“Love is not a victory march
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah”
I really wasn’t going to write this post. One, it’s too big. There’s too much to say. It’s going to be long, for which I apologize in advance. I want to say it’s long, but worth it, so please read it anyway. But I’m not that arrogant. Read it if you want. Or feel called.
Two, I’m bitter. I don’t want to write about Easter. At one point, I was going to be getting married last Easter. The engagement was called off on Palm Sunday, and the path that led to that was intrinsically linked to Lent and the Easter season. I spent Holy Week delving into the despair leading up to Good Friday, I posted scripture each day from that day of the week leading up to the crucifixion. “…if you are willing, take this cup from me….” “Eli, eli, lama sabachthani”
I prayed for a redemption, a resurrection that wasn’t to come, not as I imagined, anyway.
And this year, it’s impossible for me not to associate Easter with that. To be honest, I feel betrayed. And I’ve largely tried to ignore Easter this year for that reason. I haven’t been posting Holy Week updates on Facebook. My church is involved in a Good Friday service tonight that I may or may not go to. On Sunday, I will be in Florida for the launch. I have no plans to go to church. I am taking communion cups and wafers with me, and will celebrate the Lord’s Supper, by myself if necessary. But that’s about it.
So I had no real desire or plan to write a blog post about Easter. But here it is nonetheless. I suppose I can compromise with a Good Friday post instead.
I wanna start it over
I wanna start again
I want a new a new beginning
One without any end
— “Something Beautiful,” Newsboys
It’s impossible for me to recognize that it’s Easter without remembering the events of a year ago. It’s also impossible for me to recognize that it’s Easter without remembering the year that has transpired since. The morning after the engagement was called off, I got up early and went for a walk. It was quite literally the first steps in changing my relationship with my Father. The day before Easter, less than a week later, my pastor invited me to join him for a hike. As much as I write about hiking now, as much as it’s become a part of me, it’s all rooted in that week a year ago.
There were two other iterations of my relationship with Susanna since then, and the scars and growth that came along with that. There’s the dawning of hope of a better future. There’s a period of the closest communion I’ve ever had with my Father. There’s a current period where I miss that close communion desperately.
There’s a rebirth, a year of my life in which I begin to live in a way that I never have before. None of it is what I pictured, but it’s what happened.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!
— It Is Well With My Soul
At the Passover seder I attended Sunday, the messianic rabbi who led the service talked about how he came to know Christ not through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, but through the gospels of Abraham and Moses; by recognizing the life of Christ as the fulfillment of the promises laid in the foundations of his Jewish faith.
I wasn’t looking for the gospel at Journey Group Wednesday night, but it found me anyway.
We’d been working through the book of Colossians, trying to wrap it up before starting a new curriculum next week. And we did in fact finish it Wednesday night, with a bit of time to spare. Someone suggested we read something else, something short, before we wrapped for the night, in the time that we had. The obvious suggestions were made, the short epistles of Jude and John, but we’d already done those. Someone suggested doing one of the minor prophets. I threw out, at random, Nahum. I don’t know if I’ve ever even read Nahum before. I knew nothing about the book. But it was the name that came to mind. And, when we looked, it was only three chapters, perfect for what we were looking for.
2 The LORD is a jealous and avenging God;
the LORD takes vengeance and is filled with wrath.
The LORD takes vengeance on his foes
and maintains his wrath against his enemies.
3 The LORD is slow to anger and great in power;
the LORD will not leave the guilty unpunished.
His way is in the whirlwind and the storm,
and clouds are the dust of his feet.
4 He rebukes the sea and dries it up;
he makes all the rivers run dry.
Bashan and Carmel wither
and the blossoms of Lebanon fade.
5 The mountains quake before him
and the hills melt away.
The earth trembles at his presence,
the world and all who live in it.
6 Who can withstand his indignation?
Who can endure his fierce anger?
His wrath is poured out like fire;
the rocks are shattered before him.
7 The LORD is good,
a refuge in times of trouble.
He cares for those who trust in him,
8 but with an overwhelming flood
he will make an end of Nineveh ;
he will pursue his foes into darkness.
9 Whatever they plot against the LORD
he [a] will bring to an end;
trouble will not come a second time.
10 They will be entangled among thorns
and drunk from their wine;
they will be consumed like dry stubble.
The first thought we discussed: At first reading, there seems to be a sudden switch at verse 7. All this talk about the wrath of the Lord, and then, all of a sudden, He’s good and caring. What? But then you reread it, and realize the context of verse 2-6. We all heard them, at first, as a threat. This is the judgment of the Lord, that will be visited upon those who fall short of His will. But after rereading, having read through verse 7 and beyond, you realize — it’s not a threat, it’s a promise. Verses 2-6 describe the Lord who stands not against you, but with you, the promises of protection He makes. This God at your side, His way is in the whirlwind, He makes rivers run dry, the mountains quake before Him; who can endure His fierce anger? Not a bad ally to have.
But there’s another realization that came along with that — “the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished.” This particular passage is a promise to His people, but that doesn’t change the truth of what it described here. This is the wrath of a mighty and righteous God that is delivered against unrighteousness, a wrath that is poured out like fire, shattering the rocks before Him.
This is the price of my unrighteousness. A price to terrible to comprehend. A price that, literally by the grace of God, I don’t have to pay.
Because, everything described in that passage, the great and terrible power of the judgment of a mighty God, rather than being poured out on me, was poured out upon His own beloved and only begotten Son instead. The passage describes what Christ endured for my trespasses.
The Gospel According to Nahum.
“Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
If you ask for my forgiveness
If you call my name I will come
If you ask for my love I will give you some
Some day I know you will understand
Some day you’ll finally realize
What you’re doing to yourself
We’ve been dancing to that same old song
Over and over again
I want to be your lover
I don’t want to be your policeman
— “If You Ask,” Lori McKenna
Easter a year ago seems, at times, a lifetime in the past. Easter two years ago? An eternity.
But that day two years ago, God gave me something precious. He gave me a picture of grace, broken down to a level even I could understand.
I became a Christian, I was “saved,” 22 years earlier. But it was on that day that I came to know Christ.
I’d been growing toward relationship with him gradually over the eight or so months prior. In the wake of my separation from Nicole, everything I believed, everything I “knew,” fell apart. Where had He been? How could He have allowed this to happen? I never stopped praying, but I stopped asking for anything. If He really cared about my prayers, I wouldn’t be in this situation. My prayers were simply checking in with Him, telling Him what was going on with me. There was almost a hint of bitterness, an echo of the old Tesla song, “Signs”: “Thank you, Lord, for thinking about me; I’m alive and doing fine.” Well, other than the “doing fine” part.
It was my sister-in-law, Erin, who brought me beyond that. It was such a simple thing. She told me she was praying for me. Now, I had no clue how God felt about me at the time. I had a hard time imagining that He cared about my prayers. But I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God loves Erin. I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He cares about her prayers. So if Erin was praying for me, well, then, whether He wanted to or not, He had to care about me. So He and I kinda started talking again.
I got to the point where I was willing to ask Him for things again. And that’s what I was doing on that Easter.
Specifically, I was asking for a second chance. I was divorced. I had screwed up. In a lot of ways. And I wanted forgiveness. And I wanted to be able to move on.
I asked Him to wipe clean the slate, so that I could have another shot at happiness.
And if He gave me an answer. To this day, I’ve never experienced the literal, auditory voice of God, but this was as clear a Word as I’d ever gotten from him at that point.
“Sure. Just let me go nail my son to a tree.”
It wasn’t harsh, it wasn’t cruel. It was just matter-of-fact. Because it was what I needed to realize.
I’ll be honest. I’ve never been that impressed with the crucifixion. Yeah, I know it sucked, big time. But as some sort of unimaginable sacrifice? Nope.
Jesus gave His life to save billions. That’s nice, and all, but really? We ask soldiers to give their lives for fewer than that all the time.
And, yes, I realize, if had been only for me, He still would have done it. But even then, a life for a life. And when He gives His for mine, He gets to go back to the whole being-God thing. So how much of a sacrifice is that, really? The scales balance, at best.
But what I realized that day is that He would have done it for one sin. If it were only my divorce, and the mistakes that led up to it, He would have borne the crown of thorns, would have been scourged, mocked, beaten, crucified and killed to pay the price for that. He would have done it for less than that, even.
I wish I could say that realization has made me a better person. I wish I could say that I now live with the knowledge that I require that of Him every time I misstep. But I don’t. Or, rather, to the extent that I do, I still stray. I still require it of Him, even knowing what I require.
What I can say is that it’s helped me understand Him. Who He is. What it is to be loved. Unconditionally and sacrificially. What grace is.
I drive myself crazy
Tryin’ to stay out of my own way
The messes that I make …
I come around all broken down and
And you’re comfort
Sometimes the place I go
Is so deep and dark and desperate
I don’t know, I don’t know
How every day
Every day, every day
You save my life
“Every Day,” Rascal Flatts
I’ll close with a story from near the end of the original Holy Week, the story of my favorite prayer in the Bible.
I had a conversation about it, coincidentally, earlier in the week. And then was reminded of it by a post on the Stuff Christians Like blog that captures some of my thoughts on the passage.
It’s right after the Lord’s Supper, and Jesus is talking to Peter. It’s the conversation where He tells Peter the bit everyone remembers, that Peter will deny Him three times before the rooster crows. But before He tells Peter that, He says this, in Luke 22:31-32: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
The post I linked talks about the fact that Christ knows that Peter will fail, will deny Him, and extends grace in advance anyway.
But it’s the prayer that fascinates me. How would we have prayed for Peter if we were there?
Satan has asked God for permission to test Peter. Wouldn’t the logical thing to do be to pray that God deliver Peter from Satan? “Father, protect Peter from the adversary. Don’t allow him to be tested. Don’t make him go through this.” But Jesus doesn’t pray that.
So the testing is coming. Wouldn’t the logical thing to do be to pray that Peter pass the test? “Father, give Peter the strength to resist temptation. When his desire is to deny, give him the confidence to stand strong.” But Jesus doesn’t pray that, either.
What Jesus prays is that when Peter fails, he come back from it better than he was before. That his failure not shatter his faith, but serve as a testimony to his brothers and make him a better witness for his savior.
And that’s how He loves us.
He knows temptation is going to come. And He doesn’t care. He loves us anyway.
He knows that when it does, we will fail. Not every time, but plenty. And He doesn’t care. He loves us anyway.
And when we do, He’s there waiting for us. Waiting for us so he can pick us back up, dust us off, let us try yet again. So that our faith may not fail. So that we may strengthen our brothers.
He doesn’t expect you not to fall. He just wants you to let Him help you back up when you do.
Pretty amazing grace is how You saved me
and with amazing grace reclaimed my heart
love in the midst of chaos
calm in the heat of war
showed with amazing grace what love was for
You forgave my insensitivity
and my attempt to then mislead You
You stood beside a wretch like me
Your pretty amazing grace was all I needed.
You overcame my loss of hope and faith,
gave me a truth I could believe in.
You led me to that higher place
showed me that love and truth and hope and grace were all I needed.
–“Pretty Amazing Grace,” Neil Diamond