Monday, June 1, 2009

Seeking Him Together - U-Turns Permitted

and quite often encouraged, dare I even say recommended... no let's go one step further and really lay it out there, commanded.

"I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols. Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!'" Ezekiel 14:5-6

That’s right commanded, the Lord calls us to repent from our sins and I can think of no better word picture for the process than making a U-Turn off a road you’ve found yourself on.

I think back to about a year ago when we were celebrating the end of school last year. It was a big year for Jake with it being the end of junior high, and a bittersweet year as it was also the end of the school as a whole. There was a bit of a corporate attitude among teachers, students and parents to have the year end in a bit of a blaze of glory, and there was a lot of parties and celebrating going on the last couple weeks of school. There was one particular day when all the junior high kids (a whopping 20 kids total - there were only 8 in Jake’s graduating class, hence the demise of the school) were all headed over to one of the girl’s houses for a swim party.

She lives up in the higher hill area of the city of Orange. There are lots of narrow winding roads, and the higher you traveled, the more they wound around and the more narrow they become. The directions were a little confusing, and I was in an area I wasn’t really familiar with, and I ended up getting on a road that I didn’t belong. The boys I was carpooling over to the event were laughing and joking in the back seat as I found myself getting more lost and confused. In case you don’t know, 14-year-old boys don’t make very good navigators or co-pilots. I went against my better judgment and continued on even though I really didn’t think I was where I was supposed to be.

Along the way I passed lots of wider places in the road, places I could have made a U-Turn more easily, but the further I went along, the harder they were to spot. Finally when there was no doubt in my mind I was not where I needed to be I found myself quite literally between a rock and a hard place. At the top of the road was a massive wall of dirt on one side, and a sharp cliff off to the other. In front of me I found nothing but a sign that said “Dead End.” The irony wasn’t lost on the boys either as they realized we were lost. The road had been very winding to this place, and I couldn’t just back out of the position I had put us all in, I had to figure out how to turn the car around.

Obviously I did get the car turned out of the space I found myself in but it was not a simple or easy U-Turn by any stretch of the imagination. I quite literally had to inch forward and back just a foot at a time until I finally got that car turned all the way around. It was frightening. Want to see 4 junior high boys squeal like little girls? Drive them up along side the edge of a cliff.

I cannot help but wonder why we don’t have that same sense of panic and urgency when we find ourselves on the path of sinful choices. Just like this ride up the hills in Orange, the sooner we turn back both the better and the easier of the process. Not only that but the security comes from not having strayed so far from where we belong, and yet so often it is in our nature to take the road headed straight for the Dead End.

I’ve been thinking the last few days about the sin in my own life. This weekend my pastor spoke about God using His people in their weaknesses. He talked about “shortcomings” and how God can use us despite them or even through them. It has also given me pause to consider the difference between a shortcoming and a sin, because for me personally, the two are very tightly intertwined.

I was thinking this morning about this really great pair of old shoes that I have. I really like them, they’re comfortable, and in their “clog” style they hit the best of both worlds, they cover my toes and give my feet the sense of a little freedom. The problem with these shoes is they are breaking down. Both of then have this huge crack right at the ball of the foot, but if you don’t look at them from the bottom, it’s hard to notice. The other problem with these shoes is they don’t smell very good. If you get close enough you might even stay they stink. But my nose and my toes are far enough apart that doesn’t really cause an issue for me when I have them on.

So my shortcoming you ask? I am what one might describe as short tempered…. hot-tempered…. take your pick. I have really been thinking long and hard on this one… is it a shortcoming or a sin? And I really do feel safe in calling it at it’s core a shortcoming, a character flaw. The problem is that the sin rushes in so quickly behind it that you never get the opportunity to separate the two.

The first verse I ever memorized as a believer is Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth but only that which is able to build up and encourage.” Yeah, I’m still working that out. I do have the verse committed to memory but 17 years later I am still missing the mark in my life (missing the mark = sin).

The core of my temper has a couple of redeeming qualities, a lot of it comes out of a clear sense of “right and wrong” which is a good thing. It is also birthed out of a passionate personality, which when properly directed is actually a blessing (well, sometimes) but when it’s not properly channeled, it’s a mess.

So here comes the shoe metaphor. I am so used to my shortcoming and not doing a better job at surrendering it to the Lord (which would qualify as sin itself) that I learn to “live with” the sin despite it’s foundational cracks and serious stench. That is trouble in the making.

Repentance means turning off the road as soon as you realize you are not where you belong. It means having the wisdom to turn back at the first signal something is awry. It means not continuing on the path till peril alone leads you back to where you belong. It also means you have to choose not to keep wearing the sin because it is comfortable or familiar. There needs to be more concern about the strength of the shoe than the facades of appearances.

On to this weeks questions being hosted by Miss Amber at His Girl.

What is repentance and why is it so crucial in the process of both personal and corporate revival? Revival by definition is bringing back to life. It's taking something that is dying or dead, and renewing strength and vitality. You've heard the old saying, "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result." The same principle applies here, you have to make a turn and do something different in order to expect a new result. For revival to come there has to be a change in the behavior that has led to the loss of vitality, passion, inspiration... whatever has been, dulled, numbed or grown cold, can only experience revival by a sudden turn and change - like a shock to an erratic heartbeat.

When God brings conviction of sin to the hear of one of His children, what does it tell us about Him? The call to repentance is a huge glaring shout out of “I love you” from the Lord. He’s crying out to you saying “please, don’t separate yourself from Me, don’t send yourself on a way that leads to destruction. I love you and want better for you, I want the best for you, and the best is to follow Me.”

When is the best time to respond to God’s conviction and His call to repentance? Why? Clearly the answer to this question is quite simply, the sooner the better. Very much like my ride up in the hills, the sooner we choose to turn back, the easier it will be and the less dangerous the consequences will be. Think of the road of sin, it is wide and inviting at its start, calling out to you even, but the further you travel down it the more narrow and binding it becomes, it’s less about you controlling the road, and all about you being at the road’s mercy. As soon as you see God’s first warning sign along side the road, the moment He first quickens your heart, that is the moment to turn back.


His Girl said...

yes, ma'am! your road story is precisely the type of word picture that I most love. Yes, the further we plug along the lost-er we get, the harder it is to turn around, and the farther away from our destination we become.

Near-er my God to Thee...

Brook said...

I love reading your posts! God has definitely gifted you as a writer. I was right along with you on the narrow path inching my way to turn around on the hill. Thank you for the visual to remember when it is time (which it too often is) to repent.

care-in said...

Your illustrations hit the spot. Thank you for your honesty, it really spoke to me. I have been convicted of that same sin.

Sheryl said...

wow! i am not doing the study, but came over from amber's just to see what others have to say.

your post is awesome. convicting. it's me. i have been having an ongoing dialogue with the Lord lately about my lack of time spent confessing. (ya know, cuz there are no BIG sins - oh brother)

you've given me more to think through. thanks for sharing.

Gretchen said...

Great word pictures. Lurve how you've used other scripture to support the message this week.