Beautiful Things

“I don’t see anyone in here wearing a mini electric chair or needle full of a lethal injection hanging from their neck. That would be the moral equivalent for those of you wearing crosses today,” he said.

Yes, the point was valid. As an instrument of torture, the cross was horrendous, humiliating, inhumane.

Rome had perfected public punishment in this particular instrument.

I fingered the cross hanging from my neck, it’s edges so familiar to my fingers as I traced the heart laid over the top. My cross, marked with Isaiah 40: 31, marking my life as Christ’s, the sign of the mark made on my life when Jesus chose me and I chose back, marking a public declaration of where my true love lies. My cross so beautiful, so much a part of me, so much more than jewelry. I’m not the tattooing type. So I wear the jewelry.

And the message on the back: “But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” Perfect promise perfectly captured.

No, for me the cross is beautiful and as he talked more about the ugliness of the cross, my heart cried no. Jesus died and made the cross beautiful, elegant, a visible emblem of hard work with enormous pay out, of elemental love and sacrifice, of eternal salvation. I can look on the cross now and see nothing but beauty; I can look beyond the instrument of torture to see the instrument of grace. It isn’t even a stretch.

In fact, the beauty of the gift of salvation so far outweighs the ugly, that I often forget the hideous, humiliating, inhumanity of the thing around my neck.

Not long ago, I paused over my cluttered desk and I looked up into the corner at my wall of love. Drawings my kids have offered as tokens of love array the space. It’s good to look these over sometimes. When offered, I adored them, oohhed and ahhhed over them, complimented the work that went into them and the talent showing through each picture. I hung them on the wall to show my appreciation, but I closed a door inwardly, not accepting the words offered as possibly true for me. As if my kids were actually addressing the mother of their dreams, not the flesh and blood person in front of them. Then, I went to the sink and brushed my teeth, hardly glancing in the mirror, and wondered why I have a difficult time accepting these words from my children.IMG_5673 IMG_5672 IMG_5674 IMG_5671

And as I fingered my cross this morning, these musings came back.

The work on the cross was bloody, ugly, horrendous agony. But the result was beautiful. Salvation, death conquered, law reduced, God lifting the veil that separated Him from us and inviting us directly to come to Him.

Repeatedly scripture tells us that through Christ’s death on the cross we are made new. The prophet Isaiah (43:19) announces God’s will,

 

“For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.”

 

2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

 

Romans 6: 3-7 says, “Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives.
5 Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was. 6 We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin. 7 For when we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin.”

 

And in Revelation 21, God proclaims, “Look, I am making everything new!”

 

Me and you, made new.

When we come to Christ, it is as if we are taking off the old, ugly, worn-out clothes of our life and putting on a coat of beauty and grace and forgiveness and freedom. Like when I shed the clothes I’ve been painting in, shower and dress for an evening out… that kind of new. Sort of. That changes the external. But Christ’s changes are from the inside out… eventually. Living free… free from the fear of death, free from the ancient’s law of ceremonial clean and unclean, free from eternal judgment.

Gungor sings it this way:

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

All around
Hope is springing up from this old ground
Out of chaos life is being found in You

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

And as we sang these words this morning, I thought of the cross, of Christ’s death making it beautiful. Of how His act took the awful and made it artistic, of how His love took the twisted and the maimed and straightened it and healed it, of how gnarled and blood-soaked became lily-fresh.

But me. God tapped me on the shoulder and said, “You too.” Like the cross, Christ takes my life and the ugly and the horrid and the horrendous and the inhumane, all the broken, gnarled, twisted, blood-soaked splinters of my cross-life and turns them toward redemption. He tapped me on the shoulder this morning and said, “I’m doing this to you, too. Taking your dust and growing a garden.”

And I realized that I have to accept that I can be beautiful. That I am already beautiful through Christ. That the words my children picture for me are true. This. Is. Truth. Truth I need to pickle in, not just accept but relish and believe. If Christ can change the most horrific method of torture into a thing of beauty… now worn by millions of people, then what can He do with me?

My dear Prosy, my Ugandan “daughter,” how He has taken the broken bits of that life of horror and redeemed them, saved her, made beauty where there was dust and ash. All the lives now at Village of Hope Uganda… for them all He has made beautiful things.

In the heights of hubris, I’ve closed the doors to this, just as I’ve closed the door to the words of my children, preferring, clinging to, embracing the lies I’ve heard from other parts of the world. As if those lies of “you’re nothing” and “you’re so broken you can’t be fixed” are the final assessment and the final horror of life. If I accept the lies as the final answer, then I am also turning my back on hope, on the greatest gift ever offered.

It’s time to fling wide those doors. Just as Christ flung wide His arms on the cross and took the pain for my gain, it is time to fling wide my arms and embrace His words for me. It’s time for beautiful things.

Masterpiece

I have so much else to do, but there’s a refrain playing in my heart and if I truly believe God is a God of abundance and generosity, He will take the time and bend it and shape it and time warps are possible. And so I believe He, who spoke this refrain, will sanctify the time I spend mulling His words in it.

Masterpiece. I showed the ladies a copy of the Sistine Chapel. “They should have clothes on.” I showed the Mona Lisa, the façade of Notre Dame, Paris. I handed out copies of War and Peace, Hamlet, Moby Dick. I passed around Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet and Handel’s Royal Fireworks music. What do they all have in common? Masterpieces. Someone’s hard work, opus magnum, life’s blood spilling in artistic fervor, passion in word or paint, creative genius, something that had never been before.

And then the mirror comes out.

What do you see? “A wreck.” “Oh dear.” That one actually turns the mirror and won’t look. “My rosacea.”

One gets it. “God’s masterpiece.”

God says, “We are God’s masterpiece, created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

God’s masterpiece.

Compassion Tea's Anne and Chris learning about the first pluck in Sri Lanka.

Compassion Tea’s Anne and Chris learning about the first pluck in Sri Lanka.

Visiting the doctor in all her finery at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Visiting the doctor in all her finery at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Clinical officer David at Tanzania Christian Clinic

Clinical officer David at Tanzania Christian Clinic

One of the "mommies" caring for the orphans at Village of Hope Uganda

One of the “mommies” caring for the orphans at Village of Hope Uganda

Celebrating at the watering hole… masterpieces at Village of Hope Uganda

Celebrating at the watering hole… masterpieces at Village of Hope Uganda

Dawn at 1000 Hills Community Helpers holding two new masterpieces

Dawn at 1000 Hills Community Helpers holding two new masterpieces

A masterpiece with ice cream at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

A masterpiece with ice cream at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Blowing bubbles at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

Blowing bubbles at 1000 Hills Community Helpers

I’m preaching this to everyone who will listen. To my daughter who thinks holding her nose when a certain boy walks by is okay. To my friend who has a “thang.” To my husband who needs to be reminded as he walks through the lonely halls of business. To myself because the accuser and the world conspire to whisper the opposite. Why do I even give them audience?

I’ve been putting off reading this blog. But this morning, reciting “We are God’s masterpiece created anew in Christ Jesus to do the good things He planned for us long ago,” for the 10th time today, I click on the link. And I find that God is preaching this message through others too.

God’s masterpiece. Creative genius. Passion in flesh and blood. Unique and never been before. His blood spilling in artistic fervor. That’s you.