What is the good life? The life of joy and peace? Jesus offers us this life, his pulse beating through our hearts. Here are some of his final words to his disciples for their preparation to live:
9 “As the Father loved me, I too have loved you. Remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete. 12 This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. (John 15)
Jesus, the savior and the moment-by-moment teacher of life has given us everything we need for our joy. He has forgiven our sins. He has given us the gift of his commands, which leads to life. Some folks look at obedience to anybody as a challenge to their own rights but Jesus offers to instruct us how to live and not just as a dead teacher’s good advice but as one who is alive and with us right now. Recall his words to his disciples just before he leaves them. “I will be with you always.” (Matthew 28)
See nothing can separate us from God’s love, not even death. (Romans 8)
Jesus offers us the way to life through his words and his love. Just as he has kept the Father’s commands he offers us the way to salvation through keeping his words. He is promising us that we will be joyful people who attend to his words.
I hear someone once say that the commands of God are like guardrails keeping us safe on the road of life. Others say they are like prison bars keeping us from being free.
Fish live in water because it’s their environment for life. If they should choose to jump out onto the sand they would soon find out that freedom leads to death in this scenario. I once had tropical fish in my office and one morning upon entering the room I noticed that one of the fish decided to be free- on the office carpeting. Free and dead was my little friend.
Have you ever played soccer or seen it played, or maybe basketball or for that matter any sport? Without boundaries and rules these games would be just chaos, no fun for anyone. So it is with life. Jesus offers us boundaries and rules to make the ‘game’ fun. You can condense all those commands into just two if you like. Love God as much as you can and love your neighbor as you love yourself.(Matthew 22) That pretty much says it all.
But because we are weak in the flesh we need more acute instruction. And so Jesus instructs us about things like anger and lust, worry and giving etc.
Jesus says that the freest place to be is within the Kingdom of God. You and I were made for the Kingdom. I know that atheist folks say ‘hogwash’ to that but what do they know, really? How do they know what they think they know?
Jesus comes along as the smartest, wisest, most loving man in all of history and invites us to live with him, according to his commands and tells us that the reality of God’s kingdom is the one thing you and I can count on. And who’s to say he is not right? Some folks blame their unbelief on years of religious oppression and cruelty, which Jesus never endorsed. Such history is lived outside of God’s kingdom, which is righteousness and peace. And the rules that Jesus lays out are meant to realize that peace and justice and goodness.
For example when Jesus tells us not to be angry he is inviting us into God’s reality of love and forgiveness. So when we learn how not to be angry (which can take some time for most of us) we begin to see life with God’s eyes and love with God’s heart. Jesus shows us God.
One of the disciples once asked Jesus to show them the Father because they still couldn’t figure this kingdom stuff completely. Jesus said to them that after all this time of his presence with them they should be able to see the Father.
Consider these words from Jesus in John chapter 8-So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in my word, then you are truly disciples of mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Continuing in Jesus words means that we listen to what he has to say and that we obey his teachings because we have confidence that he knows best for us. If you want to learn to play piano you listen to your teacher. If you want to learn to be an electrician you study hard and listen to your mentor. If you want to do anything well in life then you listen to your instructor. Well, if you want to learn best how to live this life, how to be happy, loving, and righteous and the best person you can be and be free then you listen to your teacher, Jesus. He knows. He really does.
Freedom in the Christian life means that you don’t have to live in sin. We are freed by Christ to live the good life a life that is meaningful, purposeful and eternal.
It means that when you wake up in the morning you wake up in the Kingdom of God, with God, knowing that no matter what happens in that day you are not in the least removed from God’s love and presence brought to us by Jesus who himself said to us that he would be with us forever.
And get this. The apostle John writes in one place that the commands of Jesus are not hard. And Jesus himself tells us that he wants to connect up with us and give us responsibility that is in actuality quite easy. (See Matthew 11) Easy meaning that it fits us well. Of course there are to be problems and suffering in this world. Jesus faced it all but he has given us the tools to face insurmountable odds. At one point he says, ‘my peace I give you, not as the world gives.’
He knows everything about life, our lives, and the life of this universe and eternal life and invites us to entrust our lives into his care, guidance and to live by his rules.
The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best advice ever on how to live this life in the Kingdom of God. It’s three chapters long found in Matthew 5,6,7.
They are words from the very WORD of God to teach us that anybody can live in the Kingdom of God and that by listening to/reading his words we can have the best life ever.
What I sometimes find is that people misunderstand what the rules are. They think it’s about smoking, dancing, drinking and the like. No. His rules are avenues into our hearts. That’s why Jesus says that it is not enough not to kill someone. It’s about loving everyone especially those who are closest to us. We don’t have to work hard not to kill but to love is another story, another adventure if you will. This day or the next you will have opportunity to test that truth as you encounter people who aren’t always on your wavelength so to speak.
Now if we choose to live outside the Kingdom life it would like stepping out of bounds on the basketball court, like riding our cars with no gas (I want to be free of higher gas prices). I’m sure you can think of all sorts of analogies like jumping off a roof thinking that you can be free of gravity. Sure you can be free but you will be broken if you are into that kind of thing.
Jesus offers us the kind of freedom that allows us to love, to be kind, forgiving, and compassionate and in love with God. The Kingdom of me is about selfishness, anger, resentment, retaliation…it is a way that leads ultimately to the death of the soul. Maybe that’s why Jesus once said (Matthew 7) that the way to life is narrow and few find it. Perhaps for the most part people are into the ‘me’ life. The ‘I did it my way life’. I have to admit that on the surface it is mighty appealing and I am known to have walked that way often. But it is not the real life, real meaning the life that God has prescribed for you and me. It’s fleshly satisfying and fleeting. I want a life that endures, that is built on solid ground. It takes worth but then again what good thing doesn’t?
More than 3000 people were killed in 2012 in car crashes attribute to distractions while driving. Many more were injured because when driving our cars we should be focused on the road and the route but many of us do things like drink our coffee, put on our make-up, read bits of the newspaper lying in our laps, use our cellphones and probably worst of all ‘text’. Even adjusting our radio is enough to take our eyes off the road for that split second that could mean life or death, to us or to another driver.
And now I want to suggest, as part of my series on Road Grace that driving our car is somewhat analogous to our life as a follower of Jesus. Distractions on the journey of discipleship may not seem to lead to a deadly outcome but if they separate us from the walk that we intend with Jesus, well, we might just end up lost or even worse.
So let’s consider distractions to living the life of a follower of Jesus. I suspect that pride is right up there at number one. It’s hard to think of others when you are too busy thinking about yourself. It’s hard to listen to others with a sense of respect when all you care about is the sound of your own voice. I know. I have done it and realized too late how uncaring I seemed to the other person.
Anger is distracting. So is lust. So are material possessions. Worry is distracting taking our eyes off our relationship with Jesus and his direction because we are too busy thinking about tomorrow. Guilt is a distraction from the joy of a relationship with a loving God who forgives so completely. Busyness and hurrying are distractions to the time we could spend loving others and loving God.
I believe that Satan isn’t as dark and malicious as some movies portray him. He has only to ‘distract’ us for a moment. I am recalling (I hope correctly) that in one of Screwtape’s letters to his younger colleague he argues that when the patient (a new Christian) is reading the Bible all the colleague has to do is distract him with hunger so he will stop reading and probably not get back to it. How often has that happened to us where our devotions are interrupted never to be visited again that day?
Distraction is what Satan was about in the temptation of our Lord, distraction from the purpose for which Jesus came to our world.
Shame is one of the greatest distractions of the devil. Thinking that God couldn’t love us or care for us because of our character, or some bad deed or something someone has said to us. Shame takes our eyes off God’s love and places that sight back on ourselves that we are not good enough.
So be careful in your walk with Christ not to be distracted to the right or the left but to stay on the path with Jesus, doing what he has said and trusting his love more than we trust anything else. Let’s keep our eyes on Christ.
Hey, we want to get to our destination whole.
Recall that Jesus told his disciples that not only were they NOT to commit murder they were further instructed to NOT be angry with those who were close to them nor were they to insult their neighbor. See Matthew 5:21,22.
So come with me as we get into our 3600-pound car and learn something about anger on the highways of life. Because out there on the streets you will have plenty of opportunity to observe anger even, your own which is what we are here most concerned about.
Let’s do some defining of this word anger. It means to be indignant or enraged. It is the ego’s reaction when anything outside threatens to trespass on the property of the self. It is a kind of contempt for another person’s words or actions. Oh, you can be frustrated because you can’t do a job and be said to get angry but the anger we are discussing here is a reaction to another’s actions or words. See it’s YOUR car, YOUR right to drive, YOUR space that needs to be respected and YOUR power that no one should attempt to thwart.
You are riding down the road doing the speed limit but some big ole SUV comes up behind you to infer that you need to ‘move it buddy’. Oh, yeah, that can provoke some contempt and words like ‘jerk’, ‘idiot’ and worse might come to your mind. And because of your pride, if you have a friend riding with you, you might say, ‘watch how I deal with these kind of people’, at which point you brake suddenly for the imaginary moose that just ran out in front of you. There, that will show him or her not to fool with me.
Then there are the times when a person might cut in front of you provoking your thoughts to be, ‘people like that really make my blood boil.’ That’s anger, and revenge might just seem justifiable. And the list of similar experiences goes on.
Now, you might be thinking, what does all this have to do with following Jesus’ words, his commands about anger? Good question. The answer is that rage on the highway translates into rage in relationships. If we are the kind of people who get angry with someone on the road we might well have our tempers flare up at other provocations. Think of what causes you to get angry with your spouse, child, co-worker, and neighbor.
What I am suggesting is that out there on the highway, down the streets of life is the opportunity to address this anger, be more conformed to the life of Christ that is already in you. Remember Paul wrote that is it no longer we who live this life but Christ who lives in us. See Galatians 2:20.
So the first thing we will have to do is recognize our egos, our prideful selves, our power and the temptation to easily be angered. Identify that inclination even before you get on the highway. Review in your mind’s eye the times you have been angry on the roads of life and never mind justifying those incidents. Instead say to that ‘self’, that ego: “You are not helping me”. “You feel good but you are no good.” ‘Now get outta here, go away.’ See you can talk to your ‘self’. You really can. As a child of God, a follower of Christ and a spiritual person you have the power to stand back and address the self that inside of you, a self that needs power and prestige. A self that does not like humility does not see humility as an answer to anything. Watch some of the FAST AND FURIOUS movies and see how good revenge and power feels. These movies are meant to feed the ego. They sell better that way.
Secondly you, and I, are going to want to pray that as we use our one ton, two ton vehicle or more if you are an over the road truck driver, pray that you will have a calm spirit. You might want to write Psalm 46:10 over your visor, BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD. The ‘I’ there is not referring to you or me. How about Psalm 37:8 ‘refrain from anger’.
See getting rid of anger takes discipline, spiritual disciplines. Even taking a defensive driver course can be a spiritual discipline of saying, ‘Lord, I am doing this to be more like Christ out there on the highway and thus more like Christ in every daily living situation.
You might need a mentor, someone with whom you drive that lovingly holds you accountable. “George, you need to calm down. Let’s pull over here and take a break. George, you really don’t need to keep blowing your horn. Uh, uh, the one finger wave is not the way to go. George, keep your eyes on the road while I pray for you. George you really are a great guy. You don’t need to prove anything out here on the highway.’
And finally, relax. Jesus isn’t giving us new laws so that we can declare how righteous we are by how little we get angry on the highway. Work with him, drive with him. If you fail then forget it and get on with the next situation that will present itself for your improvement. Eventually you and I will be less angry out there and in other circumstances and relationships as well.
So start your engines.