Introduction: One of the toughest things in the world to do is to explain why you messed up, why you didn’t get a certain job done. Something was really important—and you realize that now!—but back when it happened, you didn’t take it seriously. Your explanation after the fact sounds lame as you try to explain to your boss or to the jury or the Senate Investigative Committee.
Illustration: “I’m Too Busy!” Today, on cruise ships, it’s fairly easy to communicate ship-to-shore with international satellite cell phone service, e-mail, pagers, etc. But let’s think back to the days when everyone on board had to receive messages from home through that little radio shack where an overworked officer down in the bowels of the ship had to decipher the dit-dah-dit-dah of Morse code, write it down for you, and have a messenger take it up to your cabin.
John George Phillips was first operator for a ship. Radio traffic was exceptionally busy one night, and the ship was relaying Morse Code from a land-based “server”—they probably didn’t describe them like that back then—at a place called Cape Race. People wanted to say hello to their loved ones; businessmen had to get the latest stock quotes. And when another ship out there on the high seas tried to break through the radio clutter with an official message, Phillips angrily snapped off a nasty dot-dot-dot dot-dot-dot-dot dot-dot-dash dash, dot-dot-dash dot-dash-dash-dot. In other words, “Shut up!” In fact, his word-for-word coded message read: “Shut up! Shut up! I am busy; I am working Cape Race!”
Now, a message from another ship might be kind of important, and it was a blind spot for this impatient John George Phillips to not recognize that. But it would be rather difficult for him to go back later and apologize to his employer, the White Star Line, for his error in judgment. He couldn’t get back on the radio and ask forgiveness for snapping at the radio operator on the Californian about bugging him with an ice warning. And it would be very difficult, in fact, impossible, for him to say he was sorry to the 1,500-plus people who joined him in drowning when the unsinkable ship Titanic plunged beneath the waves that cold April night in 1912.
Scriptural Ice Warning: “How can I ever know what sins are lurking in my heart?” King David writes, in Psalm 19:12 (Living Bible). Another paraphrase actually says “blind spot.” “Cleanse me,” he prays, “from these hidden faults.”
Secret Sins: We often think of “hidden faults” as the ones we try to hide from others. King David was an unfortunate genius at doing that too. But what he’s really lamenting here are the secret sins that are even secret to US! They’re in there, and we don’t know it. We have a tendency toward anger, or dishonesty, or—in this Titanic radio operator’s case—impatience . . . and we’re not even aware that we’re steaming toward a rendezvous with the ice.
How to Overcome a Blind Spot: Whether you’re down at the car dealership or cruising the spiritual highway of eternal life, what do you do when you know there’s a spot of freeway asphalt that you can’t see from your position?
1. Use the Mirrors. Every major automaker in the world now has three mirrors standard. Your rear view mirror and side mirrors both right and left. If you dutifully look in all three, blind spots do at least shrink up and get smaller.
Rumfeldism: President Bush’s former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, became well-known for his pithy sayings, the one-liners he and his staff members tried to follow in life. As an experienced Washington insider who served many Presidents, he observed regarding blind spots: “Visit with your predecessors from previous administrations. They know the ropes and can help you see around some corners. Try to make ORIGINAL mistakes, rather than needlessly repeating theirs.”
Repeat Sins: It’s a well-known bromide: “If you keep doing things the way you’ve always done them, you better settle in and expect the same results you’ve always had.” The parallel saying to the one about making new mistakes is the one where a boss lamented about his underling: “This guy never makes the same mistake twice, but I think he’s made all of them once now!”
Wisdom and Warnings from the Rear View Mirror: Looking in the rear view mirror of our spiritual life would mean to consider our past. Did we spend a lot of time three years ago ignoring our feeding of our soul? Skipping our Bible reading and sleeping in on the weekends, absenting ourselves from church? All right—so we already know that such a life leads to spiritual defeat. We already proved that three years ago. Why go through it again?
When we . . .
• retaliate with anger against our spouse or our kids
• keep track of wrongdoing
• pay back evil for evil
Many of us in God’s family have already demonstrated the utter failure of those ways of living. We already know. A glance in the rear view mirror will show us those demons immediately.
Paul the Driving Instructor: In I Corinthians 10, the NIV heading is: “Warnings From Israel’s History.” Paul talks about the apostasy of ancient Israel, how they ended up dying in the wilderness because of their sins and rebellion. Then in verse 6, he essentially asks: “Hey, do you think all this stuff is in the Bible for nothing? How do you think these sad stories got in here?” His exact warning: “Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting OUR hearts on evil things as they did.” Like Rumsfeld says, “Don’t make your parents’ mistakes! If you have to make any at all, make some new ones of your own.” Paul continues: “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: ‘The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.’ We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel” (vv. 7-10).
Paul concludes, for our benefit: “Be smart. Just a glance in the mirror will tell you that these are all killers: idolatry, adultery, presuming on God’s good graces, grumbling. Don’t even go there.” In fact, he comes right back to the “mirror” concept again in verse 11: “These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings FOR US, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come.” The Message paraphrase is so blunt and perfect for this 21st century: “These are all warning markers—DANGER!—in our history books, written down so that we don’t repeat their mistakes. Our positions in the story are parallel—they at the beginning, we at the end—and we are just as capable of messing it up as they were.” And then Paul adds: “Don’t be so naive and self-confident. You’re not exempt. You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. Forget about self-confidence; it’s useless. Cultivate God-confidence.”
2. Adjust Those Mirrors. Have you had to move the mirrors in a rental car, or after your kid took the family Camry out for the weekend? And sometimes we need to make spiritual adjustments in how we look, how we read the Bible, how often or in what spirit we read it. How we hear a sermon at church—inviting its message to apply to US instead of to our fellow “drivers” two pews over.
Conclusion: We remember how our drivers education teachers, and the instructor from the DMV, had us move our seat up just right and adjust the mirrors BEFORE we even switched on the engine. First thing in the morning, when we get out of bed, it might not be a bad idea there too. Instead of hitting the ground running, hit the floor on your knees.
Submitted by David B. Smith. Better Sermons © 2005-2007. Click here for usage guidelines.