Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

One of my favorite game shows growing up was Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?  Children contestants answered trivia questions about geography in a hunt to find a criminal named Carmen Sandiego.  The winning contestant got to go to the finale, and, oh, what a finale it was.

Painted on the floor was a huge map of the United States.  Off to the side were plungers.  The host would read clues for a state, and the child would have to run with a plunger to the right state, and place the plunger on that state.  In order to win, the contestant had to find 7 locations in 45 seconds, running back and force from the plungers to the map.

To make things more chaotic, each plunger had a siren on it.  If the plunger was placed on the right location, it would light up with a siren.  But if it was placed on the wrong location, a “try again” sound would be heard.  The contest only got two tries with each question, and then (s)he had to move on to another question.

Running at a mad dash with distracting flashing lights, sound effects, a slim 45 seconds, and, worst of all, the geography knowledge needed made the game seem so chaotic.  Winning the game seemed almost impossible to me with good players and, I knew if I’d ever gotten the chance to play, would have been impossible for me to win.

For a lot of people, salvation seems like the last round of Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?.  They try to grab up good deeds and run them all over the board.  When they make big mistakes, they feel frustrated, angry, discouraged, and worried.  They try to fling the good works as fast and far as they can,hoping to get something in the right place at the right time.  And they keep running back and forth, out of breath and out of time, until burnout wipes them out and they sit down on the sidelines as another loser who bites the dust.

For it is by grace that you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves. It is God’s gift, and is not on the ground of merit— so that it may be impossible for any one to boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, Weymouth)

Why is it we struggle so much to understand grace?  Maybe because we have a game show mentality about God.  We think we are contestants and that, if we are smart enough, possess enough willpower, or are good enough we will somehow win the game of life and be awarded the prize of Heaven.

But we don’t have a clue what we’re talking about.  I had no chance of winning Carmen Sandiego when I knew so little about the states, and we have no chance of “winning” at  life when we know so little about righteousness.

The Bible teaches that we are so off base when it comes to God’s standard that we are hopeless in and of ourselves.  We can study up all we want, and we can run around like mad men all day long, but because of our sin, we will never, ever live the perfect life God desired when He made us.  When we think we have the right answer, we place the marker only to discover Satan has tricked us into another failure.

On one episode of Carmen Sandiego (that never aired) a contestant named Jasmine Doman won the game and made it to the final round.  She had the opportunity to show what she knew and try to be good enough to win the prize.  The prize: she would get to travel anywhere in the U.S. she wanted to go.  But when she was running across the map, she slipped and broke her arm.

Unable to play, helpless to win the prize, she was out of the game.  But the studio decided another contestant named Ed Mann could try to win the prize for her.  If he won, she would get the vacation she had no chance of winning on her own now.

Ed knew what he was doing, and in 32 seconds (with 13 seconds to spare), he won the game for her.  Jasmine got the prize after all.

This is such a good picture of what Christ does for us.  The Bible tells us that we were out of the running, out of tries, out of time.  But then Jesus Christ came into history and completed everything we had left lacking.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIV)

The next time you feel you’re on a game show in a frenzy trying to win, remember that God has already won for you.  He has conquered sin and paid the penalty for us.  All you have to do is believe in what He’s done.  It’s time to stop running around at breakneck speed and making more problems for yourself.  It’s time to stop trying to win a prize that you will never win.  And it’s time to stop trying to win a prize that has already been won by our King.

It’s time to quit the game show and rely on Christ.

. . I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. (Philippians 3:7-9, NLT)

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Information from Wikipedia article, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? (game show), accessed June 9, 2014

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