As soon as I saw the police car, I knew I was in trouble because I knew the speed limit and I knew how fast I was driving. Instinctively, I eased off the gas, and tapped the break (but not so hard as to draw attention to my already glaring offense).
Ugh. It was the first day of a twenty-five day road trip, there were still thousands of miles ahead of us, and my spirit was instantly saturated with dread. My heart started to beat faster; I clinched the steering wheel and tried to keep my eyes on the road. I was terrified that if I looked at the police car as I drove past that my gaze would reveal my guilt.
In a millisecond, I tried to think up every excuse that might sway the officer into giving me a warning instead of a ticket. However, I knew there was no way around it; I was driving faster than the posted limit by more than a couple miles per hour and I deserved the ticket.
The last speeding ticket I got was in 1981! Yes! 1981! I decided then that I would not speed anymore, I was finished with speeding. For many years I didn’t speed – until I moved back to the Chicago area.
In northern Illinois, everyone speeds. Therefore, I rationalized, because I didn’t want to become a stumbling block to my fellow drivers (either through anger, frustration, or accident), I decided to drive along with the traffic. Nevertheless, I would not set the pace.
That worked until I moved to Texas. In Texas, there are areas where the speed limit is 80 or 85! Yes! Now that’s my kind of driving. Let’s get this show on the road.
That, however, is not the speed limit in central Illinois. Seriously, I had all these thoughts as I drove past the police car and kept waiting for him to roll – but he didn’t. I checked in my rear view mirror until I couldn’t see him any longer. He didn’t come after me. I was in the clear!
Right then, I had a decision to make: either let this be a wake-up call and get back on track, or celebrate that I didn’t get caught and keep on going as I was. It was a moment to choose whether I thought I was vulnerable or invincible.
This brief moment in my life is one that plays out repeatedly, day in and day out, in all of our lives. We know when we are living on the edge, dancing close to a boundary, playing with fire, following the crowd, or ignoring warning signs. Whether it is in our private lives or our public lives, with our bodies or in our spirits, we know when we are pushing the limits. We know when we are in error.
As Christians, we have the Holy Spirit within us, and he alerts us to the danger of living outside the limits of God’s good boundaries (John 14:15-27). Our choice, then, is to heed his warnings, or ignore them. I hope that when we feel his loving prick on our conscience or feel the heaviness in our heart, we back off and return to the path of holiness – of living differently than everyone else. This keeps us tender and sensitive to his leading. But sometimes we don’t; it’s not always easy to embrace being set apart.
We refuse to heed his call to slow down when we think we won’t get caught. Like everyone else, we push the limits and speed into areas that are dangerous to others and to us. However, we can never outrun our sin, it will always catch up to us. God always knows what we are doing, even if it seems no one else does.
Furthermore, God knows the best consequences of our sin, and the perfect timing for those consequences. He knows when immediate discipline will draw us back to godly choices, and he knows when to let us blitz wildly in the fast lane a bit longer.
As fun and as free as sin may seem in the moment, the heartache that eventually comes with the deadly crash of reality is always more painful and destructive than we could ever imagine. The most frightening thought, for a Christian, should be that God might decide to let us continue in our sin.
But this is exactly what God does when we refuse to acknowledge him: he abandons us to our foolish thinking and lets us do things that should never be done. Our lives become full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. We become backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. We invent new ways of sinning, and disobey our parents. We refuse to understand, break promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. We know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet we do them anyway. Worse yet, we encourage others to do them, too (Romans 1:28-32).
Is God giving you a warning to slow down? To return to the lane of holiness? To live within the boundaries he has provided for you?
Are you encouraging the people who reside within your sphere of influence to live within God’s boundaries, or are you complacently tolerating sin because that’s what everyone else is doing? What course correction do you need to make?
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