Longing for the Good

“Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.
They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’”
He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”
—Revelation 21:3–4

This past weekend, my daughter and I went to my mom’s home to help her box up or clear out old things that had piled up over the years. At one point, we came across a collection of works my grandmother, Lou Sheffield (we called her “Little Granny”), painted or sketched during her lifetime (November, 1913–May 1993). Some were stored in a large black folder, others were framed and leaned against the back of the closet, and still others were buried in sketchbooks. Several still hung on the walls. Her specialty was watercolors, but I remembered in that moment that her in-home studio smelled of oils and her hands often carried the dust of pastels.

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Initially, as I looked through her work, I saw the transitory nature of life. Was all this creative beauty, this ability to transfer what is inside an imagination onto a canvas for nothing? Is it all ultimately without meaning—her life’s creative work destined to be thrown away or relegated to storage facilities over the next several decades and then never to be seen or known again?

And then almost immediately, a deep longing for heaven welled up within me. I don’t mean a faraway place in the sky where we sing and play harps. I mean the new heavens and the new earth we see in Revelation 21–22. I don’t know that there are words that describe the longing I felt and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it before, but it’s a bit like the ache you have when you find something from your childhood that reminds you of a good that existed long ago.

The longing right then wasn’t necessarily to see Little Granny again, although that desire has almost overtaken me since I’ve been reflecting and writing about her. There is so much I could tell you about her that has been dormant in my memories for nearly two decades. (She once told my sister and me to pick up the middle of the floor—referring to the mess of toys we had made in our room. My sister and I looked at each other and then pinched the carpet between our fingers, literally picking up the middle of the floor. Then the three of us laughed so hard, tears streamed down our faces.)

The greater, deeper longing I felt standing in my childhood home surrounded by Little Granny’s paintings and sketches was to see her draw and paint again. To watch with wonder my mom’s mom put forth the beauty and the good God planted within her imagination, her heart, and her hands. And her hands will not be twisted and sore from arthritis, she will be able to breathe deeply without her lungs wanting to give out, and she will smile and laugh, tears of joy streaming down her face because of the good.

On Sunday night, in a private conversation, a wise man named Steven Garber said to me: “most of us live as if there are two chapters in the story: the fall and redemption. But there are four chapters: the creation, the fall, redemption, and consummation.” He went on to say that if we forget that God created the world good, we forget that all of creation was supposed to be a certain way and that way was fundamentally good and beautiful. And if we forget that there will be a day when heaven meets earth fully—in the new heavens and the new earth—and all things will be good again, everything we do and experience can begin to seem meaningless.

I have been living as if the story has only two chapters. But with four chapters, there is hope and life and good to come. And there, I will see Little Granny painting and sketching again.

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New Heaven and New Earth — January 10, 2014 (Friday)

Today’s Verses:

2 Peter 3:10-13

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

The term the “day of the Lord” or “the day of God” occurs in Scripture frequently, especially in the book of Isaiah. (Is 2:11, 17, 20; 3:7, 18; 4:1-2; Joel 1:15; Am. 5:18; Zep 1:14-2:3; Acts 2:20; 1 Thess. 5:2; 2 Thess. 2:2) In these passages, the term refers to the day on which God will intervene in the world to bring judgment and blessing.

Today’s Questions:

Does this passage evoke any fear or discomfort in you as you read it? Why?

What do you think Peter means when he says we ought to live holy and godly lives?

How might living a holy and godly life “speed” the coming of the day of God?

How does Peter describe the new heaven and the new earth?

Today’s Prayer:

Father, forgive me for the days I forget that the day of judgment and blessing is coming. Forgive me for my failure to live in a holy and godly way even though you have equipped me, with your Holy Spirit and your grace, to do so. Forgive me for the ways I have failed. Help me to remember your purposes in this world and my role in speeding your coming. I don’t want to be distracted and want to keep my eyes fixed on you and all that is eternal. I long for the new heaven and earth, when your righteousness will reign!

Go A Little Deeper:

Review 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17 and reflect on a life lived in light of the coming of the Lord Jesus.

New Heavens and New Earth – January 9, 2014 (Thursday)

Today’s Verses:

Isaiah 65:17-19

“See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.

But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create,
For I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.

I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
will be heard in it no more.”

Isaiah was a prophet who wrote to the people of Judah and Jerusalem between 740 and 680 B.C. During this time, Hezekiah and then Manasseh were the kings of Judah.

Today’s Questions:

What do you think is meant by the “former things” that will not be remembered or come to mind?

In much of the book of Isaiah before this passage, Isaiah predicts the coming judgment of the people of Judah and Jerusalem because of their idolatry and rebellion against God. Describe a time in your life when you have gone through something very difficult, and how you held onto hope in the midst of that experience.

Is there any activity or pattern of relating or condition of heart that you need to repent for and turn to God for forgiveness, healing, and restoration?

Today’s Prayer:

Father in heaven, sometimes it is so hard to hold onto your promises in the midst of pain and as I see the suffering in our world. I don’t understand it. I don’t grasp how you can watch it happen. But, I know I don’t have your perspective. I have seen your love, I have heard your promises, and I have experienced your presence. I trust that you are good and your ways are higher than any I could imagine. Have your way in my heart, Lord. Change it, break it, bend it, heal it so it conforms in likeness to Christ. Please shine a light on the dark areas where judgment lurks, hardness hides, and bitterness creeps and show me the way to wholeness.

Go A Little Deeper:

Review Isaiah 55:1-13 to read of God’s invitation to those who long to be satisfied.