Faces of Faith — Border crossings

‘John Piper is speaking in Vancouver, BC, this weekend,” I announced to my wife Sondra. “Do you want to go listen to him?”

With just two days of warning, I expected Sondra to be a little apprehensive, but she was game on, replying, “That would be exciting!”

Friday morning, with conference tickets and hotel reservation in hand, we drove up I-5, prepared for a long wait at the Blaine crossing, but we were pleasantly surprised at how quick and easy it was to drive into Canada.

What a great weekend! John Piper was even better in person than in his books, and our hotel had a beautiful view of the Fraser River and there were fun shops and restaurants on the river walk below our room. When the conference was over, feeling refreshed spiritually and physically, we headed home, choosing to cross at Sumas instead of Blaine, thinking it might be a little faster. Traffic was light until we reached the border, where three lanes of traffic backed up for almost a mile. I chose the center lane because it was a little shorter than the one on the left and the one on the right was for fast pass users. Bad decision.

Hoping for a short wait, we envied drivers zooming by us on the right, but we became more and more puzzled about our lane, which only advanced one car for every five cars on our left. Sitting in the slow lane for over an hour lit a slow fuse in me as I went from happy to frustrated to agitated to angry.

Nearing the border, I discovered why our lane was so slow. Most of the people who zoomed by us in the fast pass lane didn’t have a pass, but drove into the duty free store, circled around it and then crowded into our lane. Boy did I want to give someone a piece of my mind! Finally arriving at the crossing, the guard asked me the standard questions: Where are you from? Copalis Beach. Where did you go in Canada? Vancouver. Why were you there? To attend a Bible conference. Then, surprising me, he took off his sun glasses, looked deep into my eyes and asked, “What did you learn?”

Seeing my chance to blow off a little steam, I blurted out, “I learned that people drive into the duty free shop, circle around it and crowd into my lane!”

I’ll never forget his response. Looking patient and condescending at the same time, with a smirk on his lips and his eyebrows arched a little, he mockingly asked, “Do you mean there are cheaters in this world?” Not waiting for an answer and obviously bored, he put his sunglasses back on and dismissed me by yelling to the car behind us, “Next!”

I was clear past Bellingham before I realized the guard was asking what I had learned at the Bible conference. To this day I can’t remember what John Piper taught on, but I do remember the lesson God taught me about my heart. You see, God tested my heart at the border — and I flunked big time!

1 John 3:14 says, “We know that we have passed (or crossed) from death to life, because we love our brothers.” (NIV) Crossings are transitions points, where we move from one place or position to another. It implies change. The context of 1 John is that we have moved out of this world into the world of God by faith in His Son, Jesus Christ, and that this evidenced by our love for others. God continually tests our hearts to see if we really have crossed over from death to life. Being a wise teacher, He doesn’t announce these tests ahead of time, but gives us pop quizzes. You see, God’s not impressed with big smiles and kind words in church or with pumped up guys hollering, “We love Jesus, how about you!?” at Promise Keepers. The real test comes when we’re tired, discouraged, impatient, frustrated or angry. That’s when the words out of our mouths reveal what’s really in our hearts, showing which side of the border we’re really on. In many ways, Christians are running an obstacle course, where true love is the goal. When we trip and fall, we can claim the promises of 1 John 4:12 b, which tells us, “God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.” (ESV) Let’s make it our goal to be perfected in this area of loving God and others.

Jim Richards is pastor at Copalis Community Church