Jesus told him, "Follow Me"
There once was a man on a journey. He was going from where he was, to where he needed to be. For most of the journey the path he had chosen was easy. After a while, though, he found himself at a large swamp that did not have an easily discovered route or much in the way of safe footing. Not long after he had taken his first step to get through to the other side he discovered that he was quite stuck. The mud and grime had covered his feet past his ankles.
Each time he tried to move forward he found himself lodged ever more deeply into the swamp. And each try to dislodge himself was exhausting. Seeing that he had plenty of food, and the water of the swamp was at least potable enough for drinking, he resigned himself to staying right where he was.
It was lonely and dark where he was. But he was alive and that was at least valuable enough to not give up completely. After some time he saw another man walking towards the spot that he had found himself stuck. This man seemed to have a masterful sense of where to safely place his feet and kept moving forward. Soon this man had arrived at the exact spot our friend had found himself.
He said, "I thought you might be stuck. This journey can be treacherous. Here is my hand, allow me to pull you out. I know the way, if you follow my steps we will safely arrive on the other side and we can journey the rest of the way together."
The man who was stuck contemplated the offer with suspicion. Perhaps this traveler only meant to help him so that he could take what food he did have. Or, maybe he didn't know the rest of the way out, and would only lead him to even deeper mud without the comforts he was making due with in his current place. It may be bad here, but who knows where I could end up?
So he replied, "Thank you sir for your offer. While I do not particularly enjoy where I am, it is possibly much better than where we may end up. Instead of continuing on, can you just stay and sit awhile. It isn't a lovely place to be, but if you were to join me here, we may find it to be a much more enjoyable experience than being in the swamp alone."
The new traveler looked sadly at the man who was stuck. With a deep sigh he replied, "I am sorry, but I cannot stay where you are. This swamp is not where I intend on dwelling. My home is on the other side, and I have come from there and know the path back. I would be gladdened to have you join me. It is likely that there are others, who like yourself, have found themselves stuck here. If I were to stop my journey home, there would be no one to show them the way."
After hearing the reply the stuck man replied, "I appreciate what you say, friend, but I don't know you well enough to trust where you are going. Perhaps if I continue to wait someone else will come along who will be my companion to pass the time"
With a sad look in his eyes, the new traveler faced back in the direction he was heading and continued on.
Saddest Moment in Cinematic History
There is a damaging lie that we have decided to embrace and live by; Jesus wants to hang out with you right where you are. Where does it come from? We start with the truth that Jesus loves us right where we are, that grace is free, that we are loved because we are His. This is all true. God is not afraid of our problems, grace is not for those who have cleaned up their act.
But we stop there. God loves me right where I am. Christ died for me while I was still his enemy. I am so blessed that He has come to my place to hang out and make things better......
When Jesus approaches Matthew, the tax collector, we need to see two essential truths that are not mutually exclusive.
1) Jesus DOES go right to where Matthew is. He is not afraid to talk to a man who is doing that which is sinful and hurtful to others. Boldly He approaches Matthew in the midst of his sinful behavior.
2) Jesus THEN tells Matthew to follow Him. And Matthew gets up from his table, the place where his sin is put into practice, and follows Jesus.
Today it is so common to hear the refrain that we should just "affirm" people right where they are. If it makes them happy, if it is what they want, if it is what they believe...then it is perfectly fine. To say otherwise is hurtful, intolerant, hateful. The name of Jesus is invoked often in these claims. Don't judge, err on the side of love...LIKE CHRIST...etc etc.
The problem, the damning problem, that is inherent in this view, is that it tells us a lie that we are all, at our core, just fine. The troubles in our life aren't "sin", or, "being wrong", they are just not being loved enough, or, loving enough. If we just had a bit more love then everything would be ok.
But our problem is not a lack of love, it is a lack of honesty about our sin. We don't like to hear the ugly truth that there is something wrong inside of us, something that we can't just change or fix by adding more "positive" stuff. The Jesus we want is one who just comes into our lives to make everything better. To be the icing on the cake of the life we want.
So, when things are rough, and things don't get "better" in the way our soul cries out for. Our approach is just to try to get more of it that we think will make it all better. And, for the pseudo-Christian spirituality of this age, that means adding more "Feel Good and Affirming Jesus"(tm).
Jesus talked a lot about unconditional love, he lived a life of grace, he gave lavishly to those who did not deserve it(me!). But He was unapologetic about our problem. Sin. And unapologetic about the solution. Repentance.
Repentance is not saying, "I'm sorry". It is the daily act of turning away from self and aligning ourselves with God. To stop moving inward towards our selfishness, and outward towards His Truth. You cannot have the loving Jesus without the Jesus who preached, "Go and Sin no more, Follow me, Put down your nets" etc. They are not mutually exclusive Christs.
You and I find ourselves in swamps. We are stuck. Unable to move forward without help. Incapable of finding the next safe footing. Jesus walks right through the mud and grime to find us right where we are. The dirt doesn't deter him. The risks do not frighten him. And when He arrives he says, "Follow me".
Are we going to follow Him out to where we need to be? Or, are we going to expect Him to give up home to dwell in our mud? Who are we to demand that Jesus has to give up heaven and dwell in our own hell? He is offering you more than you can get where you are. Get up and follow where His feet may lead.