“It is Finished” Began at Christmas, Remembered

“Peace on earth; good will towards men.”  A proclamation and a promise.

But so many things threaten to undo our peace.

Intermittently, circumstances and the pace of life chip it away.  Sometimes it is sin committed against us; while at other times, our own sin unconfessed.  Sometimes we grieve loss of various kinds in a world turned upside down; broken relationships or death that takes one we love far from us.  And sometimes we watch or are the prodigal sprinting to a supposed “safe place,” a place of assumed comfort, only to find it is anything but calm. And sometimes it’s obedience in a long direction.  But, though that “delayed obedience” may take a winding path, when it ultimately returns to the Truth, the enemy of our souls cringes. And sometimes it is loving unbelievers bent on denying the reality of Christ or believers who confess the name of Jesus but think and live like it makes no difference; yet we do not compromise our words or actions to appease in order to make one “feel” better;  but, unashamed, we speak truth out of a great love for them and for our Savior so they will “know the hope!”

And a tremble can be felt.

We are setting holiness in motion; allowing God to reign and work.  The enemy of our souls can wound our spirit, make us uncomfortable, insert sadness, stoke discouragement, or prompt tears.

But He cannot destroy us.

We can have rest.

“The weary world rejoices” and so can we as we set our minds on “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy”and not let the lies penetrate our soul; all because of the our God penetrating the darkness and coming in flesh on that holy night! Pain is real but so is the Savior who has promised peace for the brokenhearted, a way of return for the runner, rest for the weary.

And even sin does not have to separate any further.   No, we don’t always follow perfectly, but we are in this world to be Christ’s image bearers, light shining in this generation, and we have been given the power to overcome and to grow in that likeness.   When we fail (and we will), we can run to the Savior and humbly go to those we have wounded or sinned against and make it right.  We can admit to those who have witnessed our failure and cynically thought, “Well, there you go – I see there’s really no difference in a follower of Christ” that we have failed and so need the Redeemer but also that  we do live as one being changed by the transforming grace of God.  For the difference is not in us; it’s in our Savior.

We have not only the obligation but the privilege of laying it down and reminding the watching ones that our hope is in Jesus and our desire is to become more like Him daily, to increasingly want His will not ours, and to understand and live out the beauty of His holiness a little more with each passing day and year.  And by His grace, we have that One who forgives us, picks us up, embraces us, brushes us off, then sends us out to “go and sin no more.”  We are great sinners, but we have a greater Savior! (paraphrased from John Newton)

And so, in the moments, there are times we will have a settledness in our souls and others when restlessness will haunt us; but, for the follower of Jesus Christ, we are at peace with God through the finished work of His Son, who came as babe on a silent night, crashing through the barrier between those who bear His image and our three times holy God, devastating death there on the cross with “Tetelestai” – “It Is Finished!”  The condemnation of our sin is paid for, defeat by discouragement has been decimated, and we, who long for the Savior’s return, keep “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” so that we are growing deeper in His truth and in His love, able to enter that respite and “shake off our fears.”

And it all began on that not so silent night!

We long for His return even when we feel too attached to this world.

“Peace on earth; good will towards men.”  A proclamation and a promise. The now and the not yet!  Gazing on the babe in the manger, we remember what was to come – His finished work on the cross and His resurrection to life!  And we await our soon and coming King once more!

This is Christmas!  The longing for Jesus to break through darkness and discouragement, hold us near to His heart, and equip us to rest even when circumstances cause our spirits to sometimes faint, even falter!

Christopher West says it well, reminding us of the reality of hope we find even in our weariness:  “This is the Christmas story in a nutshell: The Infinite One has wed himself to our finite humanity. This is what we’re preparing ourselves for during Advent. And this is why Advent is a time of desire: The bride is longing to be filled with the eternal life of her bridegroom. And so she cries in union with the Spirit of God: “O come, O come, Emmanuel.”

And Emmanuel has come.  It is finished!

Your Kingdom Come

IMG_4010   Circumstances. They bring joy or sorrow. They are fleeting or constant. They change and can threaten to undo us emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually. We can be laughing one minute; wringing our hands the next. We can feel peace and turmoil all within the same hour. We are told not to worry, but how do we steady ourselves?  How do we maintain our joy? I have often spent time in the Word of God, talking to Him and asking just those questions.

For God has indeed created us to “glorify Him and enjoy Him forever,” but He also created us to be relational people living between the “now and the not yet.”   And when, in the course of being human, pain comes either from a broken relationship, a frightening medical diagnosis, a wait that takes longer than we would choose, our own choices or choices of ones we love that cause heartache, or other scenarios that lead to sorrow, we often ask how we can glorify Him and enjoy Him in the midst. But it is in laying that hurt bare, unashamed before our God who sees, in total need of His grace, that we begin that journey to joy regardless of the circumstances.

At times, I am able to rest well in the arms of my Savior, to lay myself and the burdens and idols of my heart on the altar as a living sacrifice and say, “They are yours, Lord; I give them and my striving to ‘fix’ the situation up to You.” But there are other times I find myself either trying to “crawl off the altar,” as Pastor Randy Pope has said, or pull back those loved ones or circumstances I have given over to the King of my heart as if I can make something good happen in fashioning them according to my design!

No, there is only One who, by His grace, can make something beautiful of stifling situations or bone wearying loss and, it is when I find my joy in the hope of Christ in me, of Christ working “all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose” that I can, once again, let it go into the hands of the One who can do immeasurably more than I can think or ask – each time a little longer than the last.

And that is growing in grace; when we rest a little better, strive a little less, and trust a little more with each situation.  We are growing more and more into the likeness of the Son! Scripture abounds!  While it is good and helpful to have the Word of God set before our eyes so we can commit it to your hearts, they are not simply nice little sayings to put on a Pinterest craft.  They are the very words of God “alive and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12), “ God breathed…useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).

When I focus on the circumstances around me instead of focusing on the “joy set before me,” I tremble much; and fear and worry threaten to strangle my joy and hope in Christ! God doesn’t mind our wrestling, but He longs to hear His children humbly cry out our deepest longings, fears, and pain; for He knows our hearts better than we ourselves do.  He longs to hear us say, “I believe; help my unbelief, Lord.” (Mark 9:24)  He is not surprised by our humanness and our lack of “wholeness.” But, ultimately, He desires for us to grow in that wholeness, to grow in that holiness.  He desires to take us in His arms and bring comfort even when He chooses not to settle the storm that rages, when He calls us to wait and then wait a little longer, or when He allows things we don’t understand to continue or to find their conclusion in a way we would not have chosen.

God does not call us to deny that pain exists or to stuff our emotions.  But that pain and those emotions are often His way of driving us to our knees, breaking through our self reliance to send us before the throne of grace, humbly but also boldly because of the work of Christ on the cross and our relationship with Him!  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”  (Hebrews 4:16)

Paul gives us the example of one who cared deeply, even agonized over the people he loved; and then He left them and the events swirlings around him in the hands of the One who alone can change hearts and circumstances. “Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.  Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”  (Acts 20:31, 32) “For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (2 Corinthians 2:4)

It’s often a matter of where I allow my heart to dwell – on my circumstances or on my Savior.  If I hear the promises of God yet continue to say,  “I get that, but…” I am never satisfied, which leads to a deeper heartache.  But if I keep reminding myself of the truth God has given me and made known time and again, I may not “get it,” but I can say with confidence, “I may not ‘feel’ your presence or understand your ways, but give me a heart of wisdom, a heart that trusts You more, Lord, even if I cannot ‘see’ what You are doing in the middle of it all.”

Richard Rohr says it well.  “To pray and actually mean ‘thy Kingdom come,’ we must also be able to say ‘my kingdoms go.’” My hands are open, Lord.  Help me let my kingdoms go so Yours can fully come.  I wait in expectation!

“But courage, child: we are all between the paws of the true Aslan.”   C.S. Lewis, The Last Battle

Cries of the Heart

There are times we cry.

Yes, we long for and delight in tears of joy, but what of the moaning of the heart?  Tears may be tender and quiet; at other times they come almost violently, physically draining – weeping of deep sorrow.  The grieving may come from the physical pain of illness, loss of life, the betrayal of a friend or a loved one, the death of a dream, watching a loved one wrestle and drift, the waiting that does not fit our time table, or a myriad of other reasons.

Great joy does not always exclude sorrow.  There are times my greatest joy has come from my deepest sadness and loss when it meant that God had torn away something that was not for my ultimate best.  At other times, the profound sorrow led to a deeper understanding of and dependence on my tender Savior.  He has often turned my “mourning into dancing.”  (Psalm 30:11)

Seasons of life have arisen when my own compromise with that which I know God had called me to or away from was made to extend my comfort.  But no lasting comfort, satisfaction, or pleasure comes from being the prodigal – either running to the far country or just outside the walls of His protection.  Tears that flow from leaving behind something that was not His best or was totally contrary to His heart are dried in the reality of the sure hope that my God knows what is the most excellent path for me and will bring it to completion if I will just surrender and trust.  His course may not always be easy, but it is, ultimately, the most pleasant.  It may not come with immediate relief, but He does promise the “still rest” as we remain steadfast waiting for our faith to become sight.  And, oh that amazing view!  But even if it never becomes sight this side of heaven, it will be worth the surrender of my will.

The cries of the heart often stem from the longings with which we were created and which, when fulfilled, will be satisfied – but only partially here.   As glorious, pleasing, and satisfying as they are now and will be in this life, they are only dim reflections of things we cannot even imagine!  They are gifts that delight from the hand of our good and gracious God, intended to point us to a greater love, a grander gift, a deeper joy!

“Now we see through a glass dimly…but then we will see (clearly) face to face…now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.”  (I Corinthians 13:12)

Will I allow the cries of my heart to be dried by the hand of my Redeemer and King as I rest in the hope of a greater promise?

“And in Your hands the pain and hurt look less like scars and more like…character.” -Sara Groves