“Let all bitterness…be put away from you.” (Eph. 4:31)
It was late at night and on the way to the hunting camp, I got lost on an old logging road and was running low on gas. I began to think about how I could get some white gas out of my camping stove before I ran out when I downshifted and snapped the stick shifter off inside the console. I couldn’t believe it. I was so furious that I ripped the console off the floorboard and found that I could still shift the one-inch nub.
I was almost there and traveling entirely too fast for the rugged terrain when I hit a rock that jarred the jeep so hard that it bent the rim and popped a bulge the size of a baseball on my right front tire.
The force knocked my battery out of its place over onto the alternator where the spinning pulley acted as a skill saw and cut a gash into the side of the battery spraying battery acid over the entire engine. Steam spewed from the acid on the hot engine block, but I was there. I was a bit harried and edgy, but I was there.
In my hurry to leave Denver, I hadn’t taken time to buy a hunting license. I had planned to go down to Meeker the next day to buy a bow hunting license, but it was opening day and I decided to go to town in the afternoon. The odds of me killing an animal were virtually negligible and the possibility of being caught without a license this far back in the woods was very low. We set out about 4:00 in the morning. We didn’t see deer all morning and mid-morning decided to go back to camp for breakfast.
As we topped a little hill, there was a green game warden truck parked at a gate. When we got close, he asked to see our hunting licenses. I froze. I didn’t have one. The game warden checked my arrows for blood and hair.
He began to write me a ticket for hunting big game without a license (a $750.00 fine and no hunting for years in Colorado) I was embarrassed and ashamed. Especially when he asked me what I did for a living. I told him I was a pastor and that bought me a little grace, I reckon. He reduced the ticket to hunting small game without a license that carried a much less severe penalty.
As I was leaving the camp and coming down the mountain, I turned a corner and hit an oncoming Nissan Pathfinder head-on. No one was hurt, but I couldn’t drive my jeep. The entire front end was caved in. I had to walk about a mile back up to the hunting camp. I was embarrassed to ask for a ride down to a payphone to call for a tow truck and the Colorado State Highway Patrol.
The Trooper arrived and began to fill out paper work. He asked me what I did for a living—I sighed. He cited me with a traffic violation and offered to give me a ride into Meeker.
The Trooper’s son was serving in the Army and this was during the first Gulf War. He was worried about his boy. He and I talked about that for several miles and then when he stopped the cruiser to let me out at a café, I asked him if I could pray for his son. His eyes brimmed with tears and nodded his head. I prayed and he said, “Pastor, you may think this was a bad day for you, but it was a great day for me.”
“Grrrrrrrr,” I thought.
It was a Saturday evening and I was scheduled to preach the next morning and so I needed someone to make the 3-hour drive to come to get me. I made the call for my ride, slid into a boothe in the cafe to get a bite to eat, drink coffee, and study my sermon notes for the next morning. I took a deep breath, sipped some bad coffee, asked God for forgiveness for breaking the law—thought about the events of the last few days, the trauma, the disobedience—my poor jeep…
Dejected, I cried out, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
And then do you know what I did? I started laughing. If you had been there you would have thought that I had finally and completely lost my mind. I laughed until tears rolled down my cheeks. It wasn’t bitter laughter, nor was it the laughter of cynicism. It was a free and freeing laughter.
What else could I do? When I finished laughing, I noticed a difference. My situation was still as bad as it had been before. Nothing had changed—except me.
Satan hated my laughter. He had some plans that were thwarted by it. He wanted to make me bitter. But because the laughter reflected my acceptance of suffering, it made him bitter.
Better him than me, I figured.