Let Every Kindred, Every Tribe

At the time, I chuckled when my Welsh friend pictured American clouds and United Kingdom clouds in heaven. “As much as I like you,” he informed me, “I don’t want to visit an American cloud.”

Not only did he have an unbiblical concept of heaven, he infiltrated it with a nationalist lens that now, 34 years later, saddens me. Does he still anticipate that sort of division in the New Jerusalem? If so, I don’t believe he properly understands the depiction of heaven that the apostle John presented in Revelation.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” ~~Revelation 7:9-12 (ESV)

Heaven unites Christians from every tribe and nation so that we might all worship the Lord together. Rather than allowing our differences to separate us, we will celebrate our unity  as we worship Him along with the angels and the elders. Our individual distinctions won’t be erased,  but neither will they separate us from one another.

The glorious harmony between people groups will happen as we concentrate our attention on the King of kings and Lord of lords. My dear Welsh friend will be so enamored with Christ that he simply won’t care about keeping his distance from Americans! All of us will joyously join the everlasting song as we crown Jesus Lord of all.

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Seeking Our Comfort Or God’s Glory?

Branch

Why do we ask God to deliver us from our besetting sins? Do we envision freedom from those bondages as a means of being happier or more successful? Will deliverance advance our positions in church or allow us to enjoy happier marriages? Will we be more comfortable if the Lord takes away a sin problem that seems to dominate us?

I began seriously praying about my anger issues during my first engagement. I reasoned, quite correctly, that I would damage a marriage if I didn’t learn to control my temper. That engagement ended, but the Lord soon brought John into my life. Again I begged Him to take away my anger so that I could be a good wife. So that I wouldn’t cause John to have a stroke. So that God would bless me. So that I would be happy.

So that I would be happy.

Isn’t that usually our motivation for asking our Father to deal with our sin? (I’m writing to myself now.) If we’re honest, we’ll admit that nine times out of ten, we indeed pray for our own repentance because we know we’ll feel better without that sin.

But what does Scripture say?

You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. ~~James 4:3 (ESV)

Golly, we say, we didn’t think that asking our Father to take away a sinful pattern had anything to do with selflessness! After all, doesn’t God want us to repent? Doesn’t He call us to holiness?

As a matter of fact, the Lord indeed calls His people to be holy. He cannot tolerate sin, so He wants those who call themselves His children to renounce their sins and live in holiness. Our personal holiness does, as a by-product, benefit us, often bring us tremendous joy. Certainly, we can praise God for the blessings that frequently accompany our repentance and obedience.

Those blessings mustn’t distract us from the ultimate purpose of personal holiness, however. God liberates us from sin for His sake, not ours.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. ~~1 Peter 2:9-10 (ESV)

The Lord frees us from our besetting sins so that we might bring honor and glory to Him. As profoundly as we might benefit from His grace and mercy, He extends His grace and mercy to bring glory to Himself. He gives us the privilege of bringing Him honor and glory through our deliverance from sin.

I’m not sure that most of us think about His honor and glory when we pray to overcome whatever sin hampers us. And I wonder if our neglect of His honor and glory could be a reason (maybe even a big reason) that He allows us to have such prolonged battles with sin. I could be wrong on this point, but I believe I am correct in asserting that His glory is the only real reason for us to seek freedom from sin.

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How Much More Do I Need?

Contentment doesn’t come easily for me. Ironically, the Lord has blessed me with more temporal things than most people ever enjoy. Sometimes I think that the more stuff one has, the more she feels that she deserves.

The Lord has convicted me over the  last few weeks concerning my covetous attitudes. At my church’s Women’s Conference in May, I received a booklet on contentment, which He used to show me some idols that I’d been cherishing lately. Seeing the truth about my covetousness hasn’t been fun by any means, but it has helped me retrain my focus on Christ and His eternal blessings a bit better. Really, I’m complete in Him!

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Flashback Friday: What’s Wrong With The Box?

Originally published on September 23, 2016.

walker_8th-gradeEveryone wants to “think outside the box” these days. And I do agree with the idea of innovation, creativity and exploration. My husband, for instance, ardently objected to wearing blue jeans until he was in his mid-50’s. His box told him that jeans were for farmers. But one day, our neighbor gave him three pairs of jeans. After I coaxed him to try on a pair, he decided jeans were comfortable! For a few years afterwards he only wore his Dockers to church!

So, I’m not opposed to broadening one’s horizons or trying new things. Having said that, however, I believe the box can be too quickly discarded. I believe, very firmly, that the box, more often than not, provides the framework for innovation, creativity and exploration.

Let me explain my position by taking you back to my verse writing class in college. My professor insisted that, before we could successfully write free verse, we needed to learn to write sonnets. Sonnets are very restrictive in their form. They must be exactly 14 lines of iambic pentameter, following one of two specific rhyme schemes. The first quatrain presents the main idea, generally in terms of a metaphor. The next quatrain adds to the metaphor, giving it a bit more complexity and texture. And then, the all-important third quatrain adds a twist (or, as my professor put it, “creates a problem”). The final couplet (not a quatrain this time) both resolves the conflict and gives the reader a new image.

To defend sonnet-writing to that 1977 class of  young adults still enamored with the free-spirited ideals of Woodstock, Betty Freidan’s bra-burning and the questioning of authority , my professor kept reminding us that “Freedom is in the form.” To my surprise, he was right!  As I practiced taming my thoughts into iambic pentameter, using the strict rhyme scheme to select vibrant words, and using the quadrants to unfold my metaphors, I enjoyed watching my sonnets come alive. The form, rather than oppressing my creativity, generated it. I saw my writing soar with a freshness that I’d never seen in the trendy  free verse I’d been producing since high school.

I often carry my professor’s dictum, “Freedom is in the form,” into my relationship with Christ. In contrast to people who live life as “free spirits” who have no concrete direction, I find solid guidance through the teachings of Scripture. Admittedly I do so very imperfectly (just as I still write sonnets very imperfectly) but I’m so thankful that God gives me a framework for my decisions, my relationships and my morals. The Lord, through His written Word, provides the structure that enables me to soar into worship.

King David, in Psalm 119, demonstrated that God’s Law provides wonderful liberty for those who abide in its principles.

25 My soul clings to the dust;
    give me life according to your word!
26 When I told of my ways, you answered me;
    teach me your statutes!
27 Make me understand the way of your precepts,
    and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
28 My soul melts away for sorrow;
    strengthen me according to your word!
29 Put false ways far from me
    and graciously teach me your law!
30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness;
    I set your rules before me.
31 I cling to your testimonies, O Lord;
    let me not be put to shame!
32 I will run in the way of your commandments
    when you enlarge my heart! ~~Psalm 119:25-32 (ESV)

That image of running in the way of His commandments reminds me of the walker I had in childhood that allowed me to run! I needed to be in leg braces, and to be strapped into the structure (pictured above), but once in it, I enjoyed running all over the playground. To this day, I remember the exhilarating feeling of freedom that running gave me. When I ran, I appreciated the walker. Rather than regarding it as an encumbrance, I took tremendous joy in my emancipation.

Obedience to God’s Word emancipates Christians from sin, setting us free to serve the Lord with abandon! The structure, which the world so often characterizes as restrictive, actually allows us to run like children. When I reject the supposed freedom to rebel against God’s commands, I enjoy the same exhilaration that so thrilled me when I ran in that walker.

It sounds so cool to “think outside the box,” but perhaps we can’t really think clearly  outside the box of Scripture. As I see life, the proverbial box gives me the framework so essential to innovation, creativity and exploration. Whether I’m writing, remembering my walker or working out my Christian faith, I’m grateful for the structure. Sometimes, I’ll “think outside the box,” but I’m so delighted to actually have that beautiful box!

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What Are You Looking Forward To?

Many years ago, a friend asked me, “What are you looking forward to?”

Immediately I answered, “Heaven.”

“Well yeah,” he responded with a hint of impatience in his voice, “that’s a given. I meant, what are you looking forward to in the next few weeks?”

Isn’t his attitude indicative of our culture? As the movie title says, heaven can wait — we prefer to invest our thoughts and dreams in the here and now. We envision marriage, careers, children and retirement as fulfilling events that give life joy and meaning, rarely giving attention to eternal matters. Even as Christians, we get more excited about upcoming women’s conferences or our child’s baptism than about being face to face with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Perhaps we need to stop for a moment and remind ourselves of our ultimate vision. That conference and our child’s baptism should point us to Jesus. He must remain as our vision as we submit everything in our lives to Him. Of all that we look forward to, Jesus must be first and foremost.

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Rejoice For Much More Than Temporal Blessings

The Lord has been exceedingly wonderful to me in this life. Most notably, of course, He abundantly answered my prayers to be married. While most people can pretty much assume that they will marry, you see, severely disabled people like me and John grow up assuming that we will live our entire lives as singles.

Not only did the Lord permit me to marry, but He permitted me to marry a godly man! How many women can say that? Believe me, I well understand how profoundly God has blessed me through my marriage.

He has given me other temporal blessings — too innumerable to recount in this little blog post. I’d be foolish to ignore His goodness throughout my life.

But I’d be even more foolish to suppose that His goodness stops with these temporal blessings.  As wonderful as these blessings are, they’re mere trinkets compared to the spiritual blessings He gives me through Christ. And I believe He calls His people to celebrate those spiritual blessings, remembering that only spiritual blessings will extend into eternity.

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You Lose A Lot By Coming To Jesus

Does my title shock you? It’s not very seeker sensitive, I’ll admit.

Then again, I didn’t exactly enumerate the things you lose by coming to Jesus, nor did I explain the nature of those things. Yes, you lose a lot by coming to Jesus, but consider what you actually lose. Perhaps you lose undesirable things that only lock you in a prison of despair.  Perhaps you would be relieved — even grateful — to lose them. Some losses turn out to be wonderfully liberating!

I also didn’t mention that coming to Jesus results in gaining much more than you lose. Nor did I tell you about the quality of the things you gain. You might want to consider the idea that, by coming to Jesus, you gain blessings that far outweigh any losses you incur. Why wouldn’t you gratefully accept losses that allow you to gain eternal riches?

Listen to this treasured hymn as you calculate the losses and gains involved in coming to Jesus.

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