When There’s No Easy Way Out

In the midst of this pandemic, I have a question for you. Bold and uncensored.

A somber, blunt, bare-your-soul kind of question.

What’s your worst fear?

Is it this virus?

This plague that violently attacks some… and leaves them gasping for breath… fighting for dear life?

Is that the vexing thing that looms low and dark, ominous and unsettling? The thing that instantly evokes foreboding… or sheer terror? The invisible enemy that creeps close, no matter which way you turn. The threat that slinks and slithers into every quiet moment and leaves you rattled, reeling.

Maybe COVID-19 isn’t the thing. Sure, it’s taken center stage… but behind the curtain lurks another assailant, taunting you with terrifying “what ifs” or “what nows” or grim predictions or false accusations. Threats of inescapable heartbreak or inevitable failure: infertility, arrest, abuse, bankruptcy, betrayal.

Perhaps it’s something even worse. Maybe you’re terrified of watching someone you love… leave.

Or suffer.

Or self-destruct.

Or die.

(Does it matter the culprit? COVID, cancer, cardiac failure… they’re are all merciless killers.)

Whatever it is, I’m guessing it’s heavy. And hard. And hurts like hell.

Fear and dread drag us to the shadowlands and abandon us there. They make us scratch/claw/cower/sob. They predict defeat and suggest surrender. Or lay blame and offer ammo.

They whisper doom.

So we seek scapegoats and stockpile munitions (masks/gloves/groceries/guns) and sometimes we make human shields of the people we hold dearest. (Because they’re near.)

Fear convinces us that we are utterly alone. That we have to walk the proverbial plank (or lie in the ICU bed) unaccompanied and unprotected, bound and bare.

Dread persuades us that no one has the faintest clue what we’re going through… or what peril awaits.

No one.

Not a single soul.

But it isn’t true.  

Because…

Jesus.

He walked away, perhaps a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed this prayer: “Father, if you are willing, please take away this cup of horror from me. But I want your will, not mine.”Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him, for he was in such agony of spirit that he broke into a sweat of blood, with great drops falling to the ground as he prayed more and more earnestly. (Luke 22:41-44, TLB)

Jesus was no stranger to dread.

He felt its stranglehold. Knew its instinct to devour.

He begged release. But it was denied him.

There simply was no easy way out.

So He bore the anguish through tears… and beads of sweat… and drops of blood.

He faced the worst horror of all, knowing full well what heinous injustice, vicious brutality and unbridled evil would be unleashed against him.

He was not spared the brunt of the (real) Avenger’s wrath. He wasn’t delivered from one millisecond of hissing mockery or bloody torture or wrongful conviction. Nor the spitting or scourging or spikes or…

Suffocating.

Jesus drank the cup of suffering… and poured out his lifeblood.

Alone.

His followers distanced themselves.

His friends freaked… and fled. In fact, one of his closest companions outright denied even knowing him. (Not once or twice. Three times.) Another turned traitor.

Even his own Father deserted him in his darkest hour.

At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.  Then at three o’clock Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” …Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last.  And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. When the Roman officer who stood facing him saw how he had died, he exclaimed, “This man truly was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:33-34, 37-39, NLT)

Jesus – the Son of Almighty God – despaired… and died. Unaccompanied and unprotected, bound and bare.

Utterly, indecently, disgracefully – and yes, dreadfully – alone.

Why? So we never have to be. Not in a pandemic. Not on our deathbed. Never.

Jesus died alone so we don’t have to.

His name is Immanuel…

God with us.

He is Love. And love never leaves.

Oh how he loves us.   

Crazy as it may sound, his love was deeper and wider and higher than his sweating-blood dread. Braver than the savagery inflicted on him. More ferocious than all the foes and forces amassed against him. His love fueled him through forsakenness.

Jesus’ steadfast, staggering love compelled him – held him – to the cross.

He suffered alone, so we could come near.

Near to the holy.

Near to the heavenly.

Near to hope.

He drank the cup of crucifixion, so we could could come close – commune – with him.

Our Helper, our Healer, our High Priest.

We have a great high priest. He has gone up into heaven. He is Jesus the Son of God. So let us hold firmly to what we say we believe.  We have a high priest who can feel it when we are weak and hurting. We have a high priest who has been tempted in every way, just as we are. But he did not sin. So let us boldly approach God’s throne of grace. Then we will receive mercy. We will find grace to help us when we need it. (Hebrews 4:14-16, NIRV)

There’s no easy way out of this pandemic. And ultimately, there’s no escaping death. It comes to all… eventually.

If there’s ever a time to face your worst fear, it’s now.

Whatever it is that you dread… draw near to the throne of grace.

Receive mercy.

Find grace.

While they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed it. He broke the bread, gave it to his disciples, and said, “Take this, and eat it. This is my body.” Then he took a cup and spoke a prayer of thanksgiving. He gave it to them and said, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood, the blood of the promise. It is poured out for many people so that sins are forgiven.” (Matthew 26:26-28, GW)

The One ~ God’s own Son, the perfect Passover Lamb ~ who faced the dread, drank the cup, spilled his blood and bore the cross…

He won.

He rose.

He forgives. (Yes, even that.)

He lives!    

He defeated sin and darkness and death. Once and for all.

For all.  

Believe and receive.

Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes. (Ephesians 3:20, TLB)

Praying for (another) Easter miracle.

Wendy

P.S. When it looks like there’s no easy way out, remember what Jesus said: I am the Way.

 

Dirty Soles

My dear reader,

When I was in college, my friend Melissa washed my feet. It was one of the most unexpected and strangely lovely things that’s ever happened to me.

I was studying journalism (with minors in psychology, film, and frozen yogurt) and while I had plenty of reading assignments to keep me busy, I always circled back to my favorite book. Which also happens to be the best-seller of all time. (According to HuffPost. So it must be true.)

A gaggle of girls – all wildly different but drawn together by divine happenstance – gathered each week to talk, laugh, cry, pray, read and study that bestseller. Since Melissa only had a couple chairs in her sorority room, we typically sat on the floor, shoes off, guards down, Bibles and hearts wide open.

Why?

Because we didn’t just want to know about God.

We wanted to know Him.

We asked questions – hard questions – of God. We wondered and wrestled and pondered and prayed. We pressed for answers. And He spoke to us in the pages of that bestseller, time and again.

So we kept coming back to that room and that rug. It wasn’t long before it dawned on us that Melissa’s floor was… holy ground. We sat in a little circle, roaming back and forth in the scriptures, our discussions ranging far and wide, our souls laid bare in that place.

We were young and eager, bursting with passion and potential. Yet, painfully aware of our insecurities too. Deep down we knew the fancy degrees we were earning weren’t going to dispel our fears or reverse our failures. Not in the least.

We were what we were:

Unsure of ourselves. Anxious about our futures. Ashamed of our shortcomings.

Mine were plentiful. (And maddeningly persistent.)

My insecurities stalked me. My worries tossed me in the spin cycle and wrung me out. My secret sins kept rising to the surface and erupting like untimely blemishes. No amount of salicylic acid or makeup could cure or cover them up.

Dirt and dead stuff have a way of doing that. Things that were once clean and clear get clogged/infected/inflamed.

And it’s ugly.

But I digress…

One lovely spring afternoon in 1986, we were sitting around on Melissa’s floor reading from the Book of John:

It was almost time for the Jewish Passover festival. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go back to the Father. Jesus had always loved the people in the world who were his. Now was the time he showed them his love the most.

Jesus and his followers were at the evening meal. The devil had already persuaded Judas Iscariot to hand Jesus over to his enemies. (Judas was the son of Simon.) The Father had given Jesus power over everything. Jesus knew this. He also knew that he had come from God. And he knew that he was going back to God.  So while they were eating, Jesus stood up and took off his robe. He got a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Then he poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers’ feet. He dried their feet with the towel that was wrapped around his waist. 

He came to Simon Peter. But Peter said to him, “Lord, you should not wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “You don’t know what I am doing now. But later you will understand.”

Peter said, “No! You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “If I don’t wash your feet, you are not one of my people.”

Simon Peter said, “Lord, after you wash my feet, wash my hands and my head too!”

Jesus said, “After a person has a bath, his whole body is clean. He needs only to wash his feet. And you are clean, but not all of you.” Jesus knew who would hand him over to his enemies. That is why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

When Jesus finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and went back to the table. He asked, “Do you understand what I did for you? You call me ‘Teacher.’ And you call me ‘Lord.’ And this is right, because that is what I am.  I am your Lord and Teacher. But I washed your feet. So you also should wash each other’s feet.  I did this as an example for you. So you should serve each other just as I served you. Believe me, servants are not greater than their master. Those who are sent to do something are not greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, great blessings will be yours if you do them. (John 13:1-17, ERV)

Melissa closed her Bible, pulled up a chair, and told me to have a seat. Then she carried in a basin filled with warm, sudsy water and a big bath towel and knelt right in front of me. And she washed my feet. From the flip-flop-tan-lined tops to the unpolished toes… right down to my dirty, stinky soles.

She washed, dried, and blew me away that day. She knelt and served and blessed me. More than words can say. It was humbling and heart-searing. An object lesson – and precious memory – I’ll never forget.

Melissa washed my dirty soles.

Like Jesus washed my dirty soul.

The Master laid down His privilege… and picked up a servant’s towel… and washed away all my dirt and dead stuff.

The King of Kings wore a crown of thorns… and bore a cross.

For me and for you. (Two of billions – all – with blood on our hands.)

Staggering humility. Scandalous love. Outlandish grace.

That’s why Jesus came.

That’s who Jesus is.

His compassion is our invitation. His mercy, our gift.

His kindness beckons us away from the mud and muck, the dirt and the dead stuff.

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? (Romans 2:4, NLT)

I turned. And He knelt and washed and blessed.

But invariably, sadly, I keep turning back.

Soiled again.

But God is faithful and fair. If we confess our sins, he will forgive our sins. He will forgive every wrong thing we have done. He will make us pure. (1 John 1:9, NIRV)

The same night that Jesus washed the feet of His friends, He was betrayed by one of them. And then abandoned by the rest.

But His love didn’t flinch. (It never does.)

That’s the Good News.

The best news.

PLEASE SHARE.

Wendy

P.S. This Holy Week, let’s learn what the Teacher taught us to do: Forgive. Love. Serve. (Repeat.)