No Images

sunset camera

One of the best parts of my mother-in-law’s house is her refrigerator. And that’s not just because of what’s inside.

She has filled the front of her refrigerator with dozens of photographs. I love picking up these pictures, asking her questions, and listening to her talk about family and friends. There are people and moments captured in those frames I don’t see elsewhere.

We take pictures to remember, to commemorate. A wedding, the first day of school, that amazing meal—we crave documentation because our memories are faulty. Pictures are so easy, and remembering is so hard.

God’s Forgetful People

Despite our efforts to remember cherished people and critical truths, we forget. And forgetfulness has consequences.

The Bible is realistic enough to portray people like us, people who forget. And we have a lot to learn from the impulses of those who don’t remember God and his commands.

In fact, it doesn’t take long after the ten commandments are given for the Israelites to break them in pieces. The second commandment (no images) takes a direct hit in Exodus 32.

Moses is meeting with God on the mountain and the people start to wonder if he’s ever coming down. They enlist Aaron to make “gods who shall go before [them]” (Ex 32:1). They worship a metal calf because “they forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt” (Ps 106:21).

The people wanted something to see. They used God’s covenant name (YHWH) but attributed his works to melted earrings (Ex 32:4). They forgot, so they made an image.

The problem with man-made images of God is that none of them are true. Since no one has seen God and lived, any image of God we generate is false. Thus the reference to jealousy in the second commandment (Ex 20:4–6). Our images lead to false worship.

Faith and Sight

We’re all on a quest to see, a quest to remember. Here is the hurdle: How do we follow what we cannot see? How do we stay true to the invisible God?

This is the essence of faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). We depend on God for the gift of faith when we are blind. Faith seeks what is unseen; faith stretches forward.

Consider Moses again. He destroys the golden calf and pleads with God to go with his people into the promised land. God agrees, and Moses is overjoyed; he cries, “Show me Your glory!” The image is gone, but after a grueling test of faith, Moses wants to see. Please sustain me, just for a moment, with the sight of your glory!

The Image of God

God’s people throughout time share this challenge: “Take care, lest you forget the Lord” (Dt 8:11).

Without pictures or images, how can we remember? How can we avoid the septic spirals of sin that have ravaged forgetful saints through the ages?

God, in his mercy, has provided what we need. Hear this glorious truth about Jesus:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. (Col 1:15)

Humans are made in the image of God, which is no small thing. But Jesus is the perfect image of God. If you want to know what God is like, if you need help remembering, look at Jesus!

When we remember Jesus, what he taught and what he accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection, we’ll remember our proper place before God. We’ll remember that we were “separated from Christ” and without hope, but that now we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:11–13).

We turn again and again to the Bible, where the truth about Jesus is captured with authority. We turn to a healthy, local church, where we remind each other what is true. We turn to the Spirit, who points us to the Father through the Son.

We also turn to the future, because one day we will have no more temptation toward image-making. One day, we will see.

Sight will replace faith and forgetfulness will be forgotten. We will see more brightly and clearly and truthfully than ever before.

And in fact, we will hardly believe our eyes. We will see what we have always longed for. We will see God himself, for he will dwell with his people.


Photo Credit: Karen Arnold (2017), public domain

 

Advertisements

The One

man-1245658_640

 

The One

I’ll be the one to grow old without pain,
I’ll be the exception.
Others have tried to gain before gain
always to face rejection.

I’ll be the one to avoid creaky knees.
Arthritis, bad back I’ll resist.
Stay active, stay strong, get plenty of z’s,
I’ll check every box on the list.

I’ll be the one with no lasting disease.
Cholesterol, cancer—no way.
I’ll beat back genetics with veggies and teas.
Organic? I’m willing to pay.

I’ll be the one with an ever-sharp mind.
I’ll slow down not even a bit.
Confusion, dementia—I’ll leave them behind,
I’ll read and converse to stay fit.

Headstrong, determined, and foolish I go,
ignoring the reason One was made low.

He was the one who loved and obeyed
each of his thirty-three years.
Willing to suffer, he saw his strength fade
through anguish and blood-coated tears.

He was the one without sin of his own
who bore a hellish, foul load.
His heavenly army stayed back near the throne
as he stumbled up Calvary’s road.

He was the one who sought heaven’s joy
instead of power or ease.
The works of the devil and flesh to destroy,
the Father’s wrath to appease.

He is the one who’s readied a place
helping me properly long
for curse-free communion at last face to face
adopted and loved in the throng.


Photo Credit: anonymous (2016), public domain

Taking a Biblical Worldview to My Back Yard

lawnmower-384589_640

Our theology affects everything, not just the parts of life we call “religious.” We live every second before God, so we should think theologically about every detail, from the majestic to the mundane.

A Familiar Structure

I have an intense, irrational hatred for yard work. I don’t understand or like this about myself, but I’d trade yard work for washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, or doing laundry any day of the week.

And yet, instead of grumbling about this task, I should think about it biblically. Here’s my attempt to frame this work in the familiar categories of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation.

Creation

A healthy lawn and blooming flowers are beautiful. When God sends the rain and the sun and the yard explodes with color, it can be breathtaking.

We have a great lesson in the plant world: God brings life from the dirt. As Adam was created from the dust (Gen 2:7), so the trees, grass, and other plants grow by God’s good pleasure.

And, in his wisdom, God has called me to tend this space. I’m to work and keep what he’s entrusted to me (Gen 2:15), exercising dominion care in this small area. God asks me to labor and work so the land around me proclaims his glory.

Fall

In my flesh, I hate my yard. I am in the midst of a war, and I am losing.

I don’t enjoy cutting my grass, but that’s easy. It’s the weeding, pruning, planting, and tending I dislike. This is often difficult, unpleasant work.

This shouldn’t surprise me. The ground itself is cursed (Gen 3:17–19), and the weeds and thorns appear because of sin. The consequences of our rebellion spring from the ground, causing me pain (Gen 3:17). I sweat and ache as I beat back the thistles.

Redemption

Yes, the ground is cursed. But there’s more to the story. The weeds and thorns have only so much power.

Jesus walked on this ground, and that changed everything. The wind whipped dust against his face and he got mud between his toes. Though he had power over all the land, he died and was buried in the earth. But the ground could not hold him.

The entire creation is damaged and cursed. Jesus came to shatter the curse, to bring restoration and reconciliation and renewal far as the curse is found.

This begins with the people of God, the pinnacle of creation. But Jesus’ resurrection affects everything. The defeated enemy retreats, and the spoils of Christ’s victory will roll downhill and flood all of creation with new life.

Consummation

Under the curse, creation groans (Rom 8:22). It groans not just for redemption but for newness.

I groan. In Christ, I have new life. I have hope and the promise of God himself. But in the body I groan.

I age and ache and slump, but my body only tells part of the story. I grieve at my remaining sin. I see injustice and pain and grief and oppression and hate, not only in myself but in my community and throughout the world. I too long for newness.

And so we have a circle of sorts. I’m driven into my yard by newness—new growth to trim and new weeds to pull. But, if I’m thinking well, I spend more time dwelling on Jesus’ death and resurrection. He’s remaking me from the inside out, and he will fulfill the groan-filled longing of the creation as well.


Photo Credit: Rudy and Peter Skitterians (2014), public domain

Heaven is a Person

dawn-190055_640

I drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and take a deep breath. My shoulders loosen and I feel just a bit lighter. The salty air and sea gulls usher me into this familiar, wonderful place.

I grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I love the water and the wide-open spaces; I love the farmland and country roads; I love all the sights and tastes and smells.

Heaven is a Place

You probably have your own favorite place like this. Maybe it’s the first house you remember, your college town, or the backyard where you began to raise your family.

As Christians, we read that heaven will be more than cotton-ball clouds, pearly gates, and harps, and it strikes a deep cord within us. Heaven will be tangible, not ethereal. And what’s more, heaven won’t just be our last place, but surely it must be the best place. All our attachment to places on this earth must be shadows of our longings for heaven.

When we learn that heaven is a place, questions are natural. What will it look like? What will we do? What will we eat?

On these matters, God isn’t silent. The last two chapters of Revelation give us some descriptions, and there are heavenly glimpses and images elsewhere in Scripture. But we end up with far more questions than answers, and we wonder: Why doesn’t God give us more information about the place—the city—where we’ll be spending eternity?

It’s Not About the Place

We read this after the very first mention of the new Jerusalem in Revelation 21.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3–4)

This is primary—God will dwell with man. He will be our God and we will be his people. In other words: Heaven isn’t about the place, it’s about the Person.

God has given us some information about heaven, but consider how much more he has told us about himself! The Bible is stuffed with truths and stories about God’s character, his demands, and his grace. When we complain that we don’t know much about heaven, we’re missing the point. God has told us gobs about the most important feature of heaven—himself.

The reality of a new earth and a new body is mind-blowing; I don’t want to minimize this. But the most important—indeed, the most glorious, joyous, and rewarding fact about heaven is that God is there. With our new eyes, we will see him face to face. With no more curse, we will enjoy him in new and fulfilling ways we cannot imagine.

Long for heaven. Stretch for it. Gather everyone you can.

Heaven will be breathtaking, because God is there.


Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, you can follow me on Twitter, subscribe to this blog by email (see the box on the upper right part of the page), or follow my blog’s RSS feed here.


Photo Credit: Dan Fador (2013), public domain

Heaven Is Not Vacation

waterfall-828948_640

We’ve all grappled with eternity. Whether groaning because of sin or looking forward to paradise, all Christians have pondered heaven. And one of the most mind-shattering realities of heaven is that it goes on forever. It doesn’t end.

We struggle with this concept because we are finite. We’re bound to time and everything we do and create has a beginning and an end.

We haven’t experienced eternity, so we learn mostly by contrast. Witness this statement from the apostle Peter (emphasis mine).

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3–5)

Any inheritance we receive in this life is perishable, defiled, and fading, and Peter tells us the glory won for us by Christ is just the opposite.

The Last Day of Vacation

I was thinking of eternity and heaven on a recent vacation.

I’m always excited at the beginning of vacation—there’s so much promise, hope, and adventure ahead. But I get wistful toward the end. I try to soak up all the sights, sounds, and tastes one last time before I return to normal life.

On that last day of vacation, I need to remind myself—I’m still on vacation. I’m still away from my job, the never-ending yard work, and the unfinished home repairs that taunt me daily. But I feel a bit of sadness and finality on that last day. I try to make a few more memories, take a few more pictures, enjoy that last visit to the ice cream shop.

Heaven is Different

Since our time in the new heavens and new earth won’t end, we won’t have this last-day-of-vacation feeling. We won’t need to squeeze in a last roller coaster ride or grab just a couple more shells. We won’t experience that creeping regret that we could have made the trip a little better.

And the center of our whole heavenly experience is gloriously different than any vacation spot in the world. It will be wonderful to have new bodies, to be free from sin, and to see beloved friends and family. But if you read the book of Revelation, you know heaven is about God.

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3–5)

The Lord will be our light, so night will never come. We won’t ever have to say goodbye and count down the days until next summer. We won’t wish we’d booked a different room or traveled a different week.

We will see his face, and we will worship him. How’s that for an every-day experience?!


Photo Credit: anonymous (2015), public domain

What My Daughter Taught Me About Heaven

“Daddy, can I be with you?”

This question goo-ifies my heart. What sort of monster could say “no?”

Father Holding Daughter's HandOne of my daughters has an affectionate streak, and she often expresses this by spending time with people she loves. She doesn’t need to play a game or focus on a task, she just wants to be nearby. The other day she wanted to “be with me” but I needed to cut the grass. So she spent about 20 minutes happily trailing six feet behind me as I pushed the mower.

I don’t have an exclusive claim on my daughter’s affections. She loves to be with her mother, her sister, and even some other friends (adults and children) in her life. What’s surprising to me is how frankly and starkly she expresses this desire. She simply wants to be with the people she loves. Boy, do I have a lot to learn from her.

What is the Best Thing About Heaven?

You’ve heard that heaven will be good, right? You may be able to make a list of the awesome things about heaven without stopping any time soon. New earth, new bodies, no pain, no more curse, eternal life, and on and on. But this list has a God-sized hole. Not only is God the best thing about heaven, he is the center and focus of heaven and being with him will be the greatest delight in heaven. This is the highest and best end of Jesus’ saving work.

For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. (1 Peter 3:18, NASB, emphasis mine)

We were separated by our sin, unable to approach God on our own. So Jesus died that we could be with God.

We rightly long for all of the secondary blessings of heaven. After several hours of work in the yard, I especially yearn for the absence of the curse. But the absolutely best part about heaven is that we will be with God, our creator, provider, savior, king and friend. We will “see him as he is” (1 John 3:2, ESV), and this will be the cause of indescribable, unending joy.

Is this your longing? Pray that it might be so.


Note: If you detect echoes of John Piper’s book God is the Gospel in this post, you have a keen eye. That book struck me like a swift, cool breeze on a fall day. Refreshing, bracing, and a bit uncomfortable (in a good way).


Disclosure: the link to Amazon.com in this blog post is an affiliate link, meaning that I get a small percentage of any purchase you make on Amazon if you make that purchase after clicking through this link.

Photo Credit: Spirit-Fire, Creative Commons License