A Most Excellent Adventure

“Do all things without murmuring or disputing.” (Philippians 2:14)

Arriving at the Nashville airport a full 2 hours before my scheduled flight to California gave me ample time to check in, pass through security and kick back with a good cup of coffee in the Admiral’s Club. But then a breaking news story came over the television. LaGuardia in New York had been shut down because of a bomb scare of some sort. It was 7am, and the inevitable chain reaction of this single closure would impact travel across the country throughout the day.

airline gate smallMy flight, which had been scheduled for departure at 8:50am, did not leave Nashville until 10:30am. This meant that I would miss my connecting flight in Dallas, so the airline booked me on  the next flight that was available. However, I missed that flight also. So, they booked me on a flight departing from Dallas at 3:30pm.

By the time we arrived in Dallas there were a lot of very unhappy people doing their utmost to let any available gate agent know just how they were feeling. Rather than deal with the crowd pressing about each customer service desk, I decided to check the boards to see what gate my flight would be leaving from. That’s when I saw that there was a flight departing for Orange County at 2:10pm. And it was in the boarding process at that very moment.

The problem for me was that it was departing out of another concourse, and getting there would take at least ten minutes. But, having nothing to lose, I decided to give it a try.

By the time got there I heard the gate agent say, “Zones three and four are now free to board.” That means the plane is almost full and the final passengers are now getting on board.

 There was still a handful of disgruntled folk loitering about the gate area, glaring at the gate agent who seemed as if she were under siege. I paused and thought perhaps it would be best to leave things the way they were, but that’s when she looked over at me standing to the side and asked, “May I help you?”

I knew that last thing in the world this lady needed was one more complaint. So I opted to take a totally different approach. “Yes, indeed,” I said with deliberate theatrical flare, “I am on a most excellent adventure, flying from Nashville to Orange County. I have been rescheduled on a later flight, but was wondering if there was any possibility of getting on this one.”

She took my boarding pass, looked at her computer screen and started typing. I assumed she was seeing what it would take to switch me over. But the next thing that happened stunned me. The agent handed me a boarding pass for the flight now in final boarding – and my seat was in first class!

It was a most excellent adventure indeed!

Biker, Banker, Bum (Part 3 of 3)

“And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.” (Mark 8:25 NKJV)

OK, let’s pick back up on my episode at the intersection with the biker, banker, and bum.

Sitting there in my car waiting for the light to change, having just tagged three complete strangers with labels derived from my own prejudice, the Holy Spirit brought to my remembrance the story I related to you yesterday from Mark’s gospel.

traffic lightIt was then I sensed the Lord speak to my heart something to this effect, “James, you have blurred vision; you need another touch from Me in order to see clearly, without any prejudice.” On that day at the intersection I learned a lesson I have never forgotten. I saw men as trees, walking.

I had been duly exposed to just enough Bible trivia to become a man with rapid-fire religious opinions; a Bible “answer man” with little regard to how my views or opinions demeaned, depreciated, or damaged others. I just knew my view of scripture was right, and anybody not seeing it my way had to be wrong.

You know….Biker. Banker. Bum.

I had become quite adept at affixing my labels upon the various people groups in my little world. I saw Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians; Lutherans, Pentecostals, and Fundamentalists. I saw Protestants and Catholics. And I saw heretics, pagans, perverts and queers. And if memory serves me here, cross-eyed mosquitoes and bow-legged ants were in there somewhere.

I saw the good, the bad, and the ugly. I saw bikers, bankers, and bums.

Indeed, I needed another touch from Jesus. I needed Him to stay with the healing process that His grace had already begun in my life, and bring me to a place where I could see things clearly; to see people through His eyes, and not my own.

The truth be known — that was not a Biker cranking his Harley to warp 3 alongside me at the light; no, he was a man whom God dearly loves — a man for whom Jesus died. And that was not a Banker triumphantly strolling out of First National to cruise off in his Caddy; no, he was a man whom God dearly loves — a man for whom Jesus died. And that was not a Bum stumbling into another day of hopeless begging; no, he was a man whom God dearly loves — a man for whom Jesus died.

And, thankfully, I was not a bigot; a self-righteous know-it-all preacher dispensing judgment near and far; No. I, too, was a man whom God dearly loves — a man for whom Jesus died.
That day I got some spit in my eye, you might say, and from that day forward began to see everyone clearly. And that has made all the difference.

Are you getting the point?

Has the light changed yet?

Biker, Banker, Bum (Part 2 of 3)

“And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.” (Mark 8:25 NKJV)

One day as Jesus and His disciples approached the city of Bethsaida, a group of people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. The Bible says, “He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, ‘Do you see anything?’ He looked up and said, ‘I see people; they look like trees walking around.’ Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” (Mark 8:23~26, NIV)

healing_of_the_blind_manThis unusual story has always held a certain fascination for me. First, I am intrigued that Jesus took the man away from the emotionally charged atmosphere of the crowd who brought him to be healed. Jesus did the miracle away from the crowd. This is so unlike many of the faith healers in our day, who do so much for show….and money.

And, second, I am bemused by the oddity of Jesus spitting directly in the man’s eyes in order to heal him. I wonder why the Lord did that; and I wonder how the guy felt about that. On another occasion Jesus had spit on the ground and made a mudpack, which He then placed on a blind man’s eyes. Upon washing the mud away, the man could see. But here Jesus spits directly into the man’s eyes!

Could it be that Jesus, by not doing it the same way twice, is thereby showing us that God deals with each of us as unique individuals? There are no pat answers to life’s complex challenges; no cookie-cutter solutions to humanity’s diverse need for God’s saving grace and healing mercy. One gets a mudpack; another gets spit in the eye! Either way, the miracle comes, and God gets all the glory.

And then, finally, I’m stumped by the fact that the miracle didn’t take at first; I mean, it didn’t work. The man could indeed see, but his vision was as yet distorted. “I see men as trees, walking,” he said. Jesus had to touch him a second time in order for him to see everything clearly.

This is to me the most intriguing feature of this event. One would think that spit in the eye — especially if put there by the Son of God Himself — would certainly be potent enough to perform a miracle of healing. But the story tells us that while eyesight was restored, it was still somewhat foggy. The guy needed a second touch for the miracle to fully set in.

OK, so tomorrow I’ll pick back up at the intersection where I was waiting for the light to change, and wrap this episode all together.

Biker, Banker, Bum (Part 1 of 3)

“And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.” (Mark 8:25 NKJV)

A few years ago while sitting in my car waiting for the light to change on a midsummer’s morning in Boulder, Colorado, my attention was abruptly seized by the earth-shaking roar of an unmuffled Harley pulling alongside my car. I slowly turned to look at the rider hanging on his chopper like a baboon in a tree, and I easily sized him up in an instant.

bikerLong blond greasy hair tied in a ponytail; sweaty, red bandana headband; Fu Manchu mustache; offensive tattoos etched on every square inch of his neck and arms; and an undeniable fury swirling about his head like wasps around an agitated nest. “Now there’s a biker,” I thought to myself. “Better give him a wide berth!”

Turning back to see if the light had changed I couldn’t help but notice a smartly dressed gentleman coming out of First National Bank, carrying an expensive leather attaché and walking briskly toward a brand new Cadillac. His was a bright look of capital conquest; king of all he surveyed. “Now there’s a banker,” I automatically concluded. “It sure would be nice to have a guy like that interested in my ministry.”

The light had not changed yet so I risked one more guarded glance toward the biker. In doing so my eyes caught sight of a ruffled old man staggering out of a thick hedge of shrubs bordering the city park. He had spent the night burrowed in the bushes, and I think the Harley woke him up.
He was days unshaven, weeks unshowered, and years unsure. Brushing the leaves out of his matted hair, and squinting so as to ease the flood of sunshine into his blood shot eyes — the homeless man stumbled into yet another meaningless day with patented indifference. “And there is a bum if ever I saw one,” I casually thought to myself. “What a waste.”

Then it hit me. Biker, banker, bum.

The unintended symmetry in my spur-of-the-moment opinions startled me. And as these words replayed in my mind, a quiet sense of conviction began to settle upon me. Somehow I could tell that the Lord was examining me in that moment, and that what had just happened was not exactly what I wanted Him to see. For right then — without any sense of forethought, discernment, or compassion — I had labeled three people I didn’t even know; and had done so with a cavalier sense of self-certainty: “Biker, Banker, Bum.”

I tell you what — let me step aside until tomorrow, and I’ll tell you of an event in the life of Jesus that relates to this awkward moment. We’ll come back to my experience at the intersection a little later. It’s a long light anyway; we have time….