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Listen to the warnings

From my earliest memories, tucked in between the incredible family memories filled with love, smiles and laughter, are the annoying flood of ‘warnings’ that our parents do their best to fill our little minds with.

“Don’t touch the stove”

“Don’t run with scissors”

“Don’t let go of my hand”

“Don’t make that face or it will get stuck that way”

Some are real and valid warnings that saved a burned finger or an unwanted impalement, but others were harder to understand or even believe. Whether it was the stern look on our parents face or the cocked eyebrow and mischievous smile, we learned to either embrace the warnings or ignore them, or at the first opportunity when they were not looking, to test to see if they were true or not.

"Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck."
Proverbs 1:8-9

Like the above Proverb, my older sister was smart enough to take every warning to heart (or perhaps she just convinced me to test them for her), while I was the one that had to learn the hard way. I learned that yes, stoves were hot, scissors are sharp, you can get lost in a store if you let go of your mom’s hand, and your face won’t get stuck that way (but your heart can). In fact, I’m pretty sure I tested almost every one of those warnings until I was well into my late thirties. The end result? While my sister received the mentioned ‘garland for her head and a chain for her neck’, I took home the prize of scars, bruises and trips to the hospital.

Looking back on life and the bad paths and choices I/we can make, it boggles my mind how even when the danger is so clear and evident, we will still ignore these warnings. Especially from those who care for us. Instead of listening, we walk (and often run) into the pain and consequences of them, leaving those who tried to warn us in complete disbelief.

Although embarrassing, for those of us who prefer word pictures to learn from, here is another “Life Lesson” from my childhood that I hope will shed a little more light on this strange but common phenomenon. I call it my Chumming for Dummy’s moment.

When I was 6 years old, my family was visiting some old neighbors where we had once lived. They had two boys my age so while the parents reminisced, we put our little jackets on and headed outside to play in the field across from our old house. Within a few minutes, a boy and girl our age who now lived there came running out from the house to meet us at the fence line that separated the two properties. As only kids seem to how to do, we made fast friendships and were invited over to play tag in their big front yard. With excitement, we climbed over the fence and began walking single file down a path that would lead us to their front yard. I was at the end of the line.

As we approached the house the neighbor boy and his older sister purposely veered away from the back side of it, putting considerable distance between us and the house. As we passed by the sister pointed to the back porch and told us their guard dog was chained up there, and to stay away from this side of the house. I remember nodding nervously as I looked over to where she had pointed to see the biggest and scariest looking German Shepherd I had ever seen laying quietly near their garage. I could see a long chain connecting it to a steel post in the ground.

Three steps later my concerned eyes shifted from the intimidating looking dog to the back porch where the cutest little kitty was sitting staring out at us.  I was so smitten by the sight of that cute little ball of fur that I mumbled “aww” and, I kid you not, stepped off the safe path and headed for the back porch. Yep, warned just seconds ago and witnessing with my own eyes the danger at hand, it was as if someone pressed the handle on the toilet and flushed all common sense and concern out of my brain.

Now before you exclaim ‘what an idiot’ (not that I disagree), I think we need to take a moment to consider how effective this Chumming for Dummies technique has proven to be (and not just for 6 year old’s). There are countless stories in the Bible and throughout history of someone clearly being warned of the danger right in front of them, yet somehow they decide to ignore it and stumble to their doom. I think of Adam & Eve in the Garden of Eden, Samson & Delilah in Judges 14-15, the Golden Calf in Exodus 32, David counting his fighting men in 2 Samuel 24, and Jonah not going to Nineveh and ending up as fish food for three days. These are just a few of hundreds of Biblical examples.

"Better a poor but wise youth than an old but foolish king who no longer knows how to heed a warning."
Ecclesiastes 4:13

Even in my short existence on this earth, I can replay in my mind the many examples I witnessed from out of touch business leaders who ignored the concerned warnings from their staff and peers, only to lose everything. I’ve watched many church leaders ignore the wise and heartfelt input and even desperate warnings from their concerned membership, shepherds and elders (like Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12), resulting in devastated churches, damaged faith, and broken trust. I’ve watched fathers, mothers and siblings suffer the consequences of them ignoring the financial, spiritual and physical warnings and advice from those who not only love them dearly, but who had made the very same mistakes in their own lives (and learned the hard way).

So, you see, although I’m embarrassed by my stupidity as a six-year-old, the apple does not fall to far from the original ancestral tree of sin where it all started in the Garden of Eden, and through time. Sadly, some of the greatest in history have fallen for the Chumming for Dummies trick.

Unfortunately, none of those wise and insightful thoughts and examples were passing through my mind as I picked up my pace and started running toward the cute little kitty on the porch, completely forgetting about ole Beelzebul laying just ten feet away from it. What I do remember is the sound of rattling chains coming from my right and distant voices behind me pleading for me to “stop!”

Despite my ignoring the warnings God had clearly provided through the girl; He was merciful that day and helped me 'come to my senses' in time to raise my arm in front of my face before the dog from hell smashed into me. My reaction did not spare my arm from the dog’s teeth and crunching bite, but it did spare my face and probably my life. The impact from the speed and weight of the dog’s attack carried both of us ten feet from my now forgotten objective.

Still holding my forearm in its mouth, it started shaking me back and forth like a rag doll. It was impossible to focus my eyes on anything as the world rattled back and forth at high speed, but I could hear the growling of the dog and the panicked screams of the girl trying to halt its attack on me. Whether it was the girl’s commands or the demon just wanted to get a better grip on a new part of my body, it suddenly let go of my forearm. As I hit the ground, I covered my face with both hands and started rolling away from it as fast as I could. Unfortunately, it had not given up, and with each rotation came new points of pain as it continued to bite through my jacket until the biting suddenly stopped.  

My initial thought was that the girl had finally convinced it to stop, but I could still hear the growing and gnashing of the dog’s teeth just inches away from my head. As I peeked through my fingers covering my face, I could see its head was just a foot away from my face, trying with all it’s might to reach me and finish its work. Taking advantage of the moment, I rolled one more time and stumbled to my feet so that I could run. As I turned to run from the dog, I realized that no one was holding it back. The dog had simply reached the end of its chain.

As clear as the memories are of the moment leading up to, and while in the mouth of the dog, I do not remember many details of the events following it. What I do remember is the blood flowing down my arm and dumbfounded look on the girls face as she asked me “why didn’t you listen to my warnings” and how stupid I sounded trying to explain how the idea of petting a kitty was more important than my life. It was the same question my parents asked as they rushed me to the hospital and the same question the doctor asked as he stitched closed the Chumming for Dummies wound on my arm.

"To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear. The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it."

Jeremiah 6:10

Perhaps you have a few Chumming for Dummies scars on your body, or heart, or mind? In your pursuit of money, careers, selfish ambitions, impure relationships, or just prideful arrogance, have you taken your eyes off God’s Word and turned a deaf ear to Him? Have you forgotten the incredible blessings, security and peace that listening to and obeying it provides to those who heed the warnings and directions within it? If so, you might also want to take a moment to look around and recognize the deep scars you’ve created not only on yourself, but on those around you that you love the most. Our failure to heed such warnings can cause pain and suffering for more than just ourselves. Depending upon the role we play in their lives, we can leave emotional, physical and spiritual scars that can devastate friendships, families, churches and businesses.

The Life Lesson I learned from this encounter is that we need to listen carefully to God’s Word and to those around us that we trust. I’ve also realized that although God loves us deeply, he generally does not rescue us from the consequences of our sin (ignoring the warnings), only from the death of it. That although God has a chain around Satan’s neck that keeps him away, it does not mean that if we deliberately walk into his domain of influence that he cannot harm us. Satan is always Chumming for Dummies and placing the perfect cute kitty desires in our paths that he hopes will draw us close enough for him to sink his teeth into our hearts and minds, and to wound or destroy our very souls. And finally, I’ve learned that although I’ve made mistakes in my youth, God still expects me to warn the people he has placed in my life. To share what wisdom that I have gathered from my many mistakes (and even what I have learned from other peoples mistakes), in hopes of helping them and those they love to avoid their damaging consequences.  

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me."
Ezekiel 33:6-7

Don't fall for the oldest trick in the world and become another statistic. Listen to the warnings in life and it will go well for you.

All the best to you.

Richard Hackett

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