Time was running close. The kids program at church was less than an hour away, and I still had to pick up my oldest boy from high school football practice. My wife and daughter had been working all day in preparation for the new horse, coming this weekend. Handing me two empty feed bags, my beloved asked me to take them to the burn barrels where we get rid of some of our trash.
It was a short walk to the back of the yard, right along a ditch. In the eight years we've lived here, I've taken that walk countless times. Today it was different.
Earlier this week, I had cleaned out the barrels and got rid of a bunch of trash. When I reached the trash cans, I couldn't see the bottom of the cans or the thin layer of goo on the bottom. What I saw when I glanced at the can was what appeared to be a cat. I knew that our one outdoor cat was up by the house, so I was a bit confused. Then I took a closer look. It was mostly black. But there was this troublesome white pattern on its back.
This was not a cat. This was Pepe LePew's younger cousin. A real life skunk.
Now I'm a country boy. I've happened upon all kinds of wild animals in my life. But I've never stumbled across a live skunk in the wild. I've stumbled across plenty of dead skunks. Those are usually pretty easy to notice from half a mile away. But this one was not lying between the dotted yellow lines on the crown of the asphault. This one was looking up at me with tiny black eyes, as shocked seeing me as I was seeing it.
What did I do? I ran. I'm not ashamed to say it.
I wasn't afraid of old Stinky leaping out of the barrel, onto my neck and ripping out my jugular. I was pretty sure the skunk wasn't going to jump on my leg and chew it to bits. But I was afraid that Mr. LePew was going to turn and fire, and that I would be forced to call off Wednesday night kids church because of fumes.
The two bags I was carrying ended up on the ground. I ended up doing my best Carl Lewis impression and made it back to the house without so much as a bit of body odor. I avoided what I knew I had to avoid. I've had dogs who met up with skunks who didn't turn and run. I've tried to kill that smell with tomato juice and countless other home stench remedies. My fear was not a physical attack. My fear was being a marked man. That smell doesn't go away easily.
Whenever I hear someone hypothesizing about the "mark of the beast", I usually either turn away or I catch myself daydreaming about something else. Because from what I read in Revelation, the mark of the beast is contrasted with the mark of the lamb. I've never heard anyone boldly predict what the mark of the lamb may be. Perhaps because the mark of the lamb (and most likely the mark of the beast as well) are not visible marks, but invisible signs of our personal choice of what to do with Jesus Christ.
I've been "marked" by Jesus, yet there are still times when it seems like the smell has worn off, to coin a phrase. I just don't smell enough like Christ. One day last week, a person really inflated my ego, telling me that I appeared to act a lot like Christ. Later that afternoon, I said something I shouldn't have said in an offhanded way, and the person I said it to expressed surprise that those words had come from my mouth. I had "blown my witness" in the blink of an eye. It was like the "smell" of Christ had been doused with some kind of super-charged Odor-Eaters.
I want to bear the marks of Jesus Christ. Yet I find that it only takes an instant for me to take on the marks making me resemble the rest of the world. It's not often that I'm swift enough to avoid being sprayed by the stench of sinfulness. Skunks I can outrun. Sin is another matter.
Lord, give me Your strength. Change my heart so that my life will be marked by You.