City of the Living God

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel…

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”[Deuteronomy 4:24]

Hebrews 12:22-24, 28-29

When we worship God we get to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. We get to walk among thousands upon thousands of angels who have gathered to joyfully worship the Lord. We get to approach the throne of grace with confidence knowing that Jesus has made a way by His blood.

Can you picture it?

As you walk toward God’s throne, surrounded by cheering angels, you are clothed in garments of white. The aisle to the throne is as clear as a crystal sea. The angels, as servants of the King, all know that a child of the King has entered the throne room. Royalty has walked in and they all act accordingly. You are an heir of an unshakeable Kingdom, a co-heir with Christ.

As you approach God on His throne, your pace slows. Your steps are careful. You are reminded that this is not only the King of Kings but also your Heavenly Father. You stop. You know this is close enough. The rest of the distance from you to Him is for Him to walk if He decides. He is a consuming fire, and you can feel His power from here. You bow down with your knees to the ground to honor the One who deserves all glory and honor.

You bow your head in reverence and awe. You don’t bow as a slave bows to a master. You are not afraid. You don’t bow in shame and guilt. His eyes see through you, but it is not a stare of disappointment or judgment. It’s a gaze of pure love. He loves that you bow your head in reverence, but He doesn’t want your head to stay bowed. As a loving Father, He signals to you to lift your head. He doesn’t want the top of your head but your eyes looking back at Him. He loves to see your face. The joy and pride of a proud parent fills His countenance.

As He stands to His feet, all the angels–the cherubim, seraphim, and all the other heavenly beings–drop to their knees in worship. As He walks the transparent aisle toward you, He signals you to your feet. You’re not sure you should be standing so your personal angel has to tell you to stand up. You stand before pure love and pure light walking toward you.

Self-limitation is an act of love and had He not reduced His own glory and power in this moment, you’d be fatally consumed immediately. And you know it. You can feel Him dial down His presence and majesty in order to draw near to you. It’s what He did in Jesus and here He is doing it again…just for a moment with you.

He has a smile that makes you smile. When you see His smile it’s so contagious you can’t help but feel joy well up from your gut and overtake your face. He puts His left hand on your right shoulder. You instinctively know that if His power wasn’t sustaining you in this moment you’d collapse under the weight of His glory.

He doesn’t have to say a word. Somehow everything that needs to be communicated is already being said, heart to heart, mind to mind. And somehow He’s not speaking one word at a time but instead it feels like He’s downloading whole ideas instantaneously. These thoughts would take a long time to explain using words but somehow the ideas come all at once.

He draws even closer. He wraps you in His arms. He transmits a love that is intoxicating and overwhelming. Tears burst from your eyes, and your heart feels like it is about to explode. It’s like your current heart wasn’t meant for this amount of love. You need a new heart, one with the capacity to hold a fraction of what is coursing through you in that moment.

The encounter ends.

Grateful is such a small word for what you feel in the aftermath, but it’s as close as you can get to describing the feeling. You have come to Mount Zion, the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and you are in awe!

The Father’s Discipline

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:10-11

Part of God being a good and loving Father is that God disciplines His children. God loves us so much that He is unwilling to leave us in a state of immaturity. He loves us too much to see us continue to be trapped in sin and selfishness.

This is the paradox of real, agape love. Real love unconditionally loves a person just as they are. It loves them without condition even if they never grow and change. Yet, love also wants the best for that person. And the best is maturity, growth and holiness. So real love is not just loving someone unconditionally; it’s also loving them enough to encourage them to change and grow into who they were created to be. Real love involves both of these things simultaneously.

Notice what God’s goal in discipline is: 1) it is for our good, and 2) it enables us to share in the very nature of God, His holiness. We get the profound honor and privilege of getting to share in, partake in, join in the very nature of the Godhead. What an unbelievably honoring and humbling reality! As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit dance together in perfect unity, love and holiness, we get invited into the dance. We get the absolute privilege of sharing in God’s holiness when God discipline’s us.

As for any parent, discipline is not primarily about punishing our kids. It’s about infusing discipline into their lives. It’s about training them in righteousness, so that their character has the strength–especially when we are not around–to choose right from wrong.

The same is true for God’s discipline. It is God the Father training us in holiness so that we will reap a harvest of righteousness and peace in our life. So many people today experience no peace in their lives because they reject God’s discipline, the very thing that will produce peace.

No discipline is pain-free. That’s kind of the point. The pain comes from putting to death our old self so that we can live clothed in the new self that was purchased for us by Jesus on the cross. Death can be painful. Putting to death our selfishness and sinful desires can be painful. But it’s the kind of pain that comes from working out at the gym. It’s the pain experienced when a physical therapist helps a person come back from an injury. It’s the pain involved in growing and getting whole.

Jesus describes this process as pruning. He said to His disciples and to us:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.

John 15:1-2

Either way there is a cutting that happens. If we separate ourselves from Christ, we are cut off. If we submit our lives to Him and bear good fruit we still get cut, but the cutting is a pruning that makes us even more fruitful. The parts of our life that do not bring honor to God get trimmed back so that we can live in His holiness. Our Father doesn’t want us wasting our energy on branches of our life that won’t bear good fruit. This is the discipline of a loving Father.