Wineskins Archive

January 21, 2014

The Write Side: Speeding Tickets (June 1993)

Filed under: — @ 7:23 pm and

by Chris Altrock
June, 1993

16It was just another steamy summer day in Memphis. The clock on the wall said it was a quarter to five, so I grabbed my keys and wallet, and ran out the door. In 15 minutes my wife would be finishing work.

I drove through some side streets and wound my way up to Poplar, one of the main streets that would take me all the way to the two-story brick building where Kendra was working. As I turned onto the six-lane street, I popped in a tape and slid the car into fifth gear, gliding along with the rest of the traffic.

40… 45… 50…

“Hmmm, I wonder what’s going on up there? Must be some construction work – there’s a guy standing in the middle of my lane. What’s he doing? Oh, he’s waving me over. Must be a detour. Wait a minute – construction workers don’t wear black.”

“Oh, no!”

“It’s a cop!”

And one of Memphis’ finest pulled me over to a side street and blocked me with his imposing motorcycle.

“Clocked you doing 52 in a 40-mile-per-hour zone.”

“I didn’t know that it was only 40. You see, I’m sorta new here, only been here a month or so and….

“Let me see your license.”

“But you see…,” as I pulled out my license.


“Well, it’s like this…,” as I grunted out my address.

“Okay, sign here. Let me tell you how this works. You can pay sixty-one dollars at this address here, or you can pay thirty-four dollars if you want it to go on your record.”

Silently I was begging him for mercy, for some sign of compassion, but none came through his black sunglasses.

“Here you go. Have a nice day.”

Have a nice day? Boy, I couldn’t wait to show this to my wife. Thirty-four dollars! And even then it would go on my record.

Several weeks after that incident, I still find myself being overly cautious as I drive the same road to pick up Kendra. I drive it much differently than I used to. Now I let the orange arm of the speedometer barely touch the outer point of 40 and no more. Cars zip past me in the other two lanes, but I don’t budge. I drive a very safe 40. I’ve learned my lesson.

It’s interesting to reflect on why I drive the way I do now. Before, I would drive whatever speed everyone else was driving. If they drove 40, so would I. If they drove 50, so would I. Now I just drive 40, period. Do I drive 40 because I have come to sincerely respect the officer’s wish for me to drive slower? Probably not. Do I drive 40 because I want to show my love and appreciation for the city of Memphis and the state of Tennessee? Probably not. I drive 40 for one very simple reason: I don’t want to get caught again. I can’t afford it.

This kind of motivation is easy to understand. It’s an attitude of survival. We learn it from the time we are little.

“Don’t hit your sister again, or you’ll regret it!”

“Remember what happened last time you wouldn’t listen to me?”

It’s the reason many of us get to work on time in the morning. It’s the reason we try to file our income tax returns before that ominous deadline. Over the course of our lives we learn an ever-present rule: Do bad and get punished; do good and avoid punishment. Very simple. Very straight-forward. And it works – for a while.

It works until we meet a God who would say goodbye to his only Son. It works until we come face to face with a Savior who is dying to embrace us. It works until we read the bold-face letters on the Deed of Salvation: Debt Paid in Full. And a gracious God enforces a different rule.

Do we deserve punishment? You bet. Have we messed up? More than we care to remember. But, do we get punished as if there were no alternative? No. God took care of that side of the equation. On a dark afternoon in Palestine God took care of that.

But some of us still try to live as if he hadn’t. Even some of us who follow the Master still live as if we were bound by that shabby human rule. We take care of our neighbor. We read our Bible. We go to church. We talk the talk. But only to avoid punishment. Some of us live our lives like I have learned to drive my car. We obey the “rules” only to avoid fearful punishment. The result? Peace is a running river we try to grasp but can’t. Joy is a stranger we have never met. And God is an imposing man behind dark sunglasses, waiting to give speeding tickets. The promise of the Savior that we would find rest for our souls seems to us an empty one.

I think God knows we tend to work that way. Maybe that’s why he created an earthly paradise for man and woman before talking about rules. Perhaps that’s why he led a band of sandal-shod slaves across a dry sea bed in Egypt before he gave them the Law. Perhaps that’s why he met death before meeting you and me. Not to butter us up. Not to make us feel obligated. But to make us feel loved. To help us see that no matter what we may have done in the past, he can secure our future.

Paul’s summary of the work of the Incarnate says it best: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Christianity is not desperate deeds done by one to avoid the wrath of a fiery God. It is the natural acts of love that come from one who deserves nothing but has been given everything. With the exclamation point of the cross, God has called us. Not to condemn our past and make the present a joyless burden, but to secure our future and make the present abundantly joyful.FREE Access!

Chris Altrock

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