Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Comparisons = Trouble

If you’re a Bluffton Packet alert reader and caught last weeks “Pastor’s Corner”, you already know about my unpleasant encounter with the Georgia Highway Patrol that resulted in a “fast driving award” Thanksgiving weekend. I conceded that while no one likes to get a speeding ticket, the State Trooper had a point and the consequences for my dangerous behavior would help me to be safer in the future. It reminded me that as Christmas approaches, it’s good for us to take stock of our lives and see where we need to grow more. It’s not about a guilt trip, it’s about preparing our souls for heaven since much like speeding endangers our lives, sin endangers our souls.

A big mistake we make as we examine our lives is to simply compare ourselves to others. The teens in my youth group do this often. I hear, “Miss Alison, I’m in good shape. I go to church way more than my friends do and I’m like, a lot nicer than them too”. We all do this. How many people out there are patting themselves on the back saying, “I’m not trying too hard to be a good husband or wife, but at least I can beat Tiger Woods at something!” (Not to hate on Tiger, he’s just an easy example right now). There’s a plethora of celebrities and friends that if we were to look to them and compare our lives, we think we’re a-ok.

In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis writes from the perspective of a Demon teaching how to ensnare souls and drag them to hell. He reminds his charge to “work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman” when he compares himself to others and finds them less than perfect. Anyone who’s gone to Church has at one point or another looked at the way others are living and decided that compared to them, they’re saints, so the can rest easy for a while. This is dangerous because our goal isn’t to be better than everyone else, our goal is to be like Christ.

Allow me to provide an example. This morning, while the ink was still drying on the paper that told of the lessons I had learned, I approached the Cross Island Parkway in a cluster of about a dozen other cars, all going the same speed. It was a leisurely morning, I wasn’t running late, had been able to consume two cups of coffee and unlike the day before, no one cut me off pulling out from Point Comfort Road so I wasn’t tempted to careen past anyone to prove a point (that was Monday. And my apologies to the driver of the Navy Lexus, you just caught me at a bad time). Like I said, I wasn’t driving any differently from anyone else and I assumed we were all good.

You can imagine my surprise when I once again saw the blue lights flashing in my rearview. I figured the good officer was rushing to catch someone who, like me a few weeks ago, had been endangering the lives of others with reckless driving. I pulled over, pitying the fool that would undergo the same fate I had. But wait, what’s this? He was getting out! I wracked my brain, thinking that maybe my taillight was out or my tags had expired? Surely, it couldn’t be… “Ma’m, do you know why I pulled you over?” I had a sinking feeling it wasn’t because I was having a good hair day. “No…?” I smiled. “Ma’m, I clocked you at….” Well, I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination. Let’s just say it was déjà vu all over again.

The error of my ways was my assumption that everyone around me was going the speed limit. We all know that’s the danger of speed traps-- you get caught up in the flow of traffic. Slowing down would be inconvenient. Everyone else is doing it, how bad can it be? We just don’t notice how fast we’re going.

I have a very real fear that frogs will eat me, so I’ve never tested this, but I’ve been told that if you place a frog in boiling water, it will jump right out. However, if you place a frog in regular water and then gradually turn up the temperature the frog will die before it realizes it’s boiling to death. Sin is like that. No one wakes up in the morning and plans to disobey God, just like I don’t wake up in the morning planning to rack up speeding tickets. But we get caught up in the flow of the day and before we know it we’re gossiping, lying, cheating or maybe driving to fast because we’re just not paying attention.

The Gospel of Mark warns us that we need to always be ready for Christ’s return. “May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:36-37). As we examine our lives in preparation for when we will meet Christ face to face, we need to remember that “everyone else was doing it” is not a valid. This Christmas, remember that God has gave us the perfect model to follow when he condescended to come to earth as a baby in Bethlehem. Pay attention to what matters.

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