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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Year's Resolution 2006

Recently, my son played a basketball game in Albion—a short jump from Jackson. It was late in the afternoon after the game—early evening actually. Dusk. And, Connor and I headed home.
As fate always has it— when you are in a hurry to get home—the crossing gate started down and the warning bells started going off in anticipation of the train.
We got caught up in our normal post-game conversation. I don’t know how much time actually passed but, at one point Connor acknowledged we had been sitting there at the tracks for quite some time.
There must have been a problem with the system because the crossing gate went back up with no sign of a train. Connor joked that it was a glitch in the Matrix. I started out over the tracks laughing about the Matrix comment and looking both ways on the tracks as I crossed. Something wasn’t right. We didn’t know what to expect. It was all too strange.
Then we heard it. The whistle of the train. Traveling at the speed of sound to the right of us was the phantom train—shooting right at us. We spun the tires on the wet pavement as we sped out of its way literally feeling the wind the passing train created as it buzzed in back of us—rattling the soft top on my jeep—missing us by what seemed only a few feet. Talk about a glitch in the Matrix!
We were silent for a bit. It was so close. We almost died. Then, we went home to change our shorts.
Imagine for just a minute that we hadn’t made it. Whose fault would it have been? The Matrix (or in this case the designers of the railroad crossing or traffic coordination)? The city planners?
What was it that saved us (besides God’s hand resting upon us)? I think we can pretty safely argue that it was an awareness of the situation. It was an ability to read the signs. It was being attentive to the warnings. It was knowing that something was not right and I should proceed with extra caution. It was a healthy fear of oncoming trains.
Man, everyday we are placed in situations where we need to read the signs. We need to heed the warnings. And I think often we are in situations where we know the warnings, we hear the bells, we know the danger, we even see the train but . . . we cross the tracks.
I called my good friend Michael in California and told him the story about how I almost died. He told me some stories about his dad’s experience in the Highway Patrol and how many guys got smashed by trains trying to make it across the tracks—playing chicken with the train (not what I was doing by the way).
Michael’s dad always told him "if you can see the train coming it is too late. Never chance it because you can’t accurately judge how fast it is coming and how long it takes you to get across the tracks."
We flirt with trains.
I don’t know why we do it. The rush? It makes us feel alive? We’ve given up hope? We don’t trust God to fulfill us?
My friend in college instilled in me some practices that I use to this day for avoiding a collision with a train. My “leave the door open when counseling a woman” policy. My “never go out to lunch with another woman by yourself or it’s a date” policy. My “if you feel the need to draw the blinds while watching that particular program turn it off” policy.
I always used to live by the “erase that thought from your mind” tactic when it came to temptation. So, if I was ever tempted to do something I would try to erase it from my mind (or, stick my fingers in ears and go la la la la). My friend taught me another tactic. He taught me about teasing out flirtations.
For instance—in the case of sexual temptation—he said, “John, every man and woman is tempted at some point in their life to have an affair. While you are here at school it is very possible you will meet the woman of your dreams and it won’t be your wife. This is what I want you to do. I want you to picture yourself taking her out to dinner. Then drinks. Then taking her to a hotel. Then having sex. Then dropping her off at home.
But, don’t stop there. Imagine coming home late and lying to your wife.
Then, rushing to the bathroom to make sure you have her smell off of you and your clothes.
Then kissing your wife goodnight.
Then the guilt.
Then the confession to your wife. Your kids. Your church. Loosing your job at the church. Loosing your place as a respected minister.
Think through it all, John. Don’t leave any detail undone.”
The bible says in the book of James that temptation to give in to evil comes from us. We have no one to blame but the "leering, seducing flare-ups of our own lust." Then it says, our lust is impregnated and gives birth to a baby—sin. When that sin grows up to adulthood it becomes a real killer. One translation says we bait our own hooks. We toss our own lures into the stream and sit their and gawk at it thinking we are not going to get caught but, we end up dragged away and enticed by our own desire to play chicken with the lure.
Just like the train.
No one to blame. Not the crossing gate. Not the engineers. Not the city planners. And the result of misjudging how far away the train is . . . death.
I don’t want to live a life dangerously close to trains. I don’t want to justify transgression.
My friends and I were observing the other day that—all too often—we are quick to dismiss sin. The word isn’t popular anymore. Not even in some of our spiritual circles. Sure, we have “hang-ups”, “addictions” and “problems” when we refer to the “big things” that taint our spiritual lives but, we sure have become good at justifying the smaller things.
Yes, Jesus died to give us abundant life. But, let’s not forget He died because there was a problem. That problem was keeping us from God and that life he wanted us to experience. That problem is called sin.
Sin separates. Sin destroys.
It’s almost like we want to stretch the rubber band as far as we can—see what we can get away with.
New Year’s Resolution 2006: Don’t play chicken with trains.
Don’t think you can easily escape. If you can see the train . . . it’s too late.