I was finally becoming somebody! I'd been starting a church for two years with more failure than success. I had envisioned a church that would be full of excited people every Sunday, sitting at my feet to hear wisdom pour forth from my mouth... so far the only ones at my feet consistently were Zack and Buff, my two dogs. Whenever I would count the people attending our meetings I was always tempted to include my faithful and loving pets to pump up the numbers. Such is the world of church planting statistics!
But now, finally, I had been asked to be on a conference committee! The first meeting would be held in Orlando, Florida, the conference headquarters. I considered wearing a suit and tie, but since it had fit me 3 years and 20 pounds ago, I went with the casual dressed up look instead. (I need to confess that my wife decides what I wear, or I will be in jeans and a t-shirt every day!)
The day of the meeting came. I have a reputation for being non-punctual (I don't wear a watch... )so I decided to get up early for the 3-hour drive. I needed to be there by 10 am, so I planned to leave at 5 am to give myself two hours to take any possible detours that might come up (I call them detours - others accuse me of being directionally-challenged... I once got lost taking my future wife from the airport in the small town where I grew up to my own house... she still decided to marry me!)
I figured that I had better have my personal devotions before I left for such an important meeting, so as I sat in my car I opened my Bible to Luke 10:25-37, the famous story of the Good Samaritan. In the story, the priests pass by the man needing help, and the despised and culturally rejected Samaritan stops to give a hand. Always a good reminder, especially for a pastor who is tempted to think of himself as growing in stature and importance... I said, "Thanks, Lord, for the reminder!"
The drive was uneventful (unless you count the desperate run to the bathroom at the rest stop after 3 cups of coffee.) As I was coming to the outskirts of Orlando on I-75, the Florida Turnpike, it was only 8 am. I would be on time, even early! I then noticed a car on the side of the road with a flat tire and a dejected-looking woman standing, staring at it. I passed by... then remembered the story of the Good Samaritan... I couldn't be the priest who didn't stop to help on his way to some meeting!
I exited the Turnpike, paid the toll, got back on the Turnpike going south, exited again, paid another toll, entered again to go north. As I pulled over next to the car, the woman looked relieved... she told me that no one had stopped for the past hour and she was trying to get to work. She had no spare tire, so she just need a ride to the next exit to make as call. As I dropped her off at the phone booth, I felt pretty good about myself. Not only was I on my way to an important meeting, but also I had just had the opportunity to live out my devotions... and it was painless!
As I started to drive again, not two miles up the road was another car with another flat tire and another woman standing by the car. This time I was ready to stop. She had a spare tire, so I quickly changed it, and aside from my clothes getting dirty, I was back on the road in minutes. Interestingly, this woman told me that she too had been stranded for a couple of hours and no on else had stopped to help her.
By now, I was wondering what else the Lord had planned. And sure enough, as I exited the Turnpike there was another car with a flat, this time with a young man sitting on the hood, head in his hands. Used to stopping by now, I pulled over. His name was Chris. He had a sports car with mag wheels (my wife is from Detroit, and makes fun of me because I don't know the makes of cars, etc... it was a blue car.) Chris told me had had been there for a couple of hours and no one had stopped to help him. His problem was that every time he tried to jack the car up to change the tire, the jack would sink into the soft ground. He had finally given up. I'm a house painter as well as a pastor, so my car is littered with paint cans... we gathered up a few metal lids from my trunk and made a place under the jack that wouldn't sink into the earth.
When I asked Chris for the time, he said it was 9 am. I had an hour to get to the meeting. But as Chris lifted the spare tire to the car I heard him groan. He told me that the spare tire had the wrong rim for the specialty tires he had just put on the car. Could I take him to a tire store to get a rim? By the time we found a store and put the tire on the car, it was almost 11 am. I called the meeting, now well under way, and told them I would be a little late. No surprise, there, they said! The good part is that in the hours I spent with Chris that morning, we talked about the struggles of life, and about the search for peace and meaning. I had a chance to tell him what I had found in my relationship with God through Jesus. I think I'll see Chris in heaven someday, and we'll just pick up our conversation again...
As I got back into my car, tired and dirty from head to foot, I thanked God for the experiences of the morning and the chance to act on the words I had read. I then thought about the fact that no one else had stopped to help these three people. As I drove, I passed a farm with a huge banner posted on the empty property along the road... the sign said this in bold letters: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD OVER GREATER ORLANDO!
I began to cry and for the fourth time that morning had to pull over and stop. I had stopped to help these people. But I know there have been so many times when I passed right by someone in need...
If Jesus were really the LORD, wouldn't more people be stopping to help each other? I wondered how many people who say they follow Jesus had heard the Lord whisper in their ear that morning, "Stop... please stop... " and just kept driving.
A few chapters before the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said these words:
"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46)