What I Learned from John Rankin

Lately I’ve found myself thinking about John Rankin, a guy who was in the Christian fellowship group with me at Denison University over 40 years ago. John wasn’t one of my best friends—far from it. In fact, he was one of those people who constantly got under my skin and pushed my buttons.

Have you had people like that in your  life?

John was a freshman, and I was a senior. I was the main leader of the group, and he was a newbie. Under those circumstances, you would think he would show me some respect, wouldn’t you?

My problem with John Rankin was his obnoxious arrogance. At 18 years of age, he was one of the most egotistical men I’ve ever met. And although he was a newcomer to the group, he thought he knew better than everyone else. If you look up “Know It All” in the dictionary, I bet you’ll see a picture of John Rankin.

Don’t you hate it when someone thinks they know it all?

I’ll never forget the day things came to a head in our relationship. John wanted to put his favorite song in our fellowship songbook: “Do Lord.”

Isn’t that the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard? You undoubtedly know the song: “Do Lord, oh do Lord, oh do remember me, oh Lordy…”

You see, everyone  knows that silly song, which is one of the reasons it was totally unnecessary to add it to our songbook.

I also strongly objected to the song’s warped theology. I tried to explain to John that because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are eternally “remembered” and accepted by the Father. There’s certainly no need to beg  Him to remember us!

Yes, John always wanted to change things…always thought he knew better…always wanted to get his way. The young man clearly had a spirit of control, and the songbook incident was just one of the most memorable examples.

Perhaps you’re wondering why John Rankin has been on my mind lately—over four decades since I last had contact with him. I wondered that too at first. But then I realized there’s someone in my life today  who reminds me of John Rankin! Yikes… I thought I was done with him forever, and it’s as if he’s back.

Once again, my buttons are being pushed. Once again, I find myself offended by a know-it-all guy who thinks he knows better than I  do. Once again, I’m going bonkers because I discern that someone has a controlling spirit.

However, I’ve concluded that God must have wanted me to learn some lessons during my encounters with John Rankin at Denison—and my encounters today with the person who reminds me of him. So I’ve asked Him to show me what’s going on here, and the lessons have turned out to be both hilarious and painful:

  1. If you don’t learn what you’re supposed to learn from the first “John Rankin,” God will keep sending you other ones. Failing to learn this vital principle, people go from marriage to marriage, job to job, and church to church, trying to escape the thorny people in their life. But everywhere they go, they find someone else who pushes the same buttons! In case you haven’t realized it yet, there are John Rankins EVERYWHERE!
  2. If people keep pushing your buttons, it’s time to ask God to heal those buttons so the cycle stops happening. I’ve always loved the old maxim that says, “If someone gets your goat, it just goes to show you’ve got one!” You see, God purposely  sends us people He knows will offend us. Why? Because He wants to reveal  and heal  the hypersensitive, easily offended areas of our life.
  3. In many cases, we’re offended by people who have the same personality trait we have. One preacher calls this principle “If you can spot  it, you’ve got  it!” It shouldn’t have been any great mystery why I was so offended by John’s controlling spirit. I didn’t want him  to be in control, because I  wanted to be in control! Why was I so upset by his know-it-all attitude? Because I thought I  knew better than he did! And the reason I was offended by his song selection was because I was certain my  songs were better.

So now that I realize what’s going on with this phenomenon, I’m asking God to expose and heal my buttons pushed by people like John Rankin. And since my own pride has been the root cause of my offenses in these cases, the healing process is requiring me to humble myself before the Lord and admit my own tendency to be a controlling, know-it-all person who wants to get my own way.

I’ve lost touch with John Rankin over the years, but I would love to track him down somehow. John, if you’re out there somewhere, please contact me.

It would be great to find out if John Rankin is still the same brash, controlling person he was at Denison. And I’m sure he wonders the same about me.

I encourage you to take a moment and sincerely thank God for the John Rankins in your life. If you allow the Lord to do His work in your heart, He will use people like that to make you more like Jesus.