A Parable of Three Cars

My wife and I were having an a somewhat impromptu conversation with a couple of our ministry partners (they know who they are). As we talked the issue of achieving one’s dreams (or failure to do so) came up, along with the issue of regret. That led me into what I hoped was a somewhat inspirational speech of sorts. With further reflection, it occurred to me that I could have done better. This is what I should have said…


John and Bill were next-door neighbors and were in their 60s. Bill came over to John’s yard where John was working on his car. John had a sports car. It was pretty obvious that it once was a sleek powerful machine. But now it looked quite beat up, and the oil stain on the driveway suggested that this car was really struggling. Bill asked him about his car.

John said, “Oh I have had this baby since soon after I could drive. I loved to go out and cruise through town in it. I loved to go out into remote stretches and floor it. I just loved it. I, ummm, still love it, but it seems like I spend more time now trying to keep it running and held together than I do driving it. I see,” looking at Bill’s car in his driveway, “that you have a nice— practical car.”

And Bill’s car was practical. Safe. Reliable. It was the type of car one might expect of a man entering his retirement years.

Bill replied, “Yeah, it is nothing fancy, but it really works for what I need it for. I use it to get around town, go out with my wife, and the grand kids. It’s really what I need. But I do have a sports car as well. I also got it soon after I could drive.”

John wanted to see it, so Bill invited him over to look in his garage where there were in fact two vehicles. The first car was a fiery beast much like what John’s car used to be. But while John’s car was falling apart, Bill’s looked to be in excellent condition. John expressed admiration of it.

“I don’t drive it much anymore,” said Bill. “Once in awhile I will bring it out of the garage for old time’s sake. But you know, when I started getting into my upper 30s, the car didn’t really suit me very much. I had a wife and kids, and a sport’s car isn’t very practical– too small for the whole family. Also a sport’s car works great for the open road and for cruising around town, but sometimes one wants to get off the beaten path, so one need’s something a bit different. So I got the SUV.”

Bill pointed to the second vehicle in the garage. It could hold a family, and get off-road when needed. It also looked to be in pretty good condition.

Bill continued. “This car,” pointing to the SUV, “treated me well for many years, but when the kids grew up and moved out, and my wife and I began to slow down just a bit, we decided to get the car we now use most of the time. But, there are still times to bring out both the sports car and the SUV. Not much of a point to keep them if I don’t, you know?

Let’s consider those three cars.

The first car is AMBITION. When we are young, we have big exciting dreams. These dreams drive us forward, like a powerful sports car drive us where we want to go. But, much like a sports car, youthful ambition tends to take people on the well-used roads— quests for love, success, wealth, and fame. But this sports car, ambition, starts to become a problem as years go by. As one begins to have others joining, spouse, children, friends, community, and such, the car is simply too small. It lacks the seating to bring others along. Also, the car only works well on the smooth roads that many others have gone before. But the less traveled paths, dirt roads with bumps and holes, as well as places with no roads at all, cannot be handled well by this car. Further, often upon reflection, the dreams of youth are found not practical, or not feasible, or no longer desirable. The sports car just doesn’t run like it used to. It doesn’t meet needs anymore.

So many consider a second car. Some as they enter their middle years choose to get another sports car, seeking to recapture the former thrill of youthful ambition even if it does not meet one’s real needs anymore. Other’s however, go for a different vehicle. This vehicle is REEVALUATION. One has family and community that one wants to travel with. Speed and thrill are not so important now. Upon consideration, where one now wants to go may not be the roads that average people choose. One wants to go off-road, the road less taken. One still has dreams, but these dreams are more in line with where one is in life today, based on one’s present true aptitudes and passion, rather than 20 years before. Fame, Money, and Success, as they are commonly understood, may not be so important anymore. Now one wants to find Meaning and Purpose. One wants to find one’s personal niche or place in the world. One wants to be connected with others. This second vehicle allows others to join in the journey to places that others ignore.

And some people stay there in either their sports car or SUV. But some reach a point that they need a third car. That car is SATISFACTION. One has found one’s purpose, and achieved at least some of the goals of youth or the middle years. Now one doesn’t need to fly down the road at breakneck speed. And one does not need to blaze new trails. One needs a practical vehicle for self and family, and to go to the places that one really needs to go today.

Of course, SATISFACTION may not be the only car of later years. One may still choose to find new goals and explore the unknown and so needs to go back into REEVALUATION at times. And perhaps once in awhile have the excitement of youthful AMBITION. After all, no matter how old one is, the child, teen, young adult, and middle-ager are present. They never completely go away.

What is not healthy, however, is to hold onto youthful dreams that no longer fit later in life. It is also not healthy to keep reevaluating and look for new purposes and goals, without finding some level of satisfaction where one presently resides.

What car(s) do you have? What does it (or they) look like. Does your transportation meet your needs now?

Missions and Ambitions, Part 2

A friend of mine is a pastor of a church in Mabalacat, Pampanga. His church is going through the book of Joshua and using it as a guide for missional growth and outreach. It got me thinking a bit.

Joshua 5:13-15 has a great scene. Joshua sees a warrior. Joshua asked a very reasonable thing… “Are you for us or our enemies.” The response was, “Neither, I have now come as commander of the Lord’s army.”

Strangely, this reminds me of a Monty Python skit. The scene was in Medieval times… perhaps the 100 year war. Two kings are praying to God, asking Him to be on their side and bring them victory. In the skit… God looks down from on high, appears to be uncertain who to favor. In the end, He flips a coin and then sides with the winner of the coin flip.

As silly as that skit is… it is the way we are. We want God to be on our side. We know that if God is on our side… we have the most powerful, most awesome being in … well in all there is. If God is on our side, we will be successful… surely.

But that is not true, not really. Joshua discovered this. The warrior (or angel or theophany) made it clear… it is not whose side he is on, but who is on his side.

Joshua and the people of Israel were on God’s side in Jericho and were successful. They turned from God’s side to their own soon after at Ai.

What does this have to do with ambition?

1.  We want success… but success needs to be defined by our submitting to God’s work and plan. This sort of success may NOT FEEL like success. It may not impress others. It may not bring fame, wealth, or popularity.

2.  Trying to do things to lure God onto our side and into supporting our plan is foolish. It is pure hubris. It lessens God.

Luring God to be on our side has also been done for millenia. Isaiah 58 describes believers who were fasting to try to get good stuff from God. Isaiah made it clear that this was a foolish and selfish behavior. (This is especially poignant today as fasting has become a particularly popular recently as a way to manipulate God. Curiously, mourning, the partner of fasting, hasn’t gained such recent popularity.) Micah 6 talks about people doing sacrifices to impress God. In both passages they told to love God through caring for the needy and poor.

In other words, the people in Micah and Isaiah need to do what we need to do… stop trying to get God on their side, but move over to God’s side.



Missions and Ambitions

Missionary Sam was a machine. He could go into a new community, set up an event, form up the respondents, place a pastor in charge, and be onto the next community in a matter of weeks. After a few years of such stunning success, he wrote up his dissertation on his methodology, and “retired” to a life of being a church growth expert and professor.

Sadly, nearly all of his church plants failed within months of their creation. But it doesn’t matter.

Sam was a church planter, it wasn’t his job to maintain a church. His job now is to teach missionaries how to plant churches, not develop viable, self-sustaining, and self-propagating churches.

Missions is not just a ministry… it is also a career. A lot of great missionaries go through life with little that can be used to demonstrate success. Sadly, many mediocre missionaries are extremely competent at the career side of missions. This is true with most jobs. With some effort it is possible to separate the self-promoter from the faithful servant, but the ones most capable of making the judgment are the missionary and those that work the closest with the missionary. If it is about God… if it is about His kingdom… if it is about the people that God misses most… if it is about Jesus and his call for faithful servants— then it is NOT about awesome statistics… it is not about career tracks… it is not about accumulation of positions and awards.

The best missionaries often will live lives of obscurity and (apparent) mediocrity. But God knows the truth, as do many of those closest to them.