Friday, October 16, 2015

Goodness and Mercy and Unfailing Love

This continues the back story, picking up on the same day that I wrote the public blog on September 28 and continuing on over the next few days.

September 28, 2011

Last night, I was resting in His presence, as it were. What a strange thing to say. I wish there were a better way of explaining it. It's like the last line of the 23rd Psalm:

“...and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.”

Resting with Jesus, I end up worshiping, because I think it's impossible to be in His presence and not adore Him. It just wells right up, in wonder and love and awe.

I kept thinking about how He leads out the stars as though they were His armies, and pitches the sky as though it were a tent, and how He is so roomy and spacious that everything finds its place and is held together in Him, and how everything was brought into being through Him.

And yet, Jesus is also right there, cradling my spirit as though it were precious to Him. It's possible for Him to run and hold together the entire universe and yet bend His full and loving attention to us, full of faithful love and compassion. I can't help but to think that this is what we were made for- to know God and to be known by Him.

As I was resting, I remembered the parable of the talents- where three people are each given something to invest while their master is away claiming a kingdom. And one invests and gets ten more and one invests and gets five more and one doesn't, he buries his in fear and trembling and in the end, he gets his taken away.

I always was afraid of this parable- it terrified me, because I knew that I was the one that would bury his coin. I was sort of resigned to God coming along and calling me a worthless servant and taking it away. I was too timid to stand up and pray publicly for meals more than once or twice during summer conventions, for example.

As my life went on, I began to wonder if maybe I actually was investing after all, but I wasn't sure, and it still made me anxious to read it. I was caught up thinking all this, and Jesus says, you've done well, I'm proud of you.

Jesus keeps offending my sense of what is proper. I was all thrown off by Him saying that.

I said, “You're not supposed to be telling me things like that until I'm dead! Anyhow, I don't think I have- how can You just say that?”

He said, Look at how you blog and how despite your fear, you invest through it.

I replied, “Fine, but that's just a blog and hardly anyone reads that."

He said, Look at your marriage and how you give yourself away and invest in it.

I said, “Fine, but I love Keith, that's easy.”

Jesus said, Look at the work you did taking care of the elderly and taking on a management position. You risked everything despite your fear, and invested your whole heart in it.

So, then I stopped arguing with Jesus and started to see His point. As I'm writing this, I realize that I argue with Christ a lot. I'm amazed He puts up with me.

Anyway, I said, “Okay, but aren't You nervous that now I'm going to slack off and just coast the rest of the way home, as it were?”

Jesus asked, Do you think it at all possible that you will be able to hold back any part of your heart when you have children?

And then I had to laugh, because I knew that it would be impossible. But I still told Him that I couldn't take any credit for that, because it was how He created me to be.

September 29, 2011

I'm coming back to earth, bit by bit. I keep thinking about how much and how I can put into words everything that I feel.

I went to WalMart to pick up a ready to bake pizza. Everything looked new to me, as though I were seeing it for the first time. I was in awe of the colors and the movement.

And it was like I was seeing everything from two different views.

At first, I was just noticing people in a way I had never seen before. People were everywhere. They came in all shapes and sizes and ages and attitudes. The mother behind me was frazzled, her child persistent. The man in front of me was thin and stooped and buying stuff for tacos. The guy at the cash register was frustrated and harried.

I was in awe of these people, of their reality, their bewildering uniqueness. I thought, it was people like these that crushed Christ on every side as He walked through their town, or followed Him out to the barren places. Real people. These people, His people. Jesus loves them, not from a distance, or in theory, but exactly right where they are, as they are dressed, in the attitudes that they have, with all that they are.

But there was another kind of attitude I had. I frequently felt arrogant and religiously judgmental of everything that I saw. It was the attitude I had had when I was younger, but increased now that I was having this wonderful spiritual experience with Jesus. I kept being tempted to feel spiritually superior. Every time I felt this arrogance, I felt horror and embarrassment.

I thought, here I am, in the very presence of Jesus Christ, and I'm religiously judging people and lifting myself above them, just like a Pharisee. The bitter irony of it grieved and horrified me.

Every time I felt this awful arrogance, I threw myself down before Jesus and cried to Him to take this sense of pride away from me and to forgive me- for the love of God, to take it away from me. And I would yield myself over and into Jesus and I would feel the weight of it come off me.

But it happened over and over again.

In the night, I lay siege to Jesus with my questions. I like the night, the quietness of it. All my attention and inner ear are open. I pester Him incessantly and keep myself up. I'm like a giddy four year old at a sleep over.

It was during this time that I began to understand why I had been feeling that religious judgment- to remember that I had felt that way before, in the church I was raised in. But still I asked Jesus, “Why won't you take it away all at once? It's so unsightly.”

Jesus brought to mind an old remembered verse about how we are gradually being made into His image, and immediately I was comforted, even though I couldn't remember that verse very well.

This morning, I looked the verse up. This is it in the Message:

"Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We're free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him."
-2 Corinthians 3:16-18

Astounding, yes? Here it is in the Amplified Bible:

"But whenever a person turns [in repentance] to the Lord, the veil is stripped off and taken away.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty (emancipation from bondage, freedom).
And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.
-2 Corinthians 3:16-18

He is so elegantly, perfectly articulate. He is so on point, as it were. I would be conformed to Jesus' perfect image over time as I kept my gaze on Him and trusted in Him. This transformation would happen over time- one degree at a time. If I looked away, I could repent and look right back at Him.

After a few days of doing nothing but sitting at the computer reading the Gospels, I had read all of Mark and Luke and John. I decided, why not venture a little outwards, tip toe out, trusting Jesus to help me understand. So I read First John. I was astounded to realize that what John was saying was everything that Jesus had said to John. This is such an elementary thing; of course that's true. I just never realized it before.

But there were some things in I John that I didn't understand. When I came across them, I was all, how that does work? What could that possibly mean? I didn't understand them in any version.

But I had learned something earlier. After I wrote the blog about how Jesus carried His own words for me, I thought, how do I know if that's true? I don't know that there's any Biblical context for that. That's a weird thing to say He's doing.

Then I got all worried as if I was expected to know and understand everything all at once. I used to believe that, of all things. Poor me. No wonder my religion was crushing the life out of me.

In the morning, I got up and eventually finished reading Luke. And it was at the part where Christ had already risen from the dead and met the two disciples as they were walking along the road. And Jesus explained the scriptures to them, and joins them for dinner and then vanishes.

And they say to each other, why didn't we know it was Him? Didn't our hearts burn within us as He opened up the scriptures to us?"

And I just stared at the phrase and felt wonder all through me- because Jesus opened the Scriptures to them. Until that point, He had been holding the meaning for them. So I understood that If Jesus chooses to leave some scriptures closed to me right now, that is entirely His business. I don't have to worry about it. When it is the right time, He will explain them to me.

In fact, it's like this:

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."
-Matthew 11:28-30, The Message

September 30, 2011

Last night, in the presence of Jesus, He affirmed and empathized with me on a deep and healing level. He told me to articulate and affirm the injustice of things I had been taught and assumed and believed.

At first, I was reluctant to do this, but Jesus bundled me reassuringly in His robe, and so I gave voice to this injustice, and immediately and alongside me, Jesus was crying out in passionate feeling, anguish and fervor those passages from when He is addressing the Pharisees.

Each time I spoke, Jesus' voice poured out alongside me. I never knew how passionately He felt, the depth and intensity of His feeling. I always assumed He was disappointed and displeased with me, but He empathized with me. Almost I could thank Jesus for the depth of my pains, because, through them, I can experience the depth of His tenderness.

So. Yesterday I read the gospel of Matthew.

Jesus is brusque in that gospel! Eventually, I got exceedingly nervous. I thought, if Jesus ever talked to me like that, I would curl up in a tiny little ball and die. I got more and more tense as I read along.

I thought, I'd better stop asking all these questions. Maybe I'm asking questions to avoid the truth I should already know. Or maybe Jesus is just going to lose all patience with me and snap at me, saying, "Do you still not understand? How is it that you still don't understand this? Are you being willfully stupid?"

Eventually, I had to stop the whole reading. The anxiety was too much. So then Jesus began to speak to me, saying the same things many times.

First, Jesus told me that He spoke to different people in different ways, in ways that related to who they were, and that He would never speak to me in the same way that He would speak to a rough and tumble fisherman and a grown man. He said my heart was tender and I was just beginning to learn to trust Him, but that Peter had been with Him a long time. Jesus reminded me that a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not put out.

I never thought about that possibility before, that Jesus might have spoken to people in different ways. I considered it. I realized that, for example, the way He spoke to the sinful woman who washed His feet with her hair was different from the way He spoke to Zacchaeus, for example.

It seems obvious now that I think about it, because He's a personal God and He relates to each of us right where we are, in the language of our hearts.

But I said, “Give me a verse to reassure me that You're not losing patience with my pestering You. I want a verse.”

So Jesus said, I'll tell you a story. There once was a corrupt judge...

I laughed out loud. My love for Him came bursting up out of me like a fountain. I knew that story. He only had to say that much, and I knew exactly what He was saying to me.

Of course, the widow was pestering for justice, and I'm pestering for understanding, but the principle is the same: constant pestering is rewarded.

We are like gifts to Christ, I realized yesterday. We're given to Him and He delights in us. He heals the wounds we received from living in an imperfect world and He brings us into the fullness of what He wishes us to be. He does it patiently and lovingly and creatively, over the entire course of our life.

Jesus comes to us not when we were perfect or acceptable, but in our sin, and in our pain and imperfection. Even our anger won't frighten Him away. The language of our hearts that even we have no words for, He understands perfectly.

It is like this:

The Lord is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.

He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters.

He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness [uprightness and right standing with Him--not for my earning it, but] for His name's sake.

Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me; Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide], they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with [a]oil; my [brimming] cup runs over.

Surely or only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place.
-Psalm 23