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Ride of Your Life
1 Peter 1:17-21
17 If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.
18 You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold,
19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.
20 He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake.
21 Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.
Years ago, I had an acquaintance whose life revolved around his car. He kept his car spotless, inside and out, including the engine. He was always doing something to his car—washing it, waxing it, tinkering with the engine. And he drove it. For him, to drive a car was the ultimate privilege in life. You did not just drive a car to get somewhere. You drove to be seen driving. After he drove the car around town, and was properly admired, at least in his own mind, he would return home, park the car, and wipe it down. That car pretty much defined his lifestyle—which is to say that he invested most of his money, time, energy, and enthusiasm into that vehicle.
Other people have lifestyles that revolve around something else. For example, sports. Did you hear about the two men playing golf. A funeral procession is going by. The first man turns to face the procession, takes his hat off and stands at solemn attention until the hearse has passed. Then he turns back to his putt. The other man said, “That was nice of you to honor the dead that way.” The first man said, “It was the least I could do. She was a good wife.”
That man’s lifestyle, we surmise, was mainly about golf. But we could tell the same kind of joke about many other sports and hobbies. How much of your energy have you given to perfecting your sport-skills, finding the right equipment, locating a place to play, and commuting back and forth to it?
Or, do you count success in your career as the definition of your personal success? How many evenings, weekends and holidays have you given over to advancing your career? How many times have you stayed late at the office? How many birthdays, anniversaries or vacations have you missed in order to get some more work done?
We all choose to invest in some sort of lifestyle. Only the degree of investment and choice of lifestyle varies. The question is: What sort of lifestyle should a believer in Christ have?
Steven Carter and Julia Sokol wrote a book with the rather long title: Lives Without Balance: When You're Giving Everything You've Got and Still Not Getting What You Hoped For (New York: Villard Books, 1992). Carter and Sokol talk [on pages 105-145] about four different rides that symbolize lifestyle journeys. The four "rides" are a slide, a treadmill, a roller coaster, or an escalator.
First the slide. We are going down, we are out of control, and no light is at the end of the tunnel. We feel bitter. We tell ourselves we did everything we could. We invested in the system, and we were not rewarded as we think we should have been. This reminds me of a Frank and Ernest cartoon where a dispirited Frank says: "The boss said I was a cornerstone of this organization, and then I found out they were cutting corners."
Secondly, the treadmill. We are running as hard as we can just to stay in place. We are always exhausted but cannot quit for fear of losing ground. We worry that we will not be able to continue, but we never seem to get anywhere.
Third is the roller coaster. Carter and Sokol say, "Those whose day-to-day existence means living on a roller coaster are a special and different breed." (133). One minute they are high on life or work or God. The next minute they plunge down low. One minute they are "on top of the world." The next minute they are on skid row. Roller coaster people are gamblers who love the fast track. They also apparently love ulcers, migraines, and high blood pressure.
Fourth is the escalator. Despite success, these people cannot stop. They keep on upping the ante in their lives. They never feel financially comfortable -- no matter how much they have. They have no life outside of work. In both their time and their finances, they are leveraged to the hilt. Unlike those on the roller coaster, they just keep climbing and climbing as the pressure escalates, the work load increases, the debts skyrocket. They are driven to accomplish "something," but can never enjoy those things they accomplish.
James A. Baker, III, former secretary of state in the administration of George Bush senior has a word to say to people with Escalator lifestyle.
He tells of an experience he had when he was White House Chief of Staff during the Reagan Administration. He was being driving down Pennsylvania Avenue surrounded by all the trappings of power. He was riding in limousine, of course. He had aides all around him, security just outside the car, reporters following in other cars. All his aides were busy answering phones, talking to people who wanted to talk to him. Baker says, he looked down the street and noticed a man walking alone. The man had no limousine, no security, no reporters, no one calling him on the phone. But James Baker recognized this man. He was the chief of staff in a prior administration. And Baker said, In a couple of years, that is going to be me. That is the problem with an escalator lifestyle it does not lead anywhere and what results there are quickly pass away.
[Paraphrased from the Address at 1 February 1990 National Prayer Breakfast, Washington, D.C., by Secretary of State James A. Baker, III, entitled "Faith, Friendship and Collective Responsibility" (Unpublished manuscript)].
Now as we think about Carter and Sokol’s four rides, we ask which of these rides describe the Christian life? Is our life in Christ a slide downward. Certainly not. Is it a treadmill on which we are always running in one place. I hope not. What about an escalator of our achievements? Not hardly. A Christian life focuses on Christ not on ourselves.
Is life a roller coaster full of ups and downs. The reality is that every human life has its high moments and its downers. To some extent, we are all roller coaster people—whether we like it or not. We have times when we are high on God and times when we are just depressed about God and everything else. But that is not the way its supposed be. Sometimes human life may be like a roller coaster, but our life in God ought to grow and increase in spite of the ups and downs and stress and strain of ordinary living.
As we think about lifestyles, we note that First Peter has some advice on this subject. Peter writes to first century Christians. These believers once participated in a great and attractive pagan society, but since their conversion to Christ, they have become outcasts. The society to which they once belonged now regards them as somewhat dangerous aliens. Thus, they face a lifestyle crisis. The way they formerly lived is no longer available. What then shall they do?
Peter quickly disposes of any tendency to look back to better times. He says in v18, “You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors.” Peter may have a couple of things in mind here. He may be thinking of the Jewish tradition that was his inheritance. Or he may be thinking of the pagan tradition of many of his readers. Both traditions, he emphasizes, are ineffective when it comes to enabling us to live in the power and presence of God.
Notice that Peter says we have been ransomed. A terrible price was paid to free us from the futile ways of our society. The ransom was not paid in money, but “with the precious blood of Christ.” Christ’s blood was “precious” because he is the Son of God and thus his blood is the very blood of God.
We are accustomed to saying that Christ delivered us from Hell, but that is not what Peter says here. Christ ransomed us from a worthless lifestyle.
The way most people live is empty, frivolous, and trifling, and they know it. Whatever kind of life-ride they choose, they are not very happy with it. It is Christ who brings direction and purpose to the ride.
Christ is compared in v19 to the lamb of Passover. In our Bible study this past Wednesday, we were studying the first Passover as it is found in the book of Exodus. The lamb of the Passover sacrifice was without blemish (EX12:5), because the Israelites knew that you do not give your worst to God you give your best to God. Christ was the best of us. He was given to God for us.
At the first Passover, the Israelites were freed from Egyptian slavery. In the first century Peter’s readers had been enslaved by pagan culture. But the price paid, the ransom handed over, was far more than the first Passover demanded. The sacrifice of an unblemished lamb was replaced by Christ's own blood -- a cost far beyond any amount of "silver or gold."
In verses 20-21, Peter tries to convey to us the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion, emphasizing that Christ “was destined” for the cross “before the foundation of the world.” The crucifixion and resurrection were not simply something that God adlibbed to cover the sins of humankind which he had not foreseen. God did not say, “Human beings have messed up, so now what am I to do, Oh yes, I can send Jesus to straighten things out.” Not at all. Peter emphasizes that the cross and resurrection were always part of the plan and purpose of God.
And we are told why this is, v20 says that the plan of God has now been revealed “for your sake.” God took the initiative in Christ for us, because God loves us and God has always loved us.
That is what I Peter says in the first century and it still applies in the twenty-first century. You and I are offered the same way out from our futile attempts at creating meaning and success in our lives. Jesus' gift of a redeemed life can stop the downward slide, transform the treadmill into a purposeful pathway, add steadiness to the roller coaster, and give the escalator a final destination.
The real problem with getting on the slide, treadmill, roller coaster or escalator is that we try to control these rides with our own agenda. Jesus offers to take us on another kind of ride altogether -- a ride where we are empowered by our "trust in God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead and gave him glory." Instead of those dead-end lifestyle rides, Jesus offers to take us on a trip as exhilarating and exciting as a white-water rafting ride.
Whitewater Rafting Guidelines
I have only been white-water rafting twice. But I remember some of the guidelines that were given to us while we were signing half a dozen forms that basically promised that we would not in any circumstances for any reason in all eternity sue the raft company.
The first piece of advice was “Go with the flow.” Do not fight the current. The raft is going down river, and you might as well relax and go with it. That is great advice for the Christian life. Jesus sets our course, and Jesus is the current in our lives. That is, Jesus is the force that pulls in the direction he wants us to go. Christians can relax and feel confident about the ultimate outcome of their journey.
The second piece of advice was: If worse comes to worst, and you get thrown out of the raft—by the way, on our first rafting trip, I did get thrown out of the raft—but they said, if you get thrown out, let go of everything, and eventually you will come up. You are wearing a life jacket. Do not struggle. Let the water carry you to the surface. Do not worry about the boat. The boat will find you.
If you are Christian, you are in the boat of the body of Christ. Christ is the pilot of that boat. If we get momentarily thrown out of the boat, we have the lifejacket of salvation and the sure knowledge that Christ will always find us.
The third guideline for whitewater rafting was the best. Enjoy it. That is easy to apply to life. Life is not designed to be a predictable, safe course. If it were, none of us would want to go on it. When we are out of control, the ride can become terrifying, but when we let Jesus be in control, not even the wildest stretch of white water should be feared, only enjoyed. Our society offers us a lifestyle, which is not very enjoyable. It is empty, empty of purpose, empty of meaning, empty of joy.
We want a life that is about something. Jesus gives us that. Our lives should be about him. Jesus gives us the power to live and a reason to live. He gives us the ride of our lives. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 5/17/05