Easter All Year Round

Is it too early to start celebrating Christ’s resurrection?

Talk about a ridiculous question! The resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ provides the cornerstone of our faith, and really should be celebrated throughout the year. Because He rose from the dead as He said He would, He guarantees that He will one day raise us to live with Him forever. That promise fills me with joy!

Since celebrating Christ’s resurrection can never begin too soon, let’s get into the Resurrection Day spirit with this contemporary hymn that accentuates the joy of His triumph over sin and death.

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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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Praise Is His Gracious Choice

According to my Facebook feed, many of us have had a rough week. I certainly have, but several of my friends have experienced difficulties far worse than mine.

In trials, we easily get distracted from the Lord, or else we harbor bitterness and resentment towards Him. But He calls us to praise Him, even in our frustration and sorrow, trusting His sovereignty regardless of anything we go through.  And praising Him, even when it hurts, often realigns our perspective by reminding us Who He is and how deeply He cares for us.

Today’s hymn sweetly encourages us to praise the Lord simply because He deserves our praises. Its cheerful tune and uncomplicated lyrics lift our attention to Him, assuring us of His unfailing presence.

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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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Writing: A Pleasure And A Responsibility

Header May 2013

Sometimes a writer writes simply for the fun of manipulating language. We take pleasure in the cadences of sentences and the textures of words. It delights us when a nimble vocabulary tames otherwise nebulous ideas, communicating them to anyone who bothers to read them. And if nobody reads them, we still savor the heady  experience of shaping words, sentences and paragraphs into something lovely.

Writing for its own sake has the advantage of training a writer how to develop his or her craft. The practice helps us fall in love with writing. That sense of romance in turn carries us through the difficult aspects of writing. When we strain for just the right way to phrase a concept, staring at an impatiently blinking cursor, we feel such exhilaration when the stubborn words suddenly decide to cooperate with us. Without the love of writing, we’d give up and find a mind numbing app to keep us unprofitably entertained.

Therefore, a moderate amount of writing merely to enjoy the act of bending language to one’s purpose has merit. It should not be shunned as frivolous or wasteful, but instead harnessed as a valuable tool in learning to use language efficiently.

That said, a Christian writer must indulge in writing for the sake of writing sparingly. A few exercises will renew our pleasure in the task, but it mustn’t distract us from our job of communicating the Gospel as long as the powers that govern the Internet allow us to do so.

15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. ~~Ephesians 5:15-16 (ESV)

Ladies, it doesn’t take a prophet to see that American Christians won’t have freedom to express Biblical views online much longer.  Major social media platforms have already begun clamping down on people who don’t embrace homosexuality as a positive sexual expression. In time (maybe less time than we imagine), any sort of writing about the Lord Jesus Christ that exalts Him will not be tolerated.

We actually shouldn’t find this prospect all that surprising. Jesus bluntly stated that we would be hatred because we represent Him (John 15:18-21). The United States Constitution may promise religions liberty, but the Holy Spirit assures us of persecution (2 Timothy 2:12). The time for blogging about the Lord grows extremely short, and we should expect as much.

But rather than bemoaning our impending loss of liberty, Christian writers should use their writing abilities as frequently and earnestly as we can to build God’s kingdom. We’ve been given only a few short years to proclaim the Gospel on social media, and it would be tragic to spend those years writing only to enjoy the fun of playing with language.

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Facets Of Redemption

The hymn I’ve selected today has a simple melody, but a deep and profound theology of Christ’s redemptive work. I love the way it takes us through the various ramifications of salvation while keeping our attention squarely on the Lord!

As I listened to this hymn in preparation to post it, I thought of a beautiful diamond with all its intriguing facets. It reminded me that salvation involves so much more than sparing us from the torments of hell (although that alone would be wonderful). The more we see the different facets of redemption, the more we want to sing of our glorious Redeemer.

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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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