The People of God

Fantasia-Heaven

1 Peter 2:10 “Once, you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

The people to whom Peter was writing these words were Gentiles. They were scattered through Roman provinces like Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, areas that make up the modern nation of Turkey. Like us, each of these Christians had grown up as part of a certain family, a certain race, and a certain nation. They had a history and a culture that bound them together with other people. No doubt they took pride in the nation of their birth. How could Peter say that they were not a people?

Let’s look at this from God’s point of view for a moment. In the past there had been nothing that united these individuals from Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia with each other, with the possible exception that by nature they were all God’s enemies. There was nothing about being born a Cappadocian, or a Bithynian, that made you any closer to God. Whether individually, or as citizens of their native land, to God they were simply part of that great mass of people who followed idols. They were lost. Before God, they were nobodies.

Now let’s update the setting to our own day for a moment. Many who are reading this are citizens of the United States of America. There is nothing wrong with appreciating the fact that you are a citizen of one of the most powerful nations on earth, the land of the free and the home of the brave, the great melting pot. But none of this means anything to God. I used to live in Texas. There was a joke about a phone call from Texas to heaven being cheap, because it was a “local” call, not long distance. There may be very good civic reasons for taking a certain pride in the state of one’s birth or residence, but Texas is no closer to heaven than any other spot on earth. (I am sorry if that comes as a surprise or disappointment to some of you). Other points of pride get us no closer to the Lord. It makes no difference to him that your grandfather was a minister, or that you are a shirt-tail relative of the president, or that you graduated with the highest GPA in your class, or that you have a six-figures income.

Why? Jesus once told Nicodemus, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.” Our flesh and blood birth or existence doesn’t make us spiritual children of God. Regardless of who we are or where we come from, by birth we are no different than members of Al-Qaeda, or shooters who commit mass murder at an elementary school, or any number of other sinister characters. To God we were not a people. We were lost. We were nobodies.

So what’s God trying to do, damage my already fragile self-image? In one sense, yes. He wants to destroy it altogether. But in another sense, no. He simply wants us to stop trying to find it in the sinful and prideful places we go looking all too often.

You see, Peter reminds us, “Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Now you and I are God’s people. Now you and I have been shown mercy. Now we are somebodies! Jesus has made us very important persons (or people) in God’s eyes. When he redeemed us from our sins at the cross, he did more than free us. He claimed us. He made us citizens of a better country, a heavenly one (Hebrews 11:14-16). He made us members of his own noble family. It is not arrogance to say that this citizenship and this family truly are better than any other on earth. It’s not bragging. It’s just a fact.

We wear this new status with humility since we know God took us from nothing. Our place among God’s people is purely a gift. Still, this new identity belongs to us now, and it is only proper that we embrace it, enjoy it, and put it to use. It is no small honor to be the people of God.

Jesus Is Worthy

Lion-Lamb

Revelation 5:1-5  Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. 2 And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” 3 But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. 4 I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. 5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals. 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne…”

Are you ever concerned about the future? Make a trip to the emergency room, spend a day in the hospital, or have the doctor order up a series of tests, and all of a sudden the future is a big deal. Lose your job, or receive news that your company is “down-sizing,” and the future starts demanding a bigger percentage of our attention.

If worry about the future weighs heavy on our hearts, it probably has to do with our survival or that of someone we care about. We don’t know what is going to happen to us. But we do know the day is coming when the doctor can’t heal us anymore, and our income won’t support us anymore. Death waits in everyone’s future, and nothing makes us more concerned than death.

The Apostle John was concerned about the future, too. In this vision God is holding the future in his hands in the form of a scroll. The whole future is there— the scroll is full of writing on both sides, but it is sealed shut with seven seals. No one can look into the future, no one can read it because God has hidden it from view.

Who can open this scroll and show us the future written on it? A mighty angel asks the question, because even he isn’t able to. John tells us in the next verse, “…no one in heaven, or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll, or even look inside it.” There are those who claim that they can open the scroll today, but they are all frauds. In your newspaper each day you will find a column with the title “horoscope.” It gives no insight into what God has planned for our future. I once drove past the home of “Doris the Palm-reader.” She cannot read what God has written on the scroll in his hand. Even more respectable people like the weatherman can’t tell you with certainty what tomorrow holds.

The Apostle John was deeply troubled that no one could open this scroll. “I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” John, too, was concerned about death and survival. Of the twelve men Jesus chose as disciples, only John was left. Many other leaders of the church at this time were being gathered by the Roman authorities and executed. John’s concern extended to the survival of the Church he had helped to establish. He deeply wanted to see that everything would be alright.

Then he received this comfort. “Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.” Do you recognize this Lion? The old patriarch Jacob spoke of him just before he died in Genesis chapter 49. “You are a lion’s cub, O Judah….The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.” If we find it hard to identify him, John’s next description may make it easier: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne…”

You couldn’t create two more seemingly contradictory descriptions than these: “…the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed” and “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain…” Lions are aggressive and powerful. We call them “king of beasts.” A lamb is weak and defenseless. The Lion has triumphed. The Lamb has been slain. Aren’t these opposites? How could they be the same?

You couldn’t create two more seemingly contradictory days than Good Friday and Easter Sunday. On Good Friday Jesus looks absolutely helpless. He ends up tortured to death on a cross. On Easter Sunday, Jesus looks absolutely victorious. If death can’t hold him, if the grave can’t oppose him, what else can? In his death on the cross Jesus is the Lamb who was slain. By his resurrection from the dead Jesus is the Lion who has triumphed. By them both Jesus is worthy to open the scroll and show us the future. Do you see why?

When Jesus was slain, he didn’t merely die like a lamb. He died as a Lamb, the Lamb of sacrifice, giving his life in payment for our sins. When Jesus rose, his triumph over death was more than a personal triumph. It was a triumph for us all. Death itself was defeated, ours included.

By paying for our sins and defeating death, then, Jesus has written our futures. They may not look the same in all the details. You may die rich, or you may die poor. You may die old, or you may die young. You may die peacefully, or you may die violently. But in every case, your future is the same. You will rise from death to live and rule in heaven eternally, for Jesus is the Lamb who was slain, and the Lion of the tribe of Judah has triumphed.

This is the future Jesus himself has written on the scroll for you. This is the future he reads to us at Easter and every Sunday. This is what makes him worthy. He not only shows us our future. He created it.

Declared To Be God

Easter

Romans 1:3-4 “This gospel is about his Son—who in the flesh was born a descendant of David, who in the spirit of holiness was declared to be God’s powerful Son by his resurrection from the dead—Jesus Christ our Lord.”

The truth that Paul shares with us in these verses may be the forgotten lesson of Jesus’ resurrection. We tend to stress the fact that because Jesus has risen from the dead, we know the Father accepted his sacrifice. His effort to pay for our sins was successful. More than that, we draw the conclusion that since Jesus is alive and our sins are paid for, someday we will rise from the dead, too. These things certainly ought to be emphasized.

But Jesus’ resurrection is also the miracle of miracles. A handful of other people have been raised back to life from the dead throughout history, but only to die again. Only Jesus raised himself from the dead, and only he has risen to a new kind of life and a never-ending life.

That makes a powerful statement about who Jesus is. No mere man could bring himself back to life. Jesus is the Son of God. The resurrection doesn’t make him the Son of God. It makes his divinity clear to see. It puts a big exclamation point on the truth that our Savior Jesus is also our God.

How does that truth help to put the “good news” in our gospel? Just look at the ramifications. 1) If Jesus is God, then his work, his life, his death, have infinite value. I can be sure that my sins are covered. 2) If Jesus is God, then you and I can put our utter trust in him. What he tells us, we can believe with complete confidence. How he treats us, we can receive with complete certainty that he is taking care of us. 3) If Jesus is God, then in getting to know him we are getting to know God. And what is the picture of God we get when we look at Jesus? Someone who loves us passionately. Someone who is caring, kind, gentle, and approachable, yet strong, steady, and upright. What more could you want on your side? 4) This passage concludes by calling him “Jesus Christ our Lord.” When people say things like, “Jesus is my Lord,” they are often thinking of the obedience they owe to him. But a Lord is also a protector, isn’t he? If our Lord is our God, then you and I are utterly safe. 5) If Jesus is God, then we can be sure we are in the right place whenever we are following him. If Jesus is God, then all the news for us is only good.

The heart of the Christian faith is not a list of principles or a way of life. It is a person, promised by prophets, descended from David, and declared to be God by his resurrection from the dead. The news is good, dear friends.

My King

Crucifixion

Luke 23:46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he said this, he breathed his last.

What would you like to be “king” of? At different stages of life, we aspire to be king over different things. When I was four or five, I would have been happy to be king of my own bedtimes, to be the ruler of my night time hours. That power was beyond reach, but one can always dream.

As we grow older, the dreams and goals change. In our teens we would like to have control over our transportation, own a car, be kings of our travel. In adulthood life becomes more complex. We scramble to be kings of our finances, our careers, our family life, and our waist lines. None of these are ever completely under our control. Cars break down and investments fail. Jobs are terminated and family members all have a mind of their own. Metabolisms slow down.  Still, we strive to become the kings of our own little corner of the universe.

Then there are those who thirst for power over others. They set their eyes on ruling a company, or even a nation. A few madmen have entertained notions of ruling the entire world. Then everyone would bow down and call them “king.”

The thirst for power and control stems from the very first sin of our very first parents. No longer willing to live under God, they wanted to be like God and replace him in their lives. They would make the decisions about right and wrong. They would choose their own path. They would rule the world the way that they wanted it to be. Isn’t that what we want, too? Let’s not deceive ourselves. Even our service in the church is often more about making things the way we want them to be than it is about seeing God’s will fulfilled. The words Milton gives Satan in Paradise Lost occupy some dark corner of our own souls, “It’s better to rule in hell than to serve in heaven.”

Neither the most powerful dictator or most glorious emperor ever possessed power like Jesus did. “What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” His disciples exclaimed when he calmed the storm. Lifeless loaves of bread grew and multiplied in his hands. Sickened, crippled bodies became whole and healthy at his touch. Souls returned and re-inhabited the dead at his command. Even the demons fled in terror when he rebuked them. What other king on earth ever ruled a kingdom like Jesus ruled?

Do you suppose that Jesus left this kingship behind when he went to the cross? He looks so passive and helpless there. But that agonizing suffering and death is rather a marvel of his power and control. At every moment he had the power to stop it. Though he dreaded the price he would pay for our sins, as we know from his prayer in Gethsemane, Jesus controlled even himself. He ruled over his fear and dread of the cross. He suffered willingly. This man suffered pain and agony of body and soul unknown to anyone else who has ever lived, but he did not give in to the impulse to escape and find relief. Even when he cries out to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” does this move him to give up, to admit that it is too much for him, to go away in defeat? Only the most powerful King of heaven and earth could endure what Jesus endured to the very end.

And then there are the final words from his lips: “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit.” Jesus is the King of this world with all its forces. He is Ruler of his own mind and will. Now he is also the Lord of life and death. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life– only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). Jesus dies when he chooses. His own soul stays or goes only at his command. And now he says to his soul, “Go! Go to my Father. Everything I came to accomplish has been done.”

Why does Jesus rule like this? Why does the King subject himself to suffering and death? The Kingship Jesus covets is not to be king of the weather, or king of diseases, or king of the demons. He does all this so that he can be the King of our hearts. He suffers and dies to purify them from the sins that otherwise make them unfit for his kingdom. He reveals such love to win those hearts to his side and bring them home.

He gives up his soul to be King of you and me.

From Anxiety to Prayer

Pray Church

Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

Paul comes out against worry and anxiety in the strongest possible terms in this verse. Do not be anxious about anything ever. Through the years I have counseled with people who defended their worry as reasonable, given their circumstances. It seems natural to worry when you don’t have enough, or someone is in danger. I struggle with worry and anxiety as much as anyone. But that doesn’t change what Scripture says of worry. It’s a sin.

What is the silent message we are sending God when we worry? “I don’t think you are as powerful as you say you are.” “I don’t think you love me as much as you say you do.” “I can’t really trust you to take care of me.” Are those attitudes compatible with faith?

And what does our anxiety get us? Unless we consider ulcers, gray hair, and sleepless nights progress, the answer is “nothing.”  “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Jesus asks. Worry only wastes the energy we could be spending serving God or helping others or finding the solution.

Faith that repents of worry and trusts God’s forgiving grace and power looks to replace anxiety with prayers, petitions, and requests to God. It’s not because he is ignorant of our condition and needs to be informed. Don’t picture him in heaven with a giant yellow pad and pen taking notes. “Your grandmother is in ICU? I didn’t know that!”

Nor do we have to talk him into helping us. Look at how many thousands of little details he takes care of for us every day even if we never ask.

In prayer, our Lord invites us to talk to him so that we can take the anxieties and concerns off of our shoulders and hand them to him. Our prayers don’t change him–he never changes. There is not some kind of magical power in the words we are saying, either. But inasmuch as our attention turns to God and his promises to hear and help when we pray, we are changing. We are seeking and finding the help he has promised. Isn’t that experience what has made the hymn “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” so popular through the years?

Confident that our Lord is invisibly near to hear us even now, we replace our anxieties with urgent prayers. And confident his visible return is also near, we know a permanent solution to the things that make us worry will follow soon.

The King’s Gentle Men and Women

Tiara

Philippians 4:5 “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.”

“Gentleness” may seem a strange virtue to bring up in this context of remembering Jesus imminent return, “The Lord is near.” Just what does Paul mean? Gentleness is so much more than being quiet and mild. It is a kind way of treating others even if that is not the treatment we have been receiving. It takes a moderate, self-controlled, reasoned approach to dealing with the people around us instead of flying off the handle or meeting insult with insult. We yield to them, perhaps sacrificing what serves us to serve them.

In the gospels Jesus once spoke of us becoming servants and slaves to each other, and that may lead to the same kind of behavior Paul is describing here. But that does not mean our identity is nothing more than a slave. I find it interesting the Greeks considered this gentleness a virtue of good kings. Just because the king knew who he was, and he was secure in his power, he could be calm and gentle in dealing with his people. He could even yield to them at times without fear that he was losing something.

Scripture tells us that God made us royalty when he called us to faith. Because Jesus cleansed us of sin and dressed us in the royal robes of his own loving perfection, that is who we are. No one can ever take that away from us, no matter how they treat us. We serve, then, with a certain, humble nobility. As part of the royalty of heaven, we know we have inexhaustible resources, and when we see others in need we want to help them. We are in a position to be kind and gentle to them. Even when the arrogant and proud people of this world walk all over us, we can see how pitiful they really are. They are trying to cover up how small and insignificant they are by themselves. They cannot change the fact that we are members of heaven’s royal court, and we can afford to be gentle and moderate in how we respond to them.

Isn’t that the way that Jesus has treated each of us? He may have come into our world to serve us, even like a slave. But do you ever get the impression that is what Jesus thought he was? He never lost sight of the fact that he is our King. After he humbled himself to wash the disciples’ feet he reminded them, “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13). Even as he was yielding himself to cross and death to save us all from sin, he defended his royalty to Pontius Pilate, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37). Just because he is our King he can be so gentle and kind in dealing with us.

And knowing we will soon be enjoying our own royal positions at his return, we can treat others with gentleness as well.

Always Rejoice!

Joy Boy

Philippians 4:4 “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

We don’t need much encouragement to rejoice when things are going well. It just happens spontaneously. When the home team’s last second, game winning field goal splits the uprights, the stands erupt in cheers. Grown men on the sidelines jump up and down like 300 pound 4-year-olds. At that moment the cheerleaders are irrelevant. No one has to give the cue to start rejoicing.

When soldiers separated from family by their service overseas come home safely and are reunited with wives, children and parents, there is a celebration. Hugs and kisses, joyful tears and happy squeals all express the joy of the moment. No one has to tell the family how to feel or what to do.

But this not the rejoicing Paul speaks of here. “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Rejoice when the company to which you gave the last several decades of your life hands you a pink slip, and the prospects that someone will hire a 55 or 60 year-old in your field seem slim to none. Rejoice when the doctor tells you that funny bump is malignant and spreading fast. Rejoice when it’s the bill collection agency on the phone again. Rejoice when your teenager calls you from jail. Rejoice when the car in front of you slams on its brakes, and by the time you stop your front bumper is sitting in his back seat. Rejoice when you studied the wrong chapter for the test. Rejoice when you accidentally tripped the meanest kid in school. Rejoice when you set the oven on the wrong temperature and dinner now consists of baked charcoal.

Don’t think that the Apostle Paul had lived some sort of charmed life and didn’t know how hard it is to rejoice all the time. He was writing these words from prison after two years in chains. Still, he speaks of joy and rejoicing seventeen times in the four short chapters of this letter to the Philippians.

Something inside of us rebels at the idea of rejoicing even when something painful or unhappy is going on. We would rather feel sorry for ourselves. We would rather grump around and rain on everyone else’s parade, too. Maybe it seems somehow twisted to think we could rejoice in the face of pain or tragedy or hardship. I mean, if I am rejoicing when something terrible is happening, doesn’t that suggest that I have some sort of abnormal psychological condition?

It does only if we consider faith an abnormal psychological condition. Note that Paul does not tell us we should never cry, or feel sad, or grieve. Nor does he suggest that we should rejoice because of the bad things that happen. No, we rejoice “in the Lord.” We have a Savior who loves us so much he left heaven to save us. He stood in our place and died the death we deserved for our sins. He is stronger than death, and he promises that someday he will raise us from the dead just as he rose. He personally handpicked each one of us to belong to his family of faith. Out of all the people in the world, he set his heart on you and me. Now we know his return is near, and no matter how bad things seem today, he is going to come and get us out of this mess soon.

That is always true. It is true every moment you are breathing, but it was also true before you took your first breath, and it will continue to be true after you draw your last. Jesus’ everlasting love for you, his inexhaustible forgiveness, and his unchanging desire to bring you safely home runs on in an unbroken, unceasing stream through your life. It goes on whether we experience good things or bad things. It is true at the hospital, the police station, the unemployment line, the accident site, and even at the funeral home. Keeping his never-ending love in mind, we can rejoice in him, and we can rejoice in him all the time.

A Sacrifice of Praise

Apple Branch

Hebrews 13:15 “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.”

These words are taken from the letter to the Hebrews, and these Jewish believers would have been familiar with the bloody sacrifice of animals in the regular worship life at the temple. Those sacrifices did not benefit the Lord in any way. He didn’t need these animals for himself. They didn’t serve the neighbors of the worshipers, except for the meat that was given to the priests to support their families. The sacrifices themselves didn’t even pay for sin, though they did preach the message that sin deserved death, and that God would accept a substitute and grant his forgiveness.

Those sacrifices all came to an end with Jesus. He gave himself as the ultimate sacrifice, the one that really did dispose of our sins. Through him, then, we offer God a different kind of sacrifice–one that isn’t a payment, but a free and thankful response. Hebrews describes it as a “sacrifice of praise.” It is a sacrifice that magnifies God’s name, that proclaims his unparalleled love for us and honors him for his saving work.

What does that mean? What will we do? Offering God a sacrifice of praise is more than what we say with our lips. We bring God praise when we live in a way that shows our hearts have been transformed by his love. That’s not the generic “niceness” and politically correct tolerance our world celebrates. This is the life of love that responds to insults and hatred with gentleness, kindness, even generosity. Solomon said it this way: “If your enemy hungers, feed him. If he thirsts, give him something to drink.”

Hearts transformed by God do not speak the rhetoric of a society that gives lip service to equality, but in reality thinks, “I’m just a little better than everyone else.”  It treats everyone with dignity. It adopts Paul’s exhortation, “In humility consider others better than yourself.”

Hearts transformed by God aren’t stuck on the world’s concept of freedom, the freedom to gratify all my urges. They embrace the Spirit’s idea of freedom: “The fruit of the Spirit is…self control.”

So offering God a sacrifice of praise is more than what we say with our lips. But it is not less. Here it’s called, “the fruit of lips that confess his name.” There is nothing more foundational for offering God a sacrifice of praise than meeting with his people each week to worship him. There is nothing that so distinguishes the disciple of Jesus from the rest of the world. I have personally known atheists who were kind, humble, and self-controlled. There are unbelievers who pray–probably billions of them. But only Jesus’ disciples gather together each week to sing his praises and talk about his love for them.

And what we say about him when we are gathered for worship will spill over into what we say about him in the world. For many, talking about Jesus’ grace seems forced and unnatural if it is part of a church program aimed at visiting people we have never met before. But if we are aware of how far we have fallen in our sin, and we see how temporary and disappointing all our earthly things are, and we know how dearly our Savior loves us, and we are sure of the perfect life that awaits us, how “natural” to praise him to the people we know, but who don’t know him.

It’s as natural as fruit growing on a fruit tree, “the fruit of lips that confess his name.”

An Enduring City

Distant Skyline

Hebrews 13:14 “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

A number of times through this book of the Bible, the place where we live and all that it contains is referred to as a “city.” This is no comment on the importance of farms, but cities tend to be the center of culture, trade, industry and invention. They represent our achievements and possessions as well as the home in which we live.

Note that he does not say, “Here we do not have anything at all.” The longer I’m here, the more I accumulate. When I graduated from college, everything I owned fit in a Chevy Citation hatchback. A decade later, with four children at home, we held two rummage sales each year just to keep from being buried under an avalanche of clothing, furniture, and small appliances. Is there an adult reading this who wouldn’t need some sort of truck to move all he or she owns?

But our “city” and its contents are not enduring. Nothing lasts. My wife and I have owned three sets of washers and dryers. We are on our fourth refrigerator. Week by week there is always something to replace or repair–cars, homes, even body parts. None of it endures.

The same applies to the institutions that guide and govern the earthly “city” in which we live. If our world lasts so long, someday the United States will end up on the ash heap of history, just as every world power before it has. Even our church is not immune. American Christianity is shrinking at an alarming rate. Between one hundred and two hundred churches close every week. Jesus promises the faith he established will endure, but the shell in which it is handed on may not.

“Here we do not have an enduring city.” The slow death and decay of our possessions, our institutions, even our bodies, is a result and a reminder of the sin that infects us. God has cursed it all so that it does not become an obstacle to our return to him. Our hearts have surely wandered far from his when, even so, we prefer the possessions that rot and crumble in our hands, the corrupt and failing institutions under which we now live, to the imperishable world he has prepared for us.

God has given us something more. “We are looking for the city that is to come.” Many years ago my wife’s grandfather asked her if there was anything in his house she would like to have. There were two things she had always admired, both of them made by his own hands: a small drop leaf table and a knickknack shelf. They were promised to her that day. It was only after her grandparents died that they passed to us. Now they are proudly displayed in our home.

In a similar way we possess a far superior “city” to the one in which we now live. We don’t hold it in our hands yet. We are “looking for it.”  But God’s promise makes it just as certainly ours as if we were already there. Receiving this city also involves a death: the death of Jesus in payment for the sins that would have denied us this gift. God’s promise of forgiveness, and all he sacrificed to make forgiveness possible, make us sure this second city will also pass to us. If we are taking stock of our lives, our inventory would be incomplete without it.

This city that is to come has everything our current home lacks. “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp…On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there…Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 21:23, 25; 22:1-3).

Instead of death and decay, the river of life, unpolluted, and the tree of life, bearing its fruit, healing the nations, and ending the curse. Instead of failed and failing institutions, God and the Lamb on the throne, giving light to a city so secure its gates never need to be closed or locked. Regardless of how much you have lost, whom you have buried, what you haven’t completed, how hard it is to get by–this is the greater part of what we have. As you take stock of your life, don’t forget your real estate in the city that is to come.