I glimpsed the mysterious pieces of God’s Kingdom coming together last weekend at a women’s retreat near La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Eight years before, to the day, Jen, the retreat coordinator, and I
had experienced God’s power across the ocean in a way neither of us will ever forget.
Each of us, as His children, are a part of the mysterious Kingdom
to which Jesus often referred, to the Kingdom over which He reigns,
to the Kingdom that will be forever and ever.
Every once in a while, we are privileged to catch a glimpse of the big picture
and a thrill washes over us as we realize that we are not alone,
and that we join hands with millions who have gone before,
and with those from every tribe and nation, for
there is a great grand scheme.
Let me tell you the story.
November, 2006. Christy (a former administrative assistant and close friend) and I were flying into Germany to do a five day women’s retreat for military wives in Germany with Protestant Women of the Chapel. Flying in, I thought about all the history of Christendom in Germany. I thought of its great music like Handel’s Messiah, A Mighty Fortress, and Silent Night. The Reformation had begun here with Luther nailing his thesis to the Wittenburg Door. Hitler had reigned here for a time with all his evil. The ten Boom family and Deitrich Bonhoeffer had laid down their lives in that fight because they looked forward to an eternal Kingdom. And now we were coming to bring hope and healing to the wives of men who were stationed, many in dangerous situations. The peaceful and picturesque scenery was a contrast to the tumult and fears so many of those families were facing.
Jen and her husband were stationed in Spain and were going through a hard time in their marriage. Jen’s friends tried to persuade her to fly to Germany with them for the retreat. Jen dug in her heels, for she didn’t really enjoy groups of women, and certainly didn’t want to be alone with them for five days. So she thought of excuses, delayed signing up, and thought she had escaped. On the last possible day to register, her friend called her and said, “You need this, Jen. And you have to do it today.” Again, Jen went into all her excuses. Finally her friend said, “Let’s pray — then go home and ask your husband for permission — and whatever he says we’ll do.”
Jen was irked at the idea of “asking her husband for permission,” but was sure she could paint such a terrible scenario that he would say no. She told Marty how many responsibilities he would have to handle with kids, pets, house — and reminded him how ill his mother was in the states. “What if she takes a turn for the worse and I’m in Germany — then what will you do?”
“You should go,” Marty said. “I can handle this. It will be good for you. Go.”
Jen was stuck — right in the middle of God’s plan.
In part, I spoke on the picture of Jesus in the book of Ruth. How Boaz, as a kinsman-redeemer, had rescued Ruth out of dire circumstances and redeemed her for a price, foreshadowing our kinsman-redeemer.
God began to remind Jen that her husband Marty had done this for her. She had been married before and her first husband had left her drowning in enormous debt. Marty used all of his earthly savings to rescue Jen.
Jen’s heart began to soften toward her husband. She caught up with me tearfully one night to tell me this. She also told me her mother-in-law’s name was Ruth. The dots were connecting.
The fourth day of the retreat, Marty called Jen to tell her that his mother had taken a turn for the worse and that they thought she was at the end. He had made arrangements so he could fly to the states. “You can’t make it in time — just come home tomorrow as planned.”
That final night we had praise and worship in the hotel lobby and in all the circling balconies. Over five hundred women stood with their candles singing the great hymns of the church, their voices echoing through the halls.
Jen left the worship time, her mother-in-law heavy on her mind, and went to her room to try to call her in the hospital. She wanted to tell her how thankful she was for her son, to tell her about Jesus, and to say good-bye. She left the door open, and the women’s voices floated in. When Jen reached her mother-in-law’s hospital room, the family answered, only to tell her that Ruth had slipped into a coma. “Please put the phone next to her ear — I have things I need to say,” TearfullyJen told her how thankful she was for Ruth and for her son. Then Jen shared the gospel and told Ruth she loved her.
Suddenly she heard, “I love you, Jen.”
A family member took the phone and said, “WHAT DID YOU SAY? RUTH HEARD YOU! SHE WAS NODDING ALL THROUGH THE CALL!”
Ruth slipped back into her coma and then into the arms of Jesus. God’s purposes had been accomplished. Marty arrived the next morning, but Jen was able to give him the assurance that his mother was with the Lord. I took this picture of the sunrise that next morning, and thought of Ruth reaching another country, even more beautiful than this.
This last weekend, eight years after Ruth had gone to be with the Lord, I was able to see Jen again and meet her wonderful family in Wisconsin. When I met Marty I said, “The kinsman-redeemer!” He smiled and nodded.
When Jen wrote a year or so ago and invited me to do a retreat at her church, First Free Church of Onalaska, Wisconsin, I hardly had to pray. I sensed God was up to more than we could even imagine, for He has a grand scheme.
Even before I came, I sensed He was on the move. One hundred of their women did Idol Lies in book clubs this summer. Several of them came to where I live in Door County, put the names of their idols on rocks, and cast them off the cliff that I filmed in the curriculum.
The worship music was wonderful, my dear friend Twila came with me to pray, run the tech, and keep me company. We sensed the mighty anointing of God and were humbled to be a part of it. Women brought their rocks to the altar at the end while a soloist sang “Song of Solomon.” One woman took me aside with her rock and said, “Is it okay if I throw this into the Mississippi on the way to work?” I told her that was perfect!
Some women said, “I will never be the same.” Hundred of rocks labeled: revenge, approval, gluttony, fear…all on the altar. We belong we belong to a great God who reigns, who calls us to be a part of his great scheme, and who honors us with His tangible presence. How can we not sing the Hallelujah chorus?
I told Jen I had the sense that there was more ahead somehow for us and her church — and we are praying. (Would you pray too, that we would know?) I’m not sure what. I am hoping to film a curriculum on Song of Songs and found out that their pastor sees Christ at the heart of The Song — and today, that is rare. They are also an E. Free church and we are endeavoring to plant an E Free church in Door County. So I have this sense, but do not want to get ahead of God. Yet how exciting it is to be a part of His grand scheme, to step into where He is already at work, and to know that no evil can prevail against this Kingdom, for this Kingdom will never end.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. If possible, share a time when you resisted God’s plan, but He exercised His sovereignty and you were unable to resist.
Monday – Wednesday Bible Study on Psalm 47.
Prepare your heart with this — the sermon will refer to this actual event:
Derek Kidner says, “This is more than poetry, it is prophecy, whose climax is particularly far-reaching.
3. Read the whole psalm out loud and share anything that quickens you.
4. Find repetitive themes. What are they?
5. Historically, the earthly picture may be when David brought the ark to the temple. Read about it in 2 Samuel 6:12-19.
A. Describe what happened. David Jeremiah says that David’s priestly garments signified he was both priest and king, pointing to the ultimate Priest and King, Jesus.
B. Challenge Questions: (Share your answers!) What did the ark represent — and why was there so much joy? One parallel that I made is that now God “tabernacles” among us, and we should have the same joy at the sense of His presence.
6. Read Psalm 47:1-4.
A. How far reaching is this Kingdom according to this passage?
B. Who will prevail against this Kingdom?
C. Why do you think the psalmist uses Jacob as an example of God’s people?
7. Read Psalm 47:5-7
A. What parallels do you see with the 2 Samuel passage?
B. The root word for “gone up” in verse 5 is exalt. What parallel can you see with Christ?
8. Read Psalm 47:8-9
A. This is the climax to which Kider referred. How does the psalm now take a different tone?
B. How can you see that this is about Jesus, and about His covenant people, and His exaltation?
9. If God is sovereign over all the world, He is sovereign over you. Be still before Him and ask Him how you might submit to His plan for your life right now. Share, if you feel led.
Thursday-Friday: Sermon: Praise for the Great King: Richard Phillips
10. Listen and share your thoughts:
11. Share your take-a-way and why.