Friday, February 19, 2016

Here To Be Light

December 1, 2011

I've been blogging for over four years now. That is a long time. That is a long and very public record of my interior and exterior life.

Never would I have expected to be making my spiritual journey public, either. That would never have occurred to me. Firstly, because I would have thought that journey nonexistent and secondly because there's just no way I would have thought myself capable of talking about God.

I still don't think that I am, but early on, back in October, I read this:

"Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven."
-Matthew 5:14-16, The Message

So, here I am- writing and sounding like an absolutely cah-ray-zee person.

It is as though He is teaching me this:

"May Christ through your faith [actually] dwell (settle down, abide, make His permanent home) in your hearts! May you be rooted deep in love and founded securely on love,

That you may have the power and be strong to apprehend and grasp with all the saints [God's devoted people, the experience of that love] what is the breadth and length and height and depth [of it];

[That you may really come] to know [practically, through experience for yourselves] the love of Christ, which far surpasses mere knowledge [without experience]; that you may be filled [through all your being] unto all the fullness of God [may have the richest measure of the divine Presence, and become a body wholly filled and flooded with God Himself]!
-Ephesians 3:17-19, Amplified Bible

December 2, 2011 Doubt

I was in agony all yesterday afternoon and last night over my latest post. I just thought, what if I'm writing it wrong- what if I'm misrepresenting God. And I sound so crazy- talking about fire in my soul and the presence of God. Who am I to talk about stuff like that?

A couple times, Jesus convinced me to stop carrying that load and give it over to Him, but very quickly, I took it right back. I just felt so responsible. Jesus has told me, over and over again, that He encompasses my faulty words with His fullness and His truth and so uses them, but it’s hard to look past my deficiencies enough to see His ability.

I read this, last night, as I was researching love:

"Love never dies. Inspired speech will be over some day; praying in tongues will end; understanding will reach its limit. We know only a portion of the truth, and what we say about God is always incomplete. But when the Complete arrives, our incompletes will be canceled."

-I Corinthians 13:10

And, oh the relief! In the Bible, it says that we only know in part. But the relief didn't last long- soon I was caught up in self-doubt and self-condemnation again, focused on myself and not Jesus. All last night I kept reaching out for Him, finding Him, pouring my heart out to Him and then withdrawing. I kept waking myself up and needing Jesus, requiring Him, tugging on Him. I wanted more of Jesus, I wanted Him closer and closer.

It's a good thing He's patient! I felt like a dizzy two year old, running back and forth from their parent's knees every two minutes.

(The following two blogs I have shared more than once already, but I include them here again because, chronologically, this is where they fit into the story.)

December 4, 2011

I had quite an experience night before last. That night I read an article that talked about how Christians will be judged according to their works in life.

The article talked about how our lives are going to be tested by fire, and only gold, silver and jewels will remain- the hay, wood and straw will be burned up. Then we'll be rewarded based on how much the work of our life survives the fire.

This is not a new idea to me. I grew up learning that my life was expected to be the epitome of Christian living- pure gold. Pure gold equaled unparalleled purity, purity of mind, body and spirit, and complete adherence to doctrinal truth, and then perfectly adhering to those laws.

Striving for personal purity and perfection in keeping the requirements led to gold, but cheap grace led to hay and straw. Such Christians, I believed, would have their life and their flimsy deeds burned up and they would escape with their bare lives, in shame, in front of God, Jesus and the congregation of saints.

This was a real and horrifying prospect for me. I didn't want to disappoint Jesus, first of all. I didn't want to live a worthless, selfish life based on cheap grace. I wanted a life of gold, based on my striving for perfection, wrestling with the flesh and being God's pure and conquering Christian soldier and knowing all the exact right beliefs about God and what He expected.

When I failed spectacularly in my life and had to rely on grace, I resigned myself to public shame in front of Christ at the final judgment.

You might say, Jenny, why didn’t you just give up the entire teaching?

I would have to say because I didn’t trust myself to correct or negate the teaching- I don’t think have that kind of authority. I pushed it out of the realm of anything I could change and stopped actively thinking about it. It simply stayed lodged in the back of my mind.

And that was how things stayed until the night before last, when I remembered this teaching. At first, my terror was so great that my body was physically rigid- my shoulders went up and my back was stiff.

I felt so much terror that I couldn’t hear what Jesus was saying to me, though I felt Him very close to me. I felt His love and tenderness and concern for me, but I couldn’t hear Him.

So Jesus calmed me through music. I listened to Handel’s Messiah. The truth that those songs contain sunk into me and loosened the fear. I was able to start thinking more clearly, and I began to hear Jesus.

He said, go back to the text. I really didn’t want to go back to the heart of my fear. I would have preferred to continue ignoring it, but I went there, because Jesus was with me.

This is it, in the Amplified Bible:

“But if anyone builds upon the Foundation, whether it be with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,

The work of each [one] will become [plainly, openly] known (shown for what it is); for the day [of Christ] will disclose and declare it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test and critically appraise the character and worth of the work each person has done.

If the work which any person has built on this Foundation [any product of his efforts whatever] survives [this test], he will get his reward.

-I Corinthians 3:12-14

I got terrified all over again.

Jesus said, look at the whole chapter. So I did.

I won’t cut and paste the whole thing, but Paul was talking to the church at Corinth about factions that had opened up among them. It seemed that Paul was telling them that because they were dividing themselves according to human leaders, they were still immature Christians.

Then he went on to talk about this judgment for reward. So then I wondered why Paul wasn’t more specific here. Why did he have to use a metaphor? Why couldn’t he had just said, straight out, what gold, silver and jewels represented?

I begged Jesus to show me. What was the gold? What was gold in our lives? It must be the most important thing, the best thing we could use in our walk with God. What was the thing Jesus wanted from us the most, wanted our lives the most to reflect, the thing that would glorify Him the best?

Jesus pulled my remembrance back to His teaching. Here‘s what He taught:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples."
-John 13:34-35

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
-John 15:12-13

“You didn’t choose me. I chose you. I appointed you to go and produce lasting fruit, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask for, using my name. This is my command: Love each other.”
-John 15:16-17

At this point, wonder and joy were beginning to fill my soul as a huge burden of fear and shame was being lifted, and I knew exactly where to look next- in the very same book that held the original passage that had so terrified me, and there are some of the highlights of what I read:

“But now let me show you a way of life that is best of all.

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.

If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when full understanding comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly as in a cloudy mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
-I Corinthians 12:31, 13:1-3, 8-13

A life of selfless love, built upon Christ, is what withstands the fire. Works of faith, hope and love will last forever.

Tears began to run down my face from the relief and joy of it. I sat in front of the computer screen openly crying. As I cried, Jesus whispered into my heart, you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

His law is love and His gospel is peace.
-O Holy Night, John Sullivan Dwight

December 5, 2011

On December 1st, I wrote this:

"I remembered how He had been slowly coaxing me closer and closer to Him, lovingly and faithfully..."

But I have yet to actually describe what that looked like or felt like. Now I going to tell some of the back story. This will be a long blog.

In late September, when I began blogging about Him, I felt Jesus near me as a loving presence that hovered near me- the same way that I would sometimes experience Him during a worship service, for example. Even this was incredible to me, though. I could actually sense Jesus, in my spirit. I could feel His love for me, and hear Him as He spoke to my heart.

However, one night, I felt Jesus come down and actually take me in His arms. This was not a vague expression of His love- it was personal and distinct. Jesus was cradling my spirit in His embrace.

It shocked me. I pushed right away from Him. It was as though I drew a line in the spiritual sand.

I said, You are God. Your role is to be on the throne, elevated, and to reach down with graceful condescension to me, your humble and undeserving creature. There is a distance between us! It is a proper distance! You are God! Your behavior must reflect the proper distance.

However, it's quite clear that Jesus is not interested in the human idea of proper distance, or even the human idea of proper God-like behavior. He frequently breaks the rules. He eats with dirty hands, He works on the Sabbath, He makes a ruckus in the temple, He talked to a shameful, Samaritan woman and He allowed a former prostitute to wash His feet with her hair.

Jesus defends squandering hugely valuable jars of ointment in one huge gesture of love, He washes His disciple's feet, He refuses to condemn. He touches lepers with His bare hands. He says things like, the first shall be last and the last shall be first. He defends Mary and refuses to send her back- she gets to stay and listen to Him.

He forgave the Roman soldiers as they were in the very act of crucifying Him, He turned the water used for ritual purification into heady wine, He tore the temple curtain in two.

He is frequently asking us impossible things.

"How shall we feed all these people, Phillip?" Jesus asks- I can't help but think with a twinkle in His eye. Poor Phillip! I can just see him begin to stutter.

"If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

"But who do you say I am?" He asks.

It seems that He is always asking us that.

Jesus wouldn't give up! He kept coming up close and taking me in His arms. And when I say that, I mean, I could sense Christ right there. When He put His hand to my face, I could perceive where the nails went in. I could rest my head against His chest and all but hear His heart beating.

At first, I lay very, very still. This is what a human creature does when the Son of God is holding them in His arms. One holds very, very still. Finally, I accepted. I wrote this on October 28th:

"I decided I would no longer defer. I said, I agree, I accept. That is how You see me, that is who I am to You. I yield to this, I won't push it or You away any longer.

"Unsurprisingly, this delighted and moved Him very much. I'm learning that we can make a significant emotional dent in God."

After that, I became more and more comfortable being that close to Jesus. I got so that I could lean back into Him and rest. I got so that I could confidently lift up my arms to Him in wonder and adoration. Each time, He never fails to catch me up close to Him and love on me.

Frequently, I feel His hand under my chin, tipping my head up to Him. This often happens when I am caught up in self-condemnation. Sometimes I simply throw my arms around Him, bury my face in His robes and inhale. At night, I sleep in His arms and during the day, He is always beside me.

Well, after a few weeks of this, I began to increasingly wonder if maybe He was getting ready to take me home. I mean, how else to explain it? Each time I thought this, I would chide myself for being morbid and hand the thought over to Him.

Finally, I couldn't take it anymore.

"Am I going to die?" I asked Jesus straight out, on one of our walks.

"I come that you might have life, and that more abundantly," He replied, with humor. I knew He was teasing me, just a little. It is an extraordinary thing to be teased by Him, but I still didn't know what Jesus meant exactly, because I knew that Jesus came to give us life abundantly now and also, after we die, to live forever with Him. I also knew that Jesus sometimes doesn't answer directly, so I gave up asking that.

"But why are You like this with me? Why, why, why?" I asked instead, as though a small child tugging on His sleeve.

"Because you're Mine, and I want you close to Me," He replied.

And what could I say to that? You might reasonably suppose that with all this, I would be satisfied to bursting. So you would think, but no. I began to long, more and more intensely, to be with Jesus I blogged about this. What I didn't blog about was how much I continued to wonder if maybe my time really was up.

Finally, Jesus helped me put it into perspective. It was the same night that He set me free from that old understanding of judgment for reward.

That night, I was exhausted after having worked my way through that old fear. I went to bed early to read. I read a book written by a woman who experienced a vivid vision of heaven after her body medically died and before the medical team resuscitated her.

I drank this book up. At midnight, while Keith quietly snored away beside me, I got near the end of the book. At that point, she knew that she had to go back to her life. She still had work left for her to do, before she could go home for good.

As I read this part, in my quiet, lamp lit room, I knew what Christ was saying to me. I too had work left to finish before I could go home. I put the book down and looked over at Keith, peaceful and asleep next to me. I thought of my writing and the children that might be waiting to be adopted.

Jesus did not even have to ask me directly; I simply said, "Okay."

And I began to cry, for the second time that night. My grief at having to continue separated from Jesus was so great that I lay there sobbing and wiping the tears away with the back of my hand.

I kept telling myself, but I'll always have Jesus right next to me, in my spirit! He's very close to me! But this couldn't stop the upwelling of grief; I had to simply sob until I had poured it all out. I was in Jesus’ arms, in His tender, empathetic love. I felt light all through me and all through the room. I felt as if Heaven were about as close to me as the ceiling of the room.

I cried again in the morning, when I wrote to my mom about it. I felt fragile and full of light that entire day, as if I were a paper lamp shade. I still feel like crying every time I think about the experience.

Our work in this life is to love each other, and to deepen in our relationship with God. We love the people that are given to us to love- our work is to give ourselves away. We give ourselves away to Jesus and we give ourselves away to others, and doing so is frequently one and the same thing.

And then we get to go home.