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The Gospel on 2 wheels

Me & Kristi on the left; Dad & JT on the right

Intro to Old Testament, one of those courses that every M.Div. student has to take at Princeton Theological Seminary, was taught by two professors when I was there. I always particularly enjoyed when Dennis Olson lectured because he often closed with a practical application,  a “sermon” of sorts. I still remember the gist of one of the stories that captured my attention. It is one I have shared several times throughout my ministry. My version of Olson’s story is as follows:

A man stands in a motorcycle shop admiring a brand new bike. He walks around it several times looking closely at the two-tone paint job, noticing the shine in the chrome, and feeling the attention to detail evident in the stitching on seat. If love at first sight is possible and applies to inanimate objects, this was it. He dared to grab the handlebars and swing his right leg over the seat to sit on the machine.

Knowing he had a nibble, the salesman sauntered over to reel in the catch of the day. “Beautiful bike isn’t it?”

“Sure is,” said the customer.

“If you think it looks good in the showroom,” the salesman continued, “you should see it on the open road.  The sound of that motor beneath you as you lean into a curve with the wind in your face… man, there is nothing like it.”

“Sounds great,” said the customer.

“You know what?” the salesman said, feeling that tug on the line that assured him the hook was about to be set, “Let me go get the keys and a helmet and get you a test ride.”

“Alright,” said the customer.

As he returned with the key, dealer plate, and a helmet, the salesman decided to put a little slack in the line by inserting some small talk. “By the way, my name is Steve. What’s yours? What do you do?”

“My name’s John. I’m the pastor at the church up the street.”

One could almost hear the brakes squeal on the salesman’s thought process. He quickly recovered, reeling as fast as he could by changing the direction of the conversation. “You know,” he said, “motorcycles are not as dangerous as people think. The visibility is way better than a car, the handling is fantastic, and you can stop on a dime. If you take a rider’s safety course, you’ll be fine.”

“Why is it,” professor Olson asked after concluding the story, “that a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is seen more at home on a lawn mower than on a motorcycle? Shouldn’t the Gospel be a little dangerous, a little risky, downright exhilarating? Why is it that we see it as safe and utilitarian like a lawn mower? We should preach the gospel like we are riding a motorcycle.”

It has been more than 20 years since I first heard that story, and yet it sticks with me. There are at least two reasons for that I think. One, is that I agree with that assessment of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Too often we see it as pedantic, safe, and boring like a Sears Craftsman riding lawnmower going back and forth across the lawn at 4 miles an hour. Jesus said he came that is followers would have life to the full. That sounds to me much more like a bike than a mower.

The other reason I think I remember the story is because I’m a motorcycle guy. I’ve been around bikes since childhood. My dad bought a 500 Kawasaki when I was maybe 8 years old. Soon that was traded in for a ’69 Shovelhead Policeman’s Special, his first Harley Davidson. Man that bike was cool. I remember arriving to and leaving Little League and club soccer games on the back of a Harley. There is nothing better.

As youth, my brother and I both had bikes. Ron had a Yamaha YZ125, a real motocross bike, and I had an on/off-road Harley. We rode down the abandoned railroad tracks to the sandpit in Beachwood. Those are some great memories. When my brother had a long-term assignment in California for a summer, he loaned me his 75o Yamaha and I got my license. Then when my family and I moved to Colorado I bought my first bike, a 1999 Honda Shadow Aero (VT1100C3 for you Honda guys). I’m still riding that bike, or maybe more precisely, I’m back riding that bike. A flat tire kept me out of commission for about 18 months – there always seemed to be better things to spend money on than motorcycle tires – but this spring I got it back, and I got the bug back.

My motorcycle has offered me time to reflect, and I have learned lessons about life in the saddle. Some I have learned from safety videos, others on my trip to California beside my dad on his Harley, what I learned from dropping it a couple of years ago, why I commute on it, and more. Throughout the summer I plan on sharing some of my motorcycle lessons through this blog.

By the way, Dennis Olson was right. The gospel is far more like a motorcycle ride on that section of switchbacks on Route 66 just outside of Oatman, AZ (I have to tell you that story too), than back and forth and back and forth on a John Deere mower. In the weeks ahead I will share with you some insights I have had about the Gospel on two wheels.

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