It is an honor and a privilege to invite Mrs. Marlys Johnson to the Red Vine table today. I first met Marlys my sophomore year in high school, where she fearlessly taught me and my classmates about geometry and Jesus (who knew they went together so well?!) We have stayed in touch over the years, and now she has written a beautiful book, Embracing Grace: Experiencing Joy in the Journey of Life, from her own faithful walk with Jesus through many seasons of life, both ecstatic and heartbreaking. Today, Marlys talks about how God faithfully resurrected her and her husband after the sudden loss of their daughter, Bryna.
I Cor 6:19
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price . . .
Easter is my favorite time of the year. It is a time of hope and a reminder of God’s presence.
Before the Resurrection of Christ, the Holy Spirit came upon people at certain times and then left. As believers, we have the continual indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. What a comfort! We will never be alone. Never. Even in our dying, the Holy Spirit will be at work in us, ministering to us. When life throws its curve balls, the Holy Spirit will not leave or forsake us. He will guide us, instruct us, give us the love, joy, peace, gentleness, kindness, goodness, patience, faith, and self control that we need.
I can’t imagine what it would have been like for a perfect Christ, who knew no sin, to bear all our sins and have God the Father turn his face away from Him on that rugged cross. Jesus did not have the comfort of the Holy Spirit, but suffered like we will never have to suffer, experiencing the depth of hell. But the story does not end. He conquered death, was risen from the dead, and lives today. He gives us certainty that we too will pass from life on earth to life in heaven.
Some of us have gone through some very dark times: maybe overwhelming depression, substance abuse, abused as a child, losing a loved one in death, eating disorders, divorce . . . lots of bad stuff. Maybe some of us have made wrong choices that we feel bad about, have confessed, but wallow in shame. We feel broken; a hopeless mess; lower class.
Somehow we can apply confessing our sins and believing mentally that we have been forgiven, but not feeling like we have been forgiven. Shame runs deep. We feel like not only have we done something wrong, we are something wrong. Let us remember there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Jesus came to seek and to save those who are broken. His Holy Spirit dwells within us if we have received Jesus as Lord and Savior. The blood of Christ cleanses us and makes us white as snow. He wraps a white robe of righteousness around us so that God covers up our brokenness and sin. Our picture is on God’s refrigerator door. It is!
We no longer have to raise sheep and bring them to a priest to be slaughtered for our guilt offerings and sin offerings. Can you imagine each of us raising sheep in our backyards? We can confess to Jesus anytime, anywhere. We can talk with him without going through call waiting. He is for us; not against us. He convicts, but He does not condemn. He understands our hearts like no other. He brings healing and joy. He is our Loving Heavenly Father.
Even more importantly, the Holy Spirit dwells within us all the time. He will never leave us. We can shut down his voice and go our own way, but He is with us, urging us to come back into fellowship with him. He continues to resurrect us from our own bents toward selfishness and destruction.
Jesus used cats to “resurrect” my husband and me. Strange, indeed! Bryna, only 28 years old, struck with a heart attack, died suddenly March 27, 2009 early in the morning. Dave was home alone in Washington State while I was in North Carolina with my daughter who was in labor with her fourth child. The chilling phone call arrived in her hospital room.
Dave called and in a state of shock simply said, “Bryna died.”
“What did you say?”
A black screen popped into my brain with white shaky handwriting that said, “Bryna died.” It looked like a black PowerPoint screen with vibrating white letters. That visual pursued me throughout the day. I saw it while I talked to people; I saw it when I tried closing my eyes. Thirty six hours later, after a sleepless night and plane trip home, with no sleep, fatigue took over, and Dave and I fell into an exhausted sleep. Way too early the following morning, our two cats decided of all days to rouse the comatose with a cat fight.
“Seriously, God? A cat fight, which never happens, on this morning?”
It was Sunday and the question confronting us was, “Do people attend church two days after their child has died?” We couldn’t answer the question, but acting like robots, we found ourselves mechanically moving toward church. God’s resurrection process was not over. While singing one of the worship hymns, I saw a vision of Bryna standing so tall and straight, with a beautiful smile lighting up her face. Her feet hung loosely and were about a foot off the ground. Jesus’ arm was wrapped around her waist, so tightly that she was lifted off the ground, while his other arm was raised above his head, as if to say, “Praise the Lord.”
The black tormenting PowerPoint slide was replaced with this beautiful visual of Bryna with Jesus. That visual was with me all the time. As I talked with people, the visual was always in front of me. I could be talking about tuna fish and carrots, and the visual was there. It was several weeks later that the visual would come and go. Now it is essentially gone, except when I want to remember it. But God resurrected me from my bed, sent me to church, and then resurrected my heart by giving me a visual I will never forget. How I thank God for his deep love in the hardest of times.
Heaven is incomprehensible. I want to see the glassy sea, to place a crown at Christ’s feet, to sing with the heavenly choirs, and to live life however it is lived in heaven. Bryna knows that life now; I am filled with questions. I wish Bryna could send a postcard with her adventures, even though I actually have a whole book of God’s promises. Our lives on earth are a pinpoint of time in comparison to eternity. Soon, we will be joined together with our loved ones who have passed on ahead of us; forever and ever.
Today, we have God living within us in the person of His Holy Spirit. Incredible! Christ Jesus is our forever priest, making intercession for us. Hallelujah! We are never alone, for God has chosen our bodies as temples for His Holy Spirit. That is amazing! Christ Jesus, alive yesterday, today, and forever. Glory hallelujah! Praise God!
Heavenly Father, thank you for placing your Holy Spirit within me. I am such a flawed vessel for your Holy Spirit; yet, there you are dwelling within me. Thank you for all the times you resurrect me from my selfishness. I confess that I don’t do such a great job with listening to you, especially when I feel stress overload. Teach me, Lord, to listen to your quiet voice, to obey your promptings, and to walk step by step with you. Thank you for never giving up on me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.