Deserted Island Challenge

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Carl Lentz calls it the Deserted Island Challenge.

The lead pastor of Hillsong Church in New York City admits that while boarding airplanes he sometimes fantasizes what it would be like if the jet went down near an uninhabited piece of real estate in the middle of some ocean.

What would it take to inspire the survivors with hope?  With whom would he want to make alliances?  Who would emerge as leaders?

“You quickly eliminate the people with too much carry-on baggage,” he muses, since they don’t appear to have innate survival skills.  “And you eliminate the loud talkers.”  Nobody wants to be stranded on a deserted island with people who think their private conversations should be heard by all.

Then there are the coughers and sneezers.  Even before the pandemic era, Lentz figured it would be less-than-ideal to have people with compromised immune systems. 

In his book Own the Moment, Carl recalls the time a few years ago when he was boarding a jet for a five-hour flight.  As he idly pondered the Deserted Island Challenge, he became aware of a woman who was coughing about every five seconds.  “I pity the person who has to sit next to that lady,” he said to himself.

You know where this story is going. 

The coughing lady ended up sitting in the seat right next to his. 

Thirty minutes and countless coughs later, Lentz turned in her direction and said, “Ma’am, can I please offer you a cough drop or a mint?” 

“I’m so sorry,” she said.  “I was afraid this was going to happen.  I have lung cancer.  I’m flying to see a doctor who may have some answers for me.”  Then she added, “I’ve almost given up hope  Now I’m even destroying people’s peace on this flight.”

Lentz writes that at that moment he wanted to jump out of his seat, run to the bathroom, and set himself on fire. 

He said to her, “You can cough all you want.  I know people who have fought cancer and won.”   She was a hero, he said, and if anyone had an issue with her coughing, they could take it up with him.  In a heartbeat, everything had changed.  He was no longer her opponent.  Now he was her advocate.  

They talked throughout the remainder of the flight.  At one point she even showed Lentz her X-rays, which documented the spread of her cancer. 

There’s a reason Jesus tells us not to judge others.  “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults – unless, of course, you want the same treatment.  That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging.” (Matthew 7:1-2, The Message)

We may cherish Deserted Island fantasies of our own.  If only we could socialize exclusively with the right people who have the right pedigrees and the right attitudes.  Others need not apply.

But every now and then God gives us a peek behind the curtain.  We glimpse the backstory of someone’s life – someone whom we had quite frankly written off. 

And everything changes.  We hear their words with softened hearts and see their actions through grace-filled eyes. 

The real challenge, of course, is to live that way even when we don’t get special background information – to look at every human being, even those who are driving us crazy, and to realize we are gazing at someone deeply treasured by God.  And that God is asking us to believe that if we had the depth and breadth of his insight, we would treasure them, too. 

The amazing news is that God hasn’t voted either you or me off the island.

By his grace and power, we can endeavor to live the same way.