Just a few days before they left the States, the commander assembled his troops and delivered a speech to them. In his speech, he told them that there were, in the Seventh Cavalry, men of all races, all creeds and all cultures, and that they had come from a nation where there was animosity between races, creeds and cultures. And then he said, “All that is gone now. When you are in battle, all differences disappear. Each one of us will protect the back of the man behind us and he will protect ours. Race, culture and creed will make no difference. We are brothers now. We are one.” His statement did not become true, however, until the Seventh Cavalry landed on the field of battle. And then it became true instantly. Race, creed or color made no difference. All the old rules no longer applied. As each soldier’s foot hit the field, his reality changed completely.
Well, I see this little vignette, which I took from the movie We Were Soldiers, as very similar to something that we’re all going to experience at some time in the future. Let’s look at it in Revelation 21:1.
Revelation 21:1 – Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and there was no longer any sea. Now that’s a statement! That is a statement, isn’t it?
You know, all the beautiful things that Hugh showed in the Bible study last night…gone! Sea…gone. Earth…gone. Universe…gone. Grand Canyon…gone. Yosemite National Park…gone. New Mexico sunsets…gone. And many other earthly delights that we think about all the time…gone. Lamborghinis…gone. Hoppe Micro-brew…gone. Chocolate…gone. Now, if those are not things that you like, you can insert three things of your own in there. There will also be no more arguments over which day to worship on or whether it’s okay to eat out on those days. We’re not going to be arguing over whether we’re going to go to heaven or whether we’re going to be resurrected. We’re not going to argue about whether God is one, two, three or, maybe, more. We won’t argue, because we’ll all know what God thinks on all those things at that time. We won’t argue, because we will be so far past this time that those things will no longer be a part of our concern. It’s going to be all different. There will be a completely new reality.
Our God is an awesome God and He doesn’t mess around. So when He says, “Behold, I make all things new,” that’s exactly what He means. We’re not going to be saying, “I really miss the Grand Canyon.” We’re not. But, you know, I can’t imagine that. I just can’t. I love to go there. But in the instant the universe is undone, none of the things that are worrisome to us will matter even the slightest bit to any of us any more than it mattered to a soldier in the Seventh Cav what color the man was who was standing behind him, protecting his back – a racist one instant, and the next, a loving brother. That’s how it’s going to be.
Verse 2 explains why it’s not going to matter.
V-2 – I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men and He will live with them. And they will be His people and God Himself will be with them and be their God.”
The reason it is going to be good is because we’re going to be with God.
Back in Albuquerque, we have Bible studies on the Sabbath. And we decided to study heaven and hell. So we also decided it would be fun to invite a minister from another church to explain their belief on the topic, so that we could just be more connected with the community and understand what other people believe. So Jesse and Tania met a minister at one of the community kinds of things they do. He was a Pentecostal. He knew that we didn’t believe in heaven, but in the resurrection. And he came and talked to us and he didn’t really explain why they believe what they believed about heaven and hell. He gave no proof. But he emphasized several times that it didn’t matter what we believed, as long as we know that we are going to be with God. He was not willing to let his doctrinal differences separate him from us. And we had a great time fellowshipping with him, even though he doesn’t believe like we believe and we don’t believe like he does. We will be with God and we will be together. On that we agreed. And when that day comes, nothing else is going to matter.
Verse 4 says:
V-4 – He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And there will be no more death, nor mourning, nor crying, nor pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
V-5 – He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new.” And then He said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. And he who overcomes will inherit all this and I will be his God and he will be My son.
You know, I know that, when I was younger, I had a hard time thinking about liking something more than the things of this life. And I know we have a lot of young people here, so I thought of this analogy for them. A few months ago I went down to the outdoor mall in Albuquerque. That’s where all the upscale stores are, you know. Every ten years they have to build a new mall to hold all the new stores that are in vogue. So this is it for us. And as I drove up, I saw a crowd of people standing around something in the parking lot. As I walked up I saw that it was a brand new Lamborghini. They were just staring at it, taking it in. Now I know some of the girls here might be thinking, “Honestly, guys, who cares about a car?” But you say that because you were not there. There were lots of girls in that crowd looking at that car, taking it in. It was way past cool. It was hot! You could just look at it and know what 200 miles an hour felt like. Okay, so that’s that side of it. How many of you know what a Yugo is? (Laughter) I know we all have our opinions on this, but the Yugo is, arguably, the worst car ever made. For one thing, it looked like a loaf of Wonder Bread with wheels on it. Its repair record was just abysmal.
So not being sure if we want the New Heaven and the New Earth more than this present life is somewhat like wanting to keep a twenty-year-old Yugo that needs an engine overhaul when someone is trying to give you a brand new Lamborghini with all payments, insurance, garaging and fuel costs paid forever. And, you know, that doesn’t even really come close, does it, because we just can’t grasp it.
The New Heaven and the New Earth are going to be way past any kind of good we can imagine. We sing about it. One day in your courts is better than thousands elsewhere. But we’re not going to get just one day, are we? There won’t even be days then. There won’t be time. It will just be us and God and whatever He wants us to do.
Now we say that this day is shrouded in mystery. And if we were to keep reading through this account, we would soon see that all the things that look like details here really aren’t. They are just symbolic for something – you know, a gate made out of a pearl where there are no more oysters. What does that tell you? Right? Let’s read this one.
Revelation 21:22 – I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it – and that’s a good thing, because they’re gone – for the glory of God gives it light and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk in its light and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates be shut for there is no night there. And the glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.
So it’s obvious that, when John tells us that the Lord and the Lamb are the temple, it’s not that they have become a building. It’s that they are the focus of worship. Right? It’s about us being with God. So what sounds like details at first, really aren’t. The only solid detail that we really have is that we’re going to be together with God. And maybe that’s the whole point of this. Maybe He doesn’t want us to get distracted with the details, but to focus on what’s really, really important now – you know, together, as God’s family, forever.
Well, actually, there is one more detail that’s real. It’s in verse 27.
V-27 – Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Book of Life. So there are some people who aren’t going to be there.
Well, here’s a list – in verse 8 – of what could keep us out.
V-8 – …the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars…. You know, Paul said, “Let God be true, though every man a liar,” didn’t he? So this looks like a short list, but when we study what each of these words mean and we think about our behavior, it suddenly takes on a new significance in a new way. Their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
So that brings us to the issue I really want to talk to you about today. What is the meaning of this day to each of us as we sit here right now? Well, this issue is addressed, interestingly enough, in 2 Peter, the 3rd chapter, verse 11. He talks about the new heaven and the new earth here. He says:
2 Peter 3:11 – Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and Godly lives, he says. You know, Peter loved to ask questions, then answer them. …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.
So Peter’s talking about what we just read – the new heavens and the new earth. This is the second letter that Peter wrote and he tells us that the second letter is a continuation of the first one. So First and Second Peter really are about the answer to the question, “What kind of people should we be?” Then he punctuates the answer with the question.
It’s really vital for us – instead of just getting warm and fuzzy about the new heaven and the new earth – that we find concrete answers to the question, “How should I live?” So let’s look at some of the things that Peter thought about. 1 Peter 1:3. There’s just some amazing stuff that this man says to us.
1 Peter 1:3 – His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Wow! “…has given us everything we need for life and godliness….” We are already fully equipped to do something good for God. As we sit here, each one of us is fully equipped already. There’s nothing lacking.
You know, I think, because of where most of us have come from, we’re not really fully aware of that. Some of the best seminars – or workshops – that were given here, were given by people that had to be persuaded that they had something to offer. It’s there, but we just aren’t used to thinking about it. Is that true of you? You think about. Detect your gift! And when we think about gifts, we tend to think about things like how what we can do can fit into an organizational structure, but that’s not always really true.
Some years ago, some friends of ours had a daughter who was having some personal difficulties. It was just teenage stuff – nothing really that serious – but they asked me to talk with her. So we spent a day together. And when the day was over, she had a clearer picture of herself and what she needed to do. And she had fun while she did that. So, I hadn’t seen her for a long, long time, but we saw her here this year at the Feast. And she’s all grown up now. She’s an adult. She reminded me of that day we spent together and told me how much it helped her. Now, I know that most of us have received thanks for helping other people. That’s why I mention this. And, if you think about a time when someone thanked you for helping them, you know that they encouraged you. You were trying to encourage them, but they wind up encouraging you, don’t they? Because it’s encouraging to all of us when we learn that we have made a difference for somebody. Isn’t that just so true?
So encouragement is one of the gifts. I mean, it’s right there in the book! Encouragement is a fruit of the Spirit. And God gives that to some of us. And that doesn’t really plug into an organization very well, does it? That’s just an individual “me and God” kind of thing. And it’s so helpful to all of us. So don’t just look for a way to fit into your congregation, or into the Feast here, or into the local food bank. But think about what you might contribute to other individuals, as well. Fully equipped.
Let’s go now to 1 Peter 1, and verse 13. This is an amazing statement. He says:
1 Peter 1:13 – Prepare your minds for action. Be self-controlled. Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.
“Prepare your minds for action.” Have you ever had somebody come up and ask you to do something unexpectedly, and it kind of takes you a few minutes to kind of bend your mind around that and get ready to do it? We’re supposed to be preparing our minds for action.
You know, I have, in my counseling practice, a fifteen-year-old client. She is every therapist’s dream client. She comes in every week and she is ready to work. And the therapy we’ve been using is called EMDR. It involves a lot of eye movement. I’ll talk with her for a few minutes – check in with her – and then I’ll say, “Are you ready to do some EMDR now?” And she says, “Yes.” And she gets in that chair and gets all ready to go. It reminds me of a NASCAR driver strapping in for the race. When we get to EMDR, she is all business. She has prepared her mind for action. That’s how we need to be. Get ready to do something!
Well, what can I do? What could you do when you go home – something to help others, something to build up your family, or your congregation, or your community?
I was listening to Guy’s workshop a few days ago, and he mentioned that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel to use our gifts. In every community, there are already organizations that need the gifts that God has given us. And all we have to do is plug in and turn on the power. You don’t have to be an organizational genius yourself. You just have to find the organization that you fit in.
Let’s look at another one here in the 8th verse of 1 Peter 3. Okay, so he wanted us to know that we’re fully equipped already, we should prepare our minds for action, and then he says in verse 8:
1 Peter 3:8 – Finally, all of you, live in harmony with one another, be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble, do not repay evil for evil or insult with insult, but with blessing – why? – because to this you were called, so that you may inherit a blessing. And do you know what that blessing is? It’s the new heaven and the new earth. That’s your blessing.
You know, I was thinking. Peter talks a lot here about persecution. He talks to husbands and wives, too. And we’re not going to cover everything that he mentions. You can read that. But I was thinking about the persecution that we get. We don’t really get much from the outside yet. I think we will, but we haven’t. Most of our persecution we cause among ourselves. We beat each other up over really important issues, like which day to keep Passover, and all the good done over the years by nuns and Catholic hospitals doesn’t count because they don’t keep the Sabbath, and “I’m better than you, because I don’t eat out on the Sabbath.” “Well, no, I’m better than you, because I do.” I’m glad for people that believe either way. That problem there is “I’m better than you, because of what I do.” So we let all these things divide us. And you know, most of the things that we beat each other up over don’t matter a hoot. Now, I’m not saying that those things shouldn’t be important to us. I know why I believe what I believe and I’m pleased to believe it. You, too, I hope. But, at some point in the future, we’re going to blow so far past all of that, we won’t even remember it.
If we choose to right now, we can be gracious, because we know that, in the end, all those issues won’t even be any concern whatsoever. But we still manage to allow the devil to drive wedges between us. Some of us have been so offended that we’re leery of any kind of connection with any kind of faith group – so damaged that we can’t find a way to make a commitment to a group of people of like belief. So we jockey back and forth or around and around. I think we all need to realize that for what it is. That is unresolved fear and unresolved anger – something that can be overcome by Jesus Christ.
What else did he say? 1 Peter 4:10. I kind of like to read these things in the NIV because they have subheadings in the chapters. And this one is called Living for God. So what does he say about that?
1 Peter 4:10 – Each one of us should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.
I was talking to a man recently about an experience he had at Camp Outreach in Indiana. There was this fellow there from the community who was very heavily involved. And he told my friend that by watching him, he had learned how to be a Christian. Let’s think about that for just a minute. How did that happen? Well, there was a difficulty that occurred between the two of them. And the gracious way my friend responded to that convinced him. But here’s the real kicker. My friend can be as nice as he wants to be, but it wouldn’t matter at all if he had not placed himself in connection with those outside our little circle.
It’s so much fun to work with a group like this. You people are great. And the only way I can ever spread that around – or you can spread it around – is if we go out and spread it around. How are people going to know how nice we are? And we’re not taking the credit for it. We know where that comes from. We know what we used to be like. But God changes people. Begin to do something for God so God’s light can shine.
V-11 – If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.
When we use our gifts, it strengthens our sense of ourselves. It does. It also is very personally satisfying, isn’t it? And it’s encouraging. But using our gifts is not about us propping up our sagging sense of self, or even feeling the satisfaction of doing good works. It’s about God! It’s about glorifying God by using what He has given us to help other people. We want to spread God to others. And He uses us as the candles, or the conduit, or however you want to say it.
Let’s go to 1 Peter 1, and verse 5. This is really, really a key point.
1 Peter 1:5 – For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness, and to goodness knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control perseverance, and to perseverance godliness, and to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For, if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Here we see the theme of effective working and production for God – not just sitting and waiting for the Kingdom, but production.
And then verse 9 says:
V-9 – If anyone does not have them, he is near-sighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.
So the reason we use our gifts to help the church to do its work is because a Christian is one who lives his or her life for God. And we do that because we know Christ died for us and we are so eternally grateful that we now want to live our lives for Him. And it’s true that we feel good when we do good works, but that’s not why we do them. We do them because we’re so indebted and we’re so grateful for the gift that God has given us. To say that I am a Christian and not feel this way is really a disconnect. It is. Something has not yet been learned.
I have a client who is fourteen-years-old. He’s a native American. His mother is a prostitute and a drug addict. She lived, with her three children, in a car and spent all the money she made as a prostitute on drugs. When, I think, he was three-years-old, the state took him away from her and placed him in foster treatment care. He stayed in a string of foster homes until he was nine. By that time, he believed that he was unlovable, because every time he’d form an attachment, they’d move him somewhere else. So he learned a strategy of pushing people away so that he wouldn’t be hurt, and doing things that were objectionable and obnoxious, and all of that – suffered rages and all those kinds of things.
Now, children who suffer this kind of experience frequently have no empathy for other people. The way you learn empathy is by receiving it. He’d never gotten any – or some of them don’t.
So, at nine-years-old, he was adopted finally and provided a stable home up until his present age, which is fourteen. On his second visit to come see me, he came into the room crying – tears pouring down his face. He was all upset. I asked him, “What happened?” He said he was coming to therapy and he saw a street person. He asked his mother to stop the car and this boy got out and gave that street guy all the money he had. Then he got into his car and continued to my office. I said, “I’m interested to understand why seeing the homeless man is so moving to you.” And this boy, who had been so mistreated in his life, looked up at me, with tears streaming down his face, and he said, “That could be me.” My mind went immediately to that discussion that Jesus had with the teacher of the law, because he understood that loving God and all God’s children was the core of the law of God. And when that guy said that, Jesus looked at him and said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
The only thing that separates any of us from the street is the grace of God. And much more important than that, the only thing that separates any of us from death, and allows us entrance into the new heaven and the new earth, is the grace of God. That’s the only way any of us is ever going to make it. So, because He died for us, we want to live for Him. And that doesn’t mean live our life the way we want for Him. It means live our life the way He wants us to live it. Sitting and listening isn’t enough. Waiting for the Kingdom won’t get it. One of the disqualifiers is cowardice. So we have to have the courage to engage people on the field. Peter hoped that we would not forget that and that we would prepare ourselves to use our gifts to do something for God. That’s the answer – at least, the Readers’ Digest abridged answer – from Peter himself about what manner of persons we ought to be, so that this day can become a reality in our lives later and we can be with God – to know that God has already fully equipped us for the work, to prepare ourselves for action, to commit to a congregation of believers, and to live now for God by using our gifts. He thought those things were important.
What kind of a person was Peter anyway? Well, you know, the kind of guy he was is this: when they came to crucify him, he requested that they hang him upside down, because he didn’t deserve to die the same way as his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. That’s what the story says. So I think he has the credentials to tell us what to do. We’re all looking for authenticity. That’s what we’ve got with Peter.