What was your first car? Was it a muscle car, a sport car, a truck? Or maybe like me it was a Toyota station wagon (yes, they made them once). My first car was a 1972 Toyota Corona Mark II. It wasn’t exactly what a 16-year old boy would want, but my parents helped me buy it, and it was mine.
Before my dad handed me the keys to my car he sat me down to give me some advice. He was always good with cars and took extra special care of his. He expected me to do the same. I wanted to take care of my car. So when dad sat me down to give me some instructions, I listened. Yes, I listened. But the first thing he told me was so obvious that in my know-it-all attitude I thought it was dumb. He said, “Tom, whatever you do, don’t get into an accident. Not even a little fender bender. Because if you do, your car will never be the same.”
Right dad. Okay.
He had a few other things to say, then after he was done he handed me the keys and off I went to drive my car.
It was nearly a week later, not quite seven days, when I decided that my car needed a washing. So I drove to a nearby 4-bay self-service car wash, plunked in my quarters and gave my car a cleaning. I scrubbed it good. I wanted to take care of my car. I didn’t want to disappoint my father. After the washing it needed drying and some inside cleaning so I pulled a hard left to get into the only available dry bay. Then I made a hard right, but misjudged my distance.
You know those big metal sinks with the handle and rollers that car washes used to have to squeeze your towels dry? I’m not sure, but I think I ripped it out of the concrete.
The whole car rocked back and forth as I swiped the sink on my right side. There was that awful sound of metal on metal, screeching and crunching. I hit the brake and froze in my seat. I couldn’t believe what I had just done. Everyone washing their cars stared at me in disbelief. How dumb do you have to be to hit a sink? I was so upset and frustrated with myself that I curled up my fist and smashed it into the middle of the dashboard. I punched it so hard the dashboard cracked nearly all the way from left to right, with a big hole in the middle. Even more upset now that I had damaged the inside along with the outside of the car, I didn’t know what to do. So I hit the gas and took off for home.
How in the world was I going to explain this to my father? I was scared to death. I hadn’t even owned the car for a whole week and I had already wrecked it. And it wasn’t like I was rear-ended. I hit a sink. Do you get that? I hit a sink.
As I was trying to figure out what I was going to say I pulled up to the house. Guess who was outside watering the trees in the front yard? Panic set in. I made a left and pulled into the driveway. Since the damage was on the right side of the car my dad couldn’t see it. He was none the wiser. I could say nothing, then wait for him to notice it later and maybe play dumb like something had happened while I was away.
I stepped out of my car. Dad looked in my direction and said, “Hi Tom.”
I’ll never forget what happened next. He just looked at me for a moment then said these words: “You wrecked your car, didn’t you?”
How did he know!? Frustrated, I said the one thing that every teen says after their first accident. “But dad, it wasn’t my fault!”
I remind you…I hit a sink.
Dad and I walked around to the other side that was damaged. The door was crunched in. The side molding peeled away. I stood there with him waiting for the yelling , or the lecture, or whatever punishment he was going to mete out. I was scared to death.
Dad folded his arms, looked at the damage, and very calmly and matter-of-factly said, “Well, it will never be the same.” Then he walked away.
I was crushed. But I deserved it. I was embarrassed, and for good reason. But I learned something about my dad that would help me later in life as I tried to understand our Heavenly Father. So if you don’t mind, I’d like to share six lessons I learned from that experience about my earthly father, but also about my Heavenly Father.
Remember the story of Adam and Eve. Shortly after creating him God gave Adam some instructions before handing him the keys to life. God said, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17).
Allow me to paraphrase what God said to Adam. “Adam, don’t sin. Not even a little one. Because if you sin you will never be the same again.” Adam and Eve went off to do their thing and not before long Satan introduced himself to Eve and all hell broke loose upon humankind. After eating the forbidden fruit Adam and Eve hid themselves. God went walking in the garden and upon finding them said, “Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” In other words, “You wrecked your car, didn’t you?” God didn’t need to ask what Adam and Eve did. He already knew. And that is my first point.
1.) Your Father knows you.
There is no hiding from God. There is no covering up our deeds or minds from the Almighty. “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?” (Psalm 139:7). It didn’t take my father long to figure out what happened. He didn’t have to see the damage to the car to know what happened. He read it in my voice, in my posture, even when I wanted to hide it. My father knew me. And so too, your Father knows you.
2.) Your Father is always right.
Because he knew me, because he knew what I had been doing, my father knew what the problem was. He was right. Your Father in Heaven is also right. In fact, he is always right. Who of us can accuse God of wrong doing or not knowing his creatures? “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). “But how can a man be in the right before God? If one wished to dispute with Him, he could not answer Him once in a thousand times” (Job 9:2-3).
3.) Your Father is merciful.
In spite of what I had done, my father did not punish me. He was merciful. In spite of what Adam and Eve had done they did not die right away. An animal was sacrificed on their behalf (Genesis 3:21). Though they were exiled from the garden, they did not experience the immediate death they were expecting. Your Father is merciful.
4.) Your Father lets you learn from your mistakes.
It was an “I told you so” moment. My father told me, “It will never be the same.” Boy, was he right. That car became an accident magnet—even when it was at a full stop! He didn’t take away my car. He didn’t restrict me from its use. He let me bear the consequences. I had to learn from the experience. So too, God doesn’t always remove consequences from us. We sin and we sin again and God lets us live with the outcome. Not because he doesn’t care or wants to see harm come to us, but so that we might learn from our sins and mistakes and become better people in the process.
5.) Your Father gives you a second chance, and more.
I had that car for two years. For much of that time it barely functioned right. But with each mistake I made, my father in some ways tried to make it better. Engine trouble? He tried to fix it. Car broke down? He let me borrow his car in spite of my track record of vehicle safety. He gave me a second chance, then a third, then a fourth, and so on. God also gives us second, third, and fourth chances—and more. “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven’” (Matthew 18:21-22).
6.) Though he may be disappointed with you at times, your Father still loves you.
If my early car ownership were a movie it would be a comedic tragedy. If I’d been a character in the movie I’d have played the blundering idiot. Yet, none of that decreased my father’s love for me, no matter how much I disappointed him. This is especially true with our Heavenly Father. Remember Paul’s words: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). No matter your experiences, sins, or mistakes, God’s love for his children remains steadfast. Nothing shakes it. Your position in Christ is secure and solid as a rock. He loves you.
So, you might be wondering, what ever happened to my car? Well, my dad was right. It was never the same. It became an accident magnet. I stopped counting after 6 accidents in my first six months of owning the car (but that’s another story). Eventually I sold my car to a guy down the street who had the same model, non-functioning. He combined the two cars and made one car that actually worked.
Ironically, I was becoming like my car. I was a sin magnet until I took my own advice about my car and sold out my life to Jesus Christ. Like the guy down the street who combined two cars into one, Jesus combined his life with mine to make me a new person. I still sin. But sin is no longer master of my life because someone else is in the driver’s seat.
Who is in your driver’s seat?