Several years ago I began to notice a trend in local highway construction. Our familiar green, yellow and red traffic lights were being replaced ever so gradually by round-about traffic circles.
And I hated it.
I was in the habit of using the old traffic light signals when making my journeys through town and country. What’s with all these new traffic circles? Whoever thought these were a good idea? These went out of style years ago for some presumably good reason. Why bring them back and cause everyone to be honking at the car cutting into their lane all of a sudden, only to then exit to perhaps the wrong lane ahead? Which is precisely what I did myself by mistake a time or two while getting used to these new intersections. I viewed the removal of my customary straight intersections and traffic lights as some unsettled science somewhere. Maybe even a hoax created by the Chinese to steal our jobs; just kidding!!!
It took me awhile to wise up.
Sometime later on I came to the happy realization that I was spending less time getting places by car. Specifically, I was spending less time sitting still at red lights, or backed up behind a line of other cars waiting for the light to change. I was even burning less fuel by not having so many starts and stops as I learned to slow and yield instead of having to stop and wait or choosing to floor it through the yellow lights, as was also my custom. Nowadays I’m wishing every intersection was a round-about. These straight intersections and red lights are starting to get on my nerves.
Whether any of this resonates with you or not, I share it to simply illustrate how my faith journey has worked over the years. The faith I grew up with was, for points of comparison, a stop and go faith. To get where I wanted to go in life, I had come to believe in a God of straight intersections with red, green and yellow lights. God was for me a kind of hidden camera waiting for me to enter on yellow, oops, now red.
God’s laws were like traffic signals that stopped traffic in one direction even if there was no one coming from the other direction. Just because God said so, that’s why.
Traffic back ups at those red lights were, well, just part of the way God designed life to be. Hurry up and wait. Stop and go. Go and stop. And, worst case scenario, honk and go around. Tempers flaring. What’s the matter, Buster; you can’t see God’s laws of red, green, yellow?
That’s the faith I grew up with.
But it’s not the faith I have now.
Don’t think it was God that did the changing. Pretty sure it was me finally getting wise to a new reality. God posts a continuous yield sign where there used to be a half-the-time red light tying up traffic in front and behind. That change came with Jesus. And the world is still trying to get used to it. Some of the world really hates it this way.
The Bible has a way, if we read it with open minds, of helping us see the difference between law and grace, between old straight intersections and new round-abouts, old stop and go traffic lights and new yield signs. In the New Testament, Jesus comes along and issues a simple yield sign of Matthew 7:12, “So then, in everything treat others the same way you want them to treat you, for this is [the essence of] the Law and the [writings of the] Prophets.” You see, Jesus had no intention of doing away with the intersections or the provision of safety for those entering life’s intersections. Jesus came to make the journey safe but without all the traffic tie-ups in both directions. The abundant life Jesus promised is the efficiency we gain for our life’s journey when, by yielding for one who’s already in the circle, we can learn to get where we’re going just as safely but faster and while using less energy. It’s as if Jesus, according to the new faith I grew into eventually, is saying that grace will get us where we need to go much better than if we stopped every time the law’s red light told us to stop. Grace that yields like the Golden Rule is actually a perpetual yellow light that says proceed with caution.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” — Matthew 11:28-30
This is the grace difference; the Jesus difference. And it’s made all the difference in my own faith journey. I’m not stalled in traffic anymore, like I used to be.
Oh, I realize there are many others who don’t like this faith round-about. To them these reconstructed intersections may seem dangerous and confusing. Or old-fashioned, like how traffic used to be before folks got wise and invented traffic lights. These folks miss the familiar old structures, the easy choices of when to stop and wait or else go ahead. They might say this Jesus stuff with all the grace feels like a free-for-all. Which it is, of course.
The grace to yield and simply obey the yellow sign (Golden Rule) along life’s journey to abundant living does, indeed, take some getting used to. It involves a change, a repentance, a transformation. And building the new traffic circle creates some early construction and congestion that feels like a real hassle for awhile.
Our churches, like our counties and municipalities, have a choice to make in how they want to facilitate the journeys of their people. Leave the old law in place at every intersection? Or switch to the new Jesus gift of grace that always yields yet so efficiently gets us to that abundant life we’re all trying for in the first place. Using God’s round-about.