The woman walks towards us wearing nothing but short shorts and a red bathrobe emblazoned with gold dragons.
The bathrobe is completely open, her mouth is slack and her eyes are stagnant pools, lifeless.
I catch the eye of the two older kids sitting behind me. My quick glance sends out the message, “Ignore it, don’t draw attention to her.”
It’s an eleven passenger van; that leaves 9 little ones that don’t need the shock; they’ve seen enough already I’m sure.
My mind drifts back to earlier in the week; I was driving by myself. A woman, mid-twenties, in a canary yellow jean romper, riding an old BMX bike, stops next to me.
Her make-up is beyond done up, and her hair is in little-girl pig tails. Tracks race up and down her emaciated arms.
She lifts her eyebrows at me and I imperceptibly shake my head and we both pull away from the stop sign, headed in opposite directions.
While I’m getting a haircut I ask the barber, a local church attendee, “Hey, is it just me, or are you seeing a lot more prostitutes than usual walking around?”
He pauses, then nods, “Yeah, definitely.”
If this upsets you then ask yourself the question, “Are you looking at pornography on your phone, or reading some mainstream erotica novel? If so, what’s the difference?”
There isn’t one. You’re just as chained to filthy rags as these.
I tell kids the same message – sin comes from our nature, we desire to accomplish injustice; it looks good to us.
In fact, this excuse is used throughout the Bible,
So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.
…But Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she is right in my eyes.”
And Achan answered Joshua, “Truly I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel, and this is what I did: when I saw among the spoil a beautiful cloak from Shinar, and 200 shekels of silver, and a bar of gold weighing 50 shekels, then I coveted them and took them.”
I don’t read Bible stories anymore and think the way I did when I was young, “What’s wrong with these people?”
I read Bible stories now and think, “I’m what’s wrong with people. I’m inches, seconds, whatever measurement you prefer, away from making the same mistakes.”
A kid I hired at Starbucks once asked me, “Hey Tony, my dad used to be a really strong Christian but now he’s on trial for rape. What happened?”
So I told him, “The second you put yourself outside of God’s will and start to think that you know better – it might be today, or 20 years from now – the downward spiral begins. Eventually you’re far enough outside of Jesus’ will that you end up suffering consequences. Irreversible consequences by human standards. You hurt not only yourself, but your whole family.”
I love, as much as it breaks my heart, that Achan clearly articulates his sin. It’s not against Joshua or Isreal, or even his own family, but he says, “I have sinned against the Lord God of Israel.”
I used to run all the time in college. Mostly I was praying and sometimes I would end up doing five miles or more, simply caught up in the process of giving my thoughts over to God and I would forget about the physical pain from the exertion.
Once in mid-run I was crying out to God about my ‘thorn in the flesh’ and the answer came to me so clearly that I stopped dead in the middle of my run.
I had been asking God why I had to deal with this reaccuring sin, and the answer went something like this, “This ‘thorn in the flesh’ is not from Me, it’s from you. You’re intentionally sinning because you desire to do what is wrong. You want to sin and you’re making excuses to justify your sins.”
I can’t say working that out was easy, but God’s grace was sufficient.
John Milton, in Paradise Lost says, “Long is the way and hard, that out of Hell, leads up to light.”
Some sins we struggle with are like that. I have no idea how it feels to know I can’t stop stealing. I have never stolen anything; I have no desire to take other people’s possessions. In fact, I’m afraid I might get their germs if I do. However, if coffee was outlawed, like it was by a Pope in Rome in the year 1600, I’d be a first class criminal! I’d be dealing and making all kinds of excuses to my clients and cops about how, “Government can’t regulate me, man!”
This is humanity – we want our own way, and we’ll be damned if God’s love would EVER send us to hell! That’s just not right!
Look at your sins and ask, “Is this a thorn in the flesh or am I doing it to myself?”
The answer is often so bitter and self-effacing that like the rich young ruler in Luke 18, we become very sad; it’s difficult to look at a situation where we know we’ve been wronged and say, “This is my fault too.”
The only way out is humility, and I must confess that they only time I’ve ever had any, is when I asked God to give it to me.
I’ll sign off with this, my go to, super deep, theological prayer: “Dear Jesus, I am such a despicable mess, I cannot escape who I am without Your love. Please help me.”
If it works for you, feel free to use it.