Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lessons From the Fire Ants

We just returned from a trip to Houston to see our daughter, Andrea, with a side trip to Dallas to see our son, Andrew, in an NHRA race there.   Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention that we also enjoyed seeing our Granddogs, Darcy and Oakley.  Hey, it’s the closest I have to grandkids right now, so humor me.  In fact, the story I’m about to share involves these cute little doggies, in a way.


On our first evening there we headed right away to the dog park with Andrea so that Darcy and Oakley could have some outdoor play time before the park closed for the night.  Darcy and Oakley ran and jumped and rolled, and spent lots of time romping and splashing in the water.  They were so much fun to watch.  Soon we meandered off the gravel path and stood in the cool thick grass, talking to another dog owner and enjoying the happy dogs.  I had worn sandals instead of tennis shoes, and the grass felt damp and pleasant on my feet in the humid air. 

As we stood there talking, I noticed a faint stinging on my feet……especially my left foot.  I moved my foot a little, but the stinging persisted.  I thought that this grass must be pricklier than it seemed at first.  Before long, the stinging was increasing.  I again wondered why, but couldn’t see a reason as I looked down at my foot buried in the thick grass.  Finally, I was uncomfortable enough to raise my left foot up out of the grass……..and to my surprise, I saw tiny little ants crawling all over my foot.  The same was true of my right foot, though not as many ants had found their way to that side.  

Fire ants!  The stinging wasn’t coming from irritating grass, but from tiny fire ants.  I shook as many off as I could, and then went to the path, where I took my sandals off and continued to brush little ants off as quickly as I could.  They were between my toes, going up my legs, and caught in the folds and crevices of my sandals, as well.  Yuck!!!  When I was convinced that I had rid my feet and sandals of these attackers, I put my sandals back on and we continued to walk around the park.  Yet every now and then I would feel another sting, and would look down to find one miniature ant still on my foot.  

It was hard to believe that those sharp stings could come from such little creatures, but those tiny guys can pack a wallop.  I hadn’t been stung by fire ants since we lived in southern Alabama, when Gary was in flight school at Fort Rucker, over 30 years ago.   It was a memory I was wishing not to re-live.  However, soon the stinging sensation was gone, and other than a very few little dots on my feet, I was none the worse for the experience.

Or so I thought……and hoped.  Over the next few days, my foot has increasingly shown the effects of those small prickly bites.  The little dots on my feet have turned into larger and larger bumps.  They sometimes itch.  They sometimes sting.  And they look very large and ugly today…….like pimples on my feet and even between my toes.  I just thought I was escaping that experience largely unscathed, but not so.  I am reminded of those fire ants and their damage, both in the discomfort I feel and the unpleasant sight I see every time I look down at my feet.

Isn’t this just how sin is in our lives?  We set out on a path that is safe and protected as we follow God and obey His commands.  Soon, though, it’s so easy to veer off that path into a life that isn’t what He desires.  It feels good, though, just like that cool grass felt good to my feet.  What could be so wrong about this little diversion?  Isn’t everyone else doing this?  Come on!  Lighten up!  Don’t be so serious and intolerant.

Then we feel the first little sting, but we ignore it.  A few more stings…..and maybe we look around a little to see what’s causing that feeling, but we choose to disregard it.  Nothing appears very alarming, anyway.  Over time, though, the little stings become increasingly painful and more of our life is affected by the discomfort caused by our decisions.  And hopefully, we run……we run away as fast as we can from our sin.  We change our direction, we confess to the Lord our wrong, and we set out on the right path once more.

Yet sadly, even though we are forgiven, we often will bear the consequences of our sin……sometimes for the rest of our lives.  At first it may not seem like our sin is any big deal, but it is.  Like Moses told the people of Israel in Numbers 32:23, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”  In other words, you will suffer for your sin.  Sorry.  I didn’t say that.  God did.  The longer we stand in that grass and let the ants crawl on us, the more we will bear the results of our choices.  Days, months, even years later, the choices we made yesterday can……and often does……greatly affect us and those we love.  

Thank God for His grace, and His redemption, and His forgiveness.  Thank God that He doesn’t hold our sin over our heads and beat us up with it every day.  Thank God for His love, and for His patience in directing us back to the right path.

Yet what if I hadn’t gone off into the grass in the beginning?  What if I had worn the right shoes?  What if I had run away quickly when I felt the first sting?  Then today I wouldn’t be looking down at these painful, ugly bumps on my feet.  My story today would have been very different……much less harmful to me, for sure.

Don’t veer off God’s path for your life by walking into what feels good and looks great.  Don’t be wearing the wrong shoes.  Flee temptation, as Paul said to do.  Put on your running shoes!  Don’t linger in sin, enjoying the moment until they become many moments.  Don’t ignore God’s conviction in your heart.  Don’t let the stings of long-term sin leave you with irreparable damage.  God will forgive, but He won’t necessarily take away the natural consequences of our willful actions.  

Painful lessons.  May we all use wisdom in where we walk. 

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