God is NOT a good idea!

IMG_1401God is not a good idea. I took that thought apart when I helped Dr. Walt Kallestad write a book on understanding the basics of Christian faith. If God were simply an idea, a mental construct, a convenient way of thinking to explain the Universe or the sense of moral order, right and wrong, that exists in most people –at least the emotionally and mentally healthy – then we’re all in big trouble. I think of how many “good ideas” I’ve had that failed, but more terrifying, I think of the “good ideas” men have had over history that have wiped out entire villages and decimated nations. No, if God is only a mental abstraction, then there is no help or hope for any of us, no existence beyond seven or eight decades of getting up every morning, raising children or going to a job, to what end?

I vividly remember taking a shower one Saturday night when I was seventeen, when the thought of a universe without God struck me. The bleak emptiness and total senselessness of a universe, a dark lifeless vacuum, void of God sank me to my knees on the wet tile, my head in my hands. The moment of terror passed, and the next morning I was singing in the choir about the great love that’s ours in Jesus. I worshiped, reaching in my heart with thanks and gratitude that God is very much alive, real, and a Being of indescribable power, love, creative splendor and intimate relationship far beyond any “thing” I can imagine!

We were Methodists, of the traditional John Wesley “heart strangely warmed” variety who acknowledged God’s Spirit as a very real and immanent, personal presence in our lives. Perhaps my love of worship stems from the fact I was born, after a long labor, late on a Sunday morning. My father rang the bell in the steeple of the church in our tiny town every Sunday morning, and that January 22, after a tedious night with my mom in the hospital in the County Seat quite a few miles away, Dad drove back to church, rang the bell, then drove back to the hospital in time for my long-awaited debut.

I recall some of the very traditional liturgy, or form/pattern/ingredients of worship, I grew up hearing in the services every Sunday with a grateful heart that somehow the Responsive Readings, Apostle’s Creed, Lord’s Prayer, and weekly singing of the Gloria Patri (“Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost…”) after the Bible reading and the Doxology (“Praise God from whom all blessings flow”) after the offering never became mindless repetition to me. In fact, I look back on those elements of worship with a warm glow in my heart and do miss them in the Sunday services of the non-denominational church I attend now, where lively and deep praise songs take center stage in worship.

I miss them, but I don’t worship them. I don’t worship the old structure, but at the same time I don’t worship the absence of the ”traditional” structure and presence of “tradition-free” services. I agree with the comment I heard one Sunday that the only difference between a rut and a grave is how far down you dig. God never meant real worship to be a rut or a grave, mindless and heartless routine completing a required ritual, like checking off boxes on a to-do list. I strongly suspect God created worship as a vehicle to carry us right into God’s love for us, the Holy of Holies itself: God’s heart. In true worship my heart meets His and becomes the room, the space for the Holy of Holies. How can I bring an angry, judgmental,selfish thought into That Presence?

I enter the Holy of Holies;I enter through the blood of the Lamb.

I Enter to worship you only; I enter to honor I AM.

Instruments or voice only? Sitting or standing, arms raised or decorously in laps? Oh, please, what’s the difference, if truly loving hearts are encountering the fiery heart of God and praising his love for them? Enjoy the beauty, forget condemnation, and see the splendor in the Lord, not the “faults” in each other’s styles and forms! I need moments of silent, wordless reverent awed awareness down on my knees, and I need  the exultation of laughing and dancing in the midst of unconditional love.

Worship isn’t about what or how; it’s about Whom! I don’t worship a form, style, tradition, or experience; I invite God into my life by running into his presence to be lifted and honored and revered and enjoyed. God inhabits, lives in, the praises of His people, and yes, I dance right in the ”pew’ when I feel overjoyed by my Father God’s love for me. Look away if love disturbs you, or join me in a happy dance if you don’t care what anyone but your Daddy thinks.

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. Praise the Lord with the harp; Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. Psalm 33:1-3 NKJV

Worship in its truest and most satisfying is real heart-felt, in the present and Presence praise, recognizing God is God and we are not, God is good, God is real, alive, personal as well as holy, God is here wherever here is, approachable as well as completely lofty and apart, and wants intimate relationship with us, with ME, with YOU! Whether I worship in my own house, worship while I walk the dogs, or worship in a church with others, it’s healing, comforting, depression-countering, en-couraging, and powerful as a weapon of spiritual warfare.

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, But the Lord made the heavens. Honor and majesty are before Him; Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary. Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples, Give to the Lord glory and strength. Give to the Lord the glory due His name; Bring an offering, and come into His courts. Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth. Psalm 96: 1-9 NKJV

Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. Psalm 47: 1-2 NKJV

I don’t cling to tradition and disdain contemporary, but I don’t disdain tradition as irrelevant. There is beauty to find in it all, every expression because our God is beautiful.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100_ 4-5 NIV

Hearts sang with passion when Isaac Watts’ “Joy to the World” erupted as radical praise and worship in 1719, and we feel that when we sing it today. I find such freedom in worship, such delight in connecting with God and praising, even when I attend a different church or different denomination. In one church I loved being part of, the arts school affiliated with the church regularly brought dancers, singers, artists and even aerialists to add beauty, awe, wonder, joy and life to our worship. I keep my hands at a respectable height yet raised about mid-body in more conservative churches, raise them high in others, kneel on kneelers in some fellowships, kneel right on the floor in the row of chairs in others when I feel the weight of God’s holiness and goodness, repeat the written prayer along with the priest or pastor and everybody in some churches and offer up my own words along with everyone else after a particularly moving “7-11” contemporary song in others, seven words sung eleven times and nobody gets tired of singing!

Our family spent two months in Beijing, China in 1984, and “church” there meant meeting with Christians from literally all over the world in one of the embassies. The International Fellowship had no pastor that summer, so individuals from the congregation took turns leading worship and giving a message. If one of the Africans was preaching, you could count on being there for two hours. If a European or American spoke, we were likely to be out sharing lunch within an hour. What fun to meet and enjoy being God’s kids together, singing songs that might be unfamiliar, praying silently or out loud, in unison or each in our own words, but recognizing and drawing close to the same Lord, Father, Savior.

Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3: 7-18 NIV

    htps://youtu.be/ApbdXzhlunc

It is good to praise the Lord and make music to your name, O Most High, proclaiming your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night, to the music of the ten-stringed lyre and the melody of the harp. For you make me glad by your deeds, Lord; I sing for joy at what your hands have done. Psalm 92: 1-4 NIV

The truth is that I don’t worship God because I’m required to, or because a narcissistic God demands praise and worship. Honestly, I worship God because I NEED to! I need to connect with the reality and person of God, to encounter His love for me as I reach toward him, some days to dance ”in His arms,” some days curled up in His lap in my wing chair, some days with my feet splashing in a stream, some days flat on my face on the floor in my bedroom, but as often as I can in the company of other Christ Followers, whatever their denomination, tradition, or “flavor,” in the power and joy and reverence of our combined love, gratitude, and communal vision and passionate purposes before our mutual Father God.

To You belongs silence [the submissive wonder of reverence], and [it bursts into] praise in Zion, O God; And to You the vow shall be performed.

O You who hear prayer, To You all mankind comes. Wickedness and guilt prevail against me; Yet as for our transgressions, You forgive them [removing them from Your sight]. Blessed is the one whom You choose and bring near To dwell in Your courts. We will be filled with the goodness of Your house, Your holy temple. Psalm 65:1-2, 4 AMP

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night while people say to me all day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng. Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Palm 42:1-5 NIV

A “…BUT…” to pray: God, help me look inside myself and see if and where I’ve been rigid, mindless, heartless, judgmental, relegating worship to some archaic practice out of touch with today, or decrying the freedom of expression in other churches. Show me where I’ve been judgmental about Believers who enjoy tradition for the richness they feel. Where do I need to re-think worship, Holy Spirit? _____________________________________________________________________I truly want to worship and praise you, God, but some days it’s hard. Some days I feel dry as a bone and no praise can give life to me. BUT on days when I’m dry, and feeling empty, Holy Spirit, come and refresh me. Remind me WHO you are, God, remind me of your love, Jesus, and broaden my vision of praise and worship. I want to be alive in you, God! I know you want that, too, so as I say amen in Jesus’ name, Holy Spirit, I’m listening, and I’m willing to __________________________________________________________________________ as you stir me, whether I think I might look silly or not! Come, Father God in the power of your Presence and let’s together _____________________________________________________________________________

Fire burns in the ashes

Rose Jackson © 8/3/2009

Fire in the AshesSome journeys take you to unexpected discoveries in familiar places. Walking through the most difficult time of my life through the smoking ruins of a destroyed relationship, I find Jesus waiting to meet me. . Recently my friend Sharon’s daughter, Charity, told me she wanted to take me on a journey through “the Father’s house,” a spiritual journey into Jesus that had given her a breakthrough in a challenging time in her own life. The idea was to “walk” through God’s house to find Jesus. Hungry to experience God’s presence more deeply, I sat with her in Sharon’s bedroom and lifted my sanctified imagination to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

“Please, God, I don’t want to conjure this out of my own imagination,” I silently cried out.

Long ago I had sat beside a boyfriend in a “spiritual” Sunday evening church service, the hair standing up on my arms, my spirit filled with the suspicion that the “spirit guide” the pastor was listening to absolutely was NOT Jesus. I wanted nothing to do with that kind of experience ever again! But I know Sharon’s and Charity’s heart and faith, and my own as well, so this day I could sit in confidence believing that Jesus guarded my thoughts and nothing of the Enemy could enter. I set off in my mind’s eye up a long driveway. We talked about what we were “seeing,” and my friend Sharon described a beautiful mansion in vivid detail. I was having some trouble, my analytical brain questioning whether what I was sensing was me or the Lord, but I pressed on in faith, believing God truly did want to speak something to my heart.

Crossing imagined polished hardwood floors, walking into large rooms whose vague details disappeared as I tried to focus on them, I just wasn’t getting anything. Sharon’s words were awash in love and amazement as she narrated her journey.

Hmmm . . . . No such experience for me. Why was I getting nowhere? After much mental wandering through an empty mansion, I decided to follow the tug on my heart to go “out back,” and as I pushed open a worn, green wooden screen door, I smelled my Grandmother’s apple tree. As my friend saw glorious flowers and a beautiful river filled with gems, I sat on the old wooden swing hanging from the tree and felt someone pushing me. Oh, could I dare to believe this was Jesus? So natural, so common, so familiar, so ordinary . . . so wonderful! What I was experiencing wasn’t at all like the things Charity had seen in her own walk, wasn’t like the things her friend who’d first shared the journey with her had seen on her own walk, wasn’t like the splendor Sharon was seeing now. Simply so simple. So free. So familiar in family love.

Now Jesus and I sat in the grass on the edge of my Grandmother’s garden, and I smelled dill and rich, warm earth. “What does Jesus want to give you?” Charity asked.

“That’s a good question!” I thought. Nothing was coming into my vision as my hands dug beside Jesus’ hands in Grandma’s deep brown, moist soil. Ha! My hand playfully put a smudge of black dirt on Jesus’ left cheek, and I sensed -or maybe dared to believe – it pleased him. This wasn’t the grand spiritual adventure, the overwhelming breaking in of the Holy Spirit that I had hoped to receive. This wasn’t Acts 2 in the upper room. This was sitting on the grass with my hands in dirt, my hands beside another set of hands, feeling completely at peace and joyfully loved. This was awfully ordinary for a powerful spiritual encounter.

“Jesus wants to give you something. What is it? Ask him,” Charity gently encouraged.

Vaguely I sensed something like a gold brooch in an extended hand, sensed rather than saw, and I got the impression the gold setting held an opal. He was holding it against my chest. “Ask him what it means,” Charity offered.

“Uumm . . . . ,” I was determined NOT to attach any meaning that wasn’t absolutely of God onto this experience. The still small voice of God was so quiet, more a trickle of understanding seeping into my mind. I know many precious stones are mentioned in Revelation 21 where John describes the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem, but I wasn’t at all sure opals were among those stones. “Opals – really pure, beautiful opals – are fiery,” I recounted. “Maybe – maybe Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t let the fire go out in your heart.’ Or maybe, ‘I won’t let the fire go out.’”

Tears erupted from my eyes. My heart is under siege – has been for the past six years. This wasn’t the encounter I wanted with the splendor of God, but a sweet communion with the passionately loving heart of Jesus, and if he wanted to run under me on my Grandma’s swing and wear a smudge of dirt from my hand, that was more than fine by me. He was telling me there was no place he’d rather be than here in my heart.

Wow! Sharon and Charity may have been a bit puzzled and underwhelmed, but I was overcome. I remembered I have a small opal pin at home. I checked both my jewelry box and my concordance as soon as I got home. Yep, there was the pin with four small opals, though the tiny white stones in it aren’t very fiery, and nope, opals aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Did that mean my experience had come solely out of my own imagination? I left a message asking about the significance of opals with a friend who’d spoken a year or so ago about gems in scripture to ask her about opals. When she returned my call, Amy said nope, it was a mystery to her, too. The Bible doesn’t mention opals. Amy explained some information she’d found on opals, and my heart soared as God’s assurance settled deeply in. This information wasn’t in any of the geology books we had at home: Opals are semiprecious stones treasured for their fire and light. Very fragile, opals deteriorate in heat and cold. They contain water, but lose water easily in dry air and become brittle, so opals need to be worn next to flesh so the oils from the body can seal in their moisture. To clean an opal, you must wash it in pure water. Left to dry, an opal will crack and lose its brilliance and beauty.

There it was, God’s word to me: my heart is like an opal, and just as fragile. He washed and cleansed my heart in pure water, the Living Water of Jesus, and seals it daily – if I let Him – with the oil of the Holy spirit. My heart is meant to be – God WANTS me to be – filled with Jesus, my heart pressed close to his so it doesn’t dry out and lose its fire, brilliance, and beauty. There is absolutely nothing common or ordinary in that truth!

In this dry, hope-sucking valley of the shadow of death that I walked through where the Enemy is working to destroy my heart (are you walking that valley too?), God wants above all else for my heart (yours, too!) to be whole, beautiful, and filled with his fire, pressed against his chest in a place of safety, sustaining, and love.

Your experience of the love of Jesus doesn’t need to look like anyone else’s. He loves you too much to let you be less than the unique person He created you to be. Yes, Jesus is the only way to eternal life, the only one whose blood was costly enough to buy you back from the hand of Satan, but the road He has to lead you to himself may be more like the screen door out to green grass than a superhighway to ivory columns and marble floors. Don’t let anyone impose the counterfeit forms of empty tradition on you when what God wants to do with all of the you that you are and in all the you He created you to be is conform YOU to a reflection of the likeness and love of Jesus.

I clasped my opal pin on the chain of a necklace I hadn’t worn in many years, hanging beside a gold-colored, jagged-edged half circle inscribed with these words from Song of Songs 2:16: “I am my Beloved’s.”  Hanging on the chain, the opal pin looks like a cross . . . .

A ” . . . BUT . . . ” to pray: Oh, Abba Father God, my heart feels crushed, ground into the dust, broken, BUT your word says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (SOS 4:7) and you promise I can count on your love and power as “(I) wait in hope for the LORD; he is (my) help and (my) shield. In him (my) heart rejoices, for (I) trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon (me), O LORD, even as (I) put my hope in you.” (Psalm 33:20-22) Restore the lustre, beauty, fire, and water to my heart even in the driest place with the Living Water of your love, Jesus. Thank you that my heart is precious to you and you hold my heart close to yours! You created me with all of this in me ________________________________________________, the good and the flawed, the simple and the complex, the humble and the royal reflection of you in my talents to ________________________________________________________ and my desires to ________________________________________________________, my limitations of ________________________________________ that are the possibilities for you to ___________________________________________ out of your strengthened power to bless _______________________’s life and to bless the world by you doing ___________________________________________ in me and out of me anyway! Open the screen door for me,Jesus, to hear you say ____________________________________________________________________________ to me today. ” . . . BUT . . . ” Abba, Father, Beloved, my heart is weighed down with ________________________ BUT I know you desire to restore my heart, so I give you ______________________________________________ and I receive your _________________________________________________. Take me to that place where your heart resides in me. Amen!

Conformity? Really? Really!Sitting on the front steps of Grandma’s  house. My mother Helen, her sister Bonnie who died tragically in her early 20’s,  and my Grandma Ruth, whose garden was the place of this  wonderful encounter with Jesus

Long-Distance Love

Long-distance grandparenting – ouch! Sadly it’s the norm for many families today.

Some families move across town, some across the country, and some across the globe.

Our only two grandchildren live literally on the other side of the world. Our son and daughter-in-law work for a non-profit humanitarian agency whose home leave policy is three months at home for every year on the field. Most families in their agency save up leave to come home for an entire school year. For us that year was last year, ten months packed with intentionally made memories large and small, from camping at the Grand Canyon to geocaching in the parking lot of our neighborhood drugstore to just plain babysitting so our son and daughter-in-law could have real “date nights,” a hard-to-come-by commodity when they were on the field.

So much fun meant so much heartache saying good-bye. Though our grandchildren were only three and six, they knew they were going back to another far-away country and culture. The anxiety of leaving family spilled out of our grandson’s heart, eyes and conversations during the final month of their home visit: “Grandma, I wish we could stay here with someone until Mommy and Daddy are finished with the work they have to do.”

“You can stay with us!” my heart cried silently, protesting the words coming out of my mouth, “I know, but you’d miss Daddy and Mommy. I’m sure your friends there have missed you, too, and can’t wait to see you again!” Over my heart’s objections, true love told me I needed to do something to help our grandkids make the transition, so through my tears I wrote a poem – with a bow to Dr. Seuss – to tuck into their carry-on bags along with toys and treats for their 32-hour journey – a fun surprise for them and therapy for a grieving Grandma’s heart!

I’ve been blessed to visit them three times since, to see where they live and share in some of their adventures and favorite places in the towns they’ve lived in. I am so proud of my son and daughter-in-law for providing love, grace, shared faith, strength and the stability of love for both of these kids we share in family love, wherever they are!

back on good bed at Suan Bua

Home is Where the Love Is

On the grandkids’ moving day, they were scared to move away,

So Grandma called them on the phone to say, “You’ll never be alone.”

“No matter where the road may wind you, know my love will always find you.

If you move to Timbuktu, I’ll still come visit you.

If you fly to Zanzibar, my heart won’t think that is too far.

If you’re as close as Nacogdoches, I’ll come hug you so ferocious!”

“If you wake up in Jingxi, you both mean the world to me.

Take the bus back to Nanning?  Call on the computer and we can sing.

I’ll send you packages in Key Largo, even though it’s farther than Fargo.

If you drive to Jodrell Bank, my love will fully fill your tank.

If you stop in Honolulu, my love won’t stop; it will pursue you!”

“Ride a camel to Kyrgyzstan, and I’ll still be your biggest fan!

If you get hot in Madagascar, Gram still thinks you’re cool – just ask her!

Sail a boat to Truk or Yap? My heart won’t even need a map.

Cruise the Strait of Kattegat? My heart always knows where you’re at.

Stuff your backpack for Hong Kong? You’re carrying my heart along.

Forget you in Ulaanbaatar? No way!  My thoughts are where you are!”

“Across the globe while you are sleeping, I’m awake; you’re in love’s keeping.

When I sleep and you’re at play, your hearts are just a dream away.

Around the world we’ll rendezvous because I think the world of you!

It’s true, no matter where you dwell, your Grandma loves YOU. Can’t you tell?

From east to west, Cape Town to Nome, where family love is, there is home.”

Sandwich Hugs

Children speak so eloquently straight from the Spirit.  Smelling the cinnamon rolls my older son was baking for breakfast, I showered and dressed for church on Mother’s Day morning at his house. From the master bedroom I heard my six-year-old granddaughter’s invitation, “Grandma, come and cuddle!”  She’d spent the night in the big king-size bed with Daddy and Mommy so I could sleep in her bed overnight, and that’s where I found her curled up against my daughter-in-law.

Dressed or not, how could I refuse such a wonderful request? I crawled under the sheet and snuggled up next to Elsa for a big hug.

“Hey, we’re making an Elsa sandwich,” I laughed. Elsa is well acquainted with sandwich hugs, securely squished between Daddy and Mommy, and often with her brother Evan as part of the “filling.” Sandwich hugs were part of our family ritual on weekends when my boys were growing up, too.

On guided tours, night camps and during summer camps when I worked at the Zoo, we always made “instructor sandwiches” to keep the groups of children safely between us adults so no one got lost. I told the children they were the peanut butter, jelly, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, pickles, salami, onions, olives, mustard, mayonnaise – whatever they wanted to be, and they always called out plenty of disgusting combinations to make things fun. I enjoyed encouraging them because it built camaraderie between us. No, we didn’t bunch up into one big hug, and granted, the “filling” tended to ooze out the sides, but we never lost a camper when they stayed between us.

I asked Elsa what kind of filling she was, and she replied, “Cream cheese.” We put our heads together, literally, and tried to decide what Evan might be. “Jelly? Or bologna (or rather, baloney)?” I joked. We tried to figure out how to fit the entire family into one sandwich hug and decided the best “bread” to be between is God our Father and Jesus the Bread of Life.

“One day we all WILL be!” I offered. “Hmm, but what about the Holy Spirit? Are we a triple-decker sandwich? ”

“Oh, he’ll be sprinkled on top of us like poppy seeds,” Elsa smiled, “or like olive oil!”

What a hug that will make with the oil of the Holy Spirit poured out on us! And yes, I do believe in a God so intimately loving as Father that he probably can’t wait to have us all safely in his arms. I suspect that’s where we are in this life too, when we make him our Father, whether we feel it or not.

Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.  Deuteronomy 33:12

Then Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty . . . All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day.” John 6: 35-39

Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you . . . He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  John 14: 20-21.

Do I feel lonely since I lost the man I loved? Yes, of course I do, painfully so sometimes, and I long for arms to wrap me again securely in faithful love. But till that time, and even after, I sometimes do truly feel God’s presence and always will believe the one with me is the One who reminds me, “The one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.” He doesn’t want any of us lost.

I call that a hug to be cherished, don’t you?

Six-year-old arms are pretty wonderful, too: “Grandma, you and Mommy are blueberry bagels today.”

A “ . . . BUT . . . “ to move:  God, I feel so alone sometimes. Even in the middle of a crowd, and even in the middle of family, still I long to truly feel your arms around me. I want all my family with me in that hug, BUT no matter how far they are or how far I feel from you, I’ll let you be the bread of life and dare to believe that you want to ____________________________________________________________________________________. Scandalous intimacy, I know, but a scandalous love wraps me in an eternal sandwich hug!

Image

Fire in the Ashes

Rose Jackson © 8/3/2009

Some journeys take you to unexpected discoveries in familiar places. Walking through the most difficult time of my life through the smoking ruins of a destroyed relationship, I find Jesus waiting to meet me. . Recently my friend Sharon’s daughter, Charity, told me she wanted to take me on a journey through “the Father’s house,” a spiritual journey into Jesus that had given her a breakthrough in a challenging time in her own life. Hungry to experience God’s presence more deeply, I sat with her in Sharon’s bedroom and lifted my sanctified imagination to the Holy Spirit’s voice.

“Please, God, I don’t want to conjure this out of my own imagination,” I silently cried out. Long ago I had sat beside my then boyfriend in a “spiritual” Sunday evening church service, the hair standing up on my arms, my spirit filled with the suspicion that the “spirit guide” the pastor was listening to absolutely was NOT Jesus. I wanted nothing to do with that kind of experience ever again! But I know Sharon’s and Charity’s heart and faith, and my own as well, so this day I could sit in confidence believing that Jesus guarded my thoughts and nothing of the Enemy could enter. So I set off in my mind’s eye up a long driveway. We talked about what we were “seeing,” and my friend described a beautiful mansion in vivid detail. I was having some trouble, my analytical brain questioning whether what I was sensing was me or the Lord, but I pressed on in faith, believing God truly did want to speak something to my heart. Crossing polished hardwood floors, walking into large rooms whose vague details disappeared as I tried to focus on them, I just wasn’t getting anything. The idea is to “walk” through God’s house to find Jesus. My friend’s words were awash in love and amazement as she narrated her journey.

Hmmm . . . . No such experience for me. Why was I getting nowhere? After much mental wandering, I decided to follow the tug on my heart to go “out back,” and I pushed open a worn screen door and smelled my Grandmother’s apple tree. As my friend saw glorious flowers and a beautiful river filled with gems, I sat on the old wooden tree swing and felt someone pushing me. Ah, could I dare to believe this was Jesus? So natural, so common, so familiar, so ordinary . . . so wonderful! What I was experiencing wasn’t at all like the things Charity had seen in her own walk, wasn’t like the things her friend who’d first shared the journey with her had seen on her own walk, wasn’t like the splendor my friend was seeing now. So simple. So free.

Now Jesus and I sat in the grass on the edge of my Grandmother’s garden, and I smelled dill and rich, warm earth. “What does Jesus want to give you?” Charity asked.

“That’s a good question!” I thought. Nothing was coming into my vision as my hands dug beside Jesus’ hands in Grandma’s deep brown, moist soil. Ha! My hand playfully put a smudge of black dirt on Jesus’ left cheek, and I sensed -or maybe dared to believe – it pleased him. This wasn’t the grand spiritual adventure, the overwhelming breaking in of the Holy Spirit that I had hoped to receive. This wasn’t Acts 2 in the upper room. This was sitting on the grass with my hands in dirt, my hands beside another set of hands, feeling completely at peace and joyfully loved. This was awfully ordinary for a powerful spiritual encounter.

“Jesus wants to give you something. What is it? Ask him,” Charity gently encouraged. Vaguely I sensed something like a gold brooch in an extended hand, sensed rather than saw, and I got the impression the gold setting held an opal. He was holding it against my chest. “Ask him what it means,” Charity offered.

“Uumm . . . . ,” I was determined NOT to attach any meaning that wasn’t absolutely of God onto this experience. The still small voice of God was so quiet, more a trickle of understanding seeping into my mind. Sharon wasn’t sure what opals looked like. I know many precious stones are mentioned in Revelation 21 where John describes the foundations of the walls of the New Jerusalem, but I wasn’t at all sure opals were among those stones. “Opals – really pure, beautiful opals – are fiery,” I recounted. “Maybe – maybe Jesus is saying, ‘Don’t let the fire go out in your heart.’ Or maybe, ‘I won’t let the fire go out.’”

Tears erupted from my eyes. My heart is under siege – has been for the past six years. This wasn’t the encounter I wanted with the splendor of God, but a sweet communion with the passionately loving heart of Jesus, and if he wanted to run under me on my Grandma’s swing and wear a smudge of dirt from my hand, that was more than fine by me. He was telling me there was no place he’d rather be than here in my heart.

Wow! Sharon and Charity may have been a bit puzzled and underwhelmed, but I was overcome. I remembered I have a small opal pin at home. I checked both my jewelry box and my concordance as soon as I got home. Yep, there was the pin with four small opals, though the tiny white stones in it aren’t very fiery, and nope, opals aren’t mentioned in the Bible. Did that mean my experience had come solely out of my own imagination? I left a message asking about the significance of opals with a friend who’d spoken a year or so ago about gems in scripture to ask her about opals. When she returned my call, Amy said nope, it was a mystery to her, too. The Bible doesn’t mention opals. She did go on to explain some information she’d found on opals, and my heart soared as God’s assurance settled deeply in. This information wasn’t in any of the geology books we had at home:

Opals are semiprecious stones treasured for their fire and light. Very fragile, opals deteriorate in heat and cold. They contain water, but lose water easily in dry air and become brittle, so opals need to be worn next to flesh so the oils from the body can seal in their moisture. To clean an opal, you must wash it in pure water. Left to dry, an opal will crack and lose its brilliance and beauty.

There it was, God’s word to me: my heart is like an opal, and just as fragile. He washed and cleansed my heart in pure water, the Living Water of Jesus. My heart is meant to be – God WANTS me to be – filled with Jesus, my heart pressed close to his so it doesn’t dry out and lose its fire, brilliance, and beauty. There is absolutely nothing common or ordinary in that truth!

In this dry, hope-sucking valley of the shadow of death that I walked through where the Enemy is working to destroy my heart (are you walking that valley too?), God wants above all else for my heart (yours, too!) to be whole, beautiful, and filled with his fire, pressed against his chest in a place of safety, sustaining, and love. No one els’ed experience of the love of Jesus needs to be yours. he loves you too much to let you be less than the person He created you to be. Yes, Jesus is the only way to
eternal life, the only one whose blood was costly enough to buy you back from the hand of Satan, but the road He has to lead you to himself may be more like the screen door out to green grass than ivory columns and marble floors. Don’t let anyone impose the counterfeit forms of religious obligation on you when what God wants to do with all the you you are and in all the you He created is conform YOU to a reflection of the  likeness and love of Jesus.

I clasped my opal pin on the chain of a necklace I haven’t worn in over 30 years. The pendant on the chain is a gold-colored, jagged-edged half circle inscribed with these words from Song of Songs 2:16: “I am my Beloved’s.” Surprisingly, when the opal pin hangs on the chain, it looks like a cross . . . .

A ” . . . BUT . . . ” to pray: Oh, Abba Father God, my heart feels crushed, ground into the dust, broken, BUT your word says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.” (SOS 4:7) and you promise I can count on your love and power as “(I) wait in hope for the LORD; he is (my) help and (my) shield. In him (my) heart rejoices, for (I) trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love rest upon (me), O LORD, even as (I) put my hope in you.” (Psalm 33:20-22) Restore the lustre, beauty, fire, and water to my heart even in the driest place with the Living Water of your love, Jesus. Thank you that my heart is precious to you and you hold my heart close to yours! You created me with all of this in me ________________________________________________, the good and the flawed, the simple and the complex, the  humble and the royal reflection of you in my talents to ________________________________________________________  and my desires to ________________________________________________________, my limitations of ________________________________________ that are the possibilities for you to ___________________________________________ out of your strengthened power to bless _______________________’s life and to bless the world by you doing ___________________________________________ in me and out of me anyway!  Open the screen door for me,Jesus, to hear you say ____________________________________________________________________________ to me today. ” . . . BUT . . . ” Abba, Father, Beloved, my heart is weighed down with ________________________ BUT I know you desire to restore my heart, so I give you ______________________________________________ and I receive your _________________________________________________. Take me to that place where your heart resides in me. Amen!