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.

 

The Only Question That Matters

In 100 years, you and I will both be dead.

And the only thing that’ll matter is our answer to this question:

Who do you say that I am?

(Jesus asking.)

He really wants to know what you think of him. (Well, technically, he already knows. But maybe you aren’t really sure?) Now before you quit reading because I’m getting all Jesus-freaky again… let’s switch places.

What are your big questions? Do you ever wonder…

Who am I?

What is the meaning of life? 

How did I get here? (And the followup: How do I get outta this mess?)

Where can I find a little peace?

Good questions. Hard questions. (Trick questions?)

Any idea where to get an answer key? Amazon sells some, but I’m not sure they’re what you’re looking for. If however, you like to do algebra in your free time, you’re all set.

Many years ago, I had the enormous joy (and occasional splitting headache) of teaching Sunday School to a giggly gaggle of first- and second-graders. Early on, I noticed they were eager to answer questions. I’d ask for responses, and a bunch of waving, wiggly hands would fly into the air. At my invitation, they’d gleefully pronounce their answers.

Love!

Jesus!

The Bible!

God/The Guy Upstairs/Art! (Slight misinterpretation of Our Father – who’s Art – in heaven.)

Me, me, me!

No matter my question, most of the time I got one of the above answers. I heard other guesses too:

The Bible!

A prince(ss)!

Pastor Clem!

Pray, pray, pray!

Every once in a while, a “creative problem-solver” would offer an alternative answer:

Holy buckets!

Grape juice and crackers! 

This little light of mine!

The zombie apocalypse!

And you know what? Most of those kiddos’ answers were. Spot. On. (Minus the zombies.)

Who am I?

A prince(ss)!

What are human beings that you think about them; what are human beings that you pay attention to them? You’ve made them only slightly less than divine, crowning them with glory and grandeur. ~ Psalm 8:4-5 (CEB)

What is the meaning of life?

Love.

…And [that you may come] to know [practically, through personal experience] the love of Christ which far surpasses [mere] knowledge [without experience], that you may be filled up [throughout your being] to all the fullness of God [so that you may have the richest experience of God’s presence in your lives, completely filled and flooded with God Himself]. ~ Ephesians 3:19 (AMP)

How did I get here?

Me, me, me!

We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way. ~ Isaiah 53:6a (MSG)

How do I get outta this mess?

Jesus.

The payment for sin is death. But God gives us the free gift of life forever in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~ Romans 6:23 (NCV)

Where can I find a little peace?

Pray, pray, pray.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything; tell God your needs, and don’t forget to thank him for his answers. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will keep your thoughts and your hearts quiet and at rest as you trust in Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 4:6-7 (TLB)

Turns out the Bible is the answer key for…. well… pretty much everything.

Don’t believe me? Open it up and read it for yourself. (#justdoit)

Now, back to the original question…

Who do you say that he is?

(One of these days, you’re gonna have to answer that one.)

If it’s multiple-choice, you’ve got plenty of answers to choose from:

A. Brilliant teacher.

B. Religious zealot.

C. Obscure Jewish carpenter who happened to gain a lasting and faithful following. (Pretty impressive sans social media and cable news.)

D. None of the above.

E. All of the above.

Some people simply say he was a preacher or prophet. Some say a pretender… or pariah.

I’ve noticed that most people (including myself) tend to define him based on what they’ve heard about him rather than what he’s revealed – in scripture, in nature, in love.

Jesus is who he says he is:

The Way.

The Truth.

The Life.

(And no one comes to the Father except through him.)

He told people straight up that he’s the Son of God and the Son of man. The Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God. The bread of life and the light of the world. The Savior, Healer and Messiah.

He’s all that. (For real.)

And if you don’t believe him, you must think he’s a brazen liar or a total loon.

As I’ve gotten to know him better, finding him in the pages of scripture and talking to him in prayer and inviting him into my everyday, I’ve discovered he’s also…

My rescuer.

My confidante.

My favorite artist.

My freedom fighter.

My solace.

My trail guide.

My fallout shelter.

My lighthouse.

My life coach.

My joy bomb.

My hidden treasure.

Jesus is the brilliant writer who’s woven together hiStory and mine.

He’s the One who sees my every failure, flaw and frailty… and adores me still.

He’s the One who gave me life… and laid his down. (Not only for me, but you too.) He endured betrayal, wrongful conviction, taunting, torture. He suffered the worst imaginable death penalty surrounded by mockers and murderers. He bore the weight of every last sin, unbound hatred, darkest despair…

Bloody hell.

But perhaps the worst anguish was caused by the One he trusted most. Forsaken by his own Father, Jesus died utterly, excruciatingly alone.

Because love will sacrifice everything for its beloved.

And that’s who you are.

You know why there’s an epidemic of identity crises in our culture? Because we haven’t discovered our own backstory.

Who am I?

Here’s a clue: “I Am” shows me who I am.

And he explains everything else too.

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it, I see everything else. ~ C.S. Lewis

Without God, things are pretty tough to explain.

Why is the earth’s orbit precisely timed and mapped to sustain life? Who thought up the Leafy Seadragon and Magnificent Frigatebird? How does the human eye work? What prevents all the clouds in the atmosphere from breaking open at once and flooding the entire planet? If there was a big bang, who triggered it?

How could mere mortals account for all the inexplicable coincidences and rapturous wonders of life? How could human beings possibly pull off all the death-defying rescues, stunning mercies, miraculous recoveries? How is it we get glimpses of amazing grace and transcendent glory and true love? Do we really think we can take credit for all that?

If we’re going to take credit for anything, we should probably start with our mistakes. And we’d do well to remember that there are villains in this story too. (Which is why God really shouldn’t get blamed for all that’s hateful/horrifying/heinous/hellish.)

Not interested in a theological debate here… I know I’m not smart enough to outwit the shrewd intellect of someone determined to disbelieve. In fact, I’m often surprised when people expect me to be able to articulate the marvelous mysteries of the Christian faith or the unfathomable wisdom of my God. If I – with my feeble mind and limited vocabulary – were able to oblige, my God would not be worthy of my awe, wonder and worship, would He?

I can’t explain him. I can’t even wrap my mind around a fragment of who he is. I just know… he is.

Savior. Son of God. Creator. King.

The one who loves me most and best.

It’s the one-question final exam of life. And your answer will resound for all eternity.

Who do you say that he is?

As for me, I have no doubt.

He is…

RISEN.

Wendy

P.S. Please don’t judge Jesus based on the people who claim to follow him… including me.  We fall (woefully) short. If you want to get to know the real Jesus, you can read a firsthand account of his life written by one of his closest friends here.