Twenty some odd years ago, I came to Christ. After a train wreck season in my life where I had left a pretty serious wake of damage (at least it felt that way) I crawled on my belly, miserable in my existence and collapsed at the foot of the cross. From the outside looking in, it probably didn't look that way at all, but on the inside, that is so completely how it felt.
That's the funny thing about the effect of sin, it's not always visible to the eye-- rather it is a "soul speak" that resonates throughout life. Like the bad buzz underlying 1970s TV watching, no matter how good the "programming" seemed, something was amiss. I was miserable, heartbroken, overwhelmed by my own failures and shortcomings and in desperate need of love, acceptance and understanding.
I found it at the foot of the cross. There were people there who had been in the same "mud" I found myself covered in who were willing to get "down and dirty" with me, because the fact is, you really can't get clean in the midst of the "mud." No one stood back and pointed and said, "Look at you, look how dirty you are!" No one asked me if I knew better, or why I'd been willing to roll around in said mud as long as I had. No, they just propped me up and sat with me under the cross while the streams of Living Water poured out over me and washed me clean. Oh God, how it quenched my soul.
My companions there, whom I know full well the Lord had sent, loved me. They didn't dismiss the mud, or tell me it was ok to stay "dirty," but neither did they critique or demand how I got through the process. They stayed with me as long as I needed them to stay. And when I was rested, restored and clean, they helped me get up on my feet.
When I was up I was able to walk away and go find other muddy folks in need, and for a season I spent a LOT of time finding the filthy and helping them find their own way to the shower at the cross. I spent time sitting with many there myself. And when the water poured down and their mud splashed a little my way, I didn't panic or react, I knew I was clean. I lovingly sat with them, and I waited with them until they too were ready- ready, willing and able to become a part of the ministry to the "down and dirty."
I don't know when or how it happened exactly, I think I just got busy. Babies were born, responsibilities came, and when I walked away from the shower at the cross, I got distracted from looking for the people who needed to find their way there. I didn't mean to, it wasn't intentional, I just got busy. I would still walk back by the cross, it was actually a place I even cherished, but I was no longer looking for who else needed to find that place. Then one day as I was walking toward it, I passed a parade of filthy people who desperately needed to get there, and I heard myself. "Look at you!" I said, "You're filthy!" And a part of me actually thought about the fact that I didn't want them up on the hill, sullying it up.
It had been so long since I had witnessed the shower coming down, and actually remembered my own experience there, that in my mind, it changed from what it was meant to be and actually had been. "This is a place for the clean," I thought. I forgot it was really a place to be made clean. And I think my presence there, standing with some false sense of authority and righteousness, may have even scared away a few of the filthy-- some who had never even come to the shower, and others who were still in the midst of having one. "No, no, no - you're not doing it right," I'd say. "The water from the cross isn't enough, you need to use this soap, or pecifically wash this way," I'd say pointing with my own agenda. It overwhelmed people. I overwhelmed people- so they walked away rather than live under my scrutiny and disappointment.
I stood far enough away from the cross that the water wasn't really getting anywhere near me anymore, and the place where I now stood carried a different kind of dirt. It wasn't like the mud I came to the cross with at first. Although that mud had been thick, and pervasive, there was a softness and ease that responded quickly and easily to the wash of the water. This knew filth-- the filth of self-righteousness and judgment that had come upon me was dry, hard and thick. It was as though it had become a part of me, a film that covered all, thick and hard, it mysteriously looked attractive to me when I looked in the mirror, the spiritual equivalent of a spray tan, if you will. I liked it, I lived comfortably in it.
Then one day, something happened. I heard Jesus beckon me back over toward the cross.
I offered formal greetings and stood proudly, not just anyone gets called over to the cross you know. The melody and lyrics of "I Am a Friend of God" resonating in my brain. "What's up, Jesus?" I asked. Because Jesus is my homie after all. I was smiling ear to ear, certain He had something wonderful to say about my beautiful spray tan and how good I'd been about keeping traffic cleared at the foot of the cross, but when I got close enough to actually look up at Him, He locked eyes with me and I could see tears of sadness in His eyes.
"You forgot what happened here," He told me. "You've forgotten who you were when you came to Me," He said.
As I stared straight into His face, something in my heart broke, and the flood of the water that had saturated my soul decades before began to well up inside of me.
"Look down," He said and I saw a pool of mud. It was thick and dark, and deep. "Do you remember it?" He asked.
"Is that mine?" I replied.
He just nodded solemnly. It wasn't anger, it wasn't judgment, it wasn't even disappointment in His eyes, it was sadness. The very same sadness that I saw my first day there. But that had been sadness for me, this was sadness because of me.
"Can I come back?" I asked, desperately, suddenly seeing my "spray tan" for what it was, an ugly binding layer of a different kind of sin. "Will you wash this off too?"
"Yes," He assured me, but then He warned, "this filth is far more difficult to remove. It isn't soft and ready to come off like the first filth you brought to me. This legalism and self-righteousness, it actually has to be fought against."
Desperate I was willing to do anything He said, "How? Tell me," I begged.
"You can't wander from the living water, but even more so, you cannot be afraid of the mud," He said.
"The mud? But you washed it away," I said.
"The mud is what will soften your filth, not your own mud, but the mud of those you lead here to My cross. Sit with them, wait with them, let me wash over them, and as their mud splashes upon you as I so freely wash it away, look back down into your own puddle there, and remember, I made you clean, it was not a work of your own.
I stepped back under the shower of living water, and I found myself having to stand there much longer than I had before. Then I realized, the first time I was on my knees, and it made all the difference. I bowed there and the water flowed, faithfully and faithfully it flowed, and it made me clean again. It wasn't me, it was Jesus.
My soul restored I find myself back in that place, looking for the filthy, the mud deep strugglers who don't know about the shower of the cross, I want to reach out to every one of them, not to point out their mud, but to help them find their own way to the cross where the living water flows and to sit with them while Jesus does the work He desires to do, for each one in His own way, and in His own time.
I have to guard myself forever from the filth of self-righteousness-- but I remember now, the key is never wandering far from the foot of the cross, where the mud is washed away by a Savior who lovingly pours down His living water upon the life and into the soul of any who are willing to respond when He bids them, "Come."