I was going to write this month about someone else’s sins, but then, before I could throw the first stone, my conscience got the better of me. So I’m going to tell you about one of my own recent sins, and for two reasons.
First, anyone who serves in public ministry eventually becomes aware of the fact that there are people who think more highly of him (or her) than they should. This is especially true in these days of media ministry when folks don’t personally know those whom they are following, and an “image” can easily hide all the warts. When confronted with one’s admiring fans, one has a choice: Do I allow these folks to remain deceived, or do I shatter their false perceptions by letting them see what those who are close to me know only too well?
Lately, I’ve noticed a few too many nice things being said about me from well-meaning folks whose adulations I’m positively sure I don’t deserve. Knowing my own wretchedness, I feel like I should correct the record.
Second, I always enjoy hearing or reading the confessions of other people, as it (perhaps perversely) makes me feel better about myself. I think most people are like that. When I was a pastor, I noticed that my most popular sermons were those in which I revealed some unknown imperfection or failing. (I also recall many times when my parishioners came to me for counseling, and as they told me their personal struggles, I would often think to myself, I have the identical problem as you! I would then have to offer them some advice that I needed to apply to myself, but I inwardly debated if I should reveal that fact, lest they think less of me or deem my advice to be purely theoretical. Take note that the words “pastors” and “pretenders” both begin with the letter P. Then again, the word “person” also begins with P…)
The Backstory to this Juicy Account
So let me tell you the details of my recent sin.
I needed to deliver a motorized wheelchair, owned by my elderly, disabled father, to Florida, where he recently relocated. The drive to Florida from my hometown of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania requires two days, but the nonstop flight is just 2.5 hours.
I did some research on Southwest Airlines’ website and learned that they transport wheelchairs, both standard and motorized, of their disabled passengers for free. So I booked my ticket with the intention of notifying Southwest when I arrived at the gate (in my dad’s motorized wheelchair) that I am not disabled, but am delivering a motorized wheelchair to my dad in Florida. Maybe they would see what a good son I am and not charge me anything.
When my wife, Becky, learned of my intentions, she told me that she would lose all respect for me if I pretended to be disabled in order to not pay Southwest for transporting my dad’s motorized wheelchair. I assured her that I am not that kind of a person!
The day of the flight arrived. Becky dropped me off at the Pittsburgh airport with the wheelchair. I sat in it, put my carry-on suitcase on my lap, and headed to the security checkpoint, ticket in hand. To push the motorized wheelchair is not easy because it is so heavy; to ride in it, steering by means of a joystick, is effortless and actually fun. In fifth gear, it almost flies. So naturally, I didn’t push it. I drove it.
When I got to the security checkpoint, the TSA agents saw me and waved me to the front of the line. I reasoned that it wasn’t worth the effort to explain to them that I was not disabled and was simply delivering a wheelchair to my dad in Florida. Plus it gave them a chance to show their kindness, which they did admirably. (So thoughtful of me.)
When it came time for me to go through the body X-ray, they asked me if I could walk, and I told them I could walk just fine, and then I proved it. They probably thought I had some kind of heart condition, so they were very sympathetic towards me, treating me like they were my nurses. I was through security in record time and soon zipping towards my gate.
When I arrived, there was no gate agent. So I parked my dad’s wheelchair close to the jetway entrance, stood up, and sat down in a nearby seat.
When the gate agent arrived, she asked me if I knew what my wheelchair weighed. I told her I did not, and I was just about to tell her that it wasn’t actually my wheelchair, but she kept talking to me while she started looking though a little book that contains all the motorized wheelchair models and their corresponding weights. She eventually figured mine was 230 pounds (it has two heavy batteries).
The longer I kept dialoguing with her, the more I thought to myself, “If I tell her now that this isn’t my wheelchair, she’s going to wonder why I waited so long to tell her.” I also thought, “It might be more trouble for her if I tell her this wheelchair isn’t really mine, because then she’ll have to figure out how much to charge me, or she’ll have to send me back to the check-in counter, and perhaps she’d really just rather not know the truth.” (I also noticed the faint smell of sulfur wafting from the area above my left shoulder.)
In the end, another Southwest employee came and took away the wheelchair for loading onto the plane, and the gate agent asked if I would need assistance getting onto the plane. I told her that I could walk just fine (proud that I was telling her the truth), and when it came time to board the plane with all the old people, I walked down the jetway, telling myself what a good guy I was for not faking a limp.
Once seated on board, I looked out my window and watched the baggage handlers employ a special lift to hoist my dad’s wheelchair onto the loading ramp. I kept reminding myself that I was doing a good deed, serving my dad by bringing him his wheelchair, and that I was “saving the Lord’s money” while simultaneously trying to suppress images of newspaper headlines that read, “President of Christian Nonprofit Deceives and Rips Off Airline.”
Two-and-a-half hours later, we landed in Florida, and Southwest Airlines had my wheelchair in the jetway within minutes of my disembarkation. I sat down in it, put it in fifth gear, and zipped through the airport (unconsciously fleeing the scene of the crime) to a friend who was waiting outside with his SUV, which accommodated me and my dad’s wheelchair. Within a few hours, I was delivering the wheelchair to my dad, to his complete surprise and delight. What a good son and Christian I am!
But that is not quite the end of the story.
After spending a few days serving my dad in his disabled condition, I was re-positioning some furniture for him during our final hour together. While pushing an ottoman with my right leg, I suddenly felt a very sharp pain on the right side of my lower back. It brought me to my knees, and from then on, any movement that involved my back was very painful, whether it was bending, twisting, sitting down, or standing up. I could not walk without a limp. The scripture came to mind, “Your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23).
When I arrived in Pittsburgh later that day, it was even worse, and when my wife picked me up at the airport, she immediately noticed that I was in bad shape. I could barely get into our car it hurt so much. That night, simply rolling over in bed was excruciating. Taking some pain medication took the edge off, but not much. Massage didn’t help. Nor did lidocaine patches. Worse, I knew I was scheduled to travel to Cuba in 2 days, where I would spend 8 days. Becky urged me to cancel my trip, but I was determined to go, and the morning of my departure, I was still limping, and I took a crutch with me to the airport.
When I checked in, I knew I would have trouble trying to walk all the way to the gate. So I asked the check-in agent if I could be transported in a wheelchair. Within a few minutes, a porter with a wheelchair appeared, and he pushed me to and through security and all the way to my gate. I could not help but think that the Lord was speaking to me: “So you like to fool people into thinking you are disabled? This time, notice you aren’t pretending.”
To make a long story short, I was sitting in a wheelchair during my layover in Florida as well as going through Cuban immigration. And for my entire 8 days in Cuba, my back was in pain every time I moved. It sure seemed like a divine lesson.
I asked the Lord for forgiveness and promised to confess what I had done to Southwest Airlines, but it was not until almost my last day in Cuba that I actually started feeling like any significant healing was taking place in my back. It was as if the Lord was driving His point home and helping me to not quickly forget the lesson.
Once home in Pittsburgh, I sent an email to Southwest Airlines to tell them what I’d done, asking how I could pay for their transport of my dad’s motorized wheelchair that I had allowed several of their employees to believe was mine. A few days later, a representative called, and she first thanked me for my honesty. I reminded her that my honesty was regarding my dishonesty.
Then she told me that Southwest would have gladly transported my dad’s wheelchair that day without extra cost. I felt relieved and stupid. All sins are stupid, but some sins are really stupid. Like when you have nothing to gain by your sin! That is really stupid.
Mind you, I never lied—but I did knowingly allow people to come to the wrong conclusion in order to gain a personal advantage. Similarly, I’m sure there are some readers who are thinking to themselves right now, “Wow, if that is the worst thing David can confess, he must be a very holy person.” So lest I repeat the same sin that I’ve just confessed, let me assure such readers that there are many other sins I could confess if I had that much humility. I have a long way to go to reach perfection. In fact, I have a long way to go to reach mediocrity.
On the other hand, I suspect some really holy readers will conclude that I am not actually saved. I ask those readers to consider the details of my story that demonstrate my inward battle between the Spirit and flesh as being some evidence of my regeneration.
In addition, I ask them to remember Scripture’s dictum that “the Lord disciplines those whom He loves” (Heb. 12:6). God loves me so much that He surely gathered all the angels in heaven and asked, “How can we get David to stop deceiving employees of Southwest Airlines?” One of the angels responded, “Let me cripple him permanently!” But the Lord said, “No, let’s go easier on him. Just pull a muscle in his back that won’t heal for a week.” (See how much God loves me?) And God’s merciful discipline effected my repentance. (And for less-astute readers, the scene in heaven I’ve just described may only have occurred in my imagination.)
Suffering is not always a sign of God’s discipline, but it can be, so it is always a good idea to seek the Lord when you suffer. Of course, suffering can also be a sign of God’s testing (as it was with Job)—or just a result of our own foolishness.
So that’s my confession. I’m back on the narrow way. (Please continue to pray for my ongoing sanctification!) — David