It is a rare privilege to meet men who are considered to be cultural icons. Shaking hands with a president or taking a selfie with a sports star are things that stick with a person. I know that I’ll never forget the time I met the man who killed Bin Laden.
It happened in the most unlikely of places — the noisy interior of a beaten-up ’92 Ford Escort. I was on my way from our home near Oklahoma City to a family function of some sort in the Amarillo area. I headed out of town in our other car that had recently been in a fender bending with a close friend of ours. Once I hit 70 mph on I-40 I realized that the violent tremors of the hood were a subtle sign that making the 200+ mile trip in that vehicle may not be a good idea. So, I turned around and headed back to pick up the aforementioned pinnacle of automotive prestige.
On my way back out of town the second time, I saw a man sitting on the corner with a dog. It was clear the man was homeless and was simply waiting for someone to offer some form of aid. I had noticed him on my first attempt to leave town and did nothing. I chose to do the same the second time as well. However, God’s providence would not let me off the hook so easily. You see, I had forgotten my wallet and some other items in the first car; so, I made the same circuit back to the house to get what I had forgotten.
As I made my way, again, to the entrance ramp of I-40, I noticed the man was gone. I felt a little relieved that the angst I was feeling about not rendering aid was apparently not from God. That relief quickly subsided as I turned onto the on-ramp. I saw the man, struggling under the weight of his faded and patched, green canvas duffle bag. I knew that I had to stop. I just knew it.
The man and his dog hopped right in without a second thought. I introduced myself and went through some of the other forced niceties you stumble through when you pick up a hitchhiker and his red heeler. His name was William (the man not the dog). I have no clue what the dog’s name. My only concern regarding the dog was that it smelled terrible and insisted on resting it’s head on my seat just over my right shoulder. Anyway…it turns out William was hitchhiking back to Phoenix from his dad’s funeral in St. Louis. He said he had made it all the way up there the same way, so why not do the same for the return trip. I told him I could give him a ride as far as Amarillo, and he was greatly appreciative.
After a few minutes, old Billy boy was talking up a storm. Before long I had been given a glimpse into what appeared to have been an action-packed life, the highlight of which about caused me to drive off the road in amazement. William began his story with, “Now, what I’m about to tell you is classified…” Excuse me? Classified? When you pick up a hitchhiker, you don’t expect to hear the word “classified” unless he’s talking about how he found his first three victims. Needless to say, I was paying attention. I was hyper-focused on ever word out of a sense of curiosity and caution.
“I’m only in this financial situation because of the government’s refusal to acknowledge the work I’ve done to keep America safe,” he griped. “In 2003, I was part of a secret special operations force made up of specially trained homeless veterans who were sent to the US-Mexico border in Arizona to fend off enemy incursions that threatened to flood our country with jihadist suicide-bombers. That’s when it happened. That’s when I shot Bin Laden.”
By this point, I’m trying to figure out how to reach in my pocket to dial 911 without him noticing. He kept talking about the details of the mission, and I kept planning on how to quietly jump out of the car to avoid being found in pieces at various rest stops across western Oklahoma. Then I realized that God had given me the opportunity to talk about someone else I knew who was sent to take out an invasive, relentless enemy bent on a holy war (Hint: I’m talking about Jesus).
The Holy Spirit enabled to make a surprisingly smooth segue from his adventures as a skilled killing machine to a conversation about his values and beliefs. He wasn’t nearly as forthcoming or clear on those issues, but what little he did present was used by God to direct the conversation more and more to Christ. As I asked questions, listened to William’s responses, and referenced Scripture about God’s truth and grace, he became more solemn, more calm. I was praying that God was showing William something he had never seen before. Through all the lies or delusions of military heroics, I was certain that God was transforming William’s heart with the truth of the gospel.
Then something absolutely astonishing happened. It still surprises me today. William asked to be let out at the next town.
That’s right. I had suddenly become the weirdest guy in the car, and he had become the one trying to plan his escape. After only 45 miles, William was done. He would rather take his chances walking through two and a half states than ride one more mile with a lunatic like me.
It was then that the Spirit reminded me that the message of the cross is utter foolishness to those who are perishing. It is an absolutely incomprehensible tale of cosmically fantastical proportions to the heart of mind of someone who has not been set free from the lies and delusions of sin. The gospel makes Wizard of Oz sound like the daily mid-morning programming on NPR, and if it weren’t for God’s grace and intervention, no one could believe it.
Brothers and sisters, my encouragement to you is go and be the weirdest person in the room. Live and speak the gospel so clearly, so lovingly, so humbly, and so sincerely that people think you’re an absolute nut job. If we do that, we will prove ourselves to indeed be God’s children and find ourselves among a great crowd of lunatics that have freaked out the generations before us.