I had two experiences these past few weeks I want to tell you about. The first happened when I was in Birmingham, Alabama to give a speech. I had flown there, didn’t have a car, but wanted to visit the Barber Motorsports Museum outside the city.  I phoned a cab company, but was told it would cost $60, so decided instead to download the Uber app to my smartphone and use Uber, even though I had heard stories of Jehovah’s Witnesses becoming Uber drivers so they could try to convert you while they drove and you couldn’t do anything about it since you were trapped.

So I downloaded the app, loaded in my credit card information, and requested a ride from my hotel to the Barber Museum. Five minutes later, an Uber driver pulled up to the hotel entrance, driven by this elderly man.

I opened the car door and asked, “What religion are you?”
He said, “Russian Orthodox,” in a heavily accented voice.
“Perfect,” I said. I had never met a Russian Orthodox Christian before, and thought it would be interesting.

I got the in the car and I noticed pictures of children on his dashboard. I asked if they were his grandchildren. He said they were, so we began talking about our grandkids. His accent was so heavy, it was hard to understand, but I understood his smile and the tenderness in his voice.

I was thinking to myself what a wonderful man he was and what a fine idea it was to take Uber cars everywhere I went, when we hit a patch of traffic,  and got behind a slow driver. My Uber driver began yelling at the car in front of us. He was shaking his fist out the window, then turned to me and said, “I want to kill people like that.” Which struck me as a slight over-reaction.

I thought to myself, “What happened to my nice, little grandpa who loved his grandchildren?”

Isn’t it interesting that when my Uber driver was thinking about his grandchildren he was the picture of compassion, but when he was thinking of slow drivers he wanted to kill someone?

It made me think about the power we hand to other people when we let them determine our outlook on life.  Of course, it’s one thing to feel happy and optimistic when thinking about our grandchildren, but to let total strangers turn us into murderers…well, that’s another matter entirely.  One of the most important things we ever do in life is deciding who or what will inspire us, who or what will affect us.

I said there were two things I wanted to tell you about. The first was my Uber driver experience. The second experience was reading an article about this week’s lottery. It’s up to over a billion dollars.

For years, I’ve heard that winning the lottery will ruin your life. It turns out that isn’t always true. A recent study of lottery winners in Sweden reveals that people who win big in the lottery are generally happy, usually still work, and tend to report deep satisfaction in life. Yes, there are stories of the lottery ruining people’s lives, but that isn’t the predominant pattern. Most of the folks who win are glad they won and it’s made their lives more satisfying and given them more options and opportunities.

But the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia recently commissioned a study of lottery winners and they discovered that while winning the lottery didn’t cause the winners to go bankrupt, it did increase their neighbor’s chances of bankruptcy. Isn’t that interesting? It turns out their neighbors were unconsciously trying to match the winner’s spending and going broke in the process.

I can see how that might happen. Our neighbors are putting in a beautiful new kitchen. I went to see it, then came home and noticed how worn our kitchen flooring was and how our Formica countertops were looking shabby, and the next thing you know I’m sitting at the kitchen table (which incidentally needs replaced), with a pad of paper figuring out how much a new kitchen would cost.

Joan saw me and asked, “What are you doing?”
“Oh, just doodling,” I said. “Nothing, really.”
“We’re not getting a new kitchen,” she said.

That woman reads me like a ten-cent paperback.

What or who inspires you?  What or who influences you?

When I was 20 years old, I was put in charge of the youth group at Plainfield Friends Meeting. I did that for four years, and was so disappointed in myself because not one of those kids accepted Jesus as their Savior, which I thought was the point of Sunday school. I felt like such a failure. But every time I tried talking with those kids about that, I just couldn’t find the words.

It took years before it occurred to me that those kids didn’t need a Savior. They weren’t lost. God wasn’t mad at them. They weren’t on their way to hell. All they really needed was to decide who or what would inspire them, who or what would influence them.  Same with you and me.  Who or what will inspire us? Who or what will influence us?

I’ve stayed a Christian all these years because when I read about the extravagant life of Jesus, his compassion for the underdog, his love for the outsider, I want to be just like that. I don’t need Jesus to save me. I’m not lost. God isn’t mad at me. I want be inspired by Jesus, influenced by Jesus. I want to hold his gracious, courageous life before me and move me, inspire me, affect me. I don’t need a Savior. I’m not lost. I do however want very much to be moved.

I don’t want to be an elderly man screaming at slow drivers. I want to be an elderly man telling others about my family and asking them to tell me about theirs.

I don’t want to waste my time trying to keep up with my neighbors. I want to walk in my home and think how fortunate I am to have a home to walk in.

I don’t want to be affected and influenced by anger and granite countertops. I do, however, want to be moved by Jesus.

This, then, is my query. What inspires you? What shapes you, molds you, forms you?