It was an odd scene and it caught my eye. I was pulling out of a gas station and saw a tree sticking out of a fence. A tree, completely oblivious to the fact that it was clearly stepping on this fence’s turf. This may be a normal sight for some people, but in my cookie-cutter development with only three housing styles (boring, bland, or dull) the trees are planted neatly in the center of a 6 by 8 lawn and safely fastened to a thin piece of wood, which I’m assuming came from my tree’s unfortunate cousin. So for me this stood out. Now whether this tree grew into the fence after it was built, or the fence was built around it, I know not. I assume the latter, but my lack of knowledge of trees and fences keeps me from giving a definitive answer. However, whether the tree barged in after the fence had been constructed or the fence was made to accommodate this sappy piece of nature, one thing is clear, the tree is calling the shots. They could have taken an axe to the tree, they could have settled for a smaller lot and pulled the fence back a few feet, but apparently, the easiest and most feasible option was to let the tree do its thing.
Here’s the thing about Jesus. When He catches you, and if He wants to, He will, He’s calling the shots. He settles in, sets up camp, and lays roots right in the middle of your life. He’s unavoidable, impossible to miss, and there’s a biblical and experiential guarantee that He’s going to shake things up when He gets into town. So if Jesus has set His relentless, hounding affections on you, it’s only a matter of time before you start to feel the weight of it. God is invasive and the natural disposition of our hearts is not a welcoming one. We enjoy comfort, satisfaction, and value and have spent our lives developing an extraordinary imagination that allows us to believe we can find those things ourselves. Jesus holds reality up to our face and exposes how much emptiness we’ve filled ourselves with. And when a lunatic runs headlong into the creator of logic and love things can get messy. So whether you’ve been running away from God or chasing Him down to give Him a piece of your mind, the good news is that He’s going to meet you one day and change your rusty, nasty heart into something beautiful.
You can try to discredit Him. With an axe in your hand and foolish determination in your heart you can seek to cut God off at the knees. Convince yourself that this is all nonsense. If it’s not real, you don’t have to submit to it. Watch the history channel, follow Darwin on Twitter, grill your Christian co-worker about how science discredits the Bible. Go ahead, take a swing. He can handle it. Because ultimately your questions will be answered, your aggression calmed, your skepticism cured. At the end of the day it’s like swinging a bubble wand at adamantium: highly ineffective and makes you look kinda silly.
You can try to run away from Him. Just move the fence back a few feet any time you feel Jesus getting too close. And, paranoid sinner that you are, you’ll start pulling that fence back a few feet each day until you find yourself standing in a box no bigger than my lawn wondering why you feel like a prisoner. Hear this: the most freedom you will ever find in this life is found in submitting yourself to Jesus. Practically, this “pulling your fence back” looks like withdrawing. Removing yourself from people, places, books, radio stations or anything that might make you aware of the inevitable truth that Jesus is after you. And when you distance yourself from the things of God and the people of God, you are left with the things and people of this world. And when you come to realize that temporary things only satisfy temporarily, you will begin to feel trapped. A creature made for infinite joy does not do well with finite happiness. And when you have said all that there is to say, and seen all that there is to see, and consumed all that there is to consume, you will find that after all, you are still unsatisfied. The shameless acts of self-indulgence and amateur hedonism will soon reveal themselves as shackles binding you to a cell of perpetual hopelessness. Praise be to God that no matter how far you withdraw or how suffocating your cell has become, Jesus has a knack for turning desperation into devotion.
So how does He do it? How does He bring our dead hearts to life? Think back to the tree; it carries a great truth. It is not just an intruder on the fence’s territory; it is a reminder of its past. The tree reveals what the fence used to be. It was not always dead slats of wood nailed together to keep people out and divide property. It used to be alive. A vibrant, growing thing. Seen next to the tree we cannot help but think of what the fence used to be before man got his hands on it. Jesus does the same for us. He shows us who we were created to be. He exposes our sin and brokenness; He shines a light into the darkness of our souls and reveals how empty we are. There is hurt and frustration and shame in seeing our worst parts exposed, but if we would only look upward. If we would look beyond our shells and gaze upon the One shining the light; we would see who we are meant to be. Jesus is perfect obedience, perfect love and perfect joy in perfect relationship to the Father. He shows us all He has for us and all that would fulfill our deepest longings.
But is that it? Does Jesus simply reveal our brokenness without providing a solution? Is He only satisfying a longing to know there is something more without supplying a means to reach it? Or does the fence have any ability to become a tree again? No matter how hard it tries, how determined it is, no matter what it does, it will always be dead. If this is all that Jesus does for us then He is of no more help than anything else the world has to offer. The only thing more devastating than being broken is seeing the beauty of restoration and being unable to attain it. If we could not achieve enough money, enough sex, enough success, enough recognition to bring us joy, how could we achieve all that God would have us be?
Well, that’s just it. We can’t. It was never meant to be achieved, it was meant to be received. Jesus does not load us up with a burden of straining to be a better version of ourselves. We are dead and He is alive. We are sinful and He is righteous. We are broken and He is perfect. How could we ever succeed in being like Him? How could the fence ever become the tree? It’s dead. Cut down, run through with nails, and dug into the dirt. There is no hope for the fence to ever be like the tree again. The beauty of the Gospel is that it is not first about us becoming like Jesus, but Him becoming like us. He takes our sentence of death and gives us His life. It is not to be earned, not to be bargained for; it is simply to be gratefully received. He does not lay upon us a burden; He took our burden, carried it to Calvary, and nailed it to the tree.
By His work we have been made right with God, our outstanding debt paid in full, our dead hearts made alive and filled with affection for our Creator. He is the one who was cut down by men, nailed to the tree, and laid into the grave in our place. He is the one with enough power to rise from the dead and raise you up with Him. He is the one who can fill your dead body with life. The existence of the fence is pathetic. It will not move. It will not grow. It will produce nothing and eventually rot away. It will stay in that same place, with its heels dug into the ground, until the day it’s torn down and burned. But that does not have to be the ending to your story. By the work of Jesus and His work alone, you can be remade. He can reverse the fatal effects of the fall. He can replace the nails with leaves, the rot with fruit, death with life. He can make you who you were created to be.
So stop running from God, His legs are way longer than yours and a fence can’t really run anyway. Open your eyes to the beautiful life offered in Jesus. Trust the one who created you and relax. He’s got plans for you that will bring all kinds of joy and satisfaction. Why fight that?