June 6, 2021

New Glasses and the New Heaven & New Earth


I'm waiting on a new pair of glasses.

Photo by Josh Calabrese on Unsplash

At my appointment, when the eye doctor asked how my eyes had been, I hesitantly told her that I thought maybe something had changed, but wasn't sure if it was real or I was imaging it.  Eyes can be funny like that and (if I'm honest) I didn't want to look like an idiot if, in fact, my prescription was the same.  The exam revealed, however, that I do indeed need a slightly stronger prescription.  It was delightful to get a brief look through the lenses on the exam apparatus at how much clearer the world around me was about to be!

I'm pumped about the new glasses.

My daughter was with me at the appointment and helped me pick a new pair.  I don't really remember what they look like.  What excites me most is how much better I'm going to be able to see.  Every time I think about it I'm like, "Oh man, I hope they call today to tell us our glasses are ready!" despite the fact that that's completely unrealistic.  The process usually takes about two weeks.

My exctiment about new glasses may be irrational.

It feels like waiting for Christmas or my birthday or something, eagerly anticipating that maybe today will be the day they call for us to come pick up our new spectacles!  Though obviously they won't call today, becuase it's Sunday and they're not open.  Ha!

Fortunately, all this nervous energy is not a loss, because my ridiculous enthusiasm about these glasses did get me thinking about heaven.  Here's where my mind went a few days ago, shortly after another "I can't wait for my glasses" moment:


What if I anticipated the coming of the new heaven and the new earth

with the same energy as awaiting these new glasses?


Seriously, WHAT IF?

Jesus promised He is coming back.  The new heavens and the new earth will be like Eden restored.  I'll never have to have another eye doctor appointment.  Life won't be haunted by the reality of decay and death.   We'll see Christ in all His glory, God will dwell again with us, and none will struggle to walk by the Spirit.  I cannot even imagine it.  But oh, I want to more!

Guys, picture not having to wear glasses, go to the doctor, friction in relationships, nations at war, diseases running rampant, or even a worry in your heart?  The new heavens and the new earth will be like that!

Let's dispense of thinking of naked babies playing harps or even that we have to spend enternity singing hymns before the masssive throne of God. There are glimpses of the latter in Scripture; it's gonna be like that sometimes I think (because we'll just be busting with praise, each in their own language and cultural form - super cool).  But let's not miss the additional vision of the new heavens and new earth and the dwelling place of God among men again.  God is going to set all things right and really and truly make all things new.  All of life will be worship as He intended for us and it'll be glorious!

I wanna await that as eagerly as, no, MORE eagerly, than I await these silly glasses.

I'll likely need stronger glasses every time I visit the eye doctor for the rest of my life.  But one day, I'm gonna SEE-SEE, and it's gonna be beyond my wildest dreams!

What are you waiting for these days?  May God to use those fleeting moments of joy and anticipation to help us zealously anticipate the eternal, all-fulfilling, never-ending delight and wholeness coming our way through Jesus our Lord!*


For now we see only as a reflection in a mirror, but then face to face.

Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12



*If you're not familiar with God's love and what He has done for us in Jesus.  Shoot me a message; I have good news for you!

April 17, 2021

Jesus is so Irritating!

Am I allowed to title a blost in that way?  I mean, can I tell the Lord that He is annoying?  It's not His fault, really.  He is simply busy being the Lord of my life and, unfortunately, I don't always appreciate that living under the Good News of what He's done for me means I can't just do and be whatever I want.  Here's where He's getting under my skin (under my sin?!) this week.  And, truth be told, I am very thankful for it!

Philippians 2:6-8 says this about Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!

That's really awesome, right?  He was God, but made Himself nothing so that we could be reconciled to God by His death and resurrection when we believe in Him.  That's the Gospel Christians talk about and celebrate.

But guess what Paul says to the believers in Philippi just before that, in verse 5?

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:


[crickets, or maybe an expletive if that's more your style]


I have been thinking a lot about how polarized people feel/are right now and how heavy everything seems.  As someone who often sees the value, even if just in part, of people's perspectives on both sides of an issue, it grieves me a lot to see so much posting of trite memes and sarcastic one-liners, in general, but especially by fellow believers.  It's easy and makes us feel good, but we have to call it what it is: wrong and dishonoring to our God and fellow image-bearers.

In the verses above what I read is this: Jesus had every right to be a trite meme and sarcastic one-line poster in His day!  He knows what's in the heart of man (John 2:24) and He knew His own righteousness; He knew how often people came to Him for selfish reasons and personal gain, but not to love Him. He alone in the history of mankind had the "right" to judge everyone He met.  And what did He do?

He served.  He died.

He looked over the crowds and had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. (Matthew 9:36)

I guess in one sense, He did make a judgment about them.  But it was motivated by compassion (love) which protected Him from writing them off as a bunch of idiots.  You poor fools lost in your sin!

This is how God directed my thinking yesterday as I vacuumed my kitchen - yup, our kitchen is carpeted; it's silly! - while trying to process all the information and opinions I have encountered on social media and in the news this week in light of the evil at work in our world.  Living in the era of social media and quick access to information, no matter how true or incomplete, fuels our natural tendency to make rash judgments (not to mention fools of ourselves)!  All of us do, whether we post about it to let the world know or simply hide it in our hearts, pridefully smug.  I, too, form opinions and am quickly tempted to write off certain people or groups as hopeless at best, or unredeemable at worst.  Can you relate?  I imagine some of them may feel the same about me!


But not Christ.


The only One who could have pronounced judgment, instead made Himself the way to be rescued from it!  And Paul reminds the Philippians and those of us to walk with Jesus in 2021:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 

What must we do with our hard, judgmental hearts when they act up? Go straight back to the primary message of the kingdom of God: repent and believe the good news!  That is the Word of God to those responding to Christ for the first time to those who have known His salvation for decades.  This is surrender to His will.

Find yourself out of step with His will, casting judgment on others?

Repent and believe the good news.


Christian, you and I have been made new!  The made-new listen to the Spirit, confess the sin to their loving Father, and remember the risen Savior and the glorious work He has done in their lives.  All this reminds us of how eager we are for others to know this freedom: from sin and also the freedom from needing to play God and decide if people are worthy or not.  He says they are!

But wait, there's more! The Lord also shows us His way and transforms us into people of compassion, people who speak life, people who reflect the light of Christ in the world, people who model their relationships with others according to the mindset of Christ.

Thank goodness He provokes us by His Spirit to get us back to Him.

Praise God with me today that Jesus is so irritating!


April 4, 2021

Happy Independence Day!: an Easter Reflection

Friends and strangers who might read this,

These words are my Easter gift to you.

With affection for you
and all praise to God: Father Son and Holy Spirit,
Heather 💛



Jesus ushered in a new kind of kingdom. He proclaimed the good news that included the language of freedom from bondage.  The more He talked about it, the more curious it became and the less His hearers, even the twelve, seemed to understand the purpose of the newly-arrived/coming kingdom.  Many Jews thought of freedom from Rome and expected Jesus to set Jerusalem free from their tyrannical reign.  In the present day, here in the United States, we too can misunderstand, despite not being under the thumb of a foreign power.

Our origin story is one of shaking off the rule of a monarchy.  Since it's in our DNA, we are always looking to wrap our arms around freedom and liberty - values as precious to us as friends and family.  Unfortunately, that orientation can influence our reading of Scripture as we filter Christ's words about freedom through our specific way of looking at the world - similar to the Jews of Jesus' time.  Indeed Jesus Christ sets free from sin each one who He fills with faith to call on His name.  But it's a dependent freedom, a liberty that binds us to a new master - the all-powerful One who is also the Good Shepherd - and a call to live for His purposes according to His values.  We are set free from a tyrannical ruler into the kingdom of our good Creator, under His authority.  But that rushes us ahead too quickly.  Let's start by taking a look at how it all began.

Holy Week has had me thinking about Eden, that most lovely of gardens, and its connection to Christ on the cross and Christ the risen one.  There, as the world was spoken into being, humankind was created to worship and submit to a leader; their Creator King was in charge of setting the rules and boundaries of His creation.  From then till when Adam and Eve ate the fruit, they worshiped and submitted to their Creator King as He intended it to be.  But He gave them agency as His image-bearers in His creation, to choose to follow Him or not.  In the end, deceived into believing that perhaps their Creator King didn't really have their best interest at heart, our fore-parents looked at and desired the one thing they could not have, and had it.  Thus death became a player in the drama.  We've all been born into it since.

Their Creator King had told them that if they ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they would die (Genesis 2:15-17).  Well, we're all here today, so they obviously didn't die-die, but a separation opened between them and their Creator King.  They could no longer serve Him in purity, because they had decided to be rulers of their own lives.  Sin (the condition into which we are born as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve, not individual peccadillos) was the new ruler of human hearts.  According to the Bible, no one has the choice of not being in its service (Romans 3:9-20).  If we are honest in our assessment of humanity throughout history, we see the ramifications of this reality everywhere: from wars, injustice, and abuse around the world to our own inability to control our thoughts and actions enough to consistently be "good people."

Let's go back to Jesus' talk about freedom from bondage then.  One Sabbath day, (recorded in Luke 4:16-21) when He stood up in the synagogue (think church) to be a reader from the Hebrew Scriptures during the service, they gave Him a scroll from Isaiah.  After reading, he told the worshippers that the words were fulfilled in their hearing, that very day.  What did he read?

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because He has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
and to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

 

In the garden of Eden, they were free, abiding in the Lord's favor.  What did that freedom look like?  It certainly did not look like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the way we perceive freedom.  It was a Creator-King-oriented freedom, set within His boundaries, full of sensual delights and shameless intimacy: God to human, human to human, even human to nature.  No shame.  No fear.  No barriers in relationships.  No bondage caused by physical, relational, emotional, or even spiritual baggage or brokenness.

Jesus came so we could get back to that with our Creator King and to ultimately restore all things to their former glory!  The only way was for Him to bridge the gap of the separation caused by sin and death.  God had to enter into our plight, become one of us, die in our place, and rise victoriously in triumph over death.  AND HE DID!

In the Easter devotional Suffering and Glory, Anthony Carter says, "For [Patrick] Henry it was liberty or death.  For Jesus it was liberty by death. ... The death and resurrection of Jesus set us free." p 17   I just love that so much.  The freedom (and joy!) we seek are found through the ugliness Jesus suffered and the power that raised Him from the dead!

All those longings and desires you and I have for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness*?  The Bible tells us those are simply our attempts to escape death, trying to shake off the bonds of sin in our life.  Yet every attempt we make, while we may have some success here and there, never truly set us free.  We continue to encounter the effects of sin and death in our lives, within and without.  There seems to be no escape.


That's because, apart from a Creator-King intervention, there is no escape.


BUT HE INTERVENED: the second person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ - fulfilling the prophecies of the Old Testament and the will of the Creator King for His beloved image-bearers - came, lived sinlessly, died unjustly, and rose victoriously so that we too might live, now and forevermore!  In surrender to Him, by taking Him at His word, our hearts are satisfied.


If Easter teaches us anything, it is that death doesn't get the final say; Jesus does.  Christ rose from the dead!  Today the invitation is to, as Matt Maher says in the song below, COME AWAKE!  Every Sunday is a celebration of our Risen King who came:
  • to give life for the walking dead,
  • to atone for the sin,
  • to sucker punch shame and guilt and damn them to hell,
  • to rise to restore us and return us to our Creator King.
Taking Him at His word, we can live now and forever WITH Him, under His trustworthy and benevolent rule.  He makes all things new!  He can make YOU new.  Will you turn to Him today?  His righteousness is yours through faith that He is who He claimed to be: the resurrection and the life.

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.  The scripture says, "No one who believes in Him will be put to shame."
Romans 10:9-11

Let those verses encourage you if you already belong to God through Christ; death is no longer your master, what a work God has done in your life!  And if you have yet to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord, I pray today will be the beginning of your journey with Him in newness of life and freedom from death, sin, and shame!  As Matt Maher says in the song below, "Let no one caught in sin remain."  Today is a great day to let Christ declare over you "This one is mine!  This one is free indeed!"

So, good news! Not only today can we say Happy Easter!
We can also declare to one another, Happy Independence from Death Day!

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again!






*You may not be from the United States, but I do think that phrase from our founding documents summarizes our human longings so well!

January 10, 2021

A Prayer of Repentance Based on Matthew 5

Source


Almighty God,

We come to you today as Christians in the United States after a week of turmoil and we repent.  We repent of misrepresenting you to the world, to our neighbors.  We repent of not embodying the beatitudes Jesus spoke.  We have not humbled ourselves before you to be poor in spirit, to mourn, to be meek, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be merciful, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers.  Rather we have been afraid, defensive, and proud, unbecoming of your people. We have cried “persecution” when we were not being persecuted for proclaiming Jesus Christ, but rather for promoting your morality before proclaiming the good news that Jesus saves sinners, of whom we are the uttermost.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have failed to be salt and light as we have fought amongst ourselves: gossiping, slandering, and hating our brothers and sisters.  We’ve all done it and we’ve tolerated it from others, even retweeting, posting, or speaking others’ gossip, slander, and hate.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us. You are our only hope.


Lord, we are lawbreakers, maybe not civil laws, but Your law - the law Christ came and fulfilled.  We fool ourselves into believing we are good.  We clean the outside of the cup and we receive your grace in vain.  You have set us free and we use our liberty to promote worldly power, position, and privilege rather than to proclaim your salvation in humble awe.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have been angry, in public and private, murdering one another, most often in the interest of self-preservation or self-interest.  We believe the lie that our anger is “righteous” and gives us a free pass to perpetuate untruths, which damages our ability to share the good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We are quick to point out the sins of others, or simply how their behavior doesn’t suit our preferences.  We are slow to see our own sin as the Holy Spirit reveals it, because we are too busy trying to play His role in other peoples’ lives.  How we have offended you!  How we have wronged our brothers and sisters!  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have misapplied, misquoted, and misunderstood your Word, twisting it to fit our agendas.  We have used your Word to harm others, quoting Scripture and Christian platitudes when people needed us to stand up for them or be quiet and sit with them.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have not followed the example of Christ by loving or ministering to our enemies. And we have wrongly labeled people as enemies who are not.  We have not cared for the vulnerable, too lost in our own concerns and causes.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.


Restore us.  You are our only hope.


We have tried to “be perfect” in our own strength.  We have listened to lies even in our own Christian circles about what it means to be a “good Christian” rather than listening to the Spirit. We have burdened others with those chains or tried to force them into our mold, rather than pointing them to Jesus, who is our righteousness.  We are sorry.  Forgive us.

Restore us.  You are our only hope.


Lord, have mercy on us.  We are sinners.


Restore to us the joy of your salvation, that we be moved to acts of justice and righteousness for the vulnerable and proclaimers of the good news of Christ to all.  Help us never forget our utter dependence on You.  You are our only hope.


Amen

January 3, 2021

Why I Go to Church*

One early-December Sunday morning, my 2020 devotional of choice had me read Mark 7:14-23.  It goes like this:

And he [Jesus] called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”





Jesus is telling the religious leaders and anyone else listening that their primary problem doesn't exist outside of them, but rather inside.  Following the rituals that God ordained for them was important, but they were designed to point to and instruct them about something much larger than mere obedience to a handful of ceremonial laws.  The law was given to point to their very inability to obey the law and achieve God's standard of holiness.  Paul talks about how once we know the law it's like, "Man, I can't do this!  I need help!" And on the other side of those exclamations, we find a Redeemer, a Savior, Jesus, who came to fulfill the law and set His people free.

Of course, a fulfilled law does not mean we're free to do whatever we want (check out Romans 6-8 today if you have time).  But what it does mean, is that the rescue we're looking for from these troubles which beset us - evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness - won't come from simply trying harder, removing people from our lives, or getting ourselves out of circumstances.  Those things can help a little, but darn it if I don't have evil thoughts even in the most holy of spaces with the kindest of people!  Or even when it's just me, alone.

Gathering weekly in a space with people who I know need exactly what I need (even if they are dressed up and looking fine) to be pointed to our Great God, reminded of the work of Jesus Christ on our behalf, and reenergized by the presence of the Holy Spirit, is like a weekly treatment.  The cancer of sin is still present with me, but its power has been overcome by the death and resurrection of Jesus!  Praising, praying, confessing, and learning together with a bunch of sinners like me reminds me even more of the grandeur of God, the effectiveness of the blood of Jesus (ALL those people taking communion on a Sunday around the world!  C'mon now!), and the glorious hope that is to come that one day the war within us will end and we will see Him and be like Him.  I. Cannot. Even. Imagine.

In summary, (isn't that a classic high-school-term-paper way of beginning a concluding paragraph? ha!), I go to church because in myself I find only that which defiles, but in God - through the death and resurrection of Christ and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit - I find that which makes me righteous and a new heart, new way of living, new hope.  I go to church because of who God is and His worthiness as both Creator and Redeemer.  I go to church because the sick need a doctor, and until the Lord returns, I've got a chronic bent toward sinfulness that finds its treatment at the throne of my Creator.

I go to church because, to borrow from Peter the disciple, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68)  I go to church because I've tried myself out as lord of my life and that's more of a dumpster fire than 2020.



*by "go to church" I pretty much mean "why I am a Christian", but wanted to emphasize the importance of corporate worship - even if, at the moment, that is happening from the comfort and safety of my home with my family.



October 23, 2020

Why "This Doesn't Surprise God" is so Dissatisfying

Unless you've been living under a rock, you're aware that living has been hard for much of 2020.  We've got a pandemic, economic and social effects of that pandemic, an intense election season, and each of us has our own personal difficulties that are part and parcel of this life.  As a result, we're all searching for meaning and drive to keep going.  Some days are just fine, others not so much.  From the beginning, I have heard said and prayed, "None of this is a surprise to God," spoken as a word of faith in prayer or encouragement to the hearer - a reminder that everything seems out of control, but it's not.

Every time I hear this phrase, I cringe.

Not because it's untrue or that the spirit behind it is wrong, of course - if you believe God is sovereign, the statement is accurate - but because it isn't comforting.


Knowledge that a king, sitting on his throne, untouched by a hardship besetting his people, who knows their pain and knew it was going to happen, does little to uplift the downtrodden.  He may be powerful and he may have seen it coming, but the real question of the subjects' hearts is, "Does he care?"  If he does not, he's under no compulsion to move from his throne.  However, if he does care, then he may just intervene to alleviate their suffering. 

As uncertainty continues to have the day, a few specific verses keep coming to mind that encourage me and fuel hope in my spirit.  One of them I shared with a friend this week as we strolled a pumpkin patch and our kids chose, abandoned, rechose, abandoned, rechose and so on until finding their perfect pumpkins.  The verse popped up again today in my morning devotional New Morning Mercies by Paul David Trip  (five stars, would recommend):

And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  ~ Philippians 4:19

Reading Tripp's accompanying words reminded me of none of this is a surprise to God.  Whatever the trial in which we find ourselves, whether brought on by circumstances beyond our control or our own stupidity, God is not taken aback.  True.  But God never stops there! The Word reminds His people not only that He knows our needs and is powerful to meet them, but that He does indeed care.

The Christian builds his or her life on the Good News that while we were still sinners, alienated from the holy One who made us by our sin, He entered in and offered reconciliation and restoration through His Son, Jesus.  He defeated death so that we could have life abundant enterally and right now.  The Good News communicates that though things were dark-dark, the Creator God is light-light and has a deep affection for His creation and especially for those who, according to the Bible, bear His image in the world.  So God's children fall back every time into the arms of a loving Father who is not surprised and truly does want to meet our every need according to His riches in the glory of Christ Jesus.

So yes, Covid-19 did not take God by surprise.  But let's not speak that phrase without also reminding ourselves and others of how high, wide, deep, and long is the love of Christ.  The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end.  That's good news of great joy, and such a comfort.

These words of David (Psalm 62:11-12a) are another refrain that keep following me through my days:

Once God has spoken;
twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
and that to you, O LORD, belongs steadfast love.

Remembering God's power and His love is the one-two punch out of helplessness and despair into real hope!

I'd love to hear what scriptures God has been using to remind you of His power and His love in 2020.  Feel free to share.


💛,
Heather

April 22, 2020

COVID-19 Meditations & an Eastertide Walk through I Peter

Hey all!

I haven't been active here in a while and, though I'm not going to start writing blog posts, I did want to alert you of two things I having going on on social media right now.


One is posting a video meditation on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for at least as long as this social distancing lasts.  I wanted to do this for my church family, but thought I'd share more broadly.  Certainly we can all use some encouragement.  You can find me on Instagram @heather.ashe and on Facebook as Heather Ashe or on my Life in the Valley Facebook page.


In addition, I thought it would be encouraging to walk through a book of the Bible during Eastertide, which in the church calendar is the period between Easter and Pentecost.  I Peter seemed like a good option because it's written to the scattered people of God and we are certainly all feeling scattered right now.  Check out the links above to follow along with that, too!

I pray this finds you well and aware that you are secure in the palm of God's hand.  If not, please join in these meditations and studies - as we seek God we will find Him, and discover more of His faithfulness.


For Christ and His Church,
Heather 💛