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The Mechanical Road to Humility

June 8, 2014

The year was 1981 and I had just begun my ministry in Hollister, California.  I was fresh out of the university, full of energy and ideas, ready to see God’s work being done in central California.  I was ready, brother. I had been praying and planning for months for this time, and it was becoming real.  I was going to work with teens!  I was a single guy with plenty of time to visit, study, plan and work. It was a simple plan:  be where the Lord wanted you, and He’d put you on stage in order to be an example, a leader, a role model, a guide….

Whoa.

Stop.

Did I say “on stage?”

Sure.  After all, the Bible says we’re placed before a great cloud of witnesses.  Why not see it as if we were before the stage lights?

… right?

It was obvious that God needed to teach me a correct attitude and a more humble heart in serving Him.  Sure, the teens would look up to me as an example and a leader, but there needed to be a mindset and a heart attitude of  Colossians 3:12 – “lowliness of mind.”  As Strong’s Concordance puts it, “a deep sense of one’s littleness.” I was going back to college, so to speak, for a number of classes.  Humility 101.

I had just traded in my very first vehicle, a ’64 Stepside Chevy imagepickup which I dearly loved but had breathed its last. My trade from a local used car lot got me a two-door 1978 Dodge Aspen that was a brilliant orange.  It had better than 100,000 miles on it, but it seemed sound enough, and I was happy with the trade.

I needed to go to San Jose in order to pick up a stereo I had ordered.  Three teens eagerly jumped at the chance to join me.  Esteban, Larry and Lucas piled and squeezed into the car for our trip.  Larry was a Samoan who filled the front seat with his girth; the boy was the biggest and strongest 15 year old I had ever seen.  Esteban was a thin, giggly fellow with a tendency to continually push his glasses up his nose.  Lucas was an athletic boy who loved basketball and tacos.  He couldn’t get enough of either.

Lucas nodded.  “Hey, I like this ride.  All orange.  Sweet.”

I beamed with pride.  Hey, my first example as a youth pastor.  Get a nice car…

We arrived at Costco and I picked up the big-speaker stereo, carefully stowing it into the Aspen’s trunk.  After stopping in Gilroy for some Cokes and burgers, we took the final stage of our trip back, a long, straight stretch of highway past the garlic fields back to Hollister.

Something went wrong with the Aspen.

WoooaaaaAAAAAWwwwwww.

The car started picking up speed on its own.

Larry glanced at the speedometer.  “Hey, Pastor Brad, watcha doin’?”  We passed 65 mph.

“I don’t know, Larry.  The car seems to…”  I kicked at the gas pedal.  The car stopped accelerating and I brought it under control.

“Has that ever happened before?” Esteban blinked and pushed his glasses back up his nose. “It’s like the car took on a life of its own.”

I started to answer and that noise started growling from the engine.

WoooaaaaAAAAAA… The needle climbed to 70 miles per hour.

Lucas stared at the front dash board.  “This is creepy.”  The car was reaching 75 miles per hour on its own.

I kicked at the gas pedal and the car came back down. 75…70…65… Larry shook his head.  “Man, that’s weird.  It’s getting -”

WoooooooaaaaAAAAAAA

The car sped up.  70 miles per hour.  75 miles per hour.

I stomped and kicked the gas pedal.

Nothing.

80 miles per hour.

I pushed on the brakes.  It fought the engine but it slowed the car down to 70.  “Larry, reach down there and wallop that pedal.  Really smack it and see if we can jar the thing loose.”

He leaned over and punched the pedal.  The car came under control once again.  70…65…60…  I applied the brakes in order to get the car over to the side of the road.  Esteban heaved a sigh of relief.  “Let’s see if we can all figure out…”

WOOOOAAAAWWWW

The car took off. 60.  I pushed the brakes.  65. “Larry, give it another whap.”

70. He leaned over and smacked the pedal. 75.

Nothing.

We were at 80 miles per hour, flying down the straight stretch of highway.

I was applying the brakes and were were smelling smoke. 81…82…83… “Larry, get serious with it.  Crush that pedal so I can pull this thing over and turn it off.”  85 miles per hour now.

He got on all fours and crushed the pedal. 86. Nothing.  87.  “Keep hitting it, Larry!  Kill it!” I yelled, pumping the brakes.  88.  Larry was kneeling and punching the life out of the pedal while I was pushing the brakes.  We were at 90 and flying down the highway.  I tried the only thing I knew to do.  I pumped the pedal to slow us down to 60 and then let up before the brakes would burn out.  75…70…60… Smoke was trailing the Aspen.  A smoky rubbery smell was all through the interior.  65…70…brake…65… 70…brake…65… The garlic fields were flying by us.  Esteban was frozen.  Lucas was trying to reach over and help by pushing on Larry’s back.

WoooAAAAHHHHHHHooooowww

Larry kept wailing away at the pedal while I played the brake on/brake off game.  I felt like I was in a wrestling match.  I was able to keep it to 60 and under relative control.

The town limits were in sight.  I had to yell above the sound of the engine.  “Okay, fellows, this is where I’m gonna wear out the brakes if I have to.  We’ll take all through the back roads to my apartment and just shut ‘er down the best I can when I get to the parking lot. Just pray no cars get in the way.  Or police.”

Lucas nodded while Larry punched.  “Oh, I’m praying, man.  I’m praying all right.”

I stomped on the brakes in order to keep us to 30 along the back streets of the town.  I knew enough routes to avoid any stop signs right up to my street.  Lucas’ prayers were working.

Well, except for the one about the police.

A patrol car saw our smoke and heard the engine roar and fell in behind us on the final street.

“Aren’t you supposed to stop?” yelled Esteban.

I looked at him in disbelief.  “Brother, that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last ten miles.”

We smoked and roared within a block of my apartment and I jammed both feet on the brake, slid into a parking space and pulled the key out of the ignition.

It worked.

We piled out of the car and breathed fresh air while the policeman pulled up, stepped out of his vehicle and sauntered over to us with a steady and determined step.  If it was supposed to be intimidating, I was so frazzled that at the moment I didn’t pick it up.  I wiped the sweat from my forehead, grinned a sigh of relief and gestured toward the car.

“Officer, do you mind if I leave the car here while I try to find somebody who could tell me what’s wrong with it? Stupid thing can’t stop revving up.”

The officer’s eyes widened and he gave me a strange, dumbstruck look.  He didn’t answer, so I continued.  “We’ve come from San Jose and when we were going through Gilroy the car engine started going nuts and …”

I saw myself in the side window of the Aspen.  My forehead and eyes had dark smudges.  I turned and looked at the boys.  They had dark smears from the smoke in the car.  We looked like we came out of the Battle of Gettysburg.   I took a whiff.  We stunk like burned rubber.

The officer shrugged and backed toward his car.  “Yeah, leave it there, but get someone to see it soon.” He was in his car and out of there within the next twenty seconds.  I don’t know whether our appearance or our aroma repulsed him more.

Esteban pushed the glasses back up on his nose and looked at me.  Lucas turned and looked at me.  Larry straightened his sore back and stared at me.

We all looked like raccoons.  We burst out laughing.

I looked like an idiot.  My car was a joke.

And I was okay with it.

After calling a mechanic and getting the car towed, I reflected on the hilarious situation and was reminded of Paul’s words that “when I am abased, then I abound.”  When I found myself in a humbled position, I then found the teens more willing to see me as a real and genuine person.  Why be embarrassed?  I laughed at the situation and the boys loosened up around me.  Larry started sitting with me and chatting about his spiritual walk.  Esteban would talk for hours on any subject about the Bible.  Lucas would take long walks with me and talk about his college plans.

I learned how I could take the first steps of a precious ministry I dearly longed for.  I had always hoped for the opportunity to counsel teens privately, but before the Aspen car problem, it had never come together.  Now it had started.

It was no great secret; I needed to get off the stage, come down and let teens know I was real, I was fallible, and I could look like a fool sometimes.  When I was abased by an Aspen, I encountered a ministry of one-on-one that I have cherished to this day.

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