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FIRST-PERSON: Learning to drive a stick shift

RENO, Nev. (BP)–It has been my responsibility to teach three women to drive a stick shift. One is my wife and the other two are my daughters. Three decades and two neck surgeries are testimony to the fact that I did it. It is my firm belief that every driver should learn to drive a car with a stick shift. You know, one with a clutch.

It’s quite the experience to feel the car lunging in short bursts as your neck is thrown around like a bobble head doll. Do you remember the Chihuahua in the back window of some cars? The toy dog’s head would keep shaking long after the car had stopped? Bobble head!

In order to learn to drive a manual transmission car (a stick) smoothly, you must learn to negotiate the feel of the gas, clutch and brake pedals in harmony. If you don’t do it properly, the car will be revved up so much that the tires squeal, the car lunges and the motor is killed. “Now give it a little gas and let the clutch out slowly. I said sloooooooowly.” The lunging happens over and over again until you begin to get the feel of how the sequence happens.

Until you learn to negotiate the gas, clutch and break, you will do mini-burnouts. A burnout is what NASCAR drivers do when they win a race. Tires squeal, smoke billows and the crowd goes nuts.

I see a parallel between the Southern Baptist Convention and driving a standard transmission. Sometimes we get our feet out of sequence when trying to coordinate all three pedals at once. That’s because we have one foot pressing on the gas (go) and the other foot jammed on the brake (stop). We make a lot of revved up noise, but we don’t go anywhere! The brakes keep you from going forward while at the same time you are running out of gas.

We cannot do things in an improper way and expect positive results. Let me be specific. There seems to be a notion in our convention that as long as we think we are doing what is right to reach our desired outcome, our methods are considered acceptable, even at times when they are ungodly. If we are measured by an unbelieving world by our love for one another, what do you think they believe about us?

A letter the other day from a close 20-year non-Baptist friend put things well: “I’ve got to believe that GEN X and Y, who are desperate for intimacy and relationships with communities, and who are quite cynical about church people not living out their faiths, would be attracted to churches (and institutions) that reflect true spiritual community. I’ve been very concerned that our churches are going to be devoid of these two generations because of the disparity between what we say and how we live” (Jon Huegli, PhD, DD, RODC).

The talk in the convention seems to be about the next generation of leaders. Rightly so. They are sick to death of our infighting, and who can blame them? I feel much the same way.

These are some things we must address if we are going to move forward in Kingdom issues.

We must stop believing that any means of getting our way is acceptable, especially if ungodly behavior comes out in us.

We need to trust each other again. That means a belief that God can work in others as well as He works in our lives.

We need to understand that we cannot blast one another by talking behind their backs and not to them personally. Foul, ungodly blogging fits into the gossip category. I have no problem with a free exchange of ideas, but not everything is open game.

The name-calling and unfair categorization must stop, along with the belief that everything is someone else’s fault and the pride that we know how to do everything better.

We need to take the foot off the brakes or we will use up the precious fuel and eventually ruin the engine. We need to go forward with expanding God’s Kingdom and not our own. A lost world is shaking its head at what we call Christianity.
Thane E. Barnes is executive director of the Nevada Baptist Convention.

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  • Thane E. Barnes