerusalem. That river carries the water of life, the redeeming water that gives life to all God’s people. The tree of life grows on either side of that river, with twelve kinds of fruit to nourish all the people of God. Its leaves are for the healing of the nations. Because our sins have been removed, we are no longer barred from eating the fruit of the tree of life. We can live forever, because our rebellion against God has ended and all sin and evil has been removed from our lives.

One of the historic prayers of the Church mentions the devil, saying, “that he who by a tree once overcame might likewise by a tree be overcome.” The cross is that tree where the serpent’s head was crushed. It is a tree of life, even though nothing could be deader than a bare, wooden, fruitless cross, an instrument of death rather than life. We are all trees in the Lord’s orchard, meant to bear fruit for him. Yet apart from him we can do nothing. We might have green leaves, suggesting life, but we offer him no fruit. We are dead trees, fit only for the fire. Only Jesus of Nazareth bears fruit fit for the kingdom of heaven. But by going to the dead tree of the cross, Jesus gives us life. He makes us fruitful trees, worthy of his kingdom. His cross truly is the tree of life that makes us alive, watered by the river of the water of life, yielding fruit in due season (Psalm 1:3).

The last chapter of Revelation seems almost a scatter-shot of promises, echoing the previous chapters of the book as well as those of the other books of the Bible. Jesus speaks, and his messengers speak on his behalf. Even John becomes confused, worshiping an angel who speaks Christ’s promises, and being scolded by the angel for his confusion. The angel calls himself a fellow-servant of the apostle and of his brothers, the prophets; he tells John, “Worship God!” We also, as fruit-bearing trees in God’s orchard, can be fellow-servants with the apostles and prophets and angels; we also have the joyful privilege and obligation to share God’s life-giving Word, to bring forgiveness to sinners and hope to the victims of sin through the tree of life, the cross of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is coming soon. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. He is also everything in between. He is both the root and the descendant of David—David’s son and David’s Lord. He is the bright morning star, first-risen from the dead to promise all of us a resurrection like his on the Day he appears in the clouds.

Revelation 22 includes a warning not to add anything to the book of Revelation, nor to take away anything from the book. This warning applies to the entire Bible. “Until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). But Jesus has fulfilled the promises of Moses and the prophets: he has done everything required to rescue God’s people, to defeat evil in all its forms, and to make everything new. Soon he will be seen in the clouds in glory, giving the command to raise all the dead, to announce his verdict on every life, and to welcome his people home into the new creation. Meanwhile, we live in his grace, redeemed from all our sins, reconciled to God through Christ’s sacrifice, and ready for eternal life in a new and perfect creation. As John writes, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

A new heaven and a new earth–Revelation 21

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1—read Revelation 21:1-27).

The first heaven and the first earth pass away, because they are polluted by sin. Peter describes the passing away of the first creation this way: “”The Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies (or elements) will be burned up and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise, we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (II Peter 3:10-11). As the fire of judgment destroys all that was stained by sin, the saints of God are lifted out of the fire to land with Christ in a new creation.

Greek philosophy imagined that all that is physical is tainted and that the ideal state is to be spirit without body or physical form. But God created the physical world and called it good. He added Adam and Eve in their physical bodies and called creation very good. After they sinned and brought evil and death into his creation, the Son of God took on a human form and lived among us as one of us. When he rose from the dead after his victory was won, he still inhabited a human body. He ate with his disciples. He spoke of the new creation as eating and drinking at a celebration, like a wedding reception. Isaiah also mentioned eating and drinking in God’s new creation (Isaiah 25:6).

The new creation will be like that which Adam and Eve saw before they sinned. It will have mountains and streams of water, forests and fields, plants and animals, all living together in peace and harmony. Probably it will have oceans and beaches as well—throughout Revelation the sea has been an image of evil covering the face of the earth, which is why John now writes that there will be no sea.

The prophets often referred to Israel as God’s Bride; the New Testament frequently calls the Christian Church the Bride of Christ. The Church has been represented in Revelation as twenty-four elders (twelve from each Testament), 144,000 saints, a multitude that could not be counted, and a single woman who gave birth to the Savior and was then protected in the wilderness. Now the people of God again appear, this time as a city wearing a wedding dress. She is the New Jerusalem, coming from God out of heaven to dwell in the new creation, as the saints in Paradise will return when Christ appears to join their risen bodies and live forever in the new heavens and new earth.

John hears a voice promising that God will dwell with man: he will be their God, and they will be his people. The old covenant was introduced with similar words in Exodus—God promised Israel that he would be their God and they would be his people. Now, through the work of Christ in the new covenant, this promise is fulfilled. In the new creation, nothing will come between us and God; nothing will keep us from knowing his love and also his plan for our lives. Because sin will be burned away on the Day of the Lord, the new creation will have no tears, no mourning, no crying, and no pain; the old order of things has passed away.

Jesus promises to make everything new. He calls himself the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. In the beginning, everything was made through him. At the time of his appearing in the clouds, he will re-create everything. He promises to give freely from the spring of living water, as he promised a Samaritan woman in John 4. He lists those who will remain outside his new creation in the second death—those found guilty of sin because they refused God’s gift of grace, loving their sins more than they loved their Savior.

John is promised a closer view of the New Jerusalem, the wife of the Lamb. As Moses saw the Promised Land from a high mountain, so John watches from a high mountain as Jerusalem comes from heaven, from God’s presence in Paradise to God’s presence in the new creation. As the high priest wore a breastplate with twelve gems to represent the twelve tribes of Israel, so the new Jerusalem is decorated with twelve gems. It also has twelve gates, each gate carved from a single pearl. Its dimensions are measured and are found to be derived from units of twelve. The wall even had twelve foundations, with the names of the twelve apostles inscribed on them.

John mentions that the city was pure gold, clear as glass; he then says the same of the streets of Jerusalem, transparent as glass. Of course, gold is neither clear nor transparent; it is a yellow metal. But it is valuable, and transparent glass would be even more valuable. The gems and the gold and the pearly gates all are meant to show how valuable the Church—the gathering of believers—is to God.

When a Christian dies, that Christian’s family and friends sometimes speak of the Christian as entering the pearly gates and walking the golden streets of heaven. But the new Jerusalem with its pearly gates and golden streets does not appear until the Day of the Lord, the Day when Christ appears in the clouds, raises, all the dead, and makes everything new. It is better to be away from the body and at home with the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23). At that time, the body is buried on earth, but the soul is with Christ in Paradise, in the hands of the Father (Luke 23:43, 46). The joy of the resurrection and the new creation, though, is represented by the pearly gates and the golden streets—not by Paradise alone. Our Christian hope includes the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting—there we will find the pearly gates and the streets of gold.

Of course, the pearly gates and streets of gold are figures of speech to describe the beauty of God’s people in his eyes. We are the Bride of Christ, so he adorns us with all that is precious: with gold and with pearls and with valuable gems. If a city in the new creation literally had twelve gates, each carved from a single pearl, then one would hope that the massive oysters that produced such pearls were located on another planet in the new heavens and not on the face of the new earth! But as no city ever wore a wedding dress, so I am sure that we will have no reason to fear monster oysters in the new creation.

John sees no Temple in the city: the Temple is the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb. Jesus once said, “Destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up”—but he was speaking about the Temple of his body (John 2:19,21). A Temple is the dwelling place of a god. The Son of God became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). In the new creation, where God promises to dwell among his people, no other Temple will be needed.

Likewise, we will not need pastors and preachers, because we will all know God. We will not need police officers, attorneys, judges, or jail wardens. We will need no soldiers. Nor will we need doctors, nurses, therapists, and pharmacists. Many of us will take on new careers. Yet the things we love doing today—the things we can do all afternoon without noticing time passing—are likely to be the things we will do in the new creation for the glory of God and for the good of our fellow saints. Some will be occupied with music, others with literature, and still others with crafts. Some will tend gardens, as Adam and Eve did in the beginning before there was sin; others will care for the beasts of creation. Those things we love doing now (whether we are paid for doing them) we will do in the new creation, without struggle or strain or weariness or boredom. And we will all be at peace with God, at peace with one another, and at peace with all creation.

Without death, there will be no deadlines. Should someone want to take a vacation, he or she might walk into the forest, build a cabin, and live there for five or ten years, and then return to his or her work—and it would be less sacrifice of time than taking a weekend off in today’s hectic world.

The city (which represents God’s people in the new creation) needs no sun or moon, because the glory of God is its light and the Lamb is its lamp. This is not to say that the sun and the moon will no longer exist—merely that they will not be needed, because we will walk in God’s light. Therefore, its gates will never be shut, because no enemy will oppose it, and nothing will be able to harm it.

Nothing unclean will enter the new creation or the city of God. Only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life will dwell there. Is your name written in the Lamb’s book of life? How can you be sure?

I once taught a semester on the Old Testament in a Christian high school. Toward the end of the semester, as Christmas was approaching and the students were easily distracted, I gave them a difficult test. I warned them that they would have to do well on the test to pass the class. They all did poorly, and they all knew it. The next time the class met, I announced that one copy of the test had earned a perfect score. (It was the answer key, which I had filled out myself.) I then said that no name had been written on the perfect test. I told the students that I had taken the liberty of writing each of their names on the answer key and giving each of them credit for the perfect test.

I then told them that Jesus had done the same thing for them. He had lived a sinless life in the place of their sinful lives. He had then written their names on his perfect righteousness, giving each of them credit for what he had done. This is how you and I know that our names are written in the book of life: Jesus has written them there himself.

(taken from Revelation Unveiled, upon which I am still working) J.

 

 

 

 

The fading and disappearance of Aurora

I miss Aurora.

This is not the post I wanted to write today. The Bilderberg Meeting was held in Switzerland a few weeks ago, and they discussed several interesting topics that I want to address. There are also some theological issues upon which I wish to comment. And I can share some childhood memories of summer days and activities. My writing has been lagging lately—maybe it’s the summer doldrums—I cannot even motivate myself to complete the first draft of my book about Revelation—I still have two chapters to cover before I’m done.

But last night, lying in bed, waiting for sleep to come, the feeling washed over me like a wave. And when I woke this morning, the same feeling was still with me.

I really miss Aurora.

I don’t know her real name, and she doesn’t know mine. We met as WordPress bloggers; we followed each other and liked each other’s posts and commented on each other’s blogs. Ostensibly, her blog was about “adventures in singleness and misadventures in dating,” but she also wrote about Christian faith, her church, her family and friends, and her job. She was dissatisfied with the later, and in the last year of her blogging she described leaving that job and setting out on a whole new career.

Our attraction was not romantic. Aside from a significant difference in age, there are other important barriers that would not have allowed any romantic attachment. I felt no jealousy as she wrote about the men she met and dated. In fact, I took on a brotherly interest and concern over some of her “misadventures.” She began blogging when her fiancé canceled their wedding after most of the plans had been made; she endured a mental health crisis, and blogging was part of her journey back to health. Along the way she encountered some men who were kind and supportive and others who were not. From August 2014 to October 2017, her online presence was meaningful to me—sometimes humorous, sometimes melancholy, but always interesting and inspirational.

Because our minds ran in similar fashions, we connected online. She noticed and appreciated the quips and subtleties in my posts that apparently went past most readers. She expressed awareness of the ironies of life and of the elegant awkwardness of the English language. We didn’t agree on everything—what two people always agree?—but we saw many things the same way, and we understood each other most of the time.

I’m not the only person to regret her disappearance. Bitter Ben commented months ago about those blogging friends who suddenly disappear. It’s part of life: people move on to new things. They develop other interests and they stop blogging. Social media is not the most important thing in their lives, nor should it be. But when people like Aurora disappear, it leaves a hole, and sometimes that hole cannot be filled.

I understand. Her last post was about the Friday morning that her boyfriend came to her apartment and cooked her breakfast. He left a poem and a note for her. The post was tagged “engagement” and “marriage.” I get it. Her singleness, and her misadventures in dating, were over. But I wish there could have been more of a farewell. More than that, I wish that she had directed her readers to a new blog where we could stay in touch, keep up with her changing life, and continue to share concern and support for one another.

Aurora and I agreed that, in the new creation, there will be a place where Christian WordPress bloggers will gather to meet one another face to face, to remember the fun times we had together online, and to enjoy one another’s company as we experience the ongoing, eternal celebration of the Lord’s victory over all evil. I look forward to seeing her on that Day. Meanwhile, I hope and pray that things are going well for her in her relationship, in her career, in her faith, and in her life.

Dear Aurora, I know you’re out there somewhere. God’s blessings to you in all that you are doing. And if there is some way we can reconnect, just to be online friends and mutual support, please let me know. J.

What about it, readers? What would you like to see next from Salvageable? Are you interested in world politics and the topics discussed at the Bilderberg meeting? Would you prefer theological topics—perhaps some insights gained while writing about the book of Revelation? Or are you most curious about his childhood experiences of summertime and those memories? Let me know!

Not everything is a miracle

On a pair of blogs, both written by faithful Christians, I have recently seen the following quote from Albert Einstein: “Either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle.” At first glance it appears that Dr. Einstein was affirming the existence of miracles, but I am afraid that was not the case. That quote does not mean what some Christians think it means.

Consider the source: Einstein was a scientist who studied the principles of the universe—physics—and discovered new aspects of physics that had not been seen before. Religiously, Einstein wavered between Deism and atheism. Sometimes he spoke of the universe as God’s creation and described science as learning God’s rules for creation. But in other cases he stated that he used God’s name as a shorthand label for the order and structure in the universe without considering God to be a personal or accessible Being in the Christian sense of the term.

“Either everything is a miracle or nothing is a miracle.” Einstein probably believed that nothing is a miracle. Everything happens according to natural law, and the more we study the universe and learn its laws, the fewer things will surprise us. If everything is a miracle, then the word “miracle” has lost its meaning. Deists and atheists disagree about whether there is a god, but they agree that no god interferes with the universe and causes events that are against the natural laws of the universe.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” He established the natural laws that scientists like Einstein study to learn, but he did not bind himself by those laws. God’s creation is full of marvels and wonders. We should be astounded every day by the glorious things God has made. But to call created things miracles robs the word “miracle” of its meaning. We must reserve that word for the special actions of God that show him acting within his creation.

We are wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). Every human baby born is a marvel and a wonder. But when ninety-year-old Sarah conceives and gives birth to Isaac, that is more than a marvel and a wonder; it is a miracle. When Mary, a virgin, conceives and gives birth to Jesus, that is more than a marvel and a wonder; it is a miracle.

God sends rain to water the earth, making it grow and flourish. Some of that rain lands in vineyards, where the grape vines soak up the water through their roots along with nutrients from the soil. The vines produce leaves which gather energy from the sun and change carbon dioxide into oxygen to give energy to the vines. That is a wonder. The vines then develop bunches of grapes, which swell and ripen in the sun and the rain. That is a wonder. The grapes can be picked and eaten, or they can be cooked into jelly, or they can be crushed and fermented to produce wine. That is a wonder. But when Jesus calls for six pots to be filled with water and then instantly transforms it into wine, that is a miracle. God is at work in his creation, doing suddenly what his creation requires time to accomplish.

When grain is sown and sprouts, that is a wonder. When it grows in a field until it produces a crop, many times the number of grains that were planted, that is a wonder. But when Jesus takes five loaves of bread and feeds a crowd of thousands, with basketfuls of leftovers remaining after they had eaten their fill, that is a miracle. Once again, we see the Creator at work, going beyond the laws of his creation.

Some people claim that primitive and unscientific people wrote about miracles. They go on to say that we would see the same things today and understand them scientifically; we would not call them miracles. That is far from true. The writers of the Bible described the miracles they saw because they knew those events were special. They knew that ninety-year-old women do not conceive and give birth. Nor do virgins. Water does not instantly transform into wine, nor does a loaf of bread multiply in one day to feed a thousand people. Dead people do not return to life. These miracles were signature events, indications that the Lord of the universe was present, doing good things to help the people he loves.

Miracles show us that Jesus is the Son of God, though whom and for whom all things were created. They show his compassion, his desire to help his people. They show him at work fixing the things that sin and evil have broken in his creation. They foretell what he will do on the Day of the Lord, when all the dead are raised, when every eye will see him, and when the entire planet will be transformed. That new creation will be the ultimate miracle, after which no further miracles will ever be needed. J.

Le Morte de Beau

Bo

The Salvageable family lost a faithful companion this week.

Bo joined us eleven years ago when one of my coworkers needed to find a new home for her cat because of her daughter’s allergies. The cat was about five years old at the time. They had obtained him from an animal shelter which had already named him Bo; my family wasn’t excited about the name, but the cat was already used to it. To give him a little more dignity, we often spelled it Beau.

When he joined the family, he wasn’t interested in curling up on a lap. He preferred to be pet while standing on or near a lap. As he grew older, he became more of a lap cat. I found that he liked to be cuddled, held upside down like a human baby while I stroked his head and face. It seemed to me that he was reliving kittenhood, remembering being washed by his mother, so sometimes while cuddling him I would say to him, in my best James Earl Jones voice, “Bo, I am your mother.”

Bo also enjoyed supervising food preparation in the kitchen. He had a favorite stool from which he could supervise the chopping of vegetables and other states in putting together a meal. He loved the smell of cooking meat. He also associated the sound of the can opener with juice drained from canned tuna, which he was allowed to drink from a bowl. Even if he was napping, the noise of the can opener would rouse him and call him to the kitchen. The cook would usually let Bo smell the lid of the can if its contents were not tuna, just to let him know he was not missing anything good.

Bo sometimes would get excited and energetic and would tear around the house. He especially loved high places—the tops of bookshelves, the piano, the china cabinet, and the grandfather clock. He would even curl up and sleep in some of those places.

He liked being part of a large family. Some of his favorite moments involved sitting in the living room while several people carried on a conversation. When only one or two people were in the house, he would sometimes wander from room to room, crying plaintively. He came to like the sound of his own voice; he identified the areas in the house with the best echoes and lectured loudly in those places.

October 2012 brought the Mayan apocalypse to the Salvageable family. Cars were breaking down right and left, the computer crashed, followed shortly by the printer, a favorite co-worker left for a different job, and Bo added to the turmoil early in November. When my daughters were leaving early in the morning for a dance competition, Bo managed to slip outside. I didn’t miss him until suppertime, when I tore apart the house looking for him and also searched outside. When the rest of the family returned that night, the search was repeated, but with no success. We went to bed tearfully. The next morning he was found under the backyard deck of a neighbor’s house. He seemed no worse for the experience, and we were glad and relieved to have him back.

Bo had chronic respiratory problems, probably allergies. We sometimes wondered if he was allergic to himself. While he was capable of a genuine purr, more often he showed his contentment through heavy breathing. In November 2017 Bo had a sudden loss of balance which likely was due to a stroke. He was unable to walk for a couple of days, then gradually regained his equilibrium, but he was never the same after that. He would often tilt his head when looking at people, which I suspect was compensation for double vision. The last eighteen months have been, for the family, a bonus time with Bo, because we realize that we could have lost him when he had that stroke.

This spring his health began to deteriorate. His breathing troubles increased, and he began to lose weight. The veterinarian gave him antibiotics and steroid shots, and we spent money on high-calorie cat foods, as well as supplementing his diet with meat from our table. He still ate, but his body apparently lost the ability to nourish itself from food. Day by day his strength diminished. We did our best to make him comfortable. Like an old soldier, Bo faded away, until he breathed his last Thursday morning.

The Bible is unclear about whether we will be reunited with our pets. There will be animals in the new creation: “The wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.” The only mention of the soul of animals is found in Ecclesiastes, where Solomon says, “Who knows?” Previous generations of Christian teachers insisted that animals had no souls, and therefore had no afterlife. More recent teachers have said, “You will be happy in heaven; so if you need your pets to be happy, they will be there.” I am inclined to believe that animals who have had a close relationship with believers have gained enough soul from that relationship to be reunited in the new creation. We will find out when we get there. Maybe not, but possibly, Bo is waiting for that reunion as he used to wait for his people to come home. J.

cat at door

Advent thoughts: December 14

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1—read Isaiah 11:1-10).

Jesse was the father of David, who became king of Israel. David was promised that one of his descendants would rule an eternal kingdom. But Isaiah foresaw a time that Jerusalem would be conquered and the king, the descendant of David would be made a captive in Babylon. Seventy years later the king’s grandson Zerubbabel would return to Jerusalem, not a king but a subject of the Persian Empire. For centuries the Promised Land would belong to other governments. The royal family would be a stump, the remnant of a tree that had been chopped down and removed.

Sometimes a new shoot comes from the living roots of a stump. Left to grow, that shoot can become another tree. Isaiah promised this for David’s family: when the time was right, a branch would grow from David’s family, and that branch would be the fulfillment of the promise God made to David, the promise that his descendant would rule an eternal kingdom.

Jesus is that branch. He was born in Bethlehem so he could inherit the kingdom of David. He grew up in Nazareth and was called a Nazarene—a name that sounds like the Hebrew word for “branch.” The Holy Spirit led Jesus—the sevenfold Spirit described by Isaiah. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. All these qualities Jesus possesses, and he is the King who judges with righteousness as Isaiah also described.

Isaiah proceeds to picture the Kingdom of peace ruled by Jesus. Once predator and prey, now animals become friends and dwell together. Nothing in all creation is harmful; everything is at peace with everything else. This perfect peace, this Shalom, is the gift of Jesus. The new creation that begins on the Day of the Lord will be marked by that Shalom. From that time on, there will be no danger. Nothing will be poisonous; we will have no allergies. Fleas and ticks and mosquitoes will not annoy us, and we will finally learn God’s intention in creating these creatures in the first place. The balance of bacteria in us and on us and around us will be perfect; no germs or viruses will sicken us, but even the tiniest living creatures will act for our benefit.

This new creation will have no sin and no death. All people will live together in harmony with God and with one another. Many of our current occupations will not be needed. We will not need doctors, nurses, pharmacists, or therapists. We will not need police officers, lawyers, judges, or prison guards. We will not need pastors, because everyone will have direct and continuous access to the Lord.

Yet there still will be occupations and callings. Some will tend the plants and others the animals; others will work in art or in technology of various kinds. People will prepare food for others to eat. People will honor God and serve each other in a variety of ways. Probably the things you most enjoy doing now, those things that absorb your attention so much that you lose track of the time, these are the things you will do in the new creation for the glory of God and for the benefit of your fellow saints.

All this is guaranteed to us by the root and branch of Jesse, by Jesus the King who rules eternally. He was once mocked as King of the Jews, given a crown twisted out of thorns, a reed for his scepter, and a purple robe that was just a scrap of spare fabric. But this mocked and abused King is the Prince of Peace, the one who brings his people into a new creation to live with him forever. Thanks be to God! J.

PS: When I got home, I found that a circuit breaker had tripped, interrupting power to the modem, computer, and a few other outlets. I turned it back on, but it tripped again, with a popping noise in the dining room. It appears that rain water has gotten into the wall of the house and is interfering with the electricity. We are leaving that circuit off for the time being and will have it examined next week. Meanwhile, I have an extension cord crossing the room to bring power to the computer and modem.