Sunday, September 26, 2010
THE UGLY GIFT
THE UGLY GIFT
(c)2010 Narrowgate Publishing
Christ Jesus comes to us out of the depths of the dark forest that lies in our pathway. He is carrying something, and He sets it down in front of us. It is a present, though one like we’ve never seen before. In all our years of church, our months and weeks of believing in Jesus and participating in the busy life of a Christian, we’ve never encountered a moment like this.
We look at it, and give Jesus, who is standing expectantly in front of us, love and hope in His eyes, a puzzled look.
He says, “I want you to go with Me today,” and points into the blackness underneath the tall trees. “This is the gift I’m giving you, the gift of discipleship. This means you share in everything with Me from now on. My joys, My sorrows, My love, My sufferings. You’ll become like Me on this
Narrow Road. But in order to experience this New Life, you must be willing to come now.”
Our sensibilities recoil at the sight of this huge gift, with its ugly wrapping, its strange and forbidding shape, and the long, uneasy shadow it casts upon our desires for brightness and easy living. We resist, standing unsure at the edge of the forbidding forest, with its hanging moss, its dank, smelly, unknown, murky depths.
We think about this Jesus thing. It’s been fine as long as it means “our best life now”, holding the promise of sunlit days and comfortable nights of restful sleep. What is He talking about? Why does He have to come and spoil a good thing?
Christ is smiling at us as He always does, His eyes bidding us go further and deeper and higher with Him.
We stand shuffling our feet in the grass, diverting our own eyes, unable to meet His unwavering gaze.
“Wait, Lord Jesus, I must go bury my dead father,” we say with some embarrassment.
“Follow Me and let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus replies kindly and cheerfully.
We try to fend Him off with assurances of our good intentions.
“Teacher, I’ll follow you wherever you go,” we say to Him, with a sincere, heartfelt look in our eyes.
Jesus looks at us with tender understanding, but firmly He says, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.”
Glancing again toward the forest, where the path disappears into the undergrowth, we hear strange noises, and are afraid.
Thinking fast now, we bring up our accomplishments.
“Lord, you know how I have so much responsibility. I teach in the second graders in Sunday school, help clean the church, and give my tithe. I’ve believed in You since I was a teenager. I’ve been faithful in attendance, sincere in worship services, and I read my Bible every morning and pray.”
We look at Jesus now, hopefully, waiting for what we’re sure will be a commendation.
Jesus looks at us fondly, then smiles, takes hold of our shoulders, and looks us right in the eyes.
“If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
At this point, we turn and look back at all we have in life. We see our friends, family, job, comfortable lifestyle, toys, projects, goals and ambitions--the busy and successful path we’ve been on.
The good life beckons, and we stand glued to this familiar scene behind us, thinking that if we just try hard enough, we can do both. We can have all we want in the world, and we can still walk with Jesus. We think about the great sermons we’ve heard, and the good church life we’ve enjoyed, and all the good gifts of being with Christ we have, and we can’t understand why He insists on spoiling it with this new wrinkle. We begin to question whether we heard Him right, and turn to face Him, and this time we’ll really ask Him some harder questions, because we can’t just drop everything to follow Him. He’ll have to understand. We’ll make it plain to Him and He’ll be fine with everything once we’ve explained.
We turn reluctantly toward Jesus, still thinking of clever answers to His simple call. But what we see is His back, muscles rippling beneath His shirt, as He blends into the shadows of the forest’s fringe, His feet already treading the unknown, twisting, narrow path that cuts into the blackness.
“Wait, Jesus!” we call. He turns and lifts His hand to us, motioning us forward, and yells in return, “Anyone who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.”
This is not what we wanted to hear. This is not good. We stand sweating in the sunshine, barely able to discern Jesus under the boughs of the great trees.
“But Lord, I wanted to talk with you about this. I’ve got a life, and it needs living! I’ve got plans and goals and dreams, and friends and family and a job and a good life now, and you can’t just mean that I’ve got to be willing to give it all up, and come into the unknown, and possibly suffer and die with You! This isn’t the Christianity I learned! What will everyone say? They’ll laugh at me, or be angry with me, and things will not go well for me!” we shout into the forest, shading our eyes, trying to see Jesus.
His voice is getting faint now, and we hear the sounds behind us of our life and our desires, and it seems they’re growing stronger and louder, and we can barely discern the voice of Christ.
Yet His clear, calm, loving answer cuts through the din, and as we’re surrounded suddenly by the church activities, and our career objectives, and the bills and the business, and the vacation plans, and the things we want and have worked toward, and the house and the cars and the busy days, and the comfortable Christian walk we’ve led so far, we can barely hear Jesus as He disappears up the trail.
“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it!”
The echoes fade away into the leafy wall, and we turn a little sadly back to the life we choose, looking forward to dinner and a movie, and getting back to work in the morning—anything to take our mind off the ugly, poorly wrapped present still sitting in the tall grass at the edge of the known world—anything to ease the pain and sorrow that we felt so keenly for those last few insane moments.
Within a short time the memory of the encounter has mercifully faded, and becomes something we dismiss as the result of an overzealous imagination, or dangerous fanaticism. Or maybe just bad eggs for breakfast.
Once in a while, as we’re reading our quick daily devotional and praying for God to bless us, we hear the soft voice of Jesus as He fades into the forest, calling us, beckoning us with a strong, nail-scarred hand, and we feel that deep tug of desire for the narrow path that disappears into the unknown. But mercifully, our cell rings, or the clock reminds us we’re going to be late if we don’t get going, or one of the children interrupts us, and we’re off for the day.
After all, what does Jesus expect? We’ve got a life to live!
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