Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Little Bit More than the Law will Allow

The Dukes of Hazard!

Do you remember "The Dukes of Hazard?"  It was one of my favorite TV shows, growing up.  I couldn't wait each week to see how the Duke family managed to get the better of Boss Hogg and Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane.  I also had a bit of a schoolgirl crush on Bo Duke, but then again, who didn't?

I think I identified with the Dukes not because I was like them, but because I wanted to BE them!  I certainly wasn't like them, in the least.

I was the good kid.  The one who ALWAYS followed the rules (though my Mom might have a different version).  I hated to get into trouble.  The idea of being called the the Principal's office was enough to make me faint.  I remember when I was in Elementary School breaking down crying one afternoon, because my Mom asked me if I had eaten all of my lunch.  Now, this doesn't seem like it would be a crying matter, does it?  After all, Mom asked me the same question every day.  The problem was, that I hadn't eaten all of my lunch that day.  In fact, I hadn't eaten all of my lunch for several days.  I had been sharing it with a friend.  I don't even remember if I gave it away, or traded for something I liked better, but I HAD BEEN LYING TO MY MOTHER!  Every day, she asked, and every day, I said Yes.  Until I couldn't stand it anymore.  I had to come clean.  Breaking the law was killing me!

I was shy in school, mainly because I was afraid of making a mistake.  I hardly spoke up in class, even though I knew the answer.  I got good grades, but was so unsure of myself that I couldn't risk possibly saying something wrong.  This went all the way through High School.  One day a favorite teacher told me that I thought too much.  When I was having a conversation, I thought too hard about what I should say.  And he was right.  That was exactly what I did.  I had several close friends, but didn't get along well with the more popular kids.  I went to a small school, and everybody knew everybody, but I was so intimidated by those kids that I never tried to talk to them!  I just felt sorry for myself for not being popular.

When I went to college, I spent the first two years following the rules to a T.  I was invited to parties, but I wouldn't try a sip of alcohol.  I didn't smoke.  I went to every single class, did every single assignment, practiced the piano for hours (I was a music major), studied hard, and was one of the few students who went to bed and got up early enough to be at the cafeteria for breakfast every day.  I still went to church a lot of the time.

At some point, though, things started to change.  I started staying up later, socializing more, and meeting different people.  I tried drinking and smoking.  I skipped classes (especially those really early ones).  I started going out to parties and going out with guys.  I ended up doing things that most of my closest friends would never have done, and hanging out with people they never would have talked to.  Some of them didn't even go to college.  I just met them in bars.  I basically quit going to church, although I went to the Saturday night services a few times at the Catholic church with a boyfriend.  They were much more convenient, because you could go to church and then still make it to the party that night.  Then, you didn't have to get up early on Sunday, since you'd probably be too tired and possibly drunk to do so.  Win-win, right?

I lived this kind of lifestyle until after I was out of college and had my first job.  I had a relationship with a man who I found out was still married to, and living with, his wife.  My life was a mess.  I decided to try going back to church.  But it was funny.  My life didn't change all at once.  Just like it took a while for me to get to that point, it took quite a while to move away from it.

I know that some people have these "conversion experiences" where in an instant they turn away from all of their sins and their bad habits and become "new creatures in Christ."  That has never happened with me.  I grew up going to church.  I knew who Jesus was.  I can't remember a time when I didn't.  I spent my teenage years singing in church and going to youth group meetings.  I wasn't as gung ho as the kids who belonged to the Bible Club at school or anything, but I considered myself a Christian.  

Even while I was living a totally sinful life, I still considered myself a Christian.  Maybe I was, I don't know, but I sure wasn't acting like it.  I questioned every rule in the book, and came up with rational reasons for my behavior.  "God would want me to enjoy myself."  "'I'm not hurting anyone."  "Jesus drank wine, didn't he?"  "But we're really in love."  

I'm still peeling off the layers of sin that covered me during those years.  I'm not trying to rationalize myself anymore, but there are things that I don't even realize that I'm doing.  The outside has peeled away.  I don't drink and smoke and party anymore.  I've been faithfully married for almost 20 years.  But there are still layers of sin under the skin.  

Last year I had a spot of cancer on my face.  It took me a long time to realize what it was, because it just seemed like a sore that kept opening up.  Sometimes it would heal over, and then get scratched open again.  When I finally had it checked by a dermatologist, he had to cut it out.  And then my face looked worse!  It was an oozing, bloody mess for a while.  It is healing now, but there is still a border of dry skin around it that tends to flake.  Little by little, it's getting better.  But I expect I'll have a scar for a very long time.  And I have to return to the dermatologist regularly so that he can make sure it's not coming back.

That is what my sins are like.  Some of them have had to be cut out, just like that cancer.  And some have left scars.  And some are still there, under the skin, waiting to emerge when I least expect them.  And sometimes they seem like they're caused by something else, when they're really growing from my own soul.

It took me a long time to admit there was something wrong with my face and acknowledge that I needed a doctor.  And it takes a long time to admit that there's something wrong with my soul and admit that I need Jesus.  I think I can get along by myself.  I can do the right thing all by myself.  I don't need help.  I'm a smart person, right?  I know the rules.  I can choose which ones to follow.  I can pick the best ones for me.  Anyway, some of the rules don't make sense.  They're just there to make things harder for me.  They're too difficult, and anyway, I don't see anyone else following them, so why should I?  I'll just follow rules that seem right for me and my life.

Maybe I'm a little more like those Dukes than I'd like to admit.  No, I'm not jumping my car over police cars or blowing up outhouses.  But I still want to do whatever I want.  And I want to think whatever I want.  And I don't want to be under any law but the law I choose for myself.

But I have to remember.  Jesus came to fulfill the law (Matthew 5:17). I am not under the law, but under grace.  I have the Spirit of God.  Not a burden too hard to bear, but a light burden.  The burden to love God, and to love my neighbor as myself.  Because love covers all, and love conquers all.  And Jesus said that all of the law can be summed up in these two commands.  And they are not simple.  But they are possible.  And each day I am getting closer to the ideal.  Because yes, I am a Christian.  I follow Christ.  And this is what Christ told me to do.  

I am no longer scared and shy.  I am not afraid to say something wrong.  Actually, I know that I mess up more times than not, but I am not condemned by trying to do the right thing.  I am growing and changing every day, and one day I will be perfected by Christ.  Maybe not today, and maybe not in this lifetime, but one day.  I just have to admit that there is still work to be done, and submit to Jesus.  I have to let him cut out what needs to be cut, and put in what needs to be put in.  Because he is the Great Physician!  

We are going through the period of Lent, now.  It is a time to reflect on the sacrifice that Christ made, and to weed out some of the excess and sin in our own souls.  We are looking to the Resurrection, but before that we have to look to the cross.  So take a few minutes today, and let your spirit meld with the Spirit of God.  Let him see under the skin, and start to clean up the sores on your soul.

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