Monday, January 16, 2017

“Allow one fault, and you permit another — and eventually, grace gets crowded out.” ― Elizabeth Scalia

          Many, many years ago when I was young and reckless and living in Los Angeles, I was doing a lot of winter mountaineering.  Climbing mountains in the winter can make simple climbs a whole lot more exciting.  We lived in Claremont, California, and a local climbing store in conjunction with one of the Claremont Colleges offered a course called “Snow Survival.”  I took it, passed it, and it came in very handy when Karen and I and three-year-old Chris were caught in a blizzard in the San Gorgonio Wilderness Area.  But the course itself was exciting, thrilling, and just a little dangerous.  We learned how to throw ourselves backwards down a snow-covered slope and stop our fall with an ice axe and without impaling ourselves on said implement.  We learned how to build a fire while snow was falling (used that one in our blizzard event).  The most exciting thing was our final exam:  we had to build an igloo on the top of Mt. San Antonio (about 12,000 ft.) when the peak was covered in snow and the wind chill took nighttime temps down to forty below.  By the way, forty below is exactly the same temperature in Fahrenheit or Celsius—either way it was darn cold.  There were six of us including a doctor who had done this before.  We got it built with no little tunnel like in the movies and cartoons for an entrance (see picture at the right).  We just dug a hole under one wall and once inside, stuffed our packs into the hole to keep out the wind.  Inside, it was just about one degree above zero while forty below outside—which is a big, big difference.  Also, we had our six bodies to add heat to the enclosed interior.  We were all sleeping in goose down “mummy” bags, but one man couldn’t stand to have his arms inside, so he kept them out even though we all warned him.  During the night, he rolled over and one of his flannel clad arms was resting on the inside wall of the igloo.  Slowly, the heat from his arm melted the icy snow and his arm ever so slowly sank into the wall.  Once in place, the snow refroze, trapping his arm in the wall.  At about four in the morning, he tried to roll over but something had his arm in its tight grasp, and this big, mountain man screamed like a little girl.  We all woke up and managed to free his arm without damaging the igloo.  He wasn’t hurt and we all had a good story to take back with us.  What is this story doing in my blog?  It is a story that reminds us that when we do something that seems small but we know isn’t really right, it can cause us real trouble.  All too often, we know that something we are doing isn’t quite right but rationalize it away.  However, just like the guy’s arm, slowly things begin to change and all too soon, we are trapped in a dangerous situation because we did wrong and we knew it.  Sir Walter Scott was oh so wise when he wrote, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”  A little lie, cheating a bit on your taxes, an extra drink, promising yourself that you can quit smoking whenever you want—all these change you in ways that lead to the darkness away from the light.  I know firsthand how this can happen because it happened to me in many different areas of my life.  It happened so often that I became convinced that I was so bad, had committed so many sins, that I could never be forgiven, never become a good man or have the words “decent,” “kind,” or “honest” ever apply to me.  It was why I avoided church like the plague.  Thankfully, I was wrong.  I was forty years old before I became an authentic Christian (had started going to church some years before, but just going doesn’t turn you into a Christian).  Turns out there are no sins or combination of sins that Christ cannot forgive to welcome you back into His arms which have been patiently waiting for you.  We each need to examine our lives to look and to see where we are “sleeping with our arms out of the sleeping bag” which seems like such a minor thing.  The guy wasn’t breaking any laws or rules, just doing something that made him feel better, but it led to a serious problem.  I still have to watch for things like that because the temptations are always there.  Christ will not lead us INTO temptation, but He will lead us from it and forgive us for it, but it’s best not to be there in the first place.  It is also true and sad that when we do these little indiscretions not only do they lead to serious bad things, but they have the potential to hurt others as well—hurts that cannot be healed in some cases.  I remember driving home one night from the church I pastored and thinking that it would be nice to have a drink or two when I got home, so I turned into a lighted liquor store.  There was no traffic as it was late, so I figured no one would see me setting a bad example.  As I turned off the engine, the lights of the store went out and a “Closed” sign was put in the door.  Remember yesterday’s blog—I was thankful, and said so to God.  Sometimes God sends signs that are actually signs that say “Closed.”  I was kept from making a small misstep that would have led to worse and I knew it.  Nothing illegal about what I was going to do, but I knew it was wrong and I thank God for His help where I was weak.  What we think is good for us is frequently not good at all but it feels good, or looks good, or we think it makes us cool or something.  Have you ever cursed while driving your car and heard the bad word echoed from the child seat behind you?  Where do those two and three year olds learn that language?  A small wrong that you know is wrong can come back and do extreme damage even though it seems too insignificant to do so.  Christ will forgive, but I suspect He would rather help in other ways.  The tiniest bit of self-control can work wonders in your life and make other’s lives better.  Don’t follow the Nike slogan, instead “Just don’t do it.”
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