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Forever in Love with Jesus
By Dee Brestin Kathy Troccoli
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2004 Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTurn Your Eyes upon Jesus
Imagine that you are going with us and a few of our friends to one of our favorite museums: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. When we arrive and get our tickets, the woman at the information booth tells us: "We have two exciting exhibits on loan from Israel. If you walk to the left, you will find portraits of Jesus from the gallery of John the apostle, who wrote so much in the New Testament: the Gospel, three letters, and the book of Revelation." Audible exclamations rise from our group, and we know we will all be going into this exhibit.
But then the woman says, "And if you walk to the right, you will find portraits of Jesus from the gallery of Hosea—the Old Testament prophet." We are kind of surprised; we look at each other: What? Christ in Hosea? That book is filled with infidelity, prostitution, and oppression. But we are certainly intrigued.
We decide to split up and meet at the Roof Garden Café for lunch. One group goes to the left, to John's gallery, the other to the right, to Hosea's gallery. Later, over chicken salads and Cokes, we talk enthusiastically about our morning.
"My favorite in Hosea's gallery was The Bridegroom. Did you see His face? It was so full of love ..."
"Wow! I was just going to comment on The Bridegroom in John's gallery. Just seeing Him on that white horse reminded me of Mel Gibson in Braveheart."
"Oh—after we finish eating, I want to go there."
"The one I'll never forget from John's gallery was The Lion of Judah: the mane was gleaming in the sun, and the eyes seemed to penetrate with an all-knowing look."
"That's amazing. There was a lion stalking by the side of the road in Hosea's gallery! Only he was so frightening."
As our conversation continues, it is obvious to us that the same portraits are in both galleries. And then, like a slow and widening light, we realize why there is a connection between the two. They painted the same Jesus because:
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. —Hebrews 13:8
Sometimes It Causes Me to Tremble
We had no idea when we began to write Forever in Love with Jesus what lay around the corner for us. We sensed a magnificent staircase spiraling ahead, but God gave us only enough light for a step at a time. Now, when we look back, we can identify with the lyrics from that famous old spiritual:
Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble ...
Theologians have a term for this: the mysterium tremendum, or simply "awful mystery." It is the kind of encounter with God that makes your blood run icy cold. For though God is completely good and loving, He is also holy and just, and when you suddenly realize He is truly present, as close as your very breath, a part of you cannot help but tremble.
(Dee) One of the portraits of Jesus we will study in depth is The Lion, who appears in both Hosea and John. As we were writing about The Lion, my daughter Sally, who is a professional artist, was commissioned by a couple to paint Aslan, the lion who is a Christ figure in The Chronicles of Narnia, the classic children's series by C. S. Lewis. Sally was inspired by the following conversation that occured when the children in the story first heard about Aslan:
"Is he a man?" asked Lucy.
"Aslan a man!" said Mr. Beaver sternly. "Certainly not. I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-Beyond-the-Sea. Don't you know who is the King of Beasts? Aslan is a lion—the lion, the great Lion!"
"... Then he isn't safe?" said Lucy.
"Safe?" said Mr. Beaver, "... who said anything about safe? ... 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you."
Each morning, before Sally began painting, she prayed that the Spirit of God would take over and flow through her. She wanted to portray both the love of Aslan and the mysterium tremendum, the side of Aslan that "isn't safe." Like Jesus, Aslan is wonderful because he is completely good, loving, and merciful. Yet he also "isn't safe" in that he is holy, just, and powerful. The White Witch of Narnia and all her evil could not stand against Aslan's power—nor can anyone who persists in rebellion against Jesus. There are also times when, for reasons we cannot fathom now, an omnipotent God may allow Satan or the sin in this world to pour pain and sorrow into our lives.
When Sally completed the painting, she told me she felt the "not safe" side of Aslan had emerged in it, but she wasn't sure she could see the "wonderful side." The morning after she finished, she put it on display at church. A woman came up behind Sally, and placing her hand on Sally's shoulder, said: "I love that tender lamb in your painting."
What lamb? Sally thought. She has often said that people show her different things they see in her abstract pieces—unclear images that don't mean anything to her. But when Sally walked over to the painting, the lamb was as clear as the lion. It was unmistakable.
Sally had truly not intended to paint that lamb, but she had prayed continually that the Spirit of God would work through her. When creating the lion's wild mane, she put the enormous canvas on the floor and threw down dark textures for the shadows. Then, as the paint began to dry, she removed some of it with pallet knives, making sweeping arcs to create highlights. In the process, somehow, mysteriously, a distinct lamb emerged. Not only that, he was at the lion's heart, and he looked as if he had been slain.
When the Spirit of God gave the apostle John a vision of Jesus Christ and the last days, John recorded what he saw:
Then one of the elders said to me, "Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals." Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne. —Revelation 5:5–6 NIV
When we first saw the lamb, we felt a chill running up and down our spines, for we knew we were in the presence of a holy God.
What we did not know, but of course He did, is that the very day Sally delivered her painting to the couple who had commissioned it, she would learn that her dad had advanced colon cancer. The doctors have not given us much hope, but we have hope, because we belong to a God who can and does heal. Though we know we cannot insist, we are crying out for mercy, as He has taught us to do.
As we walk through the deepest valley of our lives right now and realize that our fifty-nine-year-old husband and father, this godly, precious man, may be taken from us, Jesus feels like the Lion in our lives, tearing apart what we hold most dear. He certainly is not safe. Yet at His heart—and this we must always remember—is the Lamb who has been slain. When I saw the lamb in Sally's painting, I wept. For whatever awaits us with Steve's cancer, I know that the Lamb of God is at the heart of the Lion of Judah. Jesus is good, He is loving, and if I ever doubt it, I have only to remember that He died for me. The fact that His Spirit led Sally to paint this lamb without her even realizing it is just another evidence of His care, His love, and His mystery.
It is also an evidence of His care that He led Kathy and me to look at portraits of Jesus—to "turn our eyes upon Jesus." At first, we were torn between Hosea and John. Initially, when we began to plan this book, I had told Kathy I had a longing to encourage women to look into Hosea. Kathy loved Hosea as well, and in some ways, it seemed perfect for Forever in Love with Jesus. It is in Hosea where the Lord says:
I will betroth you to me forever. —Hosea 2:19 NIV
Yet, we knew how difficult and how dark much of the book of Hosea is. How many would really want to study Hosea? we wondered. After all, along with beautiful metaphors of God's redeeming love are frightening descriptions of His judgment. There are many times when He is the Lion who is not safe. Are women going to be turned off before they understand what we're trying to convey?
So we withdrew from Hosea. We began to think, Perhaps we should study the portraits of Jesus that John paints. How encouraging it would be to study the great "I AMs" in John's gospel. Everyone would be blessed by portraits such as "I AM the Light of the World," "I AM the Good Shepherd ..."
Yet, still, we felt pulled toward Hosea. Which way was God leading? I went to sleep one night, praying, Lord, I want to hear from You. It's so hard to wait. Unless You have a better idea, could You show me soon?
I have found that if I am willing to wait on Him, as hard as that is, He does come. One night I awoke with a thought:
Could it be that the pictures we so love of Jesus from John are also in Hosea?
I could hardly wait to get out of bed and go downstairs to where my Bible was. I curled up in my green leather chair and opened to Hosea again.
There, in the middle of the night, His Holy Spirit caused me to see portraits that had always been there but now were unveiled. We talk about "a kiss from the King," when the Word of God jumps out at us, giving us exactly what we need. I certainly was being "kissed" that night. I could identify with the two disciples who were on the road to Emmaus when a "stranger" (the resurrected Christ) joined them. Eventually, Jesus opened their eyes and showed them, "beginning at Moses and all the Prophets," pictures of Himself. (Luke 24:27 NIV, emphasis added). Over and over again, I saw the portraits John painted of The Redeemer and The Bridegroom; I also saw The Lion of Judah, and The Resurrection and the Life—there they were—in Hosea! I could hardly wait to talk to Kathy. Please, Lord, if this is of You, put this same desire in her. Let her confirm it.
When I explained to Kathy the parallels between John and Hosea, her eyes widened. She said, "You're right, Dee. Jesus is all over the book of Hosea. I love how tenderly devoted Hosea was to his bride, and yet there were times when he loved her with a very tough love. It is such a parallel to how God loves His church, His bride. And I think women will also understand the personal application—like in Ephesians—of 'how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.' I definitely think we need to explore that. It will be exciting!"
We both have a great love for beautiful art. Seeing the parallels of Jesus in these particular books, our enthusiasm grew as we thought of portraying them visually. The visual helps us see the truth as well as hear it. In this book we will behold many portraits, as if we were wandering into a church filled with stained-glass windows. Like flickering candles, the Scriptures allow us to see the detail in these windows. Sometimes you will see a gentle Jesus, as mild as a lamb. Sometimes you will see His righteous wrath, as ferocious as a lion. What is also amazing is that you will see His tenderness and His fierce holiness within each of the portraits.
R. C. Sproul talks about "the trauma of holiness," the mysterium tremendum. When Isaiah had a vision of the holiness of God, "Every fiber in his body was trembling ... Relentless guilt screamed from every pore." Sproul says, "It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!" And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. —Isaiah 6:1–4
We would have been frightened, frozen—flattened! Isaiah surely was:
Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The Lord of hosts. —Isaiah 6:5
The "unsafe side" of God. We have each experienced it: (Dee) I was on my knees when I first received Christ into my heart, and I, like Isaiah, had a glimpse of the holiness of God and fear overwhelmed me with its icy grip. I saw my depravity, and I knew I deserved God's wrath. But then, as in Isaiah's case, grace relieved my fears.
(Kathy) I had just heard the doctor's diagnosis for my dear, young mother: "Six months to a year," he said. I lay weeping on a pew in the hospital chapel, longing for God to come tenderly, to comfort me, to reassure me that He would rescue us. Like a child without a parent, I was thinking, You've left me all alone. How could You do this to me? How could You let this happen? In the midst of my despair, He asked me a penetrating question:
Am I not still God?
How could I ignore the voice of Almighty God? I had known Him long enough to recognize that He is the Creator, the Lord of lords, the Holy One. How could I dare not answer His question?
How vital to see that the "unsafe" side of God is only and always meant for our good, to cause us to trust Him, to repent, to return, and to run into His arms. When we do that, He fills our hearts with singing, and we go out glorifying Him.
When I Fall in Love
Some of you have been with us for one or both of the first two studies in this series: Falling in Love with Jesus and Living in Love with Jesus. But if you haven't done either of the other studies, it will help you to know that there are often three stages in our love relationship with Jesus:
First Love (the euphoric courtship and honeymoon time)
Wilderness Love (the painful time of questioning and doubting your Bridegroom)
Invincible Love (the deep, abiding confidence that your Bridegroom will do all things well in His time)
This land of Invincible Love could also be called:
Forever in Love with Jesus
Although you hope the honeymoon will never end, and you'd love to go straight into the land of Invincible Love, you will see in each of these portraits that Jesus may lead you into the wilderness. While you are there, it's easy to wonder what He is doing. You may walk away from Him, feeling forsaken. But those are the very times you need to keep as close to His heart as possible. That may look different for each of us, but the Bible says, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you" (James 4:8). You will find that He will come, He'll speak tenderly to you, and He will help you to trust His heart.
Some of you may be asking at this point: How do you really draw near to God? How do you go deeper in your relationship with Jesus?
Draw Me Nearer
We're always looking to go deeper in relationships, especially as women. When we get together, we thrive on intimacy:
"Tell me everything!"
"What did she say? What did you say?"
"How did you feel when that happened?"
"Did he really hear you? Did he get it?"
We don't want to linger long discussing the weather. We want to move to subjects that touch the heart—we want to confide, console, and connect. Men may be perplexed by the fact that a good cry with other women may mean for us a good day! And being with women of depth, women whose hearts and minds are filled with God, is as refreshing as sitting beside streams of water.
In the same way, if you have entered into this study, we know you want to go deeper in your relationship with Jesus, for He is the source of "living water." The sweetest times in our lives come from closeness to Him, experiencing a joy that the world cannot ever imagine. Jesus offers us this promise:
I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. —JOHN 10:10 MSG
(Kathy) I love this version of this verse. So many Christian women yearn, not only for what it means to love Jesus and be loved by Him, but to experience life to the full, and have more life and a better life than they ever dreamed of. What does that really mean?
Recently I was speaking at a women's event and said, very tongue in cheek:
I have lived a fairy-tale existence since I have come to know Jesus in a personal way. My life has been perfect: no pain, no problems. My prayers are always answered. God has taken away all my sinful yearnings.
I expected a big outburst of laughter, because it was so ridiculous—but instead, women stared at me in silence. They leaned forward in their chairs to see what was coming next. I could almost hear their thoughts:
Did Kathy find it?
Did she discover the secret?
Wow. Someone is really living it.
They actually believed someone was living a fairy-tale existence. They knew it could never be them, but perhaps it could be someone else. They didn't even see how preposterous my statements were because they went into La-La Land.
Why? Because we yearn for more. We yearn for deeper. We yearn for the happy ending. And while a land without pain and death is not available to us until heaven, a life of abundance in our souls, a richness in our spirits is available to us right now:
Never far from death, yet here we are alive, always "going through it" yet never "going under." We know sorrow, yet our joy is inextinguishable. We have "nothing to bless ourselves with" yet we bless many others with true riches. We are penniless, and yet in reality we have everything worth having. —2 Corinthians 6:9–10 PHILLIPS
Sometimes this kind of abundance can seem beyond our grasp. There are so many frustrations on this earth, not only because of pain and death all around us, but because we each have a bent toward sin and a frailty in conquering that bent. Repeatedly, we quench His Spirit. We think, Will I ever conquer my laziness, my temper, my bad eating habits, my tendency to worry, or my tendency to gossip? Will I ever stop moving into the shadows, thinking I can move away from the Lord who sees everything? Will I ever stop doubting His heart when I go through difficulties? I have tasted the goodness of the Lord, but will it ever be my true daily bread?
Excerpted from Forever in Love with Jesus by Dee Brestin Kathy Troccoli Copyright © 2004 by Dee Brestin and Kathy Troccoli. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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