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.

 

That’s a Wrap

Only 362 days ’til Christmas!

That’s right, friends. Christmas Past has passed. And Christmas Future is way out there. But the Christmas Present remains.

Steady. Strong. Faithful. Gentle. True. Always true.

Immanuel… God with us.

His presence is the present. And it never gets lost or broken or outdated or recalled. It doesn’t dissipate, won’t depreciate, and can’t be destroyed.

Of all the promises God has made to us, the guarantee of His ever-presence is the one I cling to most. Whether I can sense Him or not, He’s near. Never distant or disinterested. He has proven Himself to be intensely personal, endlessly forgiving and full of surprises. (The good kind: joy, adventure, humor… and one day, HEAVEN.)

You surround me – front and back. You put your hand on me. That kind of knowledge is too much for me; it’s so high above me that I can’t fathom it. 

Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean – even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight! ~ Psalm 139:5-10 (CEB)

The gift of Christmas means we never, ever have to be alone.

Behold… and be held.

…But the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you the most joyful news ever announced, and it is for everyone!  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born tonight in Bethlehem!” ~ Luke 2:10-11 (TLB)

That wonder-filled, worldwide birthday extravaganza we just celebrated? It’s for Him. The Savior/Messiah/Lord. The babe in the manger.

We wrap our gifts because God wrapped His.

And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” ~ Luke 2:12-14 (NLT)

The gift – God’s one and only Son – swaddled and given to us.

His birth signaled the beginning of the end for all that’s wrong in our world: war and poverty, pride and prejudice, sin and sickness, hate and hopelessness. And death itself.

The gift of Jesus is the gift of a lifetime… and forever after.

It’s a gift that calls for an all-out, everybody’s-in(vited), wildly-celebrated, centuries-long, universally-propitious holiday!

Extra merry, if you please.

And presents too… under the tree, inside a stocking, tossed on the porch or stuffed in a mailbox. (I hope St. Nick gave naps and PTO to all those weary postal workers. Bless them.)

One of my son’s favorite presents this year was a heated blanket (a Chanukah gift from his Auntie Jo). As it turns out, that present is a brilliant metaphor for God’s gift of Jesus, who surrounds and protects us… and gives our lives weight and warmth.

Jesus is – in every sense of the word – our covering.

He who lives in the safe place of the Most High will be in the shadow of the All-powerful.  I will say to the Lord, “You are my safe and strong place, my God, in Whom I trust…” He will cover you with His wings. And under His wings you will be safe. He is faithful like a safe-covering and a strong wall. ~ Psalm 91:1-2, 4 (NLV)

Maybe that’s why we call Him Comforter.

That newborn baby – born to an unwed mother in a smelly stable – proved to be the mightiest and most storied King, Creator, Counselor (and yes, Comforter) of all.

A child has been born to us; God has given a son to us. He will be responsible for leading the people. His name will be Wonderful Counselor, Powerful God, Father Who Lives Forever, Prince of Peace. ~ Isaiah 9:6 (NCV)

He covers us and consoles us. His presence wraps around and warms us from within. Gentle, soothing, serene.

What a wonderful God we have—he is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, and the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does he do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (TLB)

The help and comfort He offers are lifesaving… and everlasting. Jesus didn’t come to pat us on the back, give us a pep talk and watch us march to our deaths. He came to rescue and resuscitate us… and redeem all we were bound to lose. He lived and died, all for us.

As C.S. Lewis observed:

“Jesus came not to make bad people good but to make dead people live.”

The gift of Jesus is life.

Invite Jesus to wrap you up in His mercy. A blanket of forgiveness and freedom. Freedom from fear, shame, loneliness, pain… and whatever else litters your past (mine too).

The gift of Jesus is love.

Invite Him to drape you in His tender loving care. The kind of love that means you never need to feel alone, afraid, ashamed or abandoned.

The gift of Jesus is joy.

Invite Him to tuck you into the sweet serenity and bountiful blessings of His presence. When Jesus is near, there’s no lack of rest or refreshment. No shortage of grace or peace.

The Christmas Presence is yours for the asking.

Unwrap… and enjoy.

Wendy

P.S. Wishing you a comfy, cozy, warm and wonder-filled New Year!