The great Christian revolutions come not by the discovery of something that was not known before. They happen when somebody takes radically something that was always there. —H. Richard Niebuhr
My three daughters know that I have one sacred, unbreakable rule when our family drives anywhere on vacation: If you have to go to the bathroom once we’re on the highway, you better have a Pringles can close by because we’re not stopping.
There have been times, however, I’ve been tempted to break my own rules. For instance, I’ll never forget the time we drove from Dayton, Ohio, to Dallas. We had just stopped in Louisville to ﬁll up, and after twenty minutes we had successfully emptied all the bladders, gotten situated with our snacks, and pulled back on the road heading toward the highway. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a plume of smoke rising from the rooftop of a small apartment complex. I looked for a chimney but saw none. I reassured myself that surely someone had already called 911 and everything would be ﬁne.
Besides, I thought, I can’t even tell for sure if there’s a ﬁre.
Yet something inside of me kept wondering, What if I’m the only person who is seeing this right now? As I approached the onramp I went back and forth in my head, Should we stop? Should we keep going? We don’t have time for this! I swerved to the left at the last second, drove past the onramp, and circled back into the apartment complex. My guilt (or basic human decency) had won out.
As I pulled up I discovered that it was in fact a ﬁre, and by then the ﬂames had engulfed a large part of the roof. Worse, my suspicion was accurate—we were the only ones there. I asked my wife, Lisa, to call 911, and then I ran inside to warn people to get out.
Once I reached the third ﬂoor, I frantically started to bang on the doors, one by one, but at each door there was no response. I then ran down to the second ﬂoor and did the same. As I was about to go down to the ﬁrst ﬂoor, a shirtless young man with disheveled hair stuck his head out of one of the second-ﬂoor units. He cracked the door open, and as I ran back to meet him, I was hit with a wall of marijuana smoke.
“Yo, my man, what’s up?” he said with a slight grin.
“What’s up is that your apartment is about to burn to the ground. Put your joint down and help me get people out of here!”
We ran down the steps to the ﬁrst ﬂoor. Two couples responded to our knocking. “There’s an elderly lady on the third ﬂoor!” one woman shouted. “Did you get her out?”
My heart sank. After racing back up to the third ﬂoor, we began furiously pounding on her door. The ﬁrst-ﬂoor neighbor yelled, “She gets confused easily. We may have to break down the door.” But just as she said that the handle slowly began to turn. Coughing, confused, and minutes away from being consumed by the ﬁre, she followed her neighbors down to safety. As we stepped out the front door, we heard sirens in the distance. After we guided the elderly woman into the hands of the paramedics, I turned around and watched the ﬁremen storm up the apartment steps to stop the blaze.
As I stood there, the weight of it all hit me. I let out a deep sigh and thought to myself, What would have happened if I had kept driving?
A few hours later, when my adrenaline had ﬁnally worn down and the kids were asleep, a bizarre thought came out of nowhere. I call it a “thought” because to this day I’m still not sure if what popped into my mind came from God or from the triple stack of chocolate chip pancakes from IHOP digesting in my stomach. Here’s what came to my mind:
Let me get this straight: You’re willing to run into a burning building to save someone’s life, but non-Christians all around you are going to hell and you don’t believe it, let alone lift a ﬁnger to help.
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