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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Stepping in the Messes I Make

I challenged our church to contemplate sin throughout this season of Lent, 2013.  This is a two-part effort. 

First, we ought to be aware of our own specific sins.  I was impatient with my wife.  I yelled at my kids.  I failed to love my neighbor when he needed it.  I harbored thoughts of revenge and violence.  I spent way too much time contemplating in detail impure thoughts that lingered in my mind.  I gave into greed and gluttony.  I neglected someone who needed help.  

All these sins committed in word and deed, and committed in thought and in the heart - I must name them, confess them, and turn from them.  And my confessing must include receiving - receiving God's forgiveness.

Second, after confession, my contemplation of sin goes to a bigger picture perspective.  Because of the fall, children starve to death in Addis Ababa and in Appalachia.  

Because of the fall, men live in emotionally-void marriages.  To seek comfort, they go and pay for sex with women they don't know.  These women are often 16 or 17 and completely enslaved by their pimps and their addictions.

The women married to the men who pay for sex with the teens who are enslaved to the pimps who are themselves addicts are also empty in the heart.  They find solace in on-line affairs in which they pour all their emotions.  Sometimes those on-line affairs turn into the physical affairs.  

Eventually the men and the women in this empty marriages turn to divorce lawyers who get rich and spend the big dollars on the women half their age they see when they are cheating on their wives.

All because of the fall.

Because of the fall, mentally deranged people shoot up schools, frustrated ex-cops hunt their former brothers-in-arms, and 15-year-old kids in America's toughest inner cities drop out of high school and kill each other with knives in gang wars.

All because of the fall.

The second part of "contemplation of sin," after confessing my own sins is what I have written here.  It is an honest coming to grips with what sin has wrought in the world.  It is thinking about sin and sin's devastating wake at a level much deeper than we normally do.

In this second part, I, Rob Tennant, acknowledge that I had my chance.  God invited me to the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  I could have passed the test Adam and Eve failed.  I am not sure lasted more than a minute.  I didn't even know what happened.  I was staring at the most incredible tree you've ever seen.  I was steeling myself to resist temptation.  I was determined to outdo even Elijah in righteousness.  I could see the chariot of fire waiting to take me.  And before I could blink, my mouth was full and fruity juice was dribbling down my chin.

There was sheer ecstasy for a moment.  Then I looked into God's eyes and saw pain you can't describe to someone unless they've seen.  Peter heard a cock crow and saw that same look in Jesus' eyes.  Then God was gone and I was in a pile reeking refuse, the smell of which would make you faint.  How did I come to stand knee-deep in filth?  I realized, I had spilled the garbage cart onto my self.  

If this sounds like a weak attempt to reproduce the brilliant image-laden writing of the greatest authors in Christian history, well, that's exactly what this is.  I admit I can't conjure up an image with the evocative voice of J. Edwards.  I can't lay it out in such a way that you are in it the way F. Craddock can.  But, the feeling underneath my feeble description is every bit as real.

I have been tired recently.  Why?  My kids wake before 5AM nearly every morning.  They are especially likely to be up 4-something AM if there is delayed opening at school or if it is a Saturday morning.  In addition to getting up that early, they always come in our room in the middle of the night.  

So, I am tired and cranky.  People suggest getting a clock and telling the kids to stay in bed until it says 6:30.  Or get a programmable clock that changes color - it goes from green to orange at 6:45.  And they can only get up when it is orange.  None of that stuff works with my guys.  I know there are superior parents who can easily get their children to go quietly to sleep at 8PM and stay in the bed until 7AM.  I know there are parents whose kids are potty-trained six months earlier than normal and reading on a 2nd grade level by age 5.  I know there are parents whose kids eat all their vegetables.  And those parents are so disciplined that if the kids don't eat what is served, they just don't eat.  And with TV drama-type precision the kids respond to this textbook discipline with obedience.  

I am not one of those parents and my kids don't respond that way.  My kids are all adopted.  Each one has a story prior coming into our lives.  Each story is full of pain, heartbreak, loss, and neglect.  When they wake up at 2AM or 4AM and they want to be with me, that's a gift!  They are giving me a gift.  They are saying, it is the middle of the night and it is dark and I am scared.  I have stuff in mind and I don't even know why it scares me.  I have memories of memories, a mom somewhere.  Something happened, and I ended up alone.  And all of it swims together through neural pathways in the grey lump in my skull.  And I wake up and I just want to be with someone safe.  And you, DAD, are who I want to be with.  

It's a gift.  And many times, I am so tried and cranky, I resent the gift and I reject the gift.

Because of the fall.  

As a I pastor, I work Sundays, so I take Fridays off.  This past Friday (two days after my own Ash-Wednesday preaching), I was home.  I thought it would be nice to sit and read a theology book comparing theories on justification.  I know that's a yawn-fest for many of you, but that's what I wanted to do.  

My (wake-up at 4AM) kids had other ideas.  They wanted Dad's attention. We shot baskets and went for walks and played video games and pushed swings and tickled.  Whew!  I could read my book.  Nope.  It wasn't enough.  If I gave two piggy-back rides they wanted three.  If I gave three hours, they wanted four.  

I got cranky.  I yelled.  I ignored them.

Because of the fall.  

I finally said, I'll just lay here (on the couch) and you two do what you want.  They slapped my head.  They climbed up and sat on my head.  They jumped over my stretched out legs (I swear my 6-year-old, the "Bam Bam Kid," is going to hyper-extend my knee one day).  If I tried to read, they would take my face in their hands, move it away from my book and to their eyes.  

I am so tired.  But, this is a gift - a gift from God.  My "tired" is a reminder that I am a Dad.  Nothing is a greater privilege than being a dad.  My "tired" is a reminder that I am a Dad with kids who want to be with me.  My "tired" is a reminder that the kids I have are not poor little orphans wasting away on the streets of a 3rd world country.  They were that.  But now, as Audio Adrenalin sings, my kids are "Kings and Queens."  My "tired," tiring as it is, is a gift from God and a reminder of how blessed I am.

The crankiness that comes when I am tired is sin trying to pour the contents of an overused, unflushed toilet all over the party-food.  The meanness that spills out of my crankiness that leads me to use words to make my little girl cry is evidence that sin is around.  

I really, really need Jesus.  Life is only good when He's in the center of everything.  I only invite Him to the center of my life when I realize how much I need him.  Too often, I don't remember I need him until I am standing in the middle of a mess of my own making.

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