Airline seating is under the control of heaven

Flying constantly to lead seminars and meet with client churches, I prayed for God to arrange the seating on the airplanes.  On one such trip, from my window seat, I watched as my next seatmate placed his briefcase overhead.  When he looked down, he was startled to see who I was.

My fellow traveler was none other than the very pastor who had energetically and publicly attacked me at a pastor’s fellowship meeting seven years earlier.  He protested our opening our church and school to black families and children.  Those were in the closing “separate but equal” days of the Jim Crow South.

He was flustered.  “Brother George, I perceive that God arranged the seating reservations today.”

I thought he was probably right, but I waited quietly, until he continued.

“I owe you a long overdue apology.  Actually, two apologies.  I was wrong to attack you in the manner that I did.  I should have come to you privately, and I regret challenging you the way I did. Please forgive me.”

“The second apology concerns my attitudes about race.  I was wrong.  I went home to face a group of five families in my school who embodied the same attitude I held toward you.  They were so troublesome they took five years out of my life in that next year.  I came to seriously regret what I had said about you, as God dealt with me through them.”

He went on to explain that our host pastor had delivered a strongly prejudicial sermon the night before I spoke, and feared that my remarks were so contradictory that they would create a very damaging schism among his membership.  Vowing to rescue our host, my assailant had mounted the pulpit to obliterate my presentation, which he did quite effectively. Prejudice had found an ally, but it was out of step with history or biblical values.

In the words of my mentor, missiologist Donald McGavran, Christ has sent us to take the Gospel to “ta ethne,” all the people groups, tribes and races of mankind. And He is watching our work.

I had not protested the attack, because I was at peace that we were following a proper course.  But I would never have imagined the resolution as it unfolded.  God had once again shown He takes more interest in our affairs in more ways than I could conceive.

Under observation from heaven

The early ’70’s were turbulent times, mixing war protests, civil rights advances and ugly confrontations on campuses and sometimes in churches. I stumbled into the fray during one of my infrequent addresses to my pastor colleagues. I causally mentioned our ministry among black families. It was a footnote to another point, but it ignited a firestorm.
The speaker who followed me was respected for his energy and the rapid growth of his church and schools. He took issue with my remarks, devoting his entire 45 minutes to a defense of segregation and his declaration that my openness to working with blacks could not be of God.
My seat was on the second row, an awkward place to endure a verbal beating. Mid-sermon, an usher handed me a note: “You have a phone call, please follow me.”
Walking behind him out of the auditorium, I wondered if I might be facing a physical altercation with angry defenders of a threatened way of life. To my relief, he led to the office and handed me a phone. “It’s your wife,” he said.
“What’s the matter, honey?” I asked her, concerned at the unexpected call.. “Is anything wrong at home?”
“God told me to call you. Are you all right?”
Heaven was witnessing the events of that day!
“One of my colleagues is, right now, expressing his strong objection to our work with blacks. Thankfully, your call moved me away from the front of the room. Not a comfortable place to be right now.”
It would be seven years before another encounter pulled back the curtain on that day’s attack.