Forgiven: Accepting God’s Amazing Grace

In 1992, artist Thomas Blackshear II, painted a picture titled Forgiven. It took my breath away the first time I saw it. The image is a contemporary man wearing a T-shirt and dirty jeans, holding a mallet in one hand and a nail in the other. The expression on his face is desperation and exhaustion. Standing behind him and holding him up, is Jesus. His nail-scarred hands appear large and strong. His face is tender as he embraces this man, a picture of God’s love and forgiveness, the real message of Easter.      He-is-Risen-from-StudioJRU

Tears welled up in my eyes. The man in the painting reminded me of my husband Randy. He had tried over and over to stop the deadly spiral of alcoholism that he was caught in. Sometimes he broke down in sobs of desperation and anger. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop drinking–even though it was destroying him.

But this painting gave me hope. Though Randy’s addiction seemed hopeless, as a Christian, I had to believe that Jesus was right there loving Randy, and that his arms wrapped around him would never let him go.

One week before Easter in the early 1990s, Randy agreed to have our pastor and others pray for him. Pastor Mark and several others placed their hands on Randy’s head and shoulders and prayed. It was powerful. We all felt the intensity of God’s presence. Pastor Mark turned to me and said, “Deb, here’s your husband back.”

I noticed Randy’s eyes seemed clear and at peace, no longer tormented. He felt free! Sadly, after a week of experiencing this miraculous freedom, the old patterns crept back in. Randy struggled with his addiction until 1998 when he finally came to believe that God loved him and had forgiven him. Grasping that truth made all the difference for him. He has been free in Christ since then!

Today, on Good Friday, my thoughts have turned to this painting and the picture of a defeated and desperate man. Tears come to my eyes as I realize once again, the power of forgiveness. Maybe Randy needed that very real taste of freedom he experienced in order to ultimately be able to accept God’s unconditional love for him.

Really, Randy is no different from any of us. We all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We all have held the mallet and nail in our hands, demanding our own way, instead of humbly submitting to God. I like to think I would never have been part of the crowd shouting, Crucify him! I know better, though. Without God’s amazing gift of grace and forgiveness, I’d never have submitted my life to Him. Only through the pain and heartache of Randy’s struggle with alcoholism, was I finally able to surrender.

I can’t do this.

God can.

I will let Him.

Whatever challenges you may be facing today, the promise and hope of Easter always follow the desperate darkness of Good Friday.

God can do anything, you know–far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Ephesians 3:20,21 (MSG)

 

THE DAY AFTER

Impossible. I’m sure that’s the word Jesus’ followers could barely bring themselves to whisper the day after his crucifixion. How did this happen? He promised never to leave us, they said, though they recalled he often talked about events they didn’t understand. He had predicted his death, and chastised Peter when he said, Never, Lord. This shall never happen to you. But it did.
Now it’s the day after. Jesus is dead. He raised others back to life. Why couldn’t he prevent his own death? Joseph, the rich man from Arimathea, had taken Jesus’ body, wrapped it in a linen cloth, then placed the body in his own new tomb. It was over. Three years of extraordinary days spent with this simple carpenter by trade had changed them forever. And now he was gone…or was he?

Of course, we know the end of the story. The empty tomb discovered by Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at dawn the next day has left implications for all generations to ponder.

So often in my own life, I feel as if I’m facing “the day after.” No hope, no way things could ever work out. But then there’s the promise of Easter and the irrefutable evidence of an empty tomb. The one you are looking for is not here. He has risen just as he said. Unbelievable!

I think of my 17 -year old niece in a group home in the Midwest. It’s the “day after” in her short life of rebellion, anger, and disappointment. And for my brother who turns 48 next month, homeless and living on the street, addicted to drugs and alcohol for many years, it certainly must seem like the “day after” for him. What hope is there for those who are hopeless?

I listened to Chip Ingram’s Living on the Edge radio broadcast the other day. I scribbled notes as fast as I could, I was so moved by his discussion about hope. He used the book of Philippians as his reference, the writings of the Apostle Paul from his prison cell. Chip said, as best as I can transcribe:

Hope is the anchor of our souls, the absolute certainty that God’s deliverance is certain. He will give you exactly what you need to handle your situation in a God-honoring way. He will give you sufficient courage. He will deliver you through your circumstances, out of a situation, or ultimately to himself. The answer to your problem is not a solution. The answer to your problem is a person, Jesus Christ.

I called my niece on her birthday a few weeks ago. There’s hope! I told her, no matter what your circumstances look like. I’m not sure she believed me, but I pray she’ll think of my words and begin to believe that maybe, just maybe there’s a way through tough times. I will call her again soon to gently remind her.

My brother is now in a halfway house, his first time in a treatment program. He’s court ordered to be there, but I see this as Divine intervention in his life. I sent him an Easter card and wrote, There’s hope! I pray he will see a glimmer and wonder that these events might have been orchestrated by a Power greater than himself.

Yes, this is the day after. But I know the rest of the story and I rejoice. He is risen!

Blessed Easter!

Deb