I was at a seminar or conference somewhere; I don’t remember where. What I do remember is that one of my favorite speakers was there; in fact, he’s the reason I decided to attend said conference. Chuck Swindoll has, since the time I became a follower of Jesus, one of my favorites. He is wise; he communicates with depth and relevance; and he is completely down to earth. WYSIWYG in computer geek speak: what you see is what you get.
On this particular occasion, Chuck was reflecting on the fact that he was a little older and that, as he had aged, he had come to realize that he held fewer and fewer things as rock solid absolutes. Don’t misunderstand, he was not denying the verities of the faith; he was simply admitting that the determined certainty of youth had given way to a maturing recognition that we are not often as right as we think we are.
In the context of teaching or preaching communication, he was identifying with those who sometimes say, “Well, I’m not as dogmatic about that as I used to be.” Again, rest assured, the crux of Christianity is safe in Chuck’s hands; he was just, in a word or two (my words), being a little more humble and a little less strident than we often tend to be when we are younger.
I’ve thought about that approach a lot as I have, ahem, matured (not aged–there is an important distinction). I ponder, from time to time, those things that I hold as rock solid basics. And here’s one that I see with increasing clarity as time pulls me along: I am a sinner. Sinless perfection advocates to the contrary; I realize that the longer I am around, the more I see that sin ravages me and those around me. Calvin was, I believe, right on this score. Down to the depths of my DNA, I am a sinner. In every crevice of my mind lurks the enticement (and anticipation of willful participation) to sin. I sin most when I think I’ve gotten “past” some particular besetting sin; only to find that it jumps me like a thug on the street–crippling my relational capacity, derailing my work, and banishing the joy from my life. I am a sinner.
What’s surprising to me, though, is how often I am still taken aback by the fact that my sin has consequences. How my tendency to pride precludes me from hearing wisdom from others. How my tendency to selfishness blinds me to the joy of giving. How my capacity for criticism carves its way through the hearts and minds of others, diminishing their selves and their own capacity for goodness and grace. Consequences. “The wages of sin is death,” we are told. But we (at least I) don’t often see that death comes in degrees and that every time I sin, I am an instrument of mortality to myself and others.
To be sure I know the reality of the grace of God in my life. In fact, the enormity of my sin compels me to find refuge in the mercy of Jesus and His work on the cross. “The wages of sin is death,” Paul says, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). However, I am more and more aware of the deep and lasting impact of my sin and the consequences that so quickly flow from my sinful decisions.
I was visiting family. One of my nieces had a Razor Scooter–one of those mini-wheeled things that kids so use to dart and bob and weave through suburban streets. I decided to take the scooter for a spin. I went down the hill adjacent to the house, quickly gaining speed (make that: QUICKLY GAINING SPEED!). I realized almost immediately that I had not asked a key question: How do you stop this thing? So, barreling down the street, confident that I was breaking the sound barrier (How do I know I was breaking the sound barrier? I could not hear my own screams), I decided there was only one way to stop: I would head to the side of the street and tumble into the grass. This was a superior idea, except that my advance team had failed to clear the pebbles from the side of the street. I hit the pebbles, went down into a skin scraping slide and wound up (actually wound down, face down, that is) mere inches from the soft safety of the grass.
Monkey down. I say monkey down because I was wearing my monkey boxer shorts that morning and my first thought (honestly) was that, if I had to go to the hospital, the medical team would not take my wounds seriously because of the monkeys. I mean, who would? And my mother would have been right…the first diagnostic procedure in the emergency room is the Underwear Check.
Fortunately I did not have to go the hospital. My wife and brother tended my wounds (BUT THEY DID LAUGH AT THE MONKEYS). I still have scars on my hand though–I call them the scooter scars. They remind me that my choices have consequences. They remind me that I am a sinner. They remind me that I desperately need the grace of God at work in my life. They remind me that, as I (ahem), yes, age, I resonate more completely with the words of the Apostle Paul: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 7:24,25).
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