It’s Finished – Steve’s Letter June 2015
JUNE 3, 2015
I finished the manuscript for the new book about an hour ago.
Some of it is so good I can hardly stand it, some of it isn’t half bad, and some of it is so bad that I don’t think it is fixable. I have a friend (a former academic dean) who often said there were two kinds of doctoral dissertations—“the finished ones and the perfect ones.” He would then laugh and add, “You don’t get both.”
So I’m finished and now I plan to go out and get drunk.
Okay, not that. I am a teetotaler (not by choice…God did it to me) so I might just get a milkshake or two. Actually, I don’t need booze to feel good right now. I can’t imagine anything else that would give me a high more than finishing something I’ve worked on for months. I don’t need a bottle of champagne to celebrate. I’m already celebrating. So if I sound a bit giddy (more than usual), you’ll forgive me.
Okay, I’ve celebrated.
Speaking of getting drunk, do you remember what happened at the first Pentecost with the disciples?
You’ll find the story in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit came. The disciples were so joyous and celebratory that everybody in the crowd thought they were drunk, and Peter had to explain, “Men of Judea, these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day.” Now I’m not sure but maybe Matthew or Mark were there and they had just finished their books. Nah, Matthew wrote his book much later and Mark wasn’t even a Christian yet. What gave them the joy? It was the Holy Spirit (the “Happy Spirit” as called in the Early Church) and the reality of what had happened.
Peter talked about fulfilled prophecy and Jesus. Behind Peter’s sermon was a dead man who got up and walked, and he said on the cross, “It is finished.” So the disciples were rejoicing in the fact that everything that needed to be done was done, nothing had to be added, and everything was settled. Given that I just finished the manuscript, I can identify with that a little. But even more when I think about Jesus.
If you were at the last Liberate conference (Liberate 2015) or you saw any of it online, you know that the theme of the conference was, “It Is Finished.” That, of course, was taken from John’s Gospel where he relays Jesus’ words on the cross just before he died. When you think about what Jesus said, it is at the heart of the Gospel and we must never forget.
When the demons come at three in the morning, when the doctor gives you that bad diagnosis or the divorce becomes final; when you’ve sinned big, don’t know how to fix it and the guilt is killing you; when you think about death and it scares the spit out of you; when you wonder if God loves you; when you’re depressed because all the dreams you had have disappeared; when you’ve read a book that told you how to do it and you couldn’t pull it off…remember that it’s finished. Remember that God gave you everything you’ll ever need. There is no need of more.
For instance, because it’s finished you don’t need—or can add anything to—what has already been done.
Too often our religion is an effort to do the done. I don’t care how many verses you memorize, how nice you are, how many people you lead to Christ, how many times you say “yes” to God and “no” to sin, how often you go to church, how many offices you hold, where you were ordained or what mission field on which you serve, you can’t add a thing to what’s been done. It’s finished.
One of the great passages of Scripture is Romans 8 where Paul is talking about the sovereignty of God in our salvation. Setting aside the theological issues in that passage, do note what Paul says, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified” (v. 30).
Wait. That must be a mistranslation. We aren’t glorified yet. That’s future and something for which to look forward. But God is perfectly capable of conjugating verbs. It’s no mistake. It’s done…and it’s done so completely that Paul could refer to something we generally think of as future as having already taken place.
I think I’ve told you Fred Smith’s story of the drummer in the Salvation Army band. It was Christmas and a large crowd gathered to hear the music. The conductor decided to take advantage of the situation and asked the drummer to give his testimony. It started well enough. “There was a time,” he said, “when I was drunk most of the time and all I did was party, wasting my days with wine, women and song. I did nothing but what I wanted to do and what pleased me.” That was when the man suddenly stopped and appeared to be thinking. Then he finished his testimony with, “And now all I do is beat this stupid drum.”
It didn’t matter how much he beat that stupid drum for Jesus, he didn’t add a single beat to the completed song of Jesus. No matter how far along you are in the process of sanctification, it’s finished. To mix metaphors, it’s like an exhausted runner taking a few more laps “just to be sure.” The race is over, dummy, and Jesus won. So did you!
But there is the flip side too.
You wouldn’t believe how often people confess to me their secrets and sins. I suppose I’m far away enough and an email or phone call is anonymous enough so that people feel safe. And then a lot of people figure that nobody could be as bad as I am, so they can confess.
The other day Cathy told me there was a man on the phone who urgently needed to talk to me. Cathy was laughing and said, “He says that he’s a very big fan of yours, but he’s lying. He called you ‘Dr. Greene.’”
So I picked up the phone and said hello. “With whom am I speaking?” I asked. The man said that he would rather not tell me his name because he was going to tell me some really bad things he had done and was embarrassed for me to know his name. “Okay, I’ll call you ‘Sam’ then.” Thereupon followed a conversation between two sinners who didn’t know each other’s names. He confessed and I responded with, “So?”
“What do you mean so?” he asked.
“Do you think you surprised God and he had such high hopes for you? Do you really think that Christ died for everybody’s sins but yours? Do you really think that Christ died for only popcorn sins like white lies and not flossing?”
I told him that it was finished and he couldn’t subtract from that fact with his sin. What I told him was true. I hope what I said helped…
…but he still didn’t tell me his name.
There is one other thing and it’s so good I can hardly wait to tell you.
When the disciples recognized that it was finished, accepted it and got so giddy about it that people thought they were drunk, something happened to them that made them different. They didn’t necessarily become better (although that was part of it) but they were different. Luther said that God doesn’t need our good works but our neighbors do. Those disciples became so faithful, so brave and so clear on the message they were commissioned to preach that it changed the world.
For our own emotional and spiritual health it is important we confess and repent (to agree with God on his assessment of what we’ve done, where we’ve gone and the sin we’ve committed…and not only that, it’s how we get hugged), but it can become narcissistic if we aren’t very careful. Someone tells about a priest who said to the man on the other side of the confessional screen, “You’re not confessing. You’re bragging.” Sometimes we become so self-absorbed and so focused on our sin, failure and unfaithfulness that one can cut the pride (a strange sort of pride) with a knife.
Nevertheless, when we know it’s finished, some other things start to be finished too. Paul said that we should start “considering” ourselves dead to sin (Romans 6:11) and he could say that because it’s finished. The imagery Paul uses is interesting. Dead people don’t have to and can’t work at it all the time. Dead people don’t and can’t use elbow grease. Dead people aren’t very religious and they don’t constantly try to bring on their own resurrection. They’re dead.
But in Galatians 2, Paul also said that dead people sometimes (in fact, dead Christians always do) find that Christ lives his life in them. We don’t become perfect. I’m ordained and I’m not even perfect…so give it up. (I think I just heard the angels laugh!) But when God chooses to show us (and that’s not very often because he knows that if he gives us an inch we’ll take a mile and become insufferably self-righteous), we sometimes see ourselves growing more and more like Christ. We love more, say “yes” to God more than we do to our sin, reach out to others, cut slack for our brothers and sisters, and are kinder and more compassionate. It happens even if God doesn’t want us to obsess over it.
Jesus said it was finished. Because it was finished, you are too. That’s bad. No, that’s good. Now you can celebrate the way the disciples did and the way I plan to celebrate now that I’m finished with the manuscript.
Oh, subject to change, the book’s working title is, Hidden Agendas: How the Masks We Wear Hurt Us and Those We Love.
God told me to tell you to buy it.
Actually, he didn’t tell me that.
He still likes me but I do lie sometimes.