Proverbs, Prodigals, & Pinocchio

Pinocchio tricked“There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to destruction.”  Proverbs 16:25

Sin takes you further than you want to go; keeps you there longer than you want to stay; and will cost you more than you’re willing to pay.

I heard that statement years ago, and many times since, but now I’m understanding the reality and gravity of its truth.

We tend to be drawn to pithy phrases.  Think about the posts you share or retweet from your favorite theologians like Piper, Keller, and Bueller, Ferris Bueller.  Of course I’m kidding, but not kidding, about Ferris.

It’s an easy share.  It looks good.  It sounds good.  But how much pondering is done on those few words that we are quick to share but slow to let saturate us to the point of sinking into our hearts and showing up in our actions so that they become evident in our daily discipline?  They’re thought provoking, but how often do we allow them to become guardrails that serve as a tangible reminder that beyond their wisdom and protection is a precipitous cliff that results in grave harm and destruction?

Life is lived at breakneck speeds, full of dangerous curves and intersections.  To recall the wisdom of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”  Truth is, if you don’t slow down you will miss more than life; you will find yourself plunging headlong over the cliff.  Sin has a lead foot, and if you allow the enemy to drive your life you’re headed for something much different than the empty promise of a joyride.

The Bible is clear about sin and its destructive nature.  We see sin’s footprint every day in this life we live.  If you want to know why there is racism, a lack of value for life, poverty, incurable diseases, addictions, divorce, war and violence, hunger, injustice, depravity, hate, and any other brokenness you have witnessed or experienced, just look at the systemic problem.  If you’ve got a fruit problem on the tree, you have a root problem below.  The root issue for the brokenness and destructiveness we grieve over in life and in this world is sin.

You can’t keep sin in check, it must daily be confessed.  It can’t be controlled, it must ruthlessly be killed, or it will ruthlessly kill you.  But the enemy is a master at convincing you otherwise.  He will seduce you by offering his pitch of an all expense paid, pleasure trip of a lifetime with amenities that speak to all that you feel has been deficient in your life.  Even Disney knows his playbook, just watch Pinocchio.  Pleasure Island is not so pleasurable.  As a matter of fact, buy into the enemy’s sales-pitch and you’ll see that sin . . .

TAKES YOU FURTHER THAN YOU WANT TO GO . . . Sin’s road always leads you into the shadowlands of fierce “beasts” that do not have your best interest in mind.  The closer you get to the shadowland borders, the more gradual the light fades and darkness begins to fall.  But it’s easy to be lured by all the sensorial trappings of the borderlands.  When you are underwhelmed by God, it doesn’t take much to be overwhelmed by sin.  Whenever your heart becomes captivated by the affections of this world, and your vision becomes distracted by the lust of the flesh (the lust for approval, the lust for attention, the lust for affirmation, the lust for pleasure), you lose your sense of awareness and the direction in which you are headed.  It’s like looking at your phone while walking only to look up, as if to catch a breath, and find that you are wondering where you are and how you got there.  We live our lives often captivated by the vices of our devices, technological or otherwise.  And it leaves us unaware.

It reminds me of my brief stay in London while traveling to Africa.  I decided to take advantage of a long layover before my connecting flight to Zambia, so that I could see some sights of that English city.  After getting on the Tube (London’s version of the subway), I looked for my stop.  Having been exhausted from the flight, I fell asleep on the train.  After I awoke I realized I had missed my stop, and not just by a little.

That’s what happens when you fall asleep on life’s journey.  Living an unaware life will lead you to a destination you never expected.

Before you realize it, you’ve gone beyond the “Danger Ahead” sign, completely unaware of its warning, and you’ve wandered off into a place where light does not shine and destruction isn’t a probability, it’s assured.

I know because I’ve been in the shadowlands.  I am not unlike Simba who went beyond the light and met a roaring lion whose name isn’t Scar, but Death.  I am not unlike Pinocchio who got caught up in Pleasure Island, and quickly became someone he was never created to be.

Over time I’ve learned that it’s not your intentions, but the direction you are headed, that determines your destination.  You may have never intended to be where you are right now, but the direction you are going makes it not surprising that you are where you are.

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.  Prone to leave the God I love.”  Just ask the younger prodigal son.  What he thought would be a party, ended up being a pig pen.

Sin will always take you further than you want to go.  It always does.

And sin . . .

KEEPS YOU THERE LONGER THAN YOU WANT TO STAY . . . Sin doesn’t lead you further than you want to go for just an overnight stay.  The enemy is a malevolent host who doesn’t let go.  The more you move toward sin, the deeper the barbs go.

If you had the chance to interview the trophy large mouth bass mounted on the wall of Bass Pro Shop, most assuredly he would tell you that once he took the alluring bait and was hooked, he was kept longer than he wanted to stay.  His lifeless gills tell the story.

In the hit song by the Eagles, “Hotel California,” there is a line that reads, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”  That is the mantra of sin.

The enemy is masterful at extending the stay.  He offers more with each night you lodge with him:  your favorite candy the first night, your favorite drink the next; a juicy hamburger today, followed by a filet mignon steak tomorrow.  It’s the witch of Narnia offering more Turkish delight for the hungry soul of self.  The problem with such delicacies, however, is there is nothing that Satan offers that isn’t laden with soul-intoxicating poison.  And it leads to a slow death.

With each day, week, month, and year that passes, the barbed hooks of unchecked sin go deeper.  And even though there is a strong desire and longing to be free, the more sin is justified and minimized, the more staying longer feels safer.  It may not be a constant feasting on pleasure, but more so indulging in the deceptive lies that to remain at the enemy’s table is less harmful than leaving.  “Think of what you’ll lose if you leave the table.”  And, “You don’t have to keep eating that particular delight, try this one:  it’s not as intense, but just as appealing.”

When you feed the flesh, more than the spirit, the flesh will always want to stay.  After all, the walk back to where you had once been is hard.  It’s painful to let God remove the barbs that are so deeply embedded in your soul.

Sin will keep you there longer than you want to stay.  It always does.

And sin . . .

WILL COST YOU MORE THAN YOU’RE WILLING TO PAY . . . Sin is false advertising.  It’s like walking into your favorite store and seeing that one item that you have been wanting for years, but it was just too expensive.  You couldn’t justify spending that kind of money.  But one day you happen to go back, and you see that the price tag was 50% less than before.  The only problem, though, is it wasn’t really on sale, someone had jokingly switched the price tags.

That’s what the enemy does.  He switches the price tag on sin to make it seem affordable, and before you know it you’re in debt to sin.  He’s crafty.  He’s the dealer at the blackjack table who can convince you to play one more hand even though you continue to sink deeper into debt.  He convinces you to play in the sandbox of pleasure, when in reality it’s the quicksand of bondage.

He plays to the weaknesses to which you are often blind.  You can’t see them, but he does.  He’s run the numbers.  He knows the cost.  And he knows that you can’t afford to pay his price.  Remember this:  the borrower is always slave to the lender.  Satan is a willing lender.  The collateral you surrender and the interest you pay will leave you devastated.  The cost for sin is too high.    

If you need further evidence, just look to the cross.  Sin cost Jesus His life, not because He sinned; He was sinless in every way.  But the scriptures are clear that “He made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him (Jesus) we might become the righteous of God.”  Jesus took our sin, our failures, our brokenness, our flaws, and our faults upon Himself, enduring the wrath of God poured out on sin, so that we might be made right with God.  Our sin cost Jesus His life.

Sin is so costly that we can not even come close to paying its debt.  It was costly in the Garden of Eden, it was costly at Golgotha, and it is costly today.  We have been set free so that we might live in the freedom Christ has purchased.  That’s what Paul says to us in Galatians:  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  Galatians 5:1

The bottom line is this:  sin will cost you more than you’re willing to pay.  The sin of pride; the sin of greed; the sin of lust; the sin of deceit; the sin of selfishness; the sin of gossip; the sin of passivity; the sin of self-righteousness; the sin of anger; the sin of bitterness; the sin of unforgiveness; the sin of addiction; the sin of materialism; the sin of ______________________.  Although it may not seem like it’s costly, just remember, Satan has switched the price tags.  And it always, always, costs you more than you’re willing to pay.  It always does.

But thankfully, transforming grace restores what has been destroyed, and leads us back to a better place.  Pain is not wasted.  As a matter of fact, it is formative if you allow God to do His perfecting work in you.  Confession and repentance are necessary.  The prodigal had to come to that place; so did Pinocchio.  Both, in the end, were renewed.  The younger prodigal was joyfully received and thrown a party.  Pinocchio was joyfully received and became a real boy.  Both were at one time controlled by the strings of sin, and both came to know the joy of grace’s freedom.

Maybe you find yourself in a distant land, as I once was, because you’ve allowed sin to take you further than you want to go, and you have stayed longer than you want to stay, and you have paid more than you ever thought you would have to pay.  It’s time to come to your senses.  There is a Father who waits, and is ready to run to the one who takes one step toward home.

“Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised—Promised for you and for me!  Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon—pardon for you and for me!”

“Come home, come home.  Ye who are weary come home.  Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling.  Calling, O sinner, come home.”  (“Softly and Tenderly,” Will Thompson, 1880)

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