Friday, June 03, 2005

The Right Side of the Fence

A couple Mays ago, I was invited to "pole day" for the Indy 500. This was not the first time I attended time trials, but it was the first time I was able to watch from the Tower Suites. Through no doing of my own, I was a guest of a well-healed DeKalb County native. In fact, I am pretty sure he didn't even know my name. I was invited because I was the friend of a guy who was friends with a guy who works for this fellow. Get the picture? Simply put, I didn't deserve to be there. Tickets to a luxury suite are usually reserved for folks who purchase lots of goods and services from the guy paying for all the free food and beverages at the race track. They're often a reward for employees who have worked especially hard. The suite owner's family and personal friends find themselves the beneficiaries of such relationships year after year but not someone like me. I didn't buy anything from this businessman. And although this gentleman's brother is married to my first cousin, once removed, that hardly qualifies me as family.

The reality of this unmerited favor didn't set in right away. In fact, it wasn't until we strolled down pit lane that the full measure of this grace hit me. My friends and I were ambling from the south end of the pits northward, taking our time, looking at cars, and trying to look like we belonged. Off to my left I heard my name, faintly at first, and then more insistent. "Frank!" the voice shouted. I looked to my left, and there was a guy from our church, Keith Smith, smiling and holding his camera. He came down out of the bleachers, and we had a nice chat! We visited and then went on our separate ways.

Interestingly enough, I began to feel guilty about our encounter. You see, there was a ten or fifteen foot high fence separating the two of us as we spoke. I was on "the inside", able to walk among the pit crews and drivers, and he was on "the outside," separated from all of that by a wire mesh barrier. It didn't seem quite fair that I had access to the places where only the privileged and the powerful dare walk. I mean, after all, Keith loves the 500 every bit as much as I do - probably more. He even thought to bring a camera (something I and my three companions somehow forgot to do). He has been there dozens of times, and I have been there only a few. Was it fair that I got to sit in the air conditioned suite watching all four turns on color televisions while Keith sweated it out on the aluminum bleachers? In a word - no. It's not fair. I didn't deserve to be on "the right side" of the fence. What I deserved was to be out there on "the wrong side" with Keith and the other paying customers.

But, that's the way it works sometimes, isn't it. We've all been in the bleachers at one time or another, looking down at folks just like us who, for some reason unknown to us, get to do the things we wish we could do.

He got the promotion I deserved. She made the cheerleading squad when everyone knows I can cheer better. Dad bought her a new Grand Prix; all I got was a used minivan. My son gets sick and dies and his bratty child is as healthy as a horse. Life is supremely unfair sometimes, and it would be tempting for us to pray that God would use His divine power to make things a little more fair.
Thank God he does not. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23, "The payment for sin is death, but the gift that God freely gives is everlasting life found in Christ Jesus our Lord." If things were fair, our sin would earn us exactly what we deserve - eternal separation from God. An eternity on "the wrong side of the fence." I don't know about you, but I thank God He is not fair in dealing with me.

In Luke 16, Jesus tells the story of a poor man named Lazarus and a wealthy man who both die and are sent to their respective "sides of the fence." Lazarus went to heaven while the wealthy man descended into hell's flames. Two men. In life, one was on "the right" side of the fence with wealth and prosperity, and the other on "the wrong" side with nothing but his ill health. But in eternity the picture is far different. The one so poor in life is now prosperous in death, and this life's prince becomes the next life's pauper.

On which side of the fence do you reside? On which side will you spend eternity? I got to eat fried chicken and drink Diet Coke and watch racing for a whole day because I knew someone who knew someone who knew someone. And to be completely honest, the only way you and I will get to spend eternity on the "right side of the fence" is if we know someone. And that someone is Jesus Christ.

No comments: