November 1, 1999
Revelation on
Route 50

Opening Yourself Fully
to Christ's Provision
For Your Needs
    
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I had one thought as I approached the town: I want to drive through it as quickly as possible. I was returning from the beach via Maryland's Route 50 on a rainy Sunday evening in May 1969, and about to make the unavoidable jaunt through Cambridge. This once quaint fishing town had recently been the scene of race riots, making it a national symbol of hatred between blacks and whites.

About two miles outside of Cambridge I experienced that obscene thumping so familiar to college students driving hand-me-down cars. Dismayed at the timing of my latest blowout, I pulled over to the shoulder, jumped out and performed the ritual of replacing one retread with another. When I had finished, and released the jack to let down the car, my heart sank along with the spare I had put on. It was as flat as the tire it replaced.

There was no choice but to go for help, yet I trembled at the thought. I began walking toward Cambridge, but hadn't ventured two hundred yards when a battered car pulled alongside me. A black man, a hulk of a figure looking as weathered as his car, leaned out and asked if I needed help. Fearing his reaction if I ran, I climbed in.

What happened in the next few minutes did more to shatter my preconceptions of people than all of the sociology courses I've taken. Far from treating me hostilely, the man quickly showed he was determined to solve my predicament--whatever it took. He drove back to my car, picked up the flat which was still lying on the pavement and threw it into his back seat. He then drove us to a nearby service station and gave the tire to an attendant, who for some time struggled unsuccessfully to maneuver it off its rim with one of those pedal-driven mounting machines.

Finally the man who had picked me up asked if he could try. With help from his gigantic hands the machine quickly spit the tire off the rim. Within minutes he had a new tire mounted. I watched, astonished at his ease with this complicated device.

He drove us back to my car, jumped out, jacked it up and put on the new wheel. I wondered if he was expecting a gratuity. But before I could say anything, he was back in his car ready to drive away. Only reluctantly did he accept a $5.00 bill which I thrust through the window.

Angels Unawares

God loves to surprise us. While he is absolutely dependable to meet our needs, the means he chooses to do so are often different from what we expect. Needs can go unmet because we have a restricted idea of whom Christ might use to help us.

Only a small percentage of Cambridge's population had been involved in the racial disturbances. But in typical prejudicial fashion I feared that any black citizen of the town would be spiteful toward me. As that benevolent man drove me to the filling station, he explained that he worked for the tire division of a local auto salvage yard. Among the thousands living in that region, there was probably no one better suited to help me at that moment--yet I had come close to refusing his help.

Prejudice always involves a guilt-by-association mentality. Many people of Jesus' time failed to recognize who he was because of this attitude. Some felt that no prophet could come from Galilee (Jn 8:52). Others were unimpressed with his family (Mk 6:3). Others thought he was an illegitimate child (Jn 8:41). They had preconceptions about the sort of person through whom God would reveal himself. Because of these biases, they missed the Prince of Peace whom he had sent.

A Bigger Circle

Prejudice not only harms the other person--it hurts us. It can close us off to someone whom God intends to use as a channel of grace to us.

The point is important to keep in mind if we're eager for a serious relationship or marriage. The influence of both our secular and Christian cultures are such that few of us enter adulthood without carrying an image of the "ideal mate" which works against us. Revision is usually needed of our notion of who would be right for us--sometimes radical rethinking. Our greatest happiness in marriage may even be found in a relationship with someone of a different nationality, race or economic background. While relationship needs vary from person to person, we must be careful not to get locked into a narrow conception of whom we might marry.

Such flexibility is also needed in thinking about career possibilities. It may be that the ideal spot on this globe for us to invest our gifts is in a different country than the one in which we've grown up, or in a different social context within my our own country. We shouldn't cheat ourselves by keeping our options too rigid.

Being a Christian doesn't render us incapable of prejudice or restricted thinking about our relationships with others. Few in the New Testament church were more seasoned and comfortable in relating to people cross-culturally than Peter. He received the rooftop vision to go to the Gentiles (Acts 10) and, along with Paul, broke the ice in the church's ministry to non-Jews. Yet even after this, Peter fell back into segregating himself from Gentiles at public meals (Gal 2:11-14).

It is hard, even as Christians, to let go of old thought patterns about people, and easy to fall back into them once we think we're free. Christ wants us to be as free as he is to see past the external factors that blind us from appreciating his image in others. A vital part of the life he has for us is wrapped up in relationships with others. Invariably, some of these will be with those who are different from ourselves--even those whom we never thought we could love. Open yourself to the full measure of love Christ wants to give you for others. Fully experience the grace he wants to provide for you through them.

That's where the rubber meets the road.
   

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