Who's In the Driver's Seat?
"Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer."
"Who's In the Driver's Seat?"
Joan trembled as she put on her lipstick. She never dreamed she would be caught in this predicament. Forty years old, active in her church, with a fifteen year old daughter and a loving husband and she was considering having an affair; with her boss, Jim. "Jim's such an attractive man," she thought to herself as she checked her lipstick in the mirror. "He's everything Bob is not. He takes care of himself, wears great clothes, and he's fun. And he's a visionary. The company's broken every record since he took over. And it's not like he's happily married. His wife is a witch, from the way he describes her. Always suspicious about what he's up to. I would never be like that." The irony never occurs to her that perhaps Jim's wife has a reason to be suspicious.
She puts the finishing touches on her hair. "Oh, I know Bob will be crushed if he finds out. But it's not like he's the perfect husband or anything. He's always so pre-occupied with his work, he scarcely has time for me anymore. And he's always so tired. I see him frowning so much lately. Something bothering him but I can't imagine what it is."
She fumbles through her jewelry box for a bracelet. "God, I hope Kristy never finds out," Joan thinks grimly. "She's such a straight arrow. It's amazing that she could be my daughter. Everything's black or white to her. Why can't she see some gray sometimes? She's too much like Bob. She stays down at the church, too much. Sure I'm glad she goes on Sunday morning. So do I most of the time. But what 15 year-old gets up and goes to Sunday School every Sunday without somebody dragging them. It's weird. Then there's Sunday evening youth meeting and all those committees she's on. Oh, I know, any other mother would be thankful for a daughter like Kristy. She's never any trouble. She makes good grades in school. If she would just lighten up a little, especially where church is concerned.
"Not that I have anything against church. I used to be REAL active. That was before Rev. Smith came. Sometimes he gives me the creeps. He's a nice man and all that. He's just a little rigid. Just last Sunday he seemed to be looking right at me when he quoted those words from the Bible, `For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?' Good grief," Joan thought. "It isn't like I'm on the verge of losing my soul or anything."
Bob sat on the edge of the bed staring at the floor while Joan finished getting ready in the bathroom. "Lord, I don't want to go to work this morning," he thought. He had been like that a lot lately. "What do you do when you discover your boss has been falsifying records. `No big deal,' he says. But it IS a big deal, to me. Some of our customers are even starting to notice. The home office has started asking why our expenses are so much higher than the other offices compared to sales. Besides, it's starting to affect morale. Some of the salesmen are starting to cheat on their expense accounts. `After all,' they say, `the boss does it, so why not me too?'"
Bob thought of a "Frank and Ernest," comic strip he had seen one time. A client is sitting across the desk from a lawyer. The client says to his lawyer, "The question of right and wrong is very clear. I want you to cloud it up for me."
For Bob everything was crystal clear, and in spite of what his boss said, it was a big deal for him. He tried to explain it to Joan one night. "This isn't the way I was brought up," he said. But she sided with the salesmen. ,"Look, you've got a good job. We've got a nice home. Don't rock the boat."
He watched her putting on the last bit of makeup in the bathroom. "She was beautiful," he admitted. "Particularly lately. But sometimes he wished she weren't quite so shallow. Of course, he knew that about her when they married. Flashy clothes. Nice car. House in the right neighborhood. Membership in the right clubs. Those were the things that were important to Joan. God knows he had tried to provide them for her. That was part of the reason he hesitated about making any changes in his job. Oh, he shouldn't complain. Joan had been a good wife and mother. Kristy had turned out super. They must have done something right."
He turned his head to look at the clock beside the bed. "I better get a move on. Don't want the boss to get upset. It's not like I've got another job waiting. I'm 45 now. With a big mortgage. Just as long as the boss doesn't ask me to do anything illegal, I guess I can hang in there. It's not so bad. Maybe Joan is right. I've got a good deal. Why rock the boat? It doesn't seem to bother anyone else; why should it bother me?" Still he felt like Rev. Smith was looking right at him Sunday morning when he read those words from the Bible, "For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?" "I don't think I'll lose my soul over all of this," Bob thought. "Right now I'm just a silent accomplice. As long as the boss really doesn't ask me to do anything that's against the law, I guess I'll get by."
Kristy stared out the window. She had been up for some time. She had cried herself to sleep the night before. "I guess I've lost my best friend," she thought to herself. Her mind raced back to the exam last Wednesday. Belinda was trying to look over her shoulder to copy some answers off of her test sheet. Kristy deliberately moved her shoulder forward to shield her paper so Belinda couldn't see. After the exam Belinda confronted her. "Why couldn't you be a friend?" Belinda asked angrily. "You know I've been having trouble at home. I couldn't get ready for the exam like you. Why couldn't you just be a friend?"
Kristy had to admit it hurt. "Was it more important to be a friend or to be honest?" Oh, she knew what most of her friends thought. There had been a poll just a few weeks ago printed in their school paper. Almost 25% of high school students say it's okay to do whatever you have to do to succeed as long as you don't hurt anyone. Nearly two thirds say they've cheated on an exam during the past year. One third say they stole something within the past 12 months. Most of them rank honesty pretty low on the totem pole. Maybe Belinda's right. Maybe friendship is more important than honesty. She thought she would get some support from Mom and Dad. Mom, though, sided with Belinda. "She said I need to be more flexible. Dad's been so preoccupied with his work lately, he didn't even seem to hear the question."
Mom wasn't the first to tell her she needed to learn to bend a little bit. That's why she stayed home most weekend nights. Some of the boys she had gone out with wanted her to bend a lot. They lost interest when they discovered she didn't want to play their games. "Oh well," she thought, "all the boys in my school are jerks anyway."
She was only trying to do what she thought was right. "Doesn't anybody understand that?" she wondered. Only Rev. Smith. He was her friend as well as her pastor. He understood. He seemed to be looking right at her Sunday morning when he read those words from Scripture, ""For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?" "I don't know about my soul," Kristy thought, "but it sure does hurt to lose your best friend." (1)
I. THE COST:
A. During the Marriage Enrichment Retreat a couple of weeks ago, our leader, Mary Langley, reminded us of the opening words of M. Scott Peck's book, The Road Less Traveled. Those words sum up the dilemma of the family I just lifted up. Those words are: "Life is difficult!" (2) I went back and reread some Dr. Peck's book after the retreat and I found some striking similarities between it and what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples and other would be followers in this passage.
Most of what Dr. Peck says is fairly obvious and yet he brings it all together in a unique way that both comforts and confronts with the challenge to be different. Two paragraphs after saying, "Life is difficult!" (3) he says, "Life is a series of problems." (4) He also says: "Some of us will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause." (5)
One of the best pieces of advice which he gives is when he says, "Let us teach ourselves and our children the necessity for suffering and the value thereof, the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved." (6)
B. That's what Jesus was talking about. The disciples didn't want to hear it. For one thing, all this talk about the cross scared them. They didn't want to lose Jesus. They were happy following and learning from him. And they didn't want to lose their lives. The cross was an instrument of death and dishonor. It was the most physically and socially repulsive way to die possible. The disciples didn't want to suffer. Who can blame them, no one really wants to suffer. And yet Jesus reminds them and us that suffering and self-denial are a part of life and faith.
Those are hard words to hear but they are true words. Those words are hard to hear because we are basically self-indulgent. We very seldom, if ever, say "No!" to ourselves or to our children. Oh, our children think we're mean, rotten, nasty and evil because we don't give them every single thing they want or we make them eat all those disgusting things like green beans, peas and corn. But in reality, our children very seldom get told "No!"
When Jesus talks about taking up our cross, he is talking about self-denial. He is talking about going the distance. He is talking about being a follower no matter where it leads. Even if it leads to the cross and crucifixion. Jesus is simply asking for 100% loyalty.
II. THE DRIVER'S SEAT:
A. Eugene H. Peterson has come out with a new paraphrase of the New Testament entitled The Message, The New Testament in Contemporary English. It's published by NavPress. I usually don't like paraphrases of the Bible,, I would rather work with different translations but this one is great. (READ FROM).
Taking up our cross and following Jesus is simply letting him be the leader. It is putting him in the driver's seat.
In the movie "Driving Miss Daisy," Miss Daisy's chauffeur, Hoke, is driving Miss Daisy from Georgia to Mobile, Alabama to celebrate her brother Walter's 90th birthday. Hoke is driving but Miss Daisy has the map and is navigating from the back seat. They have a real pleasant drive but a short time after lunch, they pass a highway sign and Miss Daisy realizes that they've gone 30 miles in the wrong direction.
They stop and leaning forward with the map, Miss Daisy says, "Here, you took the wrong turn at Opalika."
Hoke, not wanting to take all the blame, turns and says, "Now, you took it with me Miss Daisy and you've got the map."
Whether we like to admit it or not, we're all a lot like Miss Daisy, we want to sit in the back seat with the map and navigate. We're like the guy who prayed, "Use me Lord! Use me, in an advisory capacity." But when we get lost or take a wrong turn, we try to push the blame off on someone else. We want to pass the buck to the one who's driving or leading. We want to be in charge and give directions but we don't want to take the responsibility for our own actions. We want the pleasure of being in control until things go wrong or we get lost. Then we go running to God, demanding that God quench our thirst; demanding that God deliver us.
Jesus wants to be in the driver's seat of our lives all the time.
B. Most of the time we don't want Jesus in the driver's seat. We only want him there when it's convenient for us. We're like the story I read. The owner of a photographic studio tells the story about a college boy who came in with a framed picture of his girl friend. He wanted the picture duplicated. Therefore it had to be removed from the frame. In doing this, the studio owner noticed the inscription on the back of the photo. It was written by the girlfriend and said: "My dearest Tommy: I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for all eternity." It was signed "Dianne."
And then there was this little P.S.: "If we should ever break up, I want this picture back." So much for undying love.
We who have been baptized and have professed our love for God and for others belong to Christ, there can be no "P.S." in our life for God. We can't give that conditional kind of love to the one who gives us unconditional love. We can't set the rules, we can't take the lead, we have to get out of the driver's seat. We belong to the Son of God and in giving our lives to Him; our desire becomes to play a forever game of follow the leader with Him in the lead.
We need to remember that denying our self shouldn't be equated with losing our uniqueness or becoming of no value. It's actually just the opposite. There have been great people in every generation who have modeled self-denial as they made significant contributions to humankind. In our own time, just look at Mother Teresa. Her life is an living reminder of the love and sacrifice of Christ. Her life is a living example of self-denial and self-sacrifice. There is no doubt in anyone's mind who is in the driver's seat of her life. CONCLUSION:
Life IS difficult! Sometimes we are faced with hard decisions. Sometimes we're faced with tough dilemmas. How are we supposed to know God's will in those situations? What do we do? Do we read the Bible? Do we ask other people? Do we seek Counseling? The answer is a tough one. To know God's will, first you have to surrender YOUR will to God. You have to let Jesus take the driver's seat. And that takes discipline, self-discipline.
Scott Peck wrote: "Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life's problems. Without discipline we can solve nothing. With only a some discipline we can solve only some problems. With total discipline we can solve all problems." (8)
Part of the life of discipline is self-denial. And part of self-denial is bearing our cross, letting Jesus be in the driver's seat of our lives.
Maxie Dunnam tells about an American businessman who traveled to Europe to see the famous Oberammergau Passion Play? Following the performance the businessman had the opportunity to meet and talk with Anton Lang who portrayed Christ in the Passion Play. Seeing the cross that was used in the play, the businessman wanted to take his picture with it. Handing the camera to his wife, he asked her to take his picture while he lifted the cross to his shoulder. To his surprise he could hardly budge the cross from the floor.
"I don't understand," he said to Mr. Lang. "I thought it would be hollow. Why do you carry such a heavy cross?" Anton Lang's reply explains why this play draws people from all over the world to that little Bavarian village every decade. "If I did not feel the weight of His cross," he said, "I could not play the part."
It's the same for us. Always, but especially during the season of Lent. If being a disciple of Jesus costs us nothing to acquire, if there is no self-denial to preserve it, if there is no effort made to advance, or no struggle to maintain, then that's not what Jesus had in mind. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not something we should take lightly. Being a disciple of Jesus involves our total commitment.
This passage challenges us with words and phrases with which we're not comfortable. We don't like to talk about cross bearing and self-denial. But if we don't, what are the consequences?
I like Peterson's paraphrase: "Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?"
That's the real challenge. How we answer is very important. To us. To our Savior. And to those whom we love and who love us. Who's in the driver's seat of your life? Who are you following? And to what destination?
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Adapted from "Profits And Losses" a sermon by Timothy Smith, in Dynamic Preaching, February 1994. pp 27-30.
2. M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, (New York: Touchstone Books, 1978), p. 15.
3. Ibid. p. 15.
4. Ibid. p. 15.
5. Ibid. p. 17.
6. Ibid. p. 17.
7. Charles Krieg, St. Joseph's Seminary, Princeton, NJ.
8. Leo Buscalgia, LIVING, LOVING, & LEARNING (New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1982), pg. 202.