Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Like a Driver in a Fine Rice Burner... er... Car

I see this every time I walk through a parking lot, and I feel bad for the car's owner. But sometimes when I see it, I have to shake my head in bewilderment. Now, I'm not much on modified import cars that are called "sport compacts." But call them what you will-- tuners, rice burners, stickercharged toys-- I'm impressed when I see one that has been done right. Which isn't very often.

It wasn't this one that I saw,
but it looked this good.
(Image from Super Street Magazine.)
So last week I saw a beautiful Mitsubishi Eclipse. It had been lowered, but the rear wheels weren't splayed out at the bottom. The custom bumper covers had been tightly fitted. The side ground effects were cleanly trimmed to fit the body. The spoiler on the trunk matched the lines of the car, rather than looking like somebody bolted on a shopping cart. The paint job was perfect, with sharp-looking professional artwork. The finish was so deep it looked like you could immerse your hand into it. The wheels were over-sized, but not much that they looked like something from a kid's tricycle. It was a sharp-looking machine. And surprisingly, I wouldn't mind being seen driving it.

I could even overlook the misplaced "Type R" emblem. ("Type R" is a Honda option, but these guys love to put the emblem on anything. Why? 'Cuz it makes the car faster.)

Here was a gorgeous car, built to be driven, but operated by a Motorist. How do I know he's "just a Motorist," and not a "Driver?" The right rear tire was low. It was so low that the sidewalls were touching the pavement. And it had been low for a while, because the tire had a visible ring of wear all the way around on the sidewall. I shook my head in disbelief, and this haggard mind could only respond with this age's most overused word. "Really?" It wasn't going to be long before this car was sitting on the side of the road with a blown tire, with the owner wondering what had happened.

A Motorist may have his car maintained regularly. He may care for it meticulously. But he's unaware when the car is "telling" him something. A Driver would know right away that that tire was low, because she could tell by how the car "feels." Chances are, she could tell you which tire was low without looking, long before the sidewall touched the pavement. And she would get it fixed. A Driver is always communicating with the car. Every noise, every bump, every turn, every stoplight tells a Driver about the car. A Motorist is oblivious until something breaks.

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. (Matthew 13.16-17)

A Motorist may maintain his machine, but a Driver cares for it. A Motorist worries about breakdowns, but a Driver trusts his machine. A Motorist is unaware of traffic and dangers around him. He's the only one on the road. A Driver sees and hears everything, blending with traffic and avoiding dangers. A Motorist pushes in impatience to a destination. To a Driver, it's all about the drive, not the destination.

Read that verse from Matthew again. Put it in present tense. "Many great people and leaders long to see what you see but don't see it, and to hear what you hear but don't hear it." Focused on institutions, doctrines, denominations, politics, traditions, and all sorts of distractions, Believers miss the point. They are so intent on getting somewhere, they maintain church life, worry over unimportant issues, and push, push, push. Christians look forward in hope, and care for their spiritual life, understand that life is actually all about Jesus Christ, and go where He leads. They know where He leads, because they listen to His word, feel his presence, and discern when something is or isn't right.

Like a Driver in a fine car.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Believer or Christian? A NASCAR Experience

I am a very fortunate man, in that I have a loving, nurturing wife who feeds my vices. My vices are, in no particular order: chocolate, hunting, fishing, motorcycles, and performance cars. She knows I'm hooked on all of them. She figures there are lots of worse things a man could be into, so she supports me in these good vices.

I drove this one. Had to. It had "43" on it!
So another birthday present my wife gave me several years ago was the NASCAR "Richard Petty Driving Experience." In a nutshell, it was lap time driving a NASCAR Winston Cup (now Sprint Cup) car. I reported to Pikes Peak International Raceway. All participants were given a tour of the track, where instructors explained the markings and key points. Then there was classroom time, to teach what was needed to know about this event. Then we suited up in fire suits, helmets, gloves. When it was (finally!) time to drive, the instructor gave us one last detail: "Now you'll forget everything I've said. But remember this: Mash the gas and turn left!"

Out by the cars, we learned how to get in and out of a car with no doors. The driving instructions were simple. Two cars at a time would run the track, behind a pace car. Maintain six to eight car lengths behind the car ahead. If you drop back too far, the pace driver will figure you're not up to it, and slow down. If you get too close, the pace driver will figure you can't control the car at speed, and slow down. Keep the right following distance, and the pace driver will lead you up to the max speed for this event as set by NASCAR.

Strapped in. TIGHT!
Can't tell I'm lovin' it, can ya?
Just like in a regular NASCAR race, the drivers don't do ANYTHING but drive. I climbed into the car, and slid myself back into the seat. The pit crew leader reached in and buckled the 5-point harness. I thought I was back in the seat, until he pulled the straps and I felt myself pulled back tight. The pit boss then attached the steering wheel to the column, and locked it in place. He tested it to be sure it was solid. The pit boss asked if I was ready. I answered yes, then he reached in and hit the switch to start the engine.

The car's full-race clutch doesn't like slow speeds and gentle engagement. I forgot that, and the car bucked like a bronco when I started out. Once rolling, I saw how the car was set up for the track. The alignment seemed wrong at low speed, because the car wanted to pull left. I remembered they told us that up around 90 mph it would even out. And it did. As the laps went by, the speed went up. (I kept the correct distance behind the pace car, and thankfully the guy behind me also followed correctly.) These cars were not tuned back for inexperienced drivers, so there were over 800 very angry horses under the hood. Near the end of my run, at the event's top speed, I decided to unleash those horses for just a brief moment. I wanted to see what they felt like. On the back stretch, I "mashed the gas." Even at something ovar 140 mph, I was instantly slammed back into the seat as the car leapt forward. All I could say, then and now, was "WOW!" Looking back, I was surprised at how easily that car ran fast, took the corners... and especially at how comfortable I was.

Back in the pits, I watched one of the runs in sadness. There was a guy in the event who came in full of bluster and confidence. He knew he was a driver. He was "gonna tear up this track," and he knew it all already as we went through the training. He came off the track with a different attitude. Somewhere around 90 mph he was suddenly wracked with fear, and never pushed any faster. It was so bad, and so unfair to the second driver, that the officials called the pace car off the track.

Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved--and that by God. (Philippians 1:27-28)

A motorist "knows" he's a driver. He doesn't need any more training, because he knows it all already.
A driver isn't sure she's a driver. She gladly accepts training to learn new skills, or to sharpen existing ones.

A believer "knows" she is saved and has a mansion waiting in heaven.
A Christian is never really sure, but holds onto the hope that he has in Jesus Christ.

A motorist isn't afraid of anything, and thinks she can do anything and can drive successfully through any situation. She doesn't need any training. But she has limits that even she doesn't know about. Funny-- When she hits one of those limits, it's fear that backs her down.
A driver fears that he may have limits, but is determined to pass them. So he looks for chances to get training. When he faces fear, he lets his training take over. When he looks back, he's surprised to see that he surpassed his own expectations.

A believer is ready to go anywhere, do anything, for Jesus. That is, until the chance arises. Then he quickly shies away when face-to-face with a stranger, or refuses to move forward, even when a clear call is made.
A Christian may be more action, and less talk. Others are often surprised when she steps forward to go into the unknown, or when she opens her mouth to witness to someone who is frightening. Later, she looks back and praises God that He took her where she never expected to go.

Motorist? Or driver?

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Driver? Or just somebody who owns a car?

As I grew up, how did I know when I was a man? I knew I was a man when my Dad told me I was. Apparently, I'm a driver. How might I know? Because a professional performance driver told me I'm a driver. Am I sure of that? No. And maybe more than anything else, that is what makes me a driver.

Every man who has a license to drive thinks he's a driver. Many women do, too. I see them every day on the roads whenever I head in to work, or run an errand to town. Driving too fast. I'm not saying "over the speed limit." I'm saying "too fast." It's pretty safe to say that most people on the roads in the USA don't have the skills necessary to drive 55 mph, let alone the interstate speed limits of 70, 75, or even 80 mph. The truth comes out when something happens, like a deer jumps in front of them. Most don't know how to react, and the reactions they make are usually the wrong ones, resulting in often-fatal crashes.

Or consider driving at night. In basic Driver Education classes, we are taught not to "overdrive" our headlights, yet people regularly drive 70 mph on the Interstate highway using only their low beam headlamps. In one second, the car travels 120 feet. That's about how far you can see with low beams. So that's safe, right? Wrong. When that deer jumps out at the very edge of your vision, it takes 70 feet for you to recognize it and get your foot to the brake. Then another 250 feet to come to a stop. That's nearly three times farther than you can see. Dead deer. Or maybe dead you.

Following too close. Over the limit in a school zone or residential area. Running the speed limit on ice or snow. Making maneuvers in an SUV that should be limited to sports cars. Cutting across three lanes to get off, rather than taking the next exit. Anybody who drives in the city can cite hundreds of examples. But these motorists say to themselves, "No problem. I can handle it." Yeah... right. If you say so.

A driver knows his limits and the limits of his vehicle. A driver knows how far he can see, how far it might take to come to a stop. He's prepared for his exit. He's ready for the unexpected. He has practiced many different maneuvers on a track, and he rehearses them regularly in his mind. He plays the "what if?" game time after time as he travels down the road.

Why does a driver know these things? Why is she prepared? Because a real driver is never really sure that she's a real driver.

Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." - John 9:39-41.

Jesus had just healed a blind man on the Sabbath. Some Pharisees found out about it, and by God, somebody was going to pay! They found out it was Jesus, and confronted him. Jesus used the contrast between blindness and sight to show these men that they were sinners. And what is the proof? The very fact that they believed they were without sin. They were certain that they were perfect, and blind to the very real possibility that they were lost.

My haggard mind wonders whenever I hear someone proclaim, with great confidence, that they are bound for the Kingdom of heaven. I pray for them, that they are correct. For Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ - Matthew 7: 22,23

There's a real difference between believers and Christians. Believers just know they are saved. No doubt about it. I'll see you in heaven. But a real Christian is never really sure that she's a real Christian. And hope drives her to keep growing.

Which are you?