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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

That Nature Within

Buck watered his horse and turned in for the night.  He had spent the day riding, putting as much distance between him and any Rangers who had been following him.  The day should have left him exhausted, but thoughts of the earlier events cluttered his mind.  One question continued to surface:

"Why had this been imposed on me?"

In the classic western, The Lone Star Ranger, Zane Gray's Buck Duane shoots a man named Bain.  Bain was a drunkard, and had continued to hunt Buck down, looking for a shootout.  Buck held off facing Bain for some time.  But finally, he sought out his uncle to discuss his options.  The decision had already been made, but he trusted his father's brother.  And his uncle made a keen observation.  Once you killed a man, it becomes a lot easier to do again.  Don't do it.

When you think about it, that can be said about most anything.  Buck Duane wasn't the exception.  In fact, it happens to us all.  Drinking, lust, gossip, fighting.  It starts out as an idea, then can lead to something much greater and deadlier.

One drink.  There's nothing wrong if I have another.  I remember how it felt when I had three in me.  I felt free.  I felt happy.  I was able to forget the pressure of the day.  I want another.

I need another drink.

or

It's good to talk with Betty.  It seems so natural.  Tanya and I have been having so many arguments at home.  But Betty can relate to how I feel.  And she's even pretty.  Not just pretty, but has a great figure.  Man, that dress she wore the other day made her look hot!  There's really nothing wrong with going for a quick bite during lunch together.  I look forward to her company.  I can even imagine us being together more often.  I can imagine her being in my arms.

or

That promotion should have been mine.  It seems like whenever I'm about to get the attention I deserve at work, Peggy steals the spotlight.  She's so into herself and thinks she belongs on the rung above the rest of us.  I hate her!  I have to look at her every day with her pompous smile and high-and-mighty attitude.  The boss should be reviewing my proposals with more enthusiasm than hers.  Someone needs to take her down a notch!

And a small bite becomes a bigger bite. And a bite becomes a meal.  And the meal is never satisfying because there's always another reason to drink.  Or to hate.  Or to desire.  That's the nature of sin.  When we give into it just once, then it becomes easier to do the next time.  And we become more willing to cut that next person down, or lift that next drink to our lips, or add that collection of pornographic flicks to our list.  And the question becomes, who have I become?  Why am I like this?

But it's not just you, and it's not just me.  We all face temptations.  "All have sinned." is what's stated in the bible.  At one point in the New Testament, the Pharisees approach Jesus and get on his case about how his disciples would eat food without washing their hands.  I can hear my own mother's words, "Wash your hands before you come to the table!"  It's a good tradition.  After Jesus points out a tradition of the Pharisees that was different from what God commanded, he calls the people to him and says,

"Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean', but what comes out of his mouth...the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.'  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander."

I don't think many of us want to believe that.  We don't want to admit that it's part of who we are that causes us to cheat on our spouse, or steal, or lie, or cut others down.  We want to believe that we're all basically 'good'.  And we do give to the poor and help our family and friends out.  Those are good things.  But the truth is also that it's within our nature to sin. We add to it every time we say "yes" to what's wrong, and choose to not do what is right.  Or good.  Or holy.  If Buck was honest with himself about the gunfight, he would have realized that he always had a choice; it was a choice his uncle had pointed out to him.  Buck could have chosen to turn his back on the fight and walk away.  We all have that regret at some point.  That we could have chosen something different.  But in order to deal with a guilty consciousness  we choose to look away and buy into that age-old thought:

It's just natural for me to do it, so why change?

And it becomes easier and easier to cut others down, to open the bottle, to fall into adultery, and to lift ourselves up above others.  The result is a broken home and broken relationships.  Once loosened, the tongue wags on.  And so we choose not to change because we don't see any way out...even though we know what is good.  It's as if we're drowning in a river and need a hand to pull us out.  Or we're skydiving and the parachute won't open.  Either way, changing one's nature seems near impossible.

But that's the reason why Jesus came.

Jesus had just finished visiting with some children and turned his attention to the crowd around him.

Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?"

So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments."

He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, "'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' "

The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?"

Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me."

But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Here was a man who was very much like us.  He wanted to know what it took to obtain eternal life.  It sound like he had it pretty good.  But Jesus challenged his thinking.  In spite of all the commandments the young man kept, he was still lacking something.  Jesus encouraged him to let go of his wealth and follow him.  But the man went away sad.  He was rich, and it seemed impossible.  In fact, Jesus commented that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.  Jesus' disciples exclaimed, "Who then can be saved?"  And Jesus reply is the same for them as it is for us:  "With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

With God all things are possible.

God's promise is to each one of us.  His love for us is greater than we can comprehend.  Think about it.  God is the One who formed you within your mother's womb, the One who was watching over you during your joys and sorrows, the One who still followed every step you've made and every breath you've breathed.  He's the God who wants you to be with Him forever.  He wants you to enter His Kingdom. That's why He gave Jesus to us.  It's for that reason that Jesus died on the cross for you.  If we turn to Jesus and believe in him, old things fall away and new life begins.  He changes our heart condition.  That's how great God's love is.

At the end of The Lone Star Ranger, Buck Duane finally finds the peace he was seeking from the blood lust of gunfighting.  He falls in love, and love is what changes him.  No more fighting, no more wandering around the countryside in fear.  He finds peace.  It's just a story, but the truth is still there.  Love is what changes people, and the greatest love there is is from God.

That kind of love is worth looking for.  It's a love that God has for you.  Trust in Him and He will never let you go.

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