In the 1980s, my children and I would often drive into Atlanta from the suburbs to hear the teachings of John S. Riley, who led the weekly Metro Bible Study on Tuesday nights. The crowds were enormous, and to listen to this man’s inspirational messages was purely a gift.

Have you ever heard a preacher or teacher speak a word or two that caused you to evaluate and broaden your narrow-minded thinking? John Riley could begin a speech evoking the audience to roar with laughter, and by the end of his message, heart-rendering tears started to fall on their programs.

One evening, John began his lesson telling approximately 1,500 folks about his afternoon flight from Montgomery to Atlanta.

John lived in Alabama and flew to Atlanta to teach after Dan Dehaan, Chaplain for the Atlanta Falcons who established the Metro Bible Study, tragically died in a plane crash in 1982.

When John boarded the plane, he found the airline had upgraded him to first class. He proudly thought as he sat in his elite, comfy seat, “How great it is to be flying in such comfort!” As he reached for a magazine, he noticed a man lighting a cigarette (remember it was the early ’80s) and another drinking a cocktail. John sat a little straighter in his cushy chair and thought, “Boy, am I glad I don’t drink or smoke like those two!” There was another gentleman across the aisle who was sound asleep and was also a bit disheveled. He thought, “Well, at least I am not lazy, and my unwrinkled suit is new!” Again, he sat slightly higher in his high-class seat.

Just as his ego was telling John how cool it was to be him, requiring him to need more headroom, the Lord tapped him on the shoulder.

“John, yes, you don’t drink like that man, nor do you smoke like the other, and you are certainly not lazy, but didn’t I see you over-stuff your face with pork barbecue on Sunday? Isn’t that gluttony?”

As the Lord was addressing John, he began to sink lower in his first-class seat, then lower, until his new suit wrinkled, and his erroneous pride crawled shamefully to the rear of the plane.

The Lord humbled the upgraded John Riley and in doing so, taught an awaiting crowd that being humbled is a good lesson. Humility opens our eyes to study ourselves and correct the errors of our ways.

Sinful pride is described as the excessive view of oneself without regard for others. How often do we suffer from our ego-driven self-worth? How frequently do we believe no one can do a job as well as we can? Do we ever view and judge others with wrath or contempt while assuming we are the coolest first-class cat on the planet? Sometimes we don’t realize we are wrongly prideful until the Lord puts us in our place like he did with John. It is one sin which is quite sneaky. We know when we are lusting, show wrath, are lazy, greedy, and eat or drink too much. We recognize when we are envious of others, but false pride will bite without us being aware of its sharp sting.

When we view the homeless, the addicted, or the impoverished, does our arrogance keep us from seeing their need? When we pass judgment on another because of their circumstances, do we put our intelligence above God’s? If so, something tells me when we meet the Lord at heaven’s gates, I believe he might make us sink lower in our comfortable seats and move us to the rear of the plane. He will make it abundantly clear that he is and has always been our pilot.

Every day of our earthly lives, there is a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other. They tug and pull our souls to do right or wrong, good or bad, and it is up to us to daily decide which one is going to win. I know a few folks (not many and certainly not me), who recognize the angel and the devil daily. Their goodness pours out of them like sweet honey because they understand clearly where their souls reside. They are not judgmental, or ego-driven, nor could they pass by a person or an animal in need if they tried. I figure once their spirits arrive at their final destination, their captain will hand them a free ticket to first class. No, I never forgot the teacher who taught crowds with laughter and tears and who will one day return to his comfy, elite seat, with his head held high because he listened to God and humbly told others.

Isn’t that what we are all supposed to do?

Lynn Gendusa of Roswell is the author of “It’s All Write with Me!” Essays from my heart. She can be reached at

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