I bought a new car recently. It came with lots of safety features, like a rear-view camera, blind-spot monitoring, and lane departure warning. There is even a voice that tells me when I’m approaching a red light or speed camera. The day after we bought the car, my husband and I were driving on a city street, approaching an intersection, when the voice boomed out over my left shoulder, “Red light camera ahead! Reduce your speed!” While I focused on driving, my husband quickly started pushing buttons looking for a way to turn down the volume of the mysterious voice which had seemingly come from nowhere.
It’s been calmer in the car since the volume was reduced on the “voice of doom,” as I like to call it. It continues to annoy me, though, as it warns of red light cameras even if the traffic light is green and I’m driving at or under the speed limit. It also warns of speed cameras in a school zone near our house, even though we’re only required to reduce our speed in the area if a red light is blinking. It’s summer. School’s out. The lights aren’t blinking. But my car keeps warning me, “Speed camera ahead. Reduce your speed. Reduce your speed.”
We’ve told a few people about the ever-lurking “voice of doom” in our car. People laugh, and then they say, “Is there a way to turn it off?” I’m sure there is—or at least turn the volume down so low we can’t hear it—but at some point that voice may come in very handy. One day, I may be driving down a street I’m not familiar with and I might miss a school zone sign or think I’m close enough to an intersection when a traffic light turns yellow. Knowing there’s a camera ahead that will catch me if I go through the school zone too fast or go through the light too late could keep me from an expensive traffic ticket or a more expensive accident.
So I listen to the voice in my car, even when I’m fully aware of my surroundings and I know I’m doing the right things. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded that there are important laws I should keep in mind and there will be consequences if I don’t.
There are other voices in my life I need to listen to—my conscience, the advice of friends and family, the promptings of the Holy Spirit. It’s easy to tune them all out. It’s easy to relax and say, “I know what I’m doing. This isn’t going to hurt me.” Usually, I do know what I’m doing. But there’s always a chance that I might make a decision too fast. I might miss a warning sign. I might be distracted by something else in my life and end up in dangerous territory without even knowing how I got there.
That’s why I need to keep listening to the warning voices in my life. Even if they’re annoying. And if you’re ever uncertain about which voice to listen to, when people are giving you conflicting advice and direction, listen to these important words above all the others:
“Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Isaiah 8:20
I love baking shows like Cake Wars, The Great British Baking Show, and Holiday Baking Championship. I enjoy watching the competitors strive to create something beautiful and tasty, and I’m thrilled when they succeed. I like to bake, too, but I’ve never had the time or inclination to perfect my skills and make anything as beautiful or as complicated as the masterpieces created on these shows.
That’s why I like the new Netflix show, Nailed It. This is a show I could actually be on because it’s for bad bakers – or at least inexperienced ones. IMBD describes the show this way: “Home bakers with a terrible track record take a crack at re-creating edible masterpieces for a $10,000 prize. It's part reality contest, part hot mess.” While the original masterpieces are beautiful to behold, the re-creations are usually pretty funny (if not just sad).
Like most baking shows, the competitors face a distinct disadvantage in their quest to make something beautiful. They have to do their work in a short period of time. It’s bad enough that the bakers in Nailed it lack any kind of training and have little or no experience in cake decorating. They’re also asked to re-create something that probably took an accomplished cake artist many hours, or even days, to make. Patience is not a virtue in these shows. It’s a luxury no one can afford.
I was reminded this week of the importance of patience in finding and following God’s will for our lives. I want to know God’s will now. I want to get started on the next task. I want to have a finished product ready to serve up by dinner time. And I don’t understand why, so much of the time, I can’t discern God’s leading in my life telling me what to do and how to do it.
Part of the problem may be that I forget to ask for instructions – like the contestant in one episode of Nailed It who went through the first challenge never turning on the tablet at his workstation that contained the recipe for the cake he was supposed to make. The bigger problem for me, though, is just not being patient. I have trouble letting God work in his own time and in his own way. So it’s no wonder I mess up so often.
God isn’t interested in making a half-hearted, barely-recognizable, rushed-through, re-creation of something else in my life. He’s making an original masterpiece, lovingly thought out, painstakingly assembled, with attention to every detail. I can join him in that work, patiently waiting for directions, learning by watching, making mistakes and starting over, or I can rush through on my own and end up with an unappealing mess.
It’s really not that hard to choose.
“In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:4-6
Over the weekend, I went to see the latest Marvel superhero movie, Ant Man and the Wasp. It was entertaining and funny, with lots of special effects as the two main characters (Ant Man and the Wasp) keep changing from human to insect-size and back again in the midst of hand-to-hand fights and wild car chases. Ant Man’s suit also allows him to grow very large or to shrink beyond the view of any microscope into the “quantum realm” – an important plot point in this movie.
To really up the thrill factor, the good guys in the film have more than one bad guy coming after them. One is a ruthless businessman with his armed thugs, after “quantum” technology he can sell to the highest bidder. The other is a mysterious matter-phasing “ghost” woman who wants the technology for her own needs. The Wasp and her father, who have the technology, have to hold onto it long enough to enter the quantum realm and find the Wasp’s long-lost mother (the original Wasp, who shrunk down too far to come back while rescuing thousands of people from an incoming missile many years earlier).
If you forget about the questionable science and focus on the action, it’s not a hard movie to follow. Like most superhero movies, it’s also easy to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys—and what will happen to them in the end. The good guys will win. The bad guys will lose. And the people in between? Well, they might just get a second chance.
Isn’t that why we like superhero movies? If you use your powers for good and care about other people and try to do the right thing most of the time, things should work out your way. If you care only about yourself and don’t mind hurting other people to get what you want, you will be punished. But, what if there’s an excuse for your bad behavior? What if it’s not really your fault that you became the person you are? Do you deserve a break? Do you deserve to be saved?
This, of course, is the real problem with superhero movies—and with the way most humans think. We try to earn our way to happiness, to deserve good breaks, to be good enough to be counted among the winners. And when we fail, we look for excuses. We say, “It’s not my fault. I can’t help being the way I am. Shouldn’t I get a break, too?”
The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) and “there is no one righteous, no not one” (Romans 3:10). There isn’t one person in the whole world who has been good enough to earn the blessing of the holy and perfect God. But there also isn’t one person in the whole world who hasn’t been given a second chance. God offers us his forgiveness and a place in his family, not because of what we have done or not done, but because of his grace and love.
Too often Christians fall into the trap of separating people into the camps of good guys and bad guys. We’re willing to help the good guys. We’re even willing to help people who are the victims of their circumstances, people who have an excuse for not being as good as they could be. But the bad guys are simply bad guys, and they deserve nothing but God’s wrath.
Perhaps we need to change that way of thinking. Perhaps we should remember that we were once “God’s enemies” but that “we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). That’s the only thing that separates us from the bad guys out there. So, shouldn’t we be more understanding—and more gracious? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with sharing the good news of God’s grace and spend less time vilifying people who don’t agree with us?
There are a lot of “people in between” out there just waiting for someone to invite them into the camp of the forgiven. Get out there, superheroes, and give them that chance!
I read an interesting article yesterday in Christianity Today about the Brazilian national soccer team which has a number of evangelical players.* In this predominantly Catholic nation, these players have made a name for themselves by being very open about their love for Jesus.
According to the article, the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) recently banned team members from “religiously themed demonstrations” on the field. That would include the practice of some team members of wearing tee shirts with Christian messages beneath their jerseys and displaying them after a goal, and could even include kneeling during a game as if in prayer or pointing to heaven as if to thank God for a successful play. According to the CBF, these celebratory displays are being banned because “the practice could divert focus on competition and constrain athletes who practice other beliefs or are agnostic.”
As I read the article, I could imagine a chorus of outraged Christian voices rising up to condemn this suppression of religious belief. It reminded of a friend who once argued that we need to support public displays of Christian belief (on our coins, in the pledge to the flag, at the beginning of legislative sessions, and in national days of prayer) because God needs the PR. And there’s no better PR than a winning team or a winning player displaying gratitude to the Heavenly Father after a spectacular GOOOAAAAALLL!
The real problem with these displays, as I see it, is that they associate the grace of God with winning. You don’t often see a Christian player of any sport pause after a disastrous play or the loss of a game to point to heaven with grateful smiles. It’s when they score that they thank God for being with them. It’s when they win that they show the world that God has favored them.
So, where is God in the losing?
In the Bible, we often find God in the losing. Many of the most beautiful Psalms were written by David while he was being hunted by King Saul who wanted to kill him. David ran from country to country looking for a safe place to stay. He was betrayed by allies and surrounded by enemies. He lived off the land and bedded down in caves. Again and again he prayed for deliverance and wrote out those prayers in commemoration of God’s goodness.
Wait, God’s goodness? Even when David was on the run? Even when things weren’t going his way? Even when he had to wait three decades for the fulfilment of God’s promise to make him king over all Israel?
The introduction to Psalm 54 says, “For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David. When the Ziphites had gone to Saul and said, ‘Is not David hiding among us?’” It ends with David proclaiming, “I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good. You have delivered me from all my troubles.”
Psalm 56 was written about a time “when the Philistines had seized (David) in Gath.” In it David sings, “In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise—in God I trust and am not afraid.”
In Psalm 57, David is hiding from Saul in a cave. He writes, “I will praise you, Lord, among the nations; I will sing of you among the peoples. For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies.”
Psalm 59 was written “When Saul had sent men to watch David’s house to kill him.” David’s response was to declare, “You are my strength, I sing praise to you; you, God, are my fortress, my God on whom I can rely."
Each day David survived, he found a reason to praise God—whether he was winning or waiting or on the run, fearful for his life. He didn’t wait for a great victory to declare that God was on his side. He loved God and trusted God’s love for him, perhaps finding it richer and purer and stronger during the losing times of his life. Shouldn't Christians today live more like that?
What is my mission as an author? It's a tough question, but I believe the goal dearest to my heart is to help Christians think about what they really believe and then to act as if they really believe it. It all begins with understanding what it means to be a Christian. Then we have to learn to live like a Christian.