© 2015 Lynn Abbott
Caught in a sudden, severe thunderstorm, I cautiously picked my way along a major interstate. We were just 45 minutes away from our destination, and yet, visibility was next to nothing. And when my then eight-year-old son asked, “Are we there yet?” I didn’t know how to answer.
Quite frankly, given the dangerous downpour, I didn’t knew how long it would take to arrive safely at the hotel.
And that day, I certainly had what my grandmother called a “white knuckle moment.” To say that I tightly gripped my car’s steering wheel would be an understatement.
I’ll say this much, however: the cars traveling around me weren’t in any better shape. None of us could see more than a few feet ahead of our vehicles. Obviously, we were all in this together, and it wasn’t pretty.
I hugged the interstate shoulder and tried to keep the rear tail lights of the car directly ahead of me in view. If I could just find an exit, I felt that I could pull over safely.
I wasn’t going to risk pulling over on the shoulder. One of my fellow drivers might not see me and the potential for an accident was great. And so I crept along, peering through the sheets of water that slammed my windshield. I shuddered with each thunder-clap.
Inside the car, an eerie silence prevailed. My mother and son prayed fervently.
To this day, I’m sure that the only thing that I did right that day was to follow the rear tail lights of the car ahead of me. I thank God that I wasn’t at the front of the line. I simply followed the leader, and fortunately for me, the leader happened to be an excellent driver.
Of course, a lot rested on the shoulders of the one out in front. That always seems to be the case. Maybe, that’s why the apostle James said, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly,” (James 3:1).
Leadership requires a lot of strength and wisdom. And for the most part, there are no guarantees of safe arrival when someone says, “Follow Me.”
I learned that as a child. Neighborhood games of “Follow the Leader” truly reflected the leadership style of the one out in front. And on one fateful day, my buddies wisely didn’t follow me to the letter of the game’s law.
After all, at age 9, I was a bit of a dare devil on my banana seat bike. I decided to set a fast and daring pace. I must have felt pretty confident because I tried out a new trick.
Too bad for me! The bike design didn’t support such stunts. I flipped over the handle bars and hit the asphalt pavement.
Splat. Face plant. And I chipped a newly acquired adult front tooth.
Needless to say, my friends didn’t follow suit.
Yup, who you follow is vitally important.
Fortunately, on the day of the storm, the tail lights ahead of me did not face plant. And I took the first exit to a small coffee shop to wait out the storm.
I think that sailors feel about lighthouses the way I felt about that car in front of me. Of course, for me, the bad news was that had my car hydroplaned, I might have hit the car ahead of me. However, at a safe distance, I was able to follow its tail lights and stay on the road.
In a similar way, I think lighthouses are a kind of “good news; bad news” beacon. The bad news? If a sailor ignores a lighthouse or disregards its fog horn, he potentially pilots into grave danger. If a ship approaches the shoreline in low visibility, it risks running aground or breaking up against the rocks.
The good news, of course, is that someone built the lighthouse. And the keeper faithfully maintains the light to direct those at sea. Even so, a sailor must be willing to acknowledge the light, receive the warning, and then, trust the lighthouse to guide him to safety.
I hate to admit it, but I frequently get into scrapes quite simply because I don’t wish to hear bad news. Receiving bad news isn’t my strong suit. The idealist in me wants to ignore the lighthouse, to bury my head.
“Enough already,” I cry.
Then, I clap my hands over my ears and eyes…Sometimes I sing very, very loud. Uh, huh. “That will block it out,” I fallaciously surmise.
Of course, denial worked when I was a kid. Back then, I sang to block out suspenseful movie scenes and the bad guy’s entrance… But when scary events or bad guys enter my adult life? Well, if I’m to be perfectly honest, I must say that my response really hasn’t changed much.
However, bad news continues to surge whether I choose to recognize it or not… The storms just keep rolling in. And if there were any doubt about that, the evening news would dispel it.
I am not alone in my wish to avoid bad news. While there may be a few people in this world who gloat in the gloomy, most of us prefer “a happily ever after.” And we stumble over the “cross.” Good Friday initially brought bad news. And most of Christ’s followers scattered.
The whole bad news bit is probably the reason that many of God’s prophets failed the popularity test. Even God’s people don’t want to hear the bad news, and many prophets cried, “Danger!” It was a thankless job.
In one prophet in particular, I see the heart of God (Lamentations 3:32, 33). As does Abba, Jeremiah grieved when he saw God’s children careening toward disaster.
Yet, Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet. After all, most of us dislike bearing bad news. Jeremiah was no exception.
He even attempted to resign from his position. In Jeremiah 20: 8-9, he wrote, “…So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long But if I say ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.”
As Paul says in Romans 11:29, “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” God called Jeremiah to be a “lighthouse”; Jeremiah could not help but shine.
He has actually been nicknamed by theologians as “the weeping prophet.” Apparently, although Jeremiah delivered the warnings of God, he did so with compassion. He identified with those he warned. Like a lighthouse keeper, his heart was for those at sea.
“Watch out… dangerous rocks, shallow waters threaten your ship,” the fog horn mourns.
And Jeremiah warned, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD,'” (Jeremiah 17:5).
Danger awaits the traveler. That’s the bad news. And the prophet weeps.
Indeed, Abba weeps when you and I sail into danger– when we ignore His warnings, rely upon our own understanding or simply confront the fiery darts of the enemy, (Matthew 23:37).
On the other hand, although Abba loves us tenderly, that doesn’t me He soft-pedals His warnings. Abba doesn’t play games when our very lives are in jeopardy. He sounds the alarm; He speaks directly. And He doesn’t mince words.
After all, genuine love protects. You can be sure that when a child heads toward destruction, a loving parent will speak out, “Watch out! You’re headed in the wrong direction! Danger lurks there; Come this way…” If you love your child, you do all in your power to protect even when it means being unpopular for the moment.
And Abba’s love for us is greater than any love we will ever know in this world. For this reason, He calls my name, your name. He faithfully warns us:
“In this world, you will have trouble.” (John 16:33b)
“The thief comes only to kill and destroy…” (John 10:10a)
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own…If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also…” (John 15:18-20).
“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash,” (Matthew 7:26-27).
Indeed, just as Jeremiah wept for his people, Israel, when they faced tidal waves, floundered upon the sea or even lost their spiritual compass, Abba also weeps with compassion when you and I navigate life’s inevitable storms.
And this tenderness drives our loving, heavenly Father to sound the warning bell. When danger threatens Abba’s children, neither God’s prophet nor God himself remain silent. In times of great peril, the beloved must be warned in order for good to prevail.
The light shines even as the fog horn sounds. The fog horn bellows soulfully, and light redirects steadily.
Good news, bad news…
“The storm rages, but I am here,” our heavenly Father gently reminds us.
Life’s seas beat hard upon the prow; even so, Abba calls out, “Follow me.”
Friday brought the cross; Sunday proclaimed the resurrection. Bad news, good news.
Indeed, when darkness boasts and fog threatens, God’s grace shines brightest.
As I study the Old Testament prophets, it becomes clear to me that Abba’s warnings are nearly always followed by a comforting promise.
Jeremiah said, “Cursed is the one…who depends on flesh for his strength… But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him,” (Jeremiah 17:7).
Without a doubt, when thunder roars, you and I can trust Abba’s tail lights. His truth shines, (Psalm 119:105). Grace filters through the fog like a brilliant flood light.
Yes, in this world there is trouble. We have been fairly warned. But our loving, compassionate and gracious God also encourages us, “But take heart! I have overcome the world,” (John 16:33).
The bad news? The thief comes to destroy. Yet, Christ’s promise delivers hope, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” (John 10:10).
After alerting us to potential harm, He reassures us with hope: “As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world…” (John 15:18) and “My sheep listen to my voice… I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand,” (John 10:27b-28).
And He guarantees, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock,” (Matthew 87:24).
Good news, bad news.
Actually, God’s grace colors it all.
When visibility is low and life’s storm rages, the bleeding fog horn and resurrected light both direct our passage. With tender mercy and grace, Abba warns us when there is danger. And He also graciously illuminates the darkness, one passage at a time.
If I have learned nothing else on my life’s journey, at least I have come to understand this…
Visibility in this world frequently runs low. Storms come. Darkness and fog surround me.
And when I bury my head, refuse to heed God’s compassionate call, or fail to follow His loving light, I fall flat on my face in the dark. Splat. I have never been the ideal choice for “Follow the Leader.”
However, of this I am sure: Abba’s light is steadfast and true. Upon His word, we can rely. And following His lead, we will not become casualties on the side of the road.
“To Him who is able to keep you from falling and to present you before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy–to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen,” ~Jude :24