Tony pointed the TV remote at the wall and pressed a button. The battlefield faded into grayness. “It must have seemed like an eternity to Bert,” said Tony. “But then some corpsmen ran across the two of you and got you to a field hospital. You both spent many hours in surgery. They saved your leg, but they couldn’t reattach Bert’s arm.”
The shroud of gray cloud that enveloped the Pastor and Tony was dissipating.
“I was delirious with pain,” recalled the Pastor, tears streaking down his face. “I remember Bert talking to me in the shell hole, but after that, nothing.”
“Fear and shock can become barriers to remembering, Desmond.”
The Pastor nodded.
“But, in time, those barriers begin to crumble—”
“The memories return,” the Pastor said, completing the rest of Tony’s sentence. “But it’s so painful.”
“It’s part of the healing. What you heard and saw and experienced was more than you could deal with back then. But tonight—”
“Oh, Tony! Do you think I will ever be healed?”
The gray mist was thinning, and the Pastor and Tony stood face-to-face in the study.
“Bert has always been proud of you, Desmond. He never considered himself to be much of a success in life. The way he saw things, his only purposes on earth were to love God, to be a loving husband to his wife, to befriend the needy, and to look out for your welfare.”
“Look out for me?”
“He was so loyal. Next to Rosie, he considered you his best friend.”
“Me? His best friend? I never dreamed that....” He walked over to Tony. “Bert always tried to be my friend. Amanda brought it up many times. She never understood why I was so—so cool toward him.” The Pastor turned away from Tony and said. “I’ve never had time for friends—the demands of the ministry, you know. Amanda was the only one I made time for, and she always wanted more.”
“Was it really the demands of the ministry and of Amanda, Desmond? Or an excuse for avoiding people so they wouldn’t get to know the real you?”
“I suppose I’m a workaholic. But what pastor isn’t? I felt I had to keep busy. I had that night to overcome and I believed that my work for the Lord would somehow atone for it.”
“Did it work, Desmond? Did getting on a performance treadmill really make you worthy?”
“I...I....” The Pastor shrugged and shook his head. “Achieving helped me feel worthy—for a while. But then the euphoria wore off, and I guess, in the long run, it really hasn’t made me feel any better about myself. And you know why? Because no matter what big and glorious thing I accomplished, it never changed me. I’m still a coward! The more I try to overcome my weaknesses and shortcomings, the more the ugliness comes out! I—I....” He choked up. All he could do was shrug again—a shrug of hopeless defeat. Tears swelled up in his eyes. “It’s like a beast inside me that I can’t control. I’ve prayed and prayed and tried and tried, but....”
“Cowardliness is a product of the unregenerate heart, Desmond, and denial is a defense the flesh uses to protect itself.”
“But, Tony, after the war I made a genuine commitment to Christ. I’ve prayed and prayed for God to give me strength to overcome my cowardliness. And now you’re saying I should admit I’m a coward and accept defeat and failure!”
“God knows your weaknesses, Desmond. And He didn’t intend for you to cope with them out of your own strength. That’s why He sent His Son to live in you and through you—so you could live in Christ’s sufficiency.”
“But that doesn’t change the past, Tony; it doesn’t change who I really am. I’m a coward by nature.”
“Desmond, you know that Jesus died to redeem all of His lost sheep.”
“Yes, of course, but—”
“And some of those sheep were cowards.”
“Well, I suppose so, but—”
“And you know that you are a new creature with the righteousness of Christ—you were given a new heart like His. So who are you trying to impress? God?—so He will love you more? Desmond, Desmond; God’s love for you is ultimate love—unconditional love.”
“I...I know all that, but it hasn’t changed things. I...I want to feel good about myself again.”
Tony nodded and said, “The self-centered heart doesn’t like to admit it’s a failure.”
The Pastor threw up his hands in perplexity and said, “Is it so wrong not to want to be a failure?”
“Self outside of Christ is a complete failure. But Christ is your life. You are a holy and righteous saint! Look, let me ask you something: Was Jesus a failure?”
“Why, of course not.”
“Was Jesus a liar, a thief, or a murderer?”
“Was Jesus a coward?”
“I—I think I see what are you getting at, Tony. You would have made a good Christian counselor.”
“Desmond, you are the righteousness of Christ.” After saying that, Tony looked upward and cocked his head as if trying to hear a faint voice. He looked back at the Pastor and said, “Turn around, Desmond.”
The Pastor looked at him questioningly.
“Your back has been turned to the truth for a long time. Turn around, Desmond. Journey to the cross. Look into the face of truth...the face of forgiveness...the face of freedom and victory! See and hear as you never have before. Surrender all things fleshly and worldly, and truly enter in to Christ’s grace, His rest and sufficiency.”
The Pastor wasn’t sure he wanted to do all that.
“Do it—turn around,” Tony urged.
The Pastor slowly turned. The images of his study started to fade away, and darkness enveloped him. A stiff breeze blew in his face. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he saw he was standing on a hill, barren and windswept. The sky was dark and storm clouds churned violently overhead. Lightning flashed in the distance, followed by reports of thunder. “Where are we?” he asked. There was no answer. He turned around, but Tony was not there. All he saw was a path leading up to the barren knoll.
The Paster felt drawn up the path toward the crest of the hill. The chill night wind caused his eyes to water. He looked ahead, straining his eyes to see what Tony wanted him to see. He stumbled over a loose rock and fell to his knees. He picked himself up and kept on walking. Lightning flashed, and in its brief moment of brightness the Pastor saw it—forty or fifty yards up the hill. Thunder crashed overhead. Adrenaline shot through him. It’s the crucifixion!
The Pastor stumbled through the wind and darkness along the steep footpath that led to the rocky summit of Golgotha. Moments later he stood trembling and panting for breath, still several yards away from the three crosses. There was a small crowd of people, some of them Roman soldiers. The Pastor heard muffled sobs and wailing. A cross bearing the body of a criminal stood between him and the cross with Jesus.
The wind was picking up and he felt drops of rain hit his face. He climbed farther, until he reached the foot of the nearest cross which bore a criminal. He trembled with apprehension. Slowly raising his eyes, he saw two feet nailed to the upright member of the cross. His eyes moved further up and he saw the legs, then a loin cloth, tattered and streaked with blood. Then he looked at the criminal’s face.
“Oh, my! Oh, my!” he cried out. And he fell to the ground in anguish.
The criminal’s face was his face.
He lay there for several minutes, mustering all his strength, for his journey would not end here, but at the cross of Christ.
He rose to his feet and took a step toward the middle cross, the cross from which hung the body of Jesus. In that instant the night sky was ripped by a blinding flash of lightning and thunder exploded overhead. The earth shook and the Pastor cried out and braced himself. The ground churned and rolled, then abruptly jolted upward. The Pastor fell, tumbling and sliding down a rain-slickened slope in the darkness.
“Lord! Lord!” he cried out, looking back at the cross.
The earth opened and the Pastor slid on toward the widening crevasse. He frantically clawed the ground for a handhold—a clump of grass, a bush, anything to cling to. But his fingers found only slippery mud, and he continued sliding. And then he felt himself falling into the dark abyss—falling, falling, falling...
Continue to Chapter 16 >
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