Remember Drivers Ed class? Remember Behind-the-Wheel? In the “Student Driver” series, Jeremy shares some of the profound similarities between learning to drive and the road to discipleship. Jeremy writes from the unique vantage point of both a certified Driving Instructor and a pastor. This excerpt is called “Fatal Distractions.” Buckle up! Continue reading Student Driver: On the Road to Discipleship
In my home state of Minnesota there are only two seasons: winter and road construction. Road construction season coincides however with another seasonal Minnesota pastime—cabin fever! Every Friday afternoon during the warm months you’ll find a mass exodus of cars heading north for the weekend. The irony of it all is that in order to escape the mad rush of city life, one must endure yet another hectic, hair-pulling rush hour—the cabin rush.
There is one way to avoid this hassle—if you can swing it with your boss at work. You can take a day off and head up Friday morning. There is nothing better than leaving early on Friday and cruising freely past the flood of work-bound traffic as you head in the opposite direction toward the freedom of the north country. The heavy southbound traffic is crawling reluctantly toward the office to face the stress of another day’s madness. On the other side of the divider, a few happy campers drive leisurely toward the northern lake country for fun and relaxation. The point is this: It is not always best to be going with the flow of traffic. The good life may be found along the road less traveled! Continue reading STUDENT DRIVER 9: The Road Less Travelled
The gate is wide and the road is smooth that leads to destruction, and there are many who travel it. But the gate is narrow and the road is rugged that leads to life, and there are few who take it (Matt 7:13-14).
Turn around. Change direction. Make a U-turn. These are all accurate renderings of the Greek word metanoia, which is translated “repent” in most Bibles. The word ‘repent’ is loaded with religious baggage, notions of gloom and doom, judgment and wrath, hellfire and brimstone. But the word literally means “change” (meta) of “mind” (noia). Why bother with this nit-picky word study? The reason is that the notion of repentance has become so unpopular and offensive in our day.
Christians, however, cannot shy away from the notion of repentance. It is at the heart of both John the Baptist’s ministry and Jesus’ kingdom announcement. It’s the very first word out of both of their mouths. We have to face the challenge head-on. What did Jesus mean when he came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15)? We might turn to a very unlikely source for an answer to this question.
One of the best-loved rock ballads of all time is Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin. Toward the end of the song we find the following line:
“Yes there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run,
there is still time to change the road you’re on.”
Jesus’ challenge, no doubt, has many levels of meaning and endless implications for one’s life. But at the most basic level Jesus is urging one and all to check their maps, examine the road they are currently heading down, and consider making a U-turn. Jesus’ message was not intended to offend, but rather to save lives. Like a highway flagman desperately waving his sign to prevent cars from driving into a deathtrap, Jesus warns others of the certain destruction that will come if they continue down their current path. His call for repentance is the same as the song—“There is still time to change the road you’re on.”
Do you need to pull over and make a U-Turn? I pray you do it before it’s too late.
You have heard it said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” But I’m more convinced it is paved with bad directions. If Eve’s grave sin in the garden was a failure to follow God’s directions, her punishment has been putting up with Adam the rest of the way who refuses to stop and ask for directions! There is no need to linger too long on this point. We have all experienced the following scene: Continue reading STUDENT DRIVER 7: Asking for Directions
There will be a highway called the Holy Road… It’s for God’s people exclusively — impossible to get lost on this road. Not even fools can get lost on it” (Isaiah 35:8).
When we finally leave the classroom and hit the highway, we find no shortage of traffic — both in real life and the spiritual journey. Stand on an overpass sometime and just watch the traffic flow for a while. You can’t help but ask yourself, “Where are they all going?” When it comes to the spiritual life, we should be asking the same question. Which road am I on? Where is this path leading me? Where do I ultimately want to end up?
In real life we would think someone a fool if they spent all their days driving aimlessly along, racking up miles on their car for no particular reason. It’s seems like a waste of a good engine, a lot of gas and not to mention precious time. Yet, when it comes to spirituality, are we willing to draw the same conclusion? Many people we interact with daily are spiritually “lost”, driving aimlessly through life’s deserts, taking every convenient exit and trying every possible road that might lead them to ‘somewhere.’ But just where is ‘somewhere’?
There is a charming scene in Alice in Wonderland. Alice encounters the Cheshire-Cat and asks, “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” The Cat answers, “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” Alice, not particularly concerned about her ultimate destination, responds, “I don’t much care where, so long as I get somewhere.”
Alice speaks for many spiritual wanderers of our day. They are not particularly concerned about where they’re journey will ultimately end; they are merely enjoying the adventures and scenery along the way. And some of the places many turn for spiritual direction today end up being about as reliable as the talking cat! The Christian life, on the other hand, has a specific destination and offers us a map to get there.
“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21).
In other words, you might as well put your roadmap away until you’ve asked the Lord where he wants you to go in the first place.
1. How often do you think about the ultimate destination of your life? Do the decision you’re making day-to-day correspond to the place you are going to end up?
2. Do you think most people stop to think about where their life is heading? Why not? What keeps us from asking this significant question?
3. What does the proverb above say to this situation?
Every car has them. They are the little warning lights on your dash that come on when something needs attention. They are quite small and hard to see. They are often ignored and easy to put off until a later time. Yet they are extremely important and can save you much bigger problems in the end if you pay attention to them now.
A few years back, as I was driving from San Diego to Minneapolis, my “Low Coolant” light lit up on my dash. Assuming that things would be fine if I kept pouring in new fluid every time it ran dry, I disregarded the light and never stopped to get it checked out. Only after the entire engine “blew up” outside of Denver did I discover that the coolant was leaking straight into my oil — watering it down until useless. After footing the $2,000 bill for that minor error in judgment, I now pay closer attention to my warning lights!
Every person has their own unique warnings and indicators if we learn to identify them. The most commonly ignored warning light is Low Fuel. In our non-stop, fast-pace world, we will drive for miles after the light has come on, trying to use up every last drop of fuel. Running on empty is bad for a car and it can be even worse for our personal health.
We need to keep our spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical tanks topped off for optimum performance. Just fill ’er up! We need rest to recharge our battery, and a steady intake of spiritual, relational, physical, mental and emotional fuel from multiple sources. Just as my Nissan Altima is manufactured to run for about 350 miles on a tank, God has manufactured human beings to run for 6 days between sabbath rest stops. How do often you refuel these various tanks? What fuel do you pour into them?
Another indicator that is easier to miss is that inner voice—our conscience—that tells us we are in trouble, in danger, or on the wrong path. Like a GPS system sometimes it urges us to turn around. Other times it tells us to pull over, lift up the hood and get help. It warns us that life’s circumstances are reaching a boiling point and we may be in danger of overheating. The clunking sound is only getting louder as we put off addressing the problem. We need to see a spiritual mechanic sooner than later. This time the problem is beyond our ability to fix it ourself.
The human machine — with its confusing network of thoughts and emotions — is far more complex than any four-cylinder engine. If looking under the car hood makes you scratch your head and call a mechanic, then we should not hesitate to seek professional help when our emotional, mental, and spiritual health is in need of a tune-up. And we know the first number to call. Jesus words in Matthew 11 sound almost like an add for a spiritual retreat in the yellow pages:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest (Matt 11:28 MSG).
1. How’s your spiritual engine running? Do you have any warning lights lit up? Where can you turn for help?
2. Have you checked your fuel gauge lately? Are any of your tanks mentioned above running low? How often do you refuel and recharge yourself?
One of the most simple but important driving lessons we learned in kindergarten: stay between the lines! In driving you must keep yourself from veering to the left and the right. We must keep ourselves between the yellow center line and the white shoulder line. What do these two colored lines represent on the road of discipleship? Let’s explore two very significant lines we need to respect in our life with God. Remember, God’s word said it first:
“Do not turn to the right nor to the left; Turn your foot (or accelerator!) from evil” (Proverbs 4:27).
If Jesus was a driving instructor, then the best question his ambitious student driver ever asked was the following: “Teacher, which is the greatest traffic law?” Jesus didn’t hesitate in his answer, which had two directions to it:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt 22:37-40 NIV).
Back in the driver seat of our car, we’ll notice that crossing either the yellow or white lines will run us into trouble. For the sake of this analogy, the yellow center line keeps us from harming others and the white shoulder line keeps us from harming ourselves. Jesus’ two commands do the same thing. God created us to live both in harmony with Himself and with others. (Scot McKnight calls these two commandments the Jesus Creed.)
When we love God with our entire being, and our entire life is oriented around God, then we experience life to the full and avoid self-destructive behaviors that would drive us across the white line and land us in any number of moral ditches. When we learn to love our neighbors as ourselves (which flows out of the commandment to love God) then we avoid all those head-on, relational collisions that come when we cross over the yellow line in our relationships with our neighbors.
The road of Christian discipleship demands that we keep following closely after (even tailgating!) Christ who showed us how to stay between the yellow and white lines, loving both God and others.
1. As you look at your life right now, which line do you tend to cross over more? Yellow or white?
2. Which kinds of “moral ditches” do you find yourself in most? What kinds of behavior prevents you from staying between the white and yellow lines?
“They’re not just for decoration.” That’s what I tell my beginning drivers as they nervously drive down the road with complete tunnel vision, neglecting to read the signs lining the roadside out of fear of taking their eyes off the car ahead. All of the signs lining the roads of America are classified according to three types: warning, regulatory and informational. Signs warn us of potential hazards ahead. They inform us of needed services up the road. They regulate traffic flow in order to keep everyone safe. But they only work if people understand their meaning, read them and obey them!
Likewise, God has given us many laws and signs to ensure us safe travel through the course of life. They warn us of dead end streets and treacherous curves. They set protective limits and prohibit reckless living. They bring safety and blessings if we obey them. But if we ignore them, we may find ourselves upside down in a ditch— or worse. Listen to the words of Moses which sound like they could be coming from the State Commissioner of Driver Safety:
Walk in his ways. Keep his commandments, regulations, and rules so that you will live, really live, live exuberantly, blessed by God, your God, in the land you are about to enter and possess. But I warn you: If you have a change of heart, refuse to listen obediently, and willfully go off to serve and worship other gods, you will most certainly die (Deut 30:16-18).
Before my students can pass the test to get their license and join other motorists on the busy roads, they must memorize every single sign in the driver’s manual and understand its meaning and significance for driving. The ancient Jews of Jesus’ day memorized much of the entire Torah — the first five books of the God’s manual for life — in order to faithfully follow God’s Way of holy and healthy living. Can you imagine how helpful it would be to have God’s messages all memorized so that when life’s road takes us to an unfamiliar place filled with twists and turns we might recognize His signs and find our way safely home?
So, maybe we should all turn the radio down, stop putting on our make-up, put down the crossword puzzle, silence our cell phones and start reading His signs. Then we will be able to join the psalmist in declaring, “I’m single-minded in pursuit of you; don’t let me miss the road signs you’ve posted” (Psalm 119:10 MSG).
1. Have you ever wondered what the will of God is for a particular situation in your life? Do you think maybe God has already placed the answer in writing in the Scriptures?
2. Do you tend to react negatively to rules and laws? Do you view them as kill-joys designed to take all the fun out of life? Or, do you understand that they are designed to protect and ensure safety on life’s roads?