[A MYSTICAL MOMENT]
BY: JAN A. ANTONSSON
FEBRUARY 15, 2015
The Glory Road Blog, A Kingdom Highway
“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5, KJV).
My definition of a “mystical moment” is when I come into the presence of Father God. Most of these times are lovely connections with the divine, but they can be uncomfortable as well. Now that Lenny’s gone, I ask the Lord for guidance when I’m unclear on how to proceed. Lately when I have asked for directions, He has frequently said, “Be yourself!” My first response to that was, “You’re the only one I can be myself with because You are the only one who can stand the real me.” It was a joke, but He wasn’t laughing, so the last time He told me to be myself, I asked him to please explain it to me because I’m confused.
His abrupt answer was. “You can’t be yourself until you give up worrying about your sins and quit trying to be righteous.” He who knows the thoughts and intents of my heart had uncovered something I didn’t know was still there: sin consciousness. Good grief! This is embarrassing and a tad depressing as well. However, I know from a lifetime of experience, that if He digs up something in me that needs fixing, He will take care of it, because I certainly cannot.
The Lord astounded me again by saying. “There’s nothing you can do about your sins, one way or the other, except admit them. I’m the only one who can deal, have dealt, and will continuously deal with human sin, but you seem to want to take some credit for getting rid of it yourself. You have not surrendered your death grip on your own abilities, and the more you let your insecurities and inferiorities control you, the more desperate you become to hold onto your own righteousness, which is a myth.”
[Note: Most of us grew up hearing preachers, pastors, and priests tell us to repent of our sins (missing the mark, not just “sex, drugs, and rock and roll”). However, the meaning of repent is to “change your mind,” as opposed to what most of us thought it meant, which was “change your behavior.” Neither are possible without the indwelling Spirit, but I’m finally getting it that repentance for me is not about my behavior, but rather, about who do I think I am? God has been patiently exposing my insecurities and feelings of inferiorities, which came from the law, never from His grace. I need to change my mind about who I thought I was, a sinner, who couldn’t change her behavior, even though she really tried. Only the indwelling spirit can change us, and scriptures help in the process. Who I am is a child of God (1 John 3:1), seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:6), a joint heir with Christ (Rom. 8:17), a partaker of the divine promises (II Cor. 1:20), of God’s unending grace (Rom. 5:20), and unconditional love (I John 4:16). And so are you, by the way. Hallelujah!]
I’ve written hundreds of words over the years about the folly of self-effort in obtaining righteousness, but I never saw it in quite this way before. It explains why Jesus was so gentle and kind to the ungodly sinners He ate with and fellowshipped with, but was hard as nails on the self-righteous Pharisees who were determined to prove that they DESERVED to be admitted into the coming Kingdom because of their DNA link to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What they had was a physical blood link to the Patriarchs, but that had nothing to do with spirituality. Jesus, of course, was not fooled or put off by their self aggrandizement. He saw them and called them out for what they were: frauds.
The sinners, on the other hand, had probably tried and failed to give up sin, but as most of us know, that also is a myth. It’s impossible to do because the sin in us is more than we can control. Paul’s lament in Romans 7:15-24, is the lament of us all: “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Vs. 15)….For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:22-24, RSV). Paul’s Spirit given answer is, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-2, RSV).
The Spirit showed me two things in this passage, the first one I knew, the second, new to me. 1) Wringing my hands over real or imagined sin, and trying to figure out how to fix it, is NEVER going to deliver me from whatever it is. For me at least, THAT IS “this body of death” which plagues me when I second guess my actions. All addictions are the perfect example of the futility of self effort in changing dangerous or reckless behavior, but you don’t have to be an addict to understand this principal. 2) Paul did NOT conclude that he was free from sin or had victory over it. He did conclude that in Christ, there is no condemnation, because our victory is IN Christ, not in ourselves. Being in Christ is our ONLY way off the treadmill of sin and our self righteous attempts to deliver ourselves from it. [The phrase “in Christ” appears in the New Testament 89 times!]
When God frees us from this endless cycle of missing the mark (sin), repentance, and more failure, we enjoy life and peace in the Spirit, and freedom from the soul killing consequences of sin: guilt and shame.
Isaiah asked the question which comes to mind at this time: “Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD, or as his counselor has instructed him?” (Isa. 40:13, RSV). Paul’s distillation of the Gospel, the Good News for all, past, present and future, is found in Romans, Chapters 9-11. If I had but one verse to cling to, it would be Romans 11:32: “For God has consigned (penned up) all men to disobedience, that he may have mercy upon all” (RSV). Lenny used to say to the Baptist men to whom he was sent, “It’s God’s fault.” They, of course, wanted to kill the messenger, but Lenny meant no disrespect to our matchless Heavenly Father. He was merely paraphrasing Paul in the verse just quoted. God gets all the glory, and takes all the blame as well. Paul’s affirmation is just the opposite of what most of us have been taught. If God ultimately takes the blame, then we don’t have to, and we can stop judging others when they don’t meet our standards…If God consigned all men to disobedience, then who has a chance to be saved, to live in glory with our Father for all eternity? Now comes the best Good News written anywhere: we all have more than a chance, because God, who is not willing for any to perish, but that all should come to repentance, plans to have mercy upon all (See II Peter 3:9). Whatever He wills, will happen because God’s will is not going to fail! (See Eph. 1:11).
To the man still living by law, involved with what Fr. Richard Rohr calls, “dualistic thinking” [This is good; that is evil. I’m right; you’re wrong], this sounds like the rankest heresy. Paul knew that, having felt the stones the Jews had cast at him on several occasions. Why did they feel the need to kill him? Simply put, it was just what the Lord said to me. They could not give up on their own righteousness. In fact, no one can do it without the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
We are so terrified of judgment and punishment that many of us lived in fear of God until He made His presence felt by us. Until He does that, until we feel His unconditional love for us, we cannot love Him. And while I love the Scriptures, and read them through every year as a child, the punishments God hurled upon the hapless Children of Israel, caused me to fear Him mightily.
All those sermons about hell fire and eternal damnation had their corrosive effect on my psyche. I was a good child. You would have been good too if you had to answer to my mother and grandmother when you left the “straight and narrow path,” and that was certainly not all bad, but it did set me up for the conditional, for the legalistic and a certain, fearful looking toward the judgment.
Most Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike were threatened with eternal damnation if we strayed. Being human, of course, we did stray. Some of us repented and tried harder, while others said, “Forget it, if it depends on me, I’m toast and I’m going to quit trying and live by my own rules.” Neither response brought us peace, joy, or love for God.
The Apostle John has the answer for why that is: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:18-19, NIV). It’s because we have not felt and tasted His unending love that we have no confidence about the Day of Judgment.
Once Christ baptized me in the Spirit and I felt, tasted, and experienced His unconditional love for me, that went a long way toward taking away my fear of God. The Spirit led me to scriptures which had been overlooked by the preachers who strutted and fretted their hour upon the stage of my life in the early years, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” to quote MacBeth. One of those precious Good News passages is found in James: “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13, NIV). What a glorious, liberating truth it is, echoing Paul’s statement that “God has enclosed everyone in unbelief, so that he may have mercy on everyone” (Romans 11:32, Catholic Public Domain Version).
This passage is equally thrilling: “Amen, amen, I say to you, that whoever hears my word, and believes in him who sent me, has eternal life, and he does not go into judgment, but instead he crosses from death to life” (Jn 5:24, Catholic Public Domain Version). Did you notice that believers do not come into judgment? If that’s true, then why do we fear Judgment Day?
But as someone is sure to point out, some people still have not heard about Jesus, and certainly can’t be counted among the believers. Not to worry, God has that problem covered as well: “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me” (Isa. 65:1; Rom. 10:20, NIV). Putting that together with Paul’s assurance that faith is a GIFT of God, lest any man should boast, we soar in the heavenlies with all the saints: “O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory for ever. Amen” (Romans 11:33-36 RSV).
Father, we thank You that there’s nothing left to fear and certainly nothing for which we can take credit. You chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world and You are the author and finisher of our faith from start to finish. You are the only one with whom we have to do. In reverence and thanksgiving, we join the voice of many waters, and the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, “Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.” Amen and amen.