If We Love Those In Heaven

Spotlight on God

This past Wednesday I introduced the topic of whether or not our deceased loved ones look down on us from heaven. This topic touches everyone; we’ve all lost at least one special person, and consequently we feel the powerful desire to cling to the relationship. We crave assurance that that person still loves us. That we matter to them.

Please understand that I really do understand that craving. When my friend Bob succumbed to his battle with AIDS, I found myself believing that he watched me from heaven, perhaps even more attentive to me in death than he’d been in life. In a sense, his death allowed me to feel closer to him. In my mind, he was now always with  me, focusing his love on me.

Dear sisters, do you see my self-centered attitude here? I wanted Bob’s attention to center on me rather than on the Lord.  I disregarded the truth that he now beholds Christ in all His glory — a wondrous sight that will consume him (and me) for all eternity!

As mortals still locked in sinful bodies, we tend to forget Christ’s preeminence in His creation. I realize I quote Colossians 1:15-20 often, but this passage has so profoundly transformed my understanding of heaven that I want to again draw your attention to it.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (ESV)

Although Paul didn’t write Colossians 1:15-20 specifically in reference to heaven, the concept of Christ’s centrality in His creation should clue us in to the fact that creation revolves exclusively around Him. That being the case, it seems to me that heaven strips away everything that distracts from Him. Therefore, those in heaven with Him must be consumed with adoration of Him.

Doesn’t it seem selfish, then, to expect our loved ones in heaven to divide their attention between the Lord and us? Wouldn’t we want them to delight wholly in Him, completely liberated from all other concerns?

And do we seriously want to compete with the Lord for their attention?

I challenge you to think carefully about that last question. As harsh as it sounds, I believe it brings us to the heart of the matter. In repenting of my fantasies about Bob watching over me from heaven, I’ve had to confront my tendency to rival the Lord for Bob’s attention. Not a pretty admission, but a true one.

We continue to love those who go to heaven ahead of us, as well we should. But let’s love them enough to rejoice that they behold the beautiful face of the Savior. And let’s love our Savior enough to rejoice that our loved ones can worship Him without distraction. One day, we will join them in that glorious devotion to Christ.

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The High Calling Of Discernment

Floating BalloonWhen people think of discernment ministry,  they usually think of calling out false teachers. And that’s certainly an important aspect of discernment. Jude’s epistle supports the task of identifying those who propagate false teaching, suggesting an urgency in doing so.

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. ~~Jude 3-4 (ESV)

And regretfully, the visible church in our century swarms with more false teachers than I can keep track of. So we most definitely need people who have the courage to name names when they see a popular teacher consistently spouting error.

That said, it increasingly bothers me that we’ve apparently diminished the concept of discernment to this one area. Contending for the faith definitely has a part in discernment ministry — a vital part, as a matter of fact. But if we limit the role of discernment ministry to merely pointing out false teachers, I believe we miss the grander scope of what it means to be discerning.

Discernment, in its broadest sense, encompasses the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. This distinction necessarily includes distinguishing between truth and error. Therefore, identifying false teachers is obviously part of the process, but it shouldn’t be mistaken for discernment as a whole.

To properly discern whether or not someone teaches falsely, we first need to know true doctrine. Reputable discernment bloggers like Elizabeth Prata, Michelle Lesley, Leslie A and Amy Spreeman can tell you who the false teachers are, and even demonstrate why they’re false teachers. But unless you have a firm grasp on sound doctrine, you’ll likely replace the teachers they identify with other false teachers who are just as dangerous.

Therefore, true discernment requires regular and careful intake of God’s Word.

I hear some of you groaning, wishing I wouldn’t bring up something as dry and academic as studying Biblical doctrine. Isn’t it more interesting to pick apart Beth Moore’s latest sermon?

Yes, I agree picking apart her sermons provides hours of entertainment, but again, we still need to land on truth after examining her half-truths and falsehoods. We need to know what God really means, and how He really desires us to respond to Him. In a nutshell, ladies, we need to know truth.

Furthermore, we need to know truth for its own sake, rather than simply so that we can refute false teachers. God is more concerned with our ability to worship and honor Him than with how many false teachers we can call out. His Word, more than anything else, teaches us how to love Him as He wishes to be loved. Discernment helps us understand how He wishes us to love Him properly.

Like every other spiritual discipline, discernment has the purpose of drawing us closer to the Lord. True discernment shows us how to live in ways that glorify Him. Yes, contending for the faith is one part of Biblical discernment, but I’d encourage you to remember the bigger picture. The Lord calls us to discernment for His glory. What a high calling!

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Pavilioned In Splendor

As a writer, I love hymns with expressive lyrics. The Lord deserves to be praised with the best language that hymn writers can possibly employ because He is so glorious.

But can human writers, with our many limitations, really describe the Lord with any degree of adequacy? Probably not. This side of heaven, none of us can begin to conceive of His glory in its fullness. Yet Sir Robert Grant, a member of English Parliament in the 19th Century, came wonderfully close to capturing it in the magnificent hymn that I want to feature today.

Please listen to Grant’s majestic hymn with an attitude of worship, allowing the words to direct your attention to the Lord’s incredible splendor. May the Holy Spirit use these powerful words to enhance your awe of our King.

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Should We Compile Lists Of Questions To Ask The Lord In Heaven?

QuestionsBack in high school, college and the early years of adulthood, my friends and I used to speculate on various theological questions. When we failed to locate satisfactory answers in the Bible, we’d advise each other to add the questions to our list of things to ask Jesus when we get to heaven. Do young Christians still talk about such lists?

Lately, I’ve been remembering those remarks about having lists of questions for the Lord, and I’ve felt kind of squeamish about the concept. Perhaps reading Job a few weeks ago triggered my reactions, since God basically reprimanded Job for daring to demand explanations from Him. I think, in part, that my current distaste for entering heaven with a list of things to ask Him comes from my fear that He would administer the same rebuke to me that He administered to Job.

That’s a healthy fear. As I age, I increasingly realize the value of maintaining a fear of the Lord.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. ~~Proverbs 9:10 (ESV)

What gives any of us the right to question our Creator? Do we really fancy that we can hold Him accountable to us? Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t see the humility in requiring God to explain any of His decisions to us. He’s not an adolescent schoolboy who took the car keys and violated curfew. In heaven, He will interrogate us, not visa versa.

Fearing God, then, should be reason enough to shred our silly lists. But I can think of an even more compelling argument against the notion of expecting answers from Him.

When we see Jesus in heaven, will our questions really matter anymore? Or will His splendor overwhelm us so completely that our questions will totally vanish from our minds?  As I read the Bible’s descriptions of the Lord Jesus Christ, I grow more and more aware that His magnificence will dispel our earthly concerns.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ~~Colossians 1:15-19 (ESV)

We forget, in our preoccupation with this life, how majestic and preeminent Christ the Lord actually is! We forget that all  creation revolves entirely around Him, and therefore that our questions take a back seat to our worship and adoration of Him.

Maybe our questions seem important now. Maybe the trials loom so large that we want to understand why He allows us to suffer. Or maybe His creation bewilders us, and we simply want to know why He made things as He did. The possible questions are almost limitless from a human perspective.

But I encourage you, dear sisters, to forget your lists of questions in favor of worshiping the Lord Jesus Christ. Think about His glory, and His worthiness to receive our praise. Anticipate an eternity of adoring Him for Who He is and delighting to see all creation worship Him fully. Looking at it that way,  will our questions really matter? I don’t think mine will.

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This Isn’t A Eulogy, Exactly

IMG_0693Saturday, a friend of ours lost his battle with cancer. I suppose I could tell you about his love for the Lord, about his beautiful devotion to his wife and family, about his ministry as the Youth Group director at his church or about how he and his wife fostered children and young adults. Alternately, I could tell you how, early in my marriage to John, he taught us a few important points on marriage.

Some of you might enjoy reading such things, but face it — almost all of you never met him. A eulogy probably wouldn’t be very meaningful to you. It might not even be that interesting. For most of you, he was just an obscure guy in Massachusetts that had no direct impact on your lives. You’re sorry for my loss and all, but you didn’t come to my blog to read about him. And I definitely understand that position.

So rather than write about my memories of this man, I want to reflect on the joy he’s experiencing now. If people who knew him happen to read this article, please understand that I by no means want to minimize your grief; all of us who knew him are broken hearted by his passing. And yet, as Christians,  we know he’s beholding the wonderful face of Jesus.

Obviously, none of us really knows what it’s like to stand before the Lord Jesus Christ face-to-face. I therefore want to avoid any extrabiblical speculation or conjecture, preferring to keep within the bounds of what God has revealed in His Word.

Scripture gives glimpses of that wondrous occurrence by recounting the experience of the apostle John.

I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. 10 I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet 11 saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.”

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.

17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he laid his right hand on me, saying, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, 18 and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades. 19 Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this. 20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches. ~~Revelation 1:9-20 (ESV)

Okay, I realize that John still had his sinful body when he saw the Lord, making his experience arguably different from that of someone who has died.  But I would submit to you that he described Christ’s glorified state. Those who die, because they finally have freedom from their sinful bodies, may not fall paralyzed  at His feet, but we will see His same glory.

With that fearsome glory, however,  John saw Christ’s compassion. Notice verse 17, where the Lord reassures John. The tenderness in that verse beautifully balances the overwhelming description of Christ’s magnificent and terrifying holiness in the preceding verses.

With compassion to temper the brilliance of Christ’s glory and holiness, John could joyfully serve the Lord by writing the Revelation. Fear subsided as he went on to narrate what will happen when Christ finally returns to claim His Bride and establish His kingdom.  What joy fills those last two chapters of Revelation!

Although I have no way of knowing what my friend saw when he entered heaven Saturday, I rest assured that it brought him immeasurable joy. As a result, the sadness I feel for his wife and children gives way to rejoicing for him. And one day I will also see that same glorified Christ in all His splendor!

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Of Cabbages And (The King Of) Kings


Cerebral Palsy has all sorts of interesting or annoying by-products (depending on one’s point of view), such as difficulty chewing food. As a result,  a shred of cabbage from a serving of coleslaw could slip down the throat prematurely, causing several hours of discomfort and pain on its journey down the upper GI tract. I rediscovered this unpleasant reality Saturday night.

As you can imagine, I didn’t sleep very well that night. At one point, I found myself pretty much ordering God to relieve my pain. Not asking with humble trust in a loving heavenly Father, but demanding with the self-centered attitude of a spoiled brat.

And before you charitably try to tell me that I judge myself too harshly, let me assure you that I know, quite well, the attitude of my heart at that particular moment. I viewed the Lord, just then, as a servant, expecting Him to cater to my wishes. Whether my perverted petition came from my Charismatic background or it merely exposed my sinful old nature, it clearly dishonored the Lord Who bought me with His blood and therefore has authority over me.

Jesus indeed came as a servant, demonstrating humility as an example for Christians to follow. And He commands us to pray for our needs, knowing that He will faithfully care for us because we belong to Him. But notice what I just said: we belong to Him! As such, we have the privilege of requesting things from Him, but not the right to demand His compliance.

Christ’s humility, while certainly giving us a pattern to emulate, directs our attention to His unique position as the king of Kings.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. ~~Philippians 2:5-11 (ESV)

Despite His humility, the Lord Jesus Christ is our Almighty King Who will one day cause even His enemies to bow before Him. How dare we treat Him as if He has any obligation to answer our “prayers” according to our expectations! Shouldn’t we instead approach Him in grateful humility, asking Him for mercy and grace to honor Him whether He removes our trial or decrees that we go through it?

I didn’t exactly enjoy my experience with the cabbage Saturday night. But I treasure my experience of remembering that Christ is my King, not my slave.

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And, Adoring, Bend The Knee

“Holy God, we praise Thy Name.” What beautiful words expressing purity of devotion! Sometimes, though, I wonder if the self-centered fads of postmodern evangelicalism might obscure our adoration of this holy God. Do we forget that the very angels, transfixed by His holiness, think of nothing but worshiping Him?

The sweetness of the hymn I feature this week tugs at my heart because it focuses on our God and His holiness. It makes no mention of anything He does on our behalf, nor does it ask for His blessings. It simply calls us to praise Him for Who He is. And, as we begin a new year, I can think of nothing more appropriate than turning our attention fully towards Him.

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