“Push Start,” the airport check in machine ordered. I pushed Start.
“Place your passport on the scanner.” I did so.
“Are you Jack Popjes traveling to Orlando via Houston on United?” I pushed Yes and obeyed a few more commands.
“Baggage fee $65. Insert your credit card.” I inserted my credit card.
“Take your receipt” I took my receipt,
“Take your boarding passes” I took my boarding passes
“Go to Gate C-15” I went to Gate C-15.
Oh, I did see some human hands reach out to attach routing tags to my two checked bags. At least I think they were human.
Did I mind being ordered about by this machine? Not at all! It recognized me as a human being; it met my needs and efficiently got me and my baggage checked in. I was a happy man.
Not so one night some months earlier as I drove through a small town at midnight. I was dead tired after two speaking engagements, and answering questions on missions. I longed to get home and to bed.
As I approached an intersection, the traffic light turned red and I stopped—automatic reflex. I looked to the left and to the right; no movement of any sort in either direction for blocks. No headlights behind me, none in the road ahead. The town was as lifeless as an abandoned movie set.
Why am I, a human being made in the image of Almighty God, waiting for a stupid machine to tell me I can go? Why do I have to sit here for two long minutes before I can drive on and finally crawl into bed?
I resented that mindless machine—dumb, unthinking, uncaring, oblivious of me and my needs—mechanically going through its cycle hour after hour. Its only power was in my conscience, my driving habits, and the fear that somewhere a policeman or a camera might record me violating that red-eyed order to stop and wait.
When it released me at last, I wondered why I felt so angry and resentful. Then it hit me. I had felt the same way during my decades of living in Brazil, probably one of the most heavily bureaucratised countries on earth. I used to take a full week off work to stand in endless lines just to renew a driver’s license.
But what is far worse is when churches unwittingly formulate policies that hinder the Holy Spirit’s leading. I remember a pastor telling me how many doctors, nurses, and Bible school teachers their denomination supported in Africa and Asia. I was much impressed and asked him, “What other ministries do you sponsor?”
“None”, he said, “we focus only on meeting medical needs and providing theological training.”
“But what happens when God equips a young couple in your congregation with the gifts and talents that fit them to meet other needs, like Bible translation? Would you support them financially?”
“Sorry, no we couldn’t. It’s against our rules.”
It was neither the first nor the last time I heard this explanation. It is worse than unthinking machines or mindless bureaucracy.
How could it have been the mind of Christ, the Spirit of Jesus, that inspired those rules?