Did It Really Do What He Said It Did?
A friend of mine with a checkered past called me this week. He was struggling. The painful memories, who he'd been, who he'd not been, were raining down. Daggers through the back. I've known him about a decade. Have seen miraculous transformation in his life. The man he is today, the husband, father, friend, is not the man he was then. Different as night and day. Problem is he was looking in the mirror and the whisper of the deceiver was drowning out the truth of the gospel. Also, in a couple of weeks, he and I and a few other guys are going on a trip together. To another country. To tell people about Jesus. Pray for the sick. Teach the gospel. So, with one eye, he's looking in the rearview. With the other, he's looking out the windshield. Hands on the wheel, he is uncertain. Gas or brake? Oh, and he's on the docket to speak. To briefly, simply tell his story -- through an interpreter -- of how the Lord brought him from bondage to freedom. How The Lord broke his chains. Our conversation sounded something like:
"Hey pal, what's up?"
Pause. Deep breath. "Can I just be honest?"
One of the things I so love about him, is that if he is anything, he is honest. There's no BS between me and his heart. He lets me in. No walls. No pretense. No fishing for the issue. "Yes."
"I'm wrestling with who I once was, with thoughts, memories of me seven, eight, ten years ago...and trying to see myself standing up in front of these people." Pause. "I feel like a fraud."
At this point I faced a choice. We can talk about it, I can reason with him, try to coax him down off the ledge. Which will take an an hour, accomplish nothing and just wear us both down. Or, I can realize that the whisper on his shoulder is not something I can reason with. It wants no part of reason. It has come to kill, steal and destroy. Period. The enemy that prowls around like a roaring lion was sitting by his bed when he woke up and it'd been whispering ever since he set his feet on the floor. The only remedy that will cut my buddy free is the very same truth that cut him free in the beginning. Don't get me wrong, his past is painful. I'm not downplaying that. But, that man is dead. Gone. Buried. So, I spoke what I knew to be true. I spoke slowly so he'd hear me -- not with the ears on the side of his head, but those in his heart: "I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me and the life which I now live I live by faith in the Son of God."
We'd done this before. He pushed back a little. "Yeah, but dude..."
"He made Him who knew no sin to become sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
That's always a tough one for him to counter. Silence.
"You are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, and heir through God."
"That's a struggle for me."
I knew this. "Through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men."
I hear a chuckle.
"For all of you who were baptized in Christ have clothed yourself with Christ." I emphasize the word, 'clothed.'
"Our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is freed from sin...For sin shall not have dominion over your."
This strikes a chord. The wrestling match is over. He is amused at this point. "I hear you."
While slightly irritated that I'm not sitting on the ledge with him, he is amused and thankful because he knows we're are cutting at the issue which has a name. It's called 'unworthiness.' And it's a lie from the pit of hell. It comes silently, cloaked in the silent question, "How can God use a black-hearted sinner like me? I mean, if He really knows everything I've done, He'll never ask me to speak."
"If we listen to that lie, that one that says you're not worthy, that your past disqualifies you, we make a lie out of The Cross. If we buy what he's selling, even passively, we are saying The Cross didn't do what it did, and Jesus didn't accomplish what He accomplished when He hung there."
"I hear you." His tone has changed. A lightness has returned. As has strength.
"When you look in the mirror, you see the old man staring back. When God looks, He sees His son. Period."
It's tough for him to argue with this and he knows it so he just laughs. We are through the tough spot. Chains broken. It's time we kick them off the deck. Send them to the deep. "The Lord is not taking us to a foreign country because of what we bring. Nothing we have in ourselves qualifies us. Nothing. He's taking us because of what He's done. Period. Our obedience gives us a ticket to get on the plane. Not our goodness. When Jesus hung on that tree, he took the decree that was written against us, our record of wrongs, and he nailed it to that same tree. Making a spectacle of the author who wrote it. Defeating him. Publicly. And once he made propitiation for us..." I love that word. I love saying it. He knows this. More laughter. "He sat down at the right hand of the Father where His Father made His enemies, who are also our enemies, His footstool -- and for two thousand years, He's been there, interceding for us." Long pause. "Pal, when He said, 'It is finished,' He wasn't kidding. Because of that we are justified." Another of my favorite words. "Which means when he looks at us, He sees us just-as-if-we've-never-sinned."
"The crucifixion was an execution. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God."
"Yes it was and yes I am."
He tries to say something but I have gone to preaching now and I am on a roll, and what he doesn't know is that I too need to hear what I'm telling him as much as he needs to hear it so I cut him off, "For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of the son of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins...And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach."
There is now a rumble in his voice. "Amen."
"For by one offering He has perfected --" I let the word 'perfected' echo across the line. "for all time those who are being sanctified. Which is you and me. The blood of Jesus has made you perfect. Without spot. Blameless."
This is the nugget. Where the rubber meets the road. The idea that a Savior can and would do that just shatters him. At this point, he is crying. Wiping tears. A testimony to the tenderness and purity of his heart which is as big as he is and he's a pretty big guy. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Pause. "I have heard you confess, and you are cleansed. That man is dead. Buried." At this point, the only thing left to do was pray, so I said, "You ring and I'll hang up."
We did. His prayer brought me to my knees.
For the record, in our conversation, I didn't quote these verses verbatim as I have here. Especially the one about our worthiness. Many I know by heart, yes, but some of the longer ones get fumbled when I try to get them out. The point is that he got the jist of what I was talking about and in doing so I let The Word do what The Word does which is cut him free and not return void. And no, I'm not like this all the time, he just caught me in a particularly prayed-up and read-up moment.
I know my buddy. He's a warrior for the King. The priest of his house. A tender and loving husband and dad, a transparent and honest friend and on more than a dozen occasions his prayers have brought tears to my eyes. And I don't just mean watery eyes. I mean snot-nosed-running-tears-trickling-down-my-cheeks-crying. His are some of the most gut-wrenchingly honest prayers I've ever heard. Incense before the throne.
He, in a tough moment on the battlefield, just needed a buddy to come alongside and swing a sword in front of him to give him a reprieve. That's all. He needed a breather. He's good now. You should have heard him pray last night.
The point is this...Well, there are a bunch but this is the reason I'm writing this and not working on my 12th novel right now. We lived in a scorched-earth world. Born into war. We -- you and me -- were made for Eden. That has caused an eternal disconnect in our heads. That does not and will never make sense this side of heaven. Sorry to break it to you but until then, we're in a fight. I love my buddy dearly. He's a brother. But my good intentions, my warm fuzzies, my attempts at reasoning him off the ledge, won't cut it. They will not defeat what is trying to kill his soul. Only one thing does that. The promises of God are either true or they're not. Period. There's no gray here. No sort-of. The answer to the question, 'Did it really do what He said it did?' is a resounding, universe-shattering, fist-pumping, "YES!!!" The Cross administered a total, irreversible, irrevocable defeat to the dragon who was cast down and who is at war with the sons of man. Because of that, the Cross is my ticket. My bona fides. It's the stake I drive in the ground between me and all the stuff that wants my head on a platter. One drop of the blood of Jesus is the most powerful weapon in the universe. I, in my power, am powerless. Worm fodder. But with the blood...well, I am ransomed, made righteous, snatched back out of the hand of the devil, welcomed into the very presence of God.
"But --" You might say, "You don't know all the horrible stuff I've done."
You're right. I don't. And, not to make light of it, but it doesn't matter. "We overcome him (satan) by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony," and if you want my testimony you can go back to the beginning of this thing and start over.
Look, not all our conversations are this way. Sometimes, we just need a set of ears to listen to our moaning. I get that. Sometimes we need someone to sit on the ledge with us, dangle their feet over the precipice, and just admit that the view sucks. I get that, too. But, sometimes we don't. Sometimes we need a mixture of a spider monkey and a ninja armed with the flaming light-saber of The Word to come to our defense. Because at the end of the day, we need reminding that we are fighting FROM victory and not for it. Big difference. Our enemy knows this. It's us who forget. Our job is to remind him. 'And having done all, to stand.' Some of you reading this need it. Read it again. Soak it in. Some of you have friends who need it. Dial the number. Press 'send.' Shout it out loud.
Let me end with a note to my buddy -- tuck this away. Sheath it. It'll be here on my blog so just remember where to find it. You, me, the guys we do life with, seems like we live near the tip of the spear. Most often it's a place of hand-to-hand war, heat, friction, and blood. But there are also moments of quiet rest, and gut-deep, laughter-roaring moments around the fire. Spears leaning in the corner. Shields stuck upright in the sand reflecting the firelight. I am not singularly strong and stoic and you know this. There will come a day when I need a breather, when I need you to swing it front of and behind me. When I am tired and need the comfort of a broad shoulder next to mine. And when I think of the guys I need in that moment to come in spinning like a glowing helicopter blade shredding everything in its path, only a handful come to mind.
You're one of them.
Although, I must admit, that mental picture, of a tazmanian Kung Fu Panda wielding a scimitar while holding his T.D. Jakes sweat rag draped over his dripping bald head, does cause me to chuckle just slightly.