Friday, May 16, 2008

Inspired by My Corty

It was a two hour mess--a creation of my five year old and his buddy or in this case perhaps I should say, his partner in crime. The closet shelf was empty and the clothing rod no longer held hangers or garments. The floor however was filled. The three by seven feet floor was littered up to Corton's shoulders in debris. The two boys had joined forces and embarked on the thrilling ride of completely tearing apart the bedroom closet. They took every single bin and box and scattered their contents onto the floor--the Lego, the cars, the rescue heroes, the kindergarten and junior kindergarten memorabilia boxes, the rock collection, and the racetrack. All of it they poured out like a gallon of milk over cereal, onto the floor. They removed every article of clothing from the hanger. They emptied every stackable bin too. With the exception of one small box, no item was left in it's original container--not a single one. When we found them, one was swinging from the clothing rod like a monkey and the other was hiding under the bed. Busted. Later they took turns hiding under the bed and like Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden. The little criminals preferred lurking under the beds with the spiders and dust than to come out and face the music. Actually, there was no singing in our response so I probably shouldn't use the word music. In my entire life I have never seen such a mess. The thing that struck me is that Corton knew better--way better. But still the thrill and bliss of committing the crime somehow seemed worth it to him. He later described to me that in the heat of the moment they would stop and take inventory of their progress and literally belly flop themselves on the growing pile of toys and clothes. Yet when our footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs they knew their sins had found them out. When sin catches up with us it can be messy. I took a photo of both boys on top of the pile. There they sat on a pile as tall as they were and many times wider and deeper. Toy by toy, box by box and bin by bin they had created something far bigger than both of them put together. And on their own, there was no way they would have ever been able to clean it up. They wouldn't have even known where to start. That's just like us though, isn't it? When it comes to the messes we make out of our lives, sometimes we really don't even know how to begin cleaning things up. Later when it was just Corty and I, we talked. I explained that he'd have to help me clean up that big mess. Tears the size of marbles fell rolled down his cheeks. "Mommy, it's too much. I can't do this." There was no question about that. This wasn't even the type of thing I would make him start on his own. I knew he'd need me from the get-go. Sometimes our sin can overwhelm us so much that we can't even begin to face it. "Corty, mommy knows you can't clean this up by yourself. We're gonna do this together until every single thing is put back in its place." The Israelites were always making messes for themselves. I can think of one mess in particular that was really unnecessary. They had already disobeyed God and opted not to go up to Canaan and claim the promised land. So God had told them their consequence would be that they had to wait forty--count 'em FORTY--years before they could go into the land He had promised. That's a really long camping trip out in a hot desert if you ask me. Despite God's clear instructions, they decided to go up anyway and try to take the land. They must have had amnesia because relatives of the giants lived in the land and only days before they had insisted there was no way they'd go up there and fight and that was with the help of God. Now, they planned to go up on their own. Not overly intelligent. Moses called it like it was: "Do not go up, for the Lord is not among you, and you will be defeated before your have turned away from the Lord, the Lord will not be with you." (Numbers 14: 42,43b) "But they dared to go up to the crest of the hill, although neither the ark of the covenant of the Lord nor Moses departed from the camp." (Numbers 14:44) I love the phrasing there--they literally dared to go up to the promised land despite the fact that they knew God nor Moses approved. They were on their own. Crazy! We do that though, don't we? We dare to mess with sin--sometimes just a little. It might be just one movie that we know is inappropriate. It might be just one conversation laced in gossip or one drink too many. But before we know it, we are shoulder deep in a mess so big we can't get ourselves out no matter what we do. That's where the Israelites found themselves. The Bible says that the inhabitants of the land literally swooped down and chopped them to bits and pieces. They were literally and utterly crushed in defeat. That's the language the Bible uses. Tragic. They knew what they were supposed to do because God had made it very clear. And they just went right up to that land and did exactly the opposite. Talk about making your bed and lying in it. That's what they did and it was not pretty. It was the same with Corton and his friend--I had just recently sat Corty down and told him that when he had friends over he was not allowed to open his closet. I think that's pretty clear. No real grey areas there--nothing left for independent interpretation. But he dared do the very thing he knew was wrong. It's interesting to me that both boys had a very specific response. One was swinging on the closet rod and one was hiding. One was living it up--might as well have as much fun as possible because there was no going back after all. The other couldn't even face the fall-out and opted to hide. Again, we're kind of the same, don't you think? When it comes to making messes of our lives some of us end up living it up. What's the point in acting sorrowful? We did it. We wanted to do it. We had fun doing it. And there's no going back, is there? And others of us are so overwhelmed by the potential consequences that we stop facing life altogether. Both responses show a misunderstanding about God. He's just. If you're a swinging monkey when it comes to sin you need to know that God is gonna allow you to reap the consequences of your choices no matter how long it takes you to tire of swinging amidst them. And He's merciful. If you're a hider when it comes to sin, you need to know that He is not gonna leave you to reap those consequences by yourself. He promises never to leave us or forsake us and that promise isn't conditional on our behavior. In fact, the times I've been most grateful for God's presence in my life have often been times when I'm pushing a mop and lugging a bucket through the muck and mire I've made of my life. Do you know what the very next words God speaks to the Israelites after their defeat are? You'd think He'd say something like, "What were you thinking? I told you to wait forty years. Now look what you've done. You've gone and lost the land I promised to you." Not so. If you hear nothing else I write today, you need to internalize God's response to their mess. He says "When you enter the land where you are to live, which I am giving you..." (Numbers 15:1) He reminds them that His promise still stands. They messed things up but they didn't mess up God's plans or promises for their lives. In forty years time God was still going to give them that land, and in the meantime, He was still with them, still loving them, still standing by them. That's God, my friends. That's our Heavenly Father. He never quits on us. He never throws in the towel and walks away. He never says we've gone too far. When He makes a promise--it's His alone to keep, and keep it He will. God will not renege on the guarantees He's given you in His Word. Know that. Corty has been working towards earning a Big Wheel we found at a store. I bought it and gave him a goal to work towards in an area where he has been particuarly challenged lately. Part of that goal included keeping his belongings picked up. He confided in me that he thought I would never let him have the Big Wheel after he made that mess. He thought I would give it away to someone else. That broke my heart. Of course I still plan to give him that Big Wheel. He still needs to grow up enough to have the privilege of it, but it's his when the time is right. I think sometimes I view God that way--think that He's not going to allow blessing into my life when I repeatedly mess up. But that's not true. The blessings of God are always available to us when we return to His way for our lives. Here's the thing though. In forty years time, the Israelites would still choose whether they wanted to walk into that land with God or not. To return to God and receive His promises is our choice, but they are available. I was so proud of Corton. Despite the fact that he knew he'd done wrong and the fact that he was overwhelmed by the scope of his destruction, he stuck it out. We spent two entire hours with daddy's help cleaning up that closet. We didn't let him go out and play with his brother and friends until we were done. He didn't complain. In fact, I think it was a relief to him to be able to take responsibility for his actions. He persevered and the closet looked better than it did before we left it. That's the way God works too. He stands by our side and takes even our worst messes and makes them better than they ever were. The beauty of our sinful struggles is that if we are willing to submit ourself to the consequences and allow God to help with the clean up, He gets glory--even when we mess up. I don't know what kind of mess you may be sitting amidst. For some of us, the mess may be obvious and huge and for others of us the mess may be less visible. Sometimes it's not a ransacked life but maybe it's just a cluttered closet--a sloppy heart. It doesn't matter what it looks like, what matters is what you are doing. Are you hiding under the bed figuring you can't face God? You know what that often looks like? It looks like people who quit going to church. People who quit listening to Christian music. People who quit praying. People who quit reading their Bibles and Christian books. A lot of times they'll say things like "I don't want to be a hypocrite, so, I'm just not going to pretend everything is alright." I'm not trying to step on's just I've been here, so I know. We can't hide from God. He lives inside us. We may ignore Him, but He's not going anywhere. Or are you the one swinging amidst the debris? Living it up. I've been there too. I'd think in my head, "Well, I've already screwed up royally. I might as well have fun." Listen, you can swing for years and years but eventually that closet rod is gonna give and you'll come crashing down. I've done that too. If that's who you are, you need to know God is standing by waiting for the moment you fall--He'll be there to pick up you. But He'd much rather you just quit swinging and start cleaning. It'll save you the bruises of a fall. God's promises are faithful and true. When He promised to be faithful to complete the work He started in our lives, He meant it. He did. I'd of never dreamt of leaving Corton's side while we cleaned up that mess. I knew it was too much for him. God's the same way. He means everything He says to us--when He says he forgives and forgets, He does. Over and over and over again. Get before Him and ask Him to remind you of the promises He's made to you and ask Him to help you clean up the debris. He will. This I know for sure. Lord, sometimes we just take life into our own hands. We do things that leave us in messes so big we can't even find our way out. God we need your forgiveness and we need your mercy. We need you to help us clean up piece by piece. Thank you that you are not like humans--there is no limit to your forgiveness, your patience and your love. Thank you God. Help us to live in those truths. And Lord, help us to extend the same mercy and forgiveness to others who have made messes of their lives that you have extended to us. Amen. Read: I John 1:9 II Sam. 22:7 Psalm 145:8,9

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