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C.S. Lewis Christianity Gospel Heaven Randy Alcorn Recommended Reading Zion

Heaven. Zion. My home country.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”
― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

I finished listening to the audiobook for “Heaven” by Randy Alcorn. What started as merely a book that I had heard about to download from audible.com because I had a credit became easily one of the best reads (listens?) that I have gone through.

I have been a Christian for over 7 years now, and much of that time has been spent discouraged, condemned, depressed, confused, self-righteous, and mired in sin. There have been uncountable talks with fellow believers about fighting sin, sinning less, understanding the Gospel, “putting on” good works, etc. “Is THAT what being a Christian is all about?” you may be asking if you are seeing the stained glass windows from the outside. The answer is NO. That’s not what being a Christian is about. Being a Christian is about Jesus and his kingdom.

I’m not a good person, let’s just get that out there. There is so much in my life to be condemned for, and I believe the devil, who is called the Accuser, lives up to his name in every regard. I know the law of God, and I agree that it is good. I also know that I do not live up to the law of God, which allows for plenty helpings of condemnation. The Accuser will take every opportunity to remind me of this, reminding me of my shame. The Gospel, which is the good news of Jesus Christ that the Son of God lived in a way that fulfilled the law perfectly yet he was put to death as a criminal and bore the wrath of God that sinners like you and me deserve so we can stand clean in front of the one Holy God, sets people free from the chains of sin. From the chains of condemnation.

Here is the good news: you can be free to live in a way that brings you ultimate joy in every circumstance, even though sorrow will sometimes walk beside you as well.

I am convinced that there is indeed a slumber among the ranks of Christians (to borrow from Ted Dekker), myself included. We are so caught up with being offended, being lazy, self-focus, self-help, setting up securities or stressing over the lack of security, sinning secretly, watching the clock, what’s going on with Israel, not being religious, worrying about what to blog about, enjoying “Christian liberties,” or droning away on Facebook and YouTube that we are not jazzed for what we are really meant for. We are meant for Zion, brothers and sisters. Setting up our own tiny kingdoms or white-washed tombs will only result in ruins.

If we set our eyes to Heaven, the New Earth, Zion, New Jerusalem, our home country, we will be less intoxicated with the trappings of the world we live in that lies to us, even as we know deep down that it is a lie, that life here and now is what we were meant for. But, are we to be intoxicated with thoughts of clouds, harps, and hymns?

Perhaps a couple sections from Scripture (which are good places to start reading if you’re unfamiliar with the Bible) are helpful here: (Psalm16:11) You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
(Luke 23:42-43) And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

So let’s break this down. Heaven is where God is. In God’s presence is the paradise of extreme joy and endless pleasure. As humans, we are sinners thanks to our forefather Adam, and are at war against God. God sent Jesus to live the life we couldn’t ever live and die the death that we deserve, so that is we may believe and trust in Him and enter peacefully into the presence of God as sons and daughters, instead of traitors to the crown of God. Spending eternity in the presence of God is an eternity of ecstasy, not boredom.

I am one such traitor, who was made a son, who has fallen into a slumber. O Christian, awake. Do not doze off with silly things that rob you of the joy that is to come. Let us restore each other in gentleness, reminding one another that we are meant for Zion, the great city of King Jesus, who is surrounded by marvels we could not fathom fully in our wildest dreams. Failure to give our minds to the joy that is set before us will beckon and hasten our slumber. Allowing thoughts of Heaven, opened to us through Jesus, to flood our minds will get us even through the most miserable day. Fear not, today there is sorrow, but soon there will be joy forevermore.

I have heard it said that for Christians, this life is as close to hell as they will ever get. For those who do not place their trust in Jesus, this life is as close to heaven as they will ever get. Do not take eternity lightly.

One day, we will close our eyes, only to awaken face to face with Jesus. Do you long for the day when your faith will be made sight, and are welcomed by Jesus himself into paradise?

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Randy Alcorn’s “Heaven” will jazz you up for the morning. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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Christianity God Gospel Heaven Hope Jesus Recommended Reading SmartWool Zion Zion National Park

Captured for Zion

Captured for Zion. What exactly does this mean, anyway?

Eternity has been written on my heart, and I must fight to taste it.
I’ve been throwing it around in my head for sometime, even making it some sort of moniker for myself. It’s something I’ve been using to define a facet of my identity. I’m sure it’s no secret that I am an outdoorsman and adventurer, but I don’t want to flippantly ascribe those terms to myself to the point where my identity is solely found in that I strap on boots and a backpack and wander off into the woods. There has to be meaning to it. I can’t just slap on a pair of SmartWool socks because they’re decadent…which, they are, by the way. Let me do my best to help with this phrase captured for zion that I’ve given double meaning to.
Let’s start with something very obvious. I love the outdoors. I’ve only been this way for a couple years, as before that I hated the thought of camping… but that’s a good story for a later entry. This enthusiasm has taken Zion National Park in Utah as the symbol and centerpiece of adventure. I’ve read about it, poured over pictures of it, bought guidebooks and topo maps for it, and watched documentaries and movies on it. With it’s peaks and canyons, mesa and mystery, I’ve truly been captured by it. I long for and dream of going there. Every outdoor step I take is a step on the road that will eventually take me to Zion National Park. Yes, there are other parks with sensational scenery. Yes, there is Yosemite and Yellowstone and Glacier and Grand Teton and The Everglades and Capitol Reef and Rocky Mountain and Isle Royale. For whatever reason, Zion has become the crown jewel, if not a shadow of another jewel, and one day I hope to go there.
Let’s follow with something that may or may not be so obvious. I love Jesus, and the only reason I can say that is because He loved me first. Somedays, I falter in my love for him, as it’s obvious by my actions I still love myself, however I will trust that I will always love Jesus first and foremost because he has captured me. He has captured me for his kingdom to be one of his people, to Zion. There are many other kingdoms and cities that would have me build a home on a hill to die upon. There are idols that would have me bow to them, living my life for their lie that their city will bring me ultimate fulfillment and joy. To live under the curse of sin and the folly of idolatry, and to live under the burden of the impossibility of keeping the law of God, there is no joy. For reasons unknown to me, I’ve been captured for this city, this new Jerusalem, where every resident will finally rest in shalom. Zion, The City of God, is the ultimate crown jewel that rests of the head on the ultimate King, who my heart aches to be with. (For more information on being captured, slowly read from John 6)
So what does this have to do with hiking? What meaning does this bring to my feet that walk in socks that fit in boots that climb on rocks? What ties Zion National Park to Zion, the City of God? One day, this earth is going to pass away, not to extinction, but to the curse that our forefather Adam laid upon it. Like you and me, this world has been ravaged by sin and the effects of sin. While the death blow has been dealt to death and the grave, we are still waiting for the ultimate culmination of that renewal. When I venture into the outdoors, I still encounter briars and trials and thorns. Although there is beauty crashing through with every step and sight, the beauty is marred at some level by imperfection, frailty, and flaw. One day, the earth will be renewed even as citizens of Zion will be renewed. That is exciting news, and it makes every step a reminder that one day, all will be made new and restored to its fully glory that reflects the awesome Creator. Every ache, scrape and blister is a reminder that it will not always be this way. Every sliver and fleck of enjoyment I get from this life, whether its my wife, children, adventures or socks, is a foretaste of what Zion will be like. That really jazzes me up.
While I may dream about visiting Zion National Park one day, that is merely a shell of how I dream for Zion, the new Jerusalem, the city of God. The City of God. I believe this is the key to all of it. Zion is the City of Yahweh, a city that He has brought to full glory that does not beg His patience as our current dwelling does. I long to be in Zion because I long to be with God, and God’s country will bring him much glory, which he will delight to make it a home for it’s citizens, where Yahweh will be our God and we will be His people. What does this look like, though?

In this life, there is so much pain, sorrow, grief, strife, hardship, suffering, sin, sickness, death, deceit, heartache and a host of other words that everyone wishes they would never have to utter again. This is truly what I long for most of all:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  (Revelation 21:1-4 ESV)
A few quotes are helpful in this matter of longing for Zion:

“In the truest sense, Christian pilgrims have the best of both worlds. We have joy whenever this world reminds us of the next, and we take solace whenever it does not.” ~ C.S. Lewis

“If the ‘wrong side’ of Heaven can be so beautiful, what will the right side look like? If the smoking remains are so stunning, what will Earth look like when it’s resurrected and made new, restored to the original?” ~ Randy Alcorn

“Now I’m moving, moving to Zion where there’s rest for these weary bones. There on that mountain I’ll be rejoicing, for in Jesus I have found my home.” ~ Jimmy Needham
“Sometimes it’s good to look back down. We’ve come so far, we’ve gained such ground, but joy is not in where we’ve been. Joy is who’s waiting at the end. There is a road inside of you. Inside of me there is one, too. No stumbling pilgrim in the dark. The road to Zion’s in your heart.” ~ Petra
I would be remiss if I didn’t say how anyone has any hope of ever seeing those distant shores: 
 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 ESV)  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. (Revelation 3:20 ESV) 
A large part of this whole mindset has been fueled by Randy Alcorn and his book (or audiobook, as I’ve been experiencing it) Heaven. Also influential, although it has been a couple years since I’ve read it, is Ted Dekker’s book The Slumber of Christianity: Awakening a Passion for Heaven on Earth