It's amazing. Somehow and for some reason I believe I have experienced a progressive revelation from the Lord, and I believe that it is intended to share with others. It is most assuredly one that has been a few years in coming. Looking back on who I was a few years back, I'm not sure that I could have handled all of it together at first, and that could be one reason why it has involved several revelations to arrive at this point of discernment. Another reason could be that each one has its own merits for both life in Christ and earthly relationships, but taken together, the power, grace and majesty of God Almighty are revealed in glory.
Certainly, this message did not come because I personally have anything holy or especially prophetic about myself to deserve such a revelation. It comes on the heels (and at the head) of a focused span of years trying desperately to cut through the fluff and seek after the real truth of God's will. So much of the rejection faced by the church has to do with the multitudes of those who profess belief in Jesus Christ standing and praising day and night in church buildings but never uttering his name in public, and behaving contrary to the message of the gospel. Some of it is due to poor teaching and careless interpretation of Scripture. Some of it is due to those who would use a false gospel for personal gain and in so doing, profane the name of Christ in the eyes of the world.
While I believe this message to be vitally important for my own journey, I believe he has given the heart of it to be proclaimed among the saints, in order that his true heart would be made visible in an age where he is no longer popularly known.
Now, I mean to explain how this revelation came about in my life, and I know that it is something many often overlook because it is a knowledge that goes beyond the senses, not readily visible in the business of being a citizen in our postmodern society. This knowledge is supernatural in nature. It is not my message. It is the province of God, and his alone to reveal at such a time as this, and so I want first to pray as I compose this article that I will type it out faithfully and in line with God's will, and that my heart will be pure and filled with his love as I pour out my experiences on these pages, and that his name and activity would be magnified as I write:
May the Lord bless you and keep you; may he lift up his countenance upon you and bring you peace, and may the love of God the Father surround you in the loving ministry of the church today, and may his peace reside within you in the person of the Holy Spirit, and may his truth be ever before you in the person of Jesus Christ and his cross. Thank you, O Lord, for your manifold blessings and revelations which you have bestowed upon us and conferred to your children and expressed through your sacrifice. May we hear now what you have to teach us, and carry it in our hearts today and always for the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As I said above, this has been a progressive revelation. It began a few years ago one Sunday morning, early in my days as a follower of Christ. It was one of those mornings we've all had, trying to get ready for church, though you who have children but don't go to church still have had these days. The kids were being impossible and no one wanted to get out of bed so early or cooperate at all. Breakfast was a nightmare and getting the kids dressed was not a simple process. And I, an habitually impatient person, was frustrated and grumpy, so much so that my wife, Candice, who has very little patience with my impatience, shut down and refused to come to church. It was then a whole new fight, trying to convince her to quit being so difficult and just get dressed already. It wasn't happening. So I threw up my hands in exasperation and decided to heck with it; I was staying home too.
So, to burn off some of my frustration, I filled the sink to wash the dishes. While at the task, a brilliant sunbeam shone in my eyes through the window. After squinting for a few minutes, I began to reflect on the meaning of "the glory of the Lord." As I did so, I became horribly convicted and ashamed of my previous impatience and it seemed to me that God's voice was speaking inside me, saying, "Do not be the cause of your wife, my daughter, skipping church again. This is my commandment, and your responsibility." I knew that Candice's regular weekly attendance wasn't at issue; it was her relationship with Jesus that I was discouraging through my ungodly behaviour. God was telling me then, and I hear it even louder today subsequent to further revelation, that only by me putting on Jesus Christ as the new man (Ephesians 4:24) and being an example of godliness in my home (Philippians 3:17, 1 Timothy 4:12, Titus 2:7) will my family see and desire the glory of the Lord in their lives, because talking the talk doesn't mean anything unless you live it out. This call to grow into that example has never left me to this day, and God is working on me even in my stubbornness, but it was only the first in a chain as we will see.
A couple of years later, Candice and I had purchased our first home, and were experiencing our first mortgage, our first time living right in town in years and I was experiencing the stress of working full-time, being in Bible College full-time, and being a husband and father full-time, all at once. I was not coping well, but I was hanging in there. Nonetheless, Candice was having a lot of difficulty and was relying heavily on me to be responsible for a lot of things. Her relationships with people in the church were often rocky, and my desire to make peace between warring parties rather than alienate people was an indication to her that I was not supporting her, but rather was ashamed of her. I cannot stress enough that this is not true. However I needed to find a way to show Candice that she is safe and secure. A familiar voice came to me as I was going to sleep one night: "You must love your wife. You must hold her and protect her and comfort her. Someday you are going to see her die."
WHAT??!!!! It shocked me awake and I was up, processing this, for a long time. What did it mean? Is my wife literally going to go first into the grave? How do I interpret it? Is it really God speaking? Honestly to this day I am not sure whether it means a literal and physical death or the kind of death to self and to sin that Paul writes about in Romans 6:11, 7:4-6, Galatians 5:24, or Colossians 3:3-7 among others, or that Peter encourages in 1 Peter 2:24. It may be one or both, and if I misunderstood entirely, it may be neither. But there is enough evidence in the remainder of this chain of revelations to cause me to include it as part of the process. I know for certain that God intends for me to be a strong husband and a bulwark of spiritual defence for my wife, to love Candice as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
A while after this shocking experience, I had a dream that I will never forget. I believe it was a vision of my wife in heaven. I didn't really understand it as a progression then, but in prayer and meditation I have come to believe that God has shown me the connection. See, I have never seen anything or anyone so beautiful in all of my life as I did in this dream. And I have seen some beautiful things and some stunning people. It wasn't that the beauty was outward or the kind that suited my aesthetic "tastes" but maybe not someone else's. I mean the kind of beauty that is pure, divine, universally cherished; an unmistakable vision of heaven. I say this because when I look at the Scriptures in Isaiah 6 and Revelation 21, among others, I see glimpses of the kind of beauty that can only be described by the writers in their ancient context by the use of simile and metaphor. And the inclination I felt upon waking was to see, when I look at Candice, deep into her with the eyes of God and note the beauty of the vision as being extant within her and about her; to see the totality of this cherished daughter of God and to desire that she be surrounded by and infused with his love and his grace, protected and preserved by him, to be presented as a bride beautifully adorned for her bridegroom, without blemish or wrinkle (Ephesians:5:27, Revelation 21:2) on the day of his return. I understand that the Scripture here is speaking of the church, and the holy city of New Jerusalem, but looking at the individual believer as a part of the eternal kingdom, and human marriage being a picture of Christ's relationship with the church, means to me that this vision is significant to one person as well as the whole. Some days, I have to admit in my humanity that this task is easier than other days , and some days my own sinfulness and self-absorbedness make it nearly impossible. But I am reminded of this vision often, because of its sheer and awesome beauty. And there was still more to come.
Last year, I was privileged to be a part of a program called "Challenge Day," which is a day when tenth grade students are brought together about a hundred at a time with about twenty or so adult volunteers from all walks of life to learn about living together without judging one another, to learn about feeling good about yourself, to learn about how others feel the same struggles and pain as you do, and to learn how to be a friend and to accept a friend. One of the key things I took away from this as an adult volunteer was that people, especially young teens, have a tendency to shape their behaviour and their attitudes around the painful circumstances and experiences in their lives, and that these negative feelings, which our society encourages us NOT to express, go instead into what the facilitators called their "balloon." Of course we all know that when a balloon gets too full, it pops, and all the junk pours out. It pours out in the form of hurtful behaviour and sometimes self-harm or violent aggression or bullying. I saw Jesus there, though his name was never mentioned and his word was not proclaimed as such. In other words, he was present, transforming lives and healing broken hearts through the process of gently deflating these young peoples' "balloons," but our Lord just wasn't wearing his name tag that day.
A few weeks ago, I was contemplating the problem of a school bully bothering one of my sons and a few of the other young boys in our neighbourhood on the school bus nearly every day, and I was reminded of the things I learned on Challenge Day. I see that in this bully's life, there may be pain that he only reveals in the form of aggression. There may be anger he refuses to talk about but expresses in the form of ridicule, and in inappropriate and sometimes destructive behaviour. Now, Candice and a few other parents spoke to the principal of the school about it and hopefully this will be the end of it, but in addition to this, what can we pray for in this situation? What does God have to say? Surprisingly, one answer came to me from Revelation 21:3-4:
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.'"
Now, how can an end times prophecy speak into this? And what does it have to do with the revelations concerning my wife? Well, we can see that if people live in and react out of their own pain, which is the pain and resultant death that comes from mankind's fall into sin (Genesis 3), then what happens when all the tears are wiped away? When death is no more, when there is no more mourning or pain? What is left when the sin is finally removed? Well, the answer lies in what there was before the sin was applied to the human being: "Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness'" (Genesis 1:26). What lies beneath all of the sin, which does not infuse or mix with our true selves but is simply a template laid upon us by the first man's disobedience, is the pure and beautiful original creation: the image of God himself which we all bear! And God sees this image, though we only see "in a mirror dimly" (1 Corinthians 13:12), we will see him face to face with no veil of sin to blur his glory. He sees his reflection in his children because of the obedience of Christ, whose faithful sacrifice atoned for the sin of Adam and washed our stains away! The school bully, my wife, cleansed and without pain, are images of God!
Now comes the latest piece. In watching a video segment of the "Divine Conspiracy" Bible Study series by John Ortberg and Dallas Willard, I was reminded that Deuteronomy 6:5 and Matthew 22:37 records God's greatest commandment: to "love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength." The second, says Jesus, is like it: to "love our neighbours as ourselves." It hit me like a truck, based on the chain of revelations which was itself suddenly revealed! There is a reason why the second is like the first: within every person is the untainted and unspoiled image of God! Underneath all of the evil and fear and pain and death-bringing sinfulness in each of us, which is a result of original and ongoing disobedience, there is love and innocence and beauty in their pure forms which can only be revealed if we allow Jesus Christ to reveal them to us by his word and his Spirit, and if we will submit to his authority we will be seen as innocent by God himself! See, when God commands us to treasure each other, to care for one another, he is really still commanding us to love him! He is commanding us to treasure the REAL person underneath the sin, which is in effect the very image of God who lives in each of his human beings. This is connected to what Jesus said in Matthew 25:31-46, in reference to the final judgment:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Mother Teresa noted this concept as well, saying that everyone we meet: the dying, the sick, the otherwise-abled, the needy, is really Jesus in a distressing disguise. Could this also include the annoying neighbour, the mean boss, the grouchy father, the angry husband, the depressed wife? The criminal, the one who does harm in one fashion or other; could they be Jesus in disguise, the very image of God's perfection and beauty, only blurred and veiled so as to be unrecognizable unless viewed with the eyes of one who sees face to face? Matthew records the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 5 of his Gospel, where Jesus says, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they SHALL SEE GOD!" A pure heart is offered to us and revealed in us when we choose to genuinely turn and seek after him and his righteousness, not just to escape judgment but to truly seek to join up and undertake God's mission to save the world. How? When we can see the image of God in others who know him not, our love for him (which is God's own love for his reflected image) can draw out the hidden image of God in them through the power of the Spirit and permit them to believe, and so receive eternal life!
God has revealed to the saints, and recently to me through these Scriptures and experiences that the most beautiful beings in the world, including you, me, my wife, our children, our neighbour, school bullies and even those who would be our enemies; all of these must be, and will be, treasured and cared for and loved by the Lord, and will be invited to come and receive life everlasting because of the glorious fact that all of us underneath it all are truly perfect images of God. Seven billion images of God walking around on the earth, the majority of whom are just waiting to be awakened by his Spirit. The kingdom of God really is here!
Friends, we must ask God to open us up wide, to allow us to recognize that the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross has removed the veil which separates us from God. Let us not see Christ's equality with God as something to be grasped! Let us not see this revelation as making us any better than others. We all need his grace so much. He lives among us and inside us as our God. We who will receive him and his Holy Spirit are given eyes to see and ears to hear the pure beauty and majestic voice of the Most High; pure hearts to be filled with his glory. So, let us open them wide, asking God to reveal himself through all of the pain, through the death, through the barrier of our sin, and to help us to get back to the business of treasuring him above all else, and by extension then, treasuring each other, all others, because he treasures us so much, because we are each the image of God, the greatest treasure of all. May the kingdom of heaven be unleashed upon the earth, and the eternal age of righteousness and joy begin.