I should have known it.
After I completed some chaplain training, and a hard week of work, I was anxious to get back home for one night before I was to fly off again to preach in California for the weekend. But at the voice of the dear gentleman at the airline check-in counter, announcing that they were overbooked, I knew, intuitively, that I would not make it home that night. I was right. So I got an airline coupon that would amount for part of a flight on some future adventure, and a free room for the night at an airport hotel. Oh yeah, I forgot. I had no clothes for the preaching trip! So rather than preach in my Army battle uniform, I decided to catch a ride to the local mall and cruise for deals. I found a pretty good deal on underwear. But here is the real deal.
I got to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Ashley, a very nice young African-American lady, who was trying to help me get shaving cream (and toothpaste and a toothbrush, etc.). During that time she asked me a number of questions to make small talk. But the small talk turned to not only what I did for a living, but after hearing me respond, it turned to this questions: “what is a Presbyterian?” I told her that was a great question. I began to explain how most denominations originated in either a movement in history, like a revival, or from a national or ethnic church. Presbyterians came out of both: the Reformation in Europe, in Britain, and in particular within what became the Church of Scotland. Then she stopped me to ask, “So, it has something to do with Christianity?” I knew then that I was assuming way too much. I paused and I backed up. Way back. And I began to talk to her about Jesus Christ, who is the One I should have talked about to start with. I gave her my testimony. When I used the word, “prodigal,” which is what I was when I ran from the faith of my Aunt Eva and squandered my spiritual inheritance only to be received again by the God who never stopped loving me, she didn’t know what that meant. I told her that Jesus is the one who told the story of the prodigal son. She had never heard the story. I was dumbfounded on the inside. Here I was in the heart of America, in Springfield, Missouri, and this young lady, a senior at a great state university, had no idea about the parables of Jesus. Well, the story had power for her. I asked her if she would follow Him too, just like I did way back when. She told me that it was hard because she still “messed up a lot.” I obviously had missed something. I told her that Jesus came to save us for that very reason. I explained the great exchange, how on the cross He got the punishment for our sins, and we got His perfect life. All of this happens by faith. And then, as I saw the tears forming in her eyes, I asked her, “Would you like me to pray that God would give you that faith?” Yes nodded her head. And right here at an airport hotel in Springfield, Missouri, we prayed for Ashley to come to Christ. When we were finished, she was wiping her eyes, and smiling. I told her that I knew why God had allowed me to get bumped from the plane. She smiled and agreed.
All of this reminded me: it is for this reason, Mike, that I saved you. It is for this reason that I called you. This is why you got bumped from that career in management so many years ago. This is why; so Ashley, and so many others like her, could hear the Gospel and be saved. What I learned tonight was also this: Ashley wants the Good News that she has never heard. This gives me hope. And as always, it brings unimaginable fulfillment and purpose to pray with just one person to receive Jesus Christ.
Tomorrow morning, at “O’Dark Thirty” I will head out of this hotel and catch that new flight to L.A. But I won’t forget the day that I got bumped so a young lady could get saved; and an graying seminary president could remember the joy and wonder praying for someone to come to Jesus Christ.
Lord, please interrupt me again and again that my joy may be complete in You and Your will. In Jesus’ name. Amen.