Friday, January 1, 2016

Blessed Assurance

I return to the story of Jesus redeeming, healing work in my life, picking up in the month of October and going into November of 2011. I have done some editing work on my original narrative in order to clarify and better express what I was trying to say at the time.

October 30, 2011 Church

So, Keith and I went to church this morning. It was a United Methodist church. During the sermon, the pastor talked about how Christians aren't born, they're made.

I thought, Aha! He'll talk about how Christ continually creates and renews our life from within, as He leads us into the life and character that He intends for us.

However, he did not. The pastor talked about how the church creates Christians. It kind of astounded me. On and on, the pastor said this. He said it was the role of the church to perfect our Christian walk.

By church, who or what does he mean? Is it the role of the church to make Christians? What role does Jesus play, then? How does the church make Christians?

Jesus was in the background. He was in the stained glass window, or up above somewhere, hiding in the forms, between the lines of the music. It's like He became just symbol of the unattainable ideal, or a vague source of help that may or may not come through, but we struggle on anyway, like good little Christian soldiers.

I heard nothing that I can remember about how Christ renews our life and transforms us into His image over time, as we surrender ourselves to Him. That point wasn't made or brought up.

On another note, a couple days ago, I was thinking of the whole modern movement of "finding or realizing oneself," that whole "self-fulfillment" search thing.

I thought, I might not agree with all that, but there are some good things in there and then I wondered what Jesus thought. I asked Him, is there anything of value in that whole self-finding movement and He flatly said No.

It really, really took me by surprise. I got all suspicious. I thought, that's not charitable! That's not tender. That's abrupt.

Jesus reminded me that His message wasn't "Go find yourself," but "Follow Me," and "The Kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news."

His message wasn't "Fulfill yourself," it was "In Me, you are fulfilled."

If we are trying to "find ourselves," it’s as though we are self-creating, and we aren't. We created. We don't belong to ourselves.

Maybe this sounds awful, but only if you think God is cruel. He isn't cruel. He created us, so He knows us through and through. He wants us to be ourselves, exactly as He created us to be, but we can't find that searching ourselves, we find that by drawing near to Him, the Person who made us in the first place.

Also, Jesus did go on and on about giving up one's life.

When I realized all this, it was one of those moments when a sense of awe washed over me. I thought "Oh my goodness. I am talking to Jesus of Nazareth."

October 30, 2011

This morning I read something that caused me some confusion and distress. It caused me to remember very distinctly my old anxieties and deep seated fears regarding religion, and for a moment or two, I could not for the life of me remember how I had found my way out of them.

I got all anxious. I couldn't control the anxiety on my own, so instead of fighting that losing battle any longer, I simply handed the anxiety, along with myself and my questions, right over to Jesus. I just handed Him the whole mess, like a tangled ball of yarn.

No matter how badly tangled I am, Jesus is always tender and loving when He takes it from me. It's as though I were a very young child. He takes me on His lap and starts lovingly unwinding me from the anxiety, or fear, or self-hatred or whatever it is that I got tangled up in.

When I was quiet, Jesus said, I Myself lead you in the paths of righteousness, for My name's sake. You don't lead, even in doing good. I lead you into the good works that I have laid up for you to do.

This is a lesson He's been teaching me for the past couple days. It's the path of righteousness, not the four lane highway. It's not "I run wildly, desperately on ahead of Jesus while He follows, mercilessly driving me on and on." It's a narrow walking path and He leads like a shepherd.

Recently, I watched a documentary on the 23rd Psalm. In it, the narrator said that Jewish scholars sometimes translate the word "path" as "circles." These circles refer to the circling paths that wind around and around the hills that shepherds lead their flocks up.

Slowly, circle after circle, the flock winds its way up the hill. They go slowly so that the sheep can graze along the way. They don't go barreling straight up the mountainside to the top, but they do get there, in a natural and peaceful way.

Everything that frightens me and any failure and any shortcoming, those things cause me to yield into Jesus and His work. I surrender myself to Him. Before, when I thought I myself had to subdue the flesh or perfect myself or however you want to put it- back then, my imperfections caused me shame and exhaustion and frustration and resentment. I kept putting distance between myself and Jesus, so that I could wrestle with my failures in decent privacy, as it were.

Now there's no barrier, there's no distance. My life is in His life. I can't live apart from Him. My weakness and inability are clearly seen in His presence and I can't hide them, I must confess them and release myself into His immediate care, and then I am swallowed up in His infinite ability and boundless strength.

I thought I would look up a verse I vaguely remembered, so I logged onto Biblegateway, and right there, before I ever searched, I read this, their verse of the day:

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It's God's gift from start to finish! We don't play the major role. If we did, we'd probably go around bragging that we'd done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesians 2:8-9 MSG

Also, recently I rediscovered this old hymn and I love it even more now:

"Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Perfect submission, all is at rest,
I in my Savior am happy and blest,
Watching and waiting, looking above,
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love."
-Blessed Assurance, by Francis J.Crosby, 1873

November 5, 2011

I watched a homecoming video for a family who adopted a newborn through domestic adoption. I didn't feel too much angst until the video showed them coming home.

"Why can't I be normal?" I complained to God. "How come I didn't get a normal life?" I complain this way because it's easier to complain about that than to process my grief at continuing infertile.

This wishing-I-were-normal is a refrain I keep coming back to, time after time. For long periods of time I'm happy in and sometimes even happy with my singular personality.

Then my uniqueness seems just... weird, especially lately, in the way I relate to God. I wrote a blog post two days ago, but I had to delete it because I had a sudden panic attack about how weird it was. I thought, "I can't share this; it's too unusual."

We went to church on Sunday; it was a United Methodist church. I liked being there. I liked singing about how we'll gather at the river. They gave us a mug and some of them stopped by the house and gave us a loaf of bread. They looked like a new set of grandparents. However, I think that experience actually heightened my sense of isolation.

Also, I've been finding it really challenging to experience sorrow, frustration, impatience and anger while in the presence of Christ. It just instinctively feels as though this must be insulting to Him.

Yesterday morning, I was wrestling with my negative emotions and I felt Him saying to me, read the Psalms. So I did, and I couldn't help but notice that David's emotions were all over the chart as well, sometimes even in just one psalm.

I said, ok, I see what You are saying.

Then He said, Come outside, come walk with Me.

So I went. And we were walking along and Jesus started explaining to me about rhythms, how everything He made has one, the seasons and my life as well. He explained to me that it's alright to slow down; He build periods and cycles of rest into everything He created.

He explained that this period of time when I've been doing so much reading and studying and which has been so wonderful, is going to naturally and rightly merge into a new season of life.

I told Jesus that I was nervous if I stopped doing all this studying and Bible reading that I wouldn't find Him so close and real like I have. It's amazing how quickly and persistently I want to put the living God into a nice, neat little box.

Jesus assured me that He would be guiding our relationship right along; it would continue to deepen and expand all through my life through every season and change. In everything and every place my life took me, Jesus would teach me how to find Him present and available.

As we walked, I kept thinking of this phrase: practicing the presence of God. I knew that phrase, or something like it, was the title of a book. When I got home, I googled it. It was a book written by a monk.

This monk also experienced the constant, loving and personal presence of God in much the same way I have. We related to Him in much the same way, only Brother Laurence had thirty years’ experience in walking that way and was therefore much, much better at it.

It relieved a lot of my sense of isolation and weirdness. Though, I guess relating to a seventeenth century monk is maybe not the most normal thing in the world... heh. At a certain point, when I was getting all frustrated at myself that Brother Laurence's techniques weren't working for me, Jesus gently reminded me that I'm not a monk... Good to remember.

It's getting a little easier expressing emotion as it wells up while being in Jesus at the same time. It feels a little like not fighting something any more... like, admitting to what it true and then resting in trust.

Jesus really and truly empathizes with me- He actually carried all my sorrows- but I can't experience it unless I admit to feeling the emotion myself, and then connect to Him in that place of emotional authenticity. If that makes any sense. Anyway, that's what I've been learning lately.

November 4, 2011

As usual, about twelve hours after posting my latest blog post, I got the anxiety and dread that comes later, even though I'd originally written that post three days ago and had been writing and thinking about it on and off all that time.

I was offering my anxiety to Christ yet again and He said gently, don't you trust Me?

And I said, I trust You, but the blog was faulty and could have been written much better. It's faulty material.

He said, Do you think its weaknesses will prevent Me from bringing about My purpose through it?

And then I felt peaceful, because I knew faulty material could not stop the purpose of God, because no one is absolutely perfect. If He was waiting for absolute perfection from us, He would never be able to involve us in His work. Besides, what Jesus purposes, happens. And He is used to working with faulty material- in fact, He prefers broken, humble hearts and frail pots. Thank goodness.

A few days ago, I was reading something and agonizing about it and how I could never do that, but feeling convinced that I should, and Jesus said, clearly and firmly- I did not make you an apostle.

Oh, the relief that swept through me! Am I the only person that does this? Surely not. I can't be the only person that just, without thinking about it, takes on everything. Not because we think we are capable, but because, for some reason, we begin to think we should.

Since then, Jesus has been explaining, over and over, in many different ways, that no one person can be everything written about in the Bible, cannot make up the whole Body of Christ themselves- which is yet another of those bizarre and irrational thoughts that used to be wedged unconsciously in the back of my mind, causing disquiet and guilt.

Maybe someone out there is called and equipped to be doing many, many things and God bless that person. I am not them.

Since then, I have been able to become more and more joyfully me, in His presence. I understand that Christ made me to be myself because it pleased Him to do so. And since it pleases Him, it must please me! How joyfully simple it can be, when I look at it that way.

November 5, 2011 Walking

This afternoon Keith and I were driving home from having lunch with our friends, and we passed the park where I like to walk. That's where I went when Jesus asked me to walk with Him.

In fact, I didn't tell that whole story when I blogged about that; the fact is, I knew He was inviting me to go walking with Him for... maybe weeks, and I never did until that day.

It seems apparent that no matter how many times we turn Jesus down, He continues to invite us. He keeps the door open, just in case. He doesn't turn His back on us. He doesn't throw His hands in the air and walk away.

Once I accepted His invitation, I had such a wonderful time that I've been walking there every day I can, and as I do, Jesus walks along with me and we talk. Or He pours out His love on me and I worship Him. I look forward to this every day now.

So, as I was driving by today, I saw the shade dappled drive heading up into the trees, and I said to myself with pleasure, "That's where I go to walk with God."

Immediately and unexpectedly He said, I'm right here.

Joy filled my heart. That is the sort of thing that makes me swoon so frequently- those little gifts of His love that He gives me, for no reason that I can see. I'm getting used to calling and reaching out for Jesus and feeling Him near. But to have Him come to me instead, when I am not even looking for Him, that sweeps me right off my feet.

Each day, I look forward to the quiet evening when I go to bed and pour out my day and my thoughts to Him. I feel pleasure just shutting the door.

Jesus remembers everything, and not in a bad way. Frequently, He'll bring an old memory into my mind and I can feel how much He loved me and how deeply, emotionally and in every other way, He was invested in me at that time.

It's almost like looking over a scrap book with the ultimate parent figure- with the Everlasting Father, in fact. I thought, gosh, even when I grow old and begin to lose all my friends and family- everyone else that could remember how my life was and felt like back then- I'll always have Someone who knows it exactly. He knows it as it was, and as I felt it to be. I'll never lack a companion who distinctly remembers all my good ol' days.

Sometimes it takes me by surprise to realize that I've never actually seen His face. Sometimes I think, I really have to stop talking/blogging about Jesus already. I mean, settle down, for goodness sake, I think to myself. Be cool.

But I just can't! Sometimes I wish I could. But I have so much that is bubbling up from inside and I must express it.

November 7, 2011

Today is a cloudy, quiet Monday. I have the bedding in the wash, as is usual, and must clean the floors.

Yesterday, we went to church. This church has a chant that goes like this:

Leader: Who do we believe is the Christ?

People: We believe Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One of God, the firstborn of all creation, the firstborn from the dead, in whom all things hold together, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell by the power of the Spirit. Christ is the head of the body, the church, and by the blood of the cross reconciles all things to God. Amen.

I love the joyful solemnity of the church service. I love hearing the hymns- the hymns were mind blowing to me. It's so real, I guess is why.

We sang: I love You, Lord, and I lift my voice to worship You. O my soul, rejoice. Take joy, my King, in what You hear- may it be a sweet, sweet sound in Your ear.

And we sang: Jesus, draw me close, closer, Lord to You. Let the world around me fade away... for I desire to worship and obey.

They also sang Blessed Assurance and He Who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it.

These songs knocked my socks off. Singing such things out loud filled me with wonder and shyness and joy. I felt dizzy.

It awesome to have been doing that all week long and then get to sing about it out loud, with a whole group of people who also love Him.

That's what I love about church. I don't understand other things about it- it seems in some way removed from the presence and life of Jesus as revealed in the Gospels and as I am coming to know Him. I get the impression that they desire for us all to be nice people who do good things under the watching eye of a distant, benevolent Heavenly Father until we get to heaven.

I have an increasingly more vibrant and living understanding of what it means to know and follow Jesus Christ. But I don't have to agree with them in order to worship God with them. We're all only human anyway, and I certainly don't think that I have it all put together. No way.