Mixed signals

Weeds can ruin a beautiful garden or farm field.

A tiny mustard seed can grow into a big tree.

A little yeast can make bread rise – or can contaminate it, if it’s bad.

Hidden treasure is a good thing, if it’s discovered.

A fishing net nabs good fish and rotten ones at the same time. They must be sorted.

Got it?

In Matthew 13, Jesus runs through a bunch of parables, includes most of these, with his disciples.

“Have you understood all this?” he asked them in verse 51.

They answered, “Yes.”

I wonder if they really did.

Parables

At the beginning of the chapter, Jesus told them the parable of the four soils, which the disciples then asked him to explain. Jesus did that, in detail.

The four soils describe people who aren’t listening to God, those who turn away from God when bad things happen, those who get distracted by the things of this world, and those who follow God completely.

Jesus also explained the parable of the weeds, pointing to the coming Judgment Day when God will send angels to “collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire …” (verse 41).

Jesus didn’t explain the other parables.

Contrasts

In Matthew 13:33, Jesus told his disciples that a little yeast leavens an entire loaf of bread. Soon after, in Matthew 16:6, Jesus said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” In other words, a little false or deceptive teaching can ruin good theology.

We shouldn’t mix good and evil. Nowhere in the Bible does God allow a middle path. Follow the narrow path of salvation, or we’re on the wide path of destruction. There’s no third path (Matthew 7:13-14).

Good and evil. Heaven and hell. Male and female. Obey God or disobey God. Grain or weeds. Life and death. Light and darkness.

Whenever I read the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), I see that every person Jesus encountered was forced to make a choice about him. Follow, or walk away. You’re with me, or you’re against me (Matthew 12:30).

Many walked away.

Jesus did not pursue those who rejected him. Do you notice that? He let them go.

Mixed signals

But everyone who met Jesus changed, and that still happens today. There are ramifications either way. We reap what we sew (Galatians 6:7-9).

If we don’t want God in our lives, God will honor that. He’s not an arm-twister. But as with every decision we make, there are consequences, good or bad.

This life often sends us mixed signals. Go or stop? Depends which way we are going.

lights 1

Soon after moving to Elyria six years ago, a policeman stopped me at this traffic light at 1:15 in the morning. I was weaving between lanes in my big white Grand Marquis. New to town, I didn’t know immediately which lane I wanted to be in.

The officer thought I was drunk. He engaged me in conversation and quickly discovered that I wasn’t under the influence of anything; I was just confused. After giving me a warning, he sent me on my way. (I turned left at this intersection, by the way.)

Life shouldn’t be this difficult to navigate, but often it is, isn’t it?

Almost 11 years ago, I got downsized from a job I enjoyed for more than two decades. What was my next step? It wasn’t clear. Indeed, I didn’t do much of anything for a long time after that. Lesson learned: Doing nothing is not a good next step.

Eventually, I took a job out-of-state. Many changes and consequences followed. Unexpectedly, the job didn’t last. Another out-of-state job relocation took place. That job didn’t last either.

If only every signal was either a red light or a green arrow.

I thought I saw green arrows, but the light changed. Frequently.

Everything changes on this earth. We all know this. We graduate, then have to do something with our lives. We get sick. We grow old. Many of us marry, and have children. They grow up. Spring follows winter. (Not all change is bad, right?)

Green light go

With that backdrop, I read this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

There are days I literally have nothing else to hold on to. Change is the one constant. I’ve seen plenty of it, especially in the past decade: New jobs. Getting fired. New friends. New volunteer opportunities; some of those don’t last either. Our church opened a satellite campus last week, so I’m worshipping in an entirely new place now, leaving behind (but not forever) some very good friends.

When we moved to Rockford, Illinois, we did not know a soul. When we moved to Elyria, Ohio, less than a year and a half later, we did not know hardly a soul here, either (my aunt lives 20 minutes away, so that was cool).

But because Jesus is the same yesterday and today and forever, once we found Bible-believing churches in both locations, we had instant friends. The path might be narrow, but there are quite a few people on it. Really.

Anyone is welcome to travel the narrow path, but only a few find it. That’s what Jesus said.

That narrow path extends to just about every place where people live. I find great comfort in that. While life changes all around me, there’s one constant: Jesus Christ. He is the solid foundation, which remains in place even as the storms of life rock it (Matthew 7:24-27).

That’s why I’m a Christian.

Choices

The Bible makes sense. It fits together. Its signals are not mixed.

That’s why so many of you have trouble with Jesus. He forces a decision on you. Yea or nay. No third option, much as we try.

For those of us who follow Jesus every day, his singular love for us helps us keep on track, and he brings us back when we fall off track – which happens often. We shouldn’t, but we do.

Yeast works both ways. Ugh.

I want the good yeast in my life, not the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.

If only I could keep my eyes on the green light all the time.

Drivers under the influence of their own arrogance

A local columnist I read recently rightly worries about letting her teen son test for his driver’s learning permit. She tells the story of a driver under the influence of a narcotic who caused a three-vehicle crash not far from their home.

Drivers under the influence of a narcotic aren’t the ones that worry me.

Fright on the freeway

My wife and I late one Friday afternoon were traveling on eastbound I-90. Suddenly, a driver in a black sports car sprinted across three lanes of traffic to reach the I-271 interchange east of Cleveland. I slammed on my brakes and horn at the same time, or I’d have broadsided him – at 60 mph.

Behind me, the driver of a flat-bed semi honked at me for slowing down in the middle of a busy highway. Obviously not paying attention until the last split-second, he swerved to my right, flew past me and cut me off – with his flatbed trailer – then sped on ahead.

This all happened in just a few seconds. I had no time to panic or be afraid.

People die in that situation.

A couple of weeks later, my wife and I were traveling westbound on I-90 approaching the state Route 611 exit not far from our home. Driving in the right-hand lane, we approached a police car with its lights flashing that had stopped a vehicle on the shoulder.

Following state law, I slowed down, since I was unable to move to the left lane due to traffic. A driver in a small car behind me drove up to my bumper. After we passed the police car and traffic lightened a little, he sped around me and jerked in front of me, nearly hitting my vehicle, to get to the 611 exit immediately in front of us.

Seriously?

These are the drivers that scare me. They aren’t under the influence of anything except their own arrogance.

I see them nearly every day. Even though I see police cars all the time, I’ve never seen worse drivers than I have in Northeast Ohio.

I don’t get it.

I have more stories. I bet you could tell some, too.

Cut off in the city

Several times, drivers have swerved past me when I’m in my work van and cut me off just to get to a gas station or convenience store immediately ahead. That unsafe pass saved them three seconds – literally. Do they even know that?

Or, they speed past just to get to the red light a little faster than I do.

I have pity on such drivers. Why are they in such a hurry? Can’t they relax, even a little? Perhaps they need to set their alarm clock five minutes earlier – or actually get out of bed when the alarm goes off.

I drive for a living now. Before I got this job, I enjoyed taking a ride through the countryside just to relax. If I had some down time, I’d put the key in the ignition and go. No agenda, no destination, just a time to see someplace new.

Driving for fun

A few times, instead of the countryside, I toured the city. I visited Lakeview Cemetery in Cleveland a couple of times, where my grandparents and uncle are buried. I had a job interview in Sandusky three years ago, and I drove up there a couple of days before the interview just to get a feel for the city and find the building where the interview would take place.

When I graduated college more than 35 years ago, I accepted a job as a reporter/photographer/ad salesman/page designer/newspaper deliverer for a weekly newspaper in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I turned in mileage reimbursement sheets. It wasn’t unusual for me to submit 300 miles of work-related mileage in a week. It was nothing to drive 50 miles round-trip to cover a meeting.

I rarely saw a traffic light up there. Just get in my car and go. Most towns had one – count ’em, one – blinker light.

That was the toughest part about moving downstate to Saginaw, Mich. – traffic. Sharing the road. Stopping at red lights. Construction zone detours.

I learned, because I had to. I’ve never been in a crash, either. It can be done.

It’s called defensive driving. Expect other drivers to do stupid things, so I’m not surprised when they actually happen.

When our three sons learned to drive as teenagers, I impressed upon them the need to get where they were going. No matter how long it takes, get there. Reach your destination. If you’re stuck in a construction zone, for example, be patient. You’ll get through it.

So you think you can merge

Even today, I am amused when construction narrows three lanes to two, or two lanes to one, and drivers think they can beat the system by driving right up to the flashing arrow or orange barrels and hope someone will let them in. We let them in every time, don’t we?

But that slows everyone down. If we all just got in line, that line would flow smoothly – slowly, sure, but smoothly – through the construction zone. Try it sometime.

Chill out, people. Enjoy the ride. Not just for the sake of teens learning to drive, but for the rest of us too.

Whether on the highway or in the city, I don’t appreciate you taking my life in your hands, as well as your own.

(Side note: If you truly liked your car, SUV or truck, you wouldn’t risk damaging it with unsafe driving. Must be nice to have the money to replace your ride often. I don’t. Just so you know.)