Monday, November 24, 2008

The Victim of Problems Part I

This story starts off a little preachy, but I think you will understand why later in the tale. This will be a multiple post story, otherwise it would take up too much of my blog to do one huge entry. The story presents a reoccurring character, whom I've grown to appreciate over the years. You'll meet him a little later in the story. As always, I covet your responses to me, and I'm anxious to hear your thoughts. I attack a very popular idea in the church today, and I am reasonably aggressive with my attack, so I'm looking forward to the healthy debate which should follow in the next few days. I now present to you,


The Victim of Problems

A young, shrewd, and enterprising man was sitting in the back of the church on the last day of the week long revival. He sat in the same spot throughout the week, but always managed to leave before any of the pastoral team or counselors could reach him. He listened intently to each sermon and once was seen taking notes. He became a point of curiosity with the church.

After all, Justice, Texas was a small town. In a small town there is no anonymity. Somebody either knows who you are or knows something about you. This was not the case with the young man in the church pew. And now he sat in the back of the church, and he was visibly shaken. He was in discomfort, but seemed to lack the will power to leave; the weight of his seat was holding him in place.

First Church executed their annual revival during the last week of June, just as they had done for almost seventy-three years. Rain or shine, the revival was a fact of life and the entire congregation readily accepted the responsibility they had cast upon themselves. As with any good traditional church, their main focus was saving the lost. The local charismatics had often made fun of them for continually hammering out a “dry campaign,” which was a good-spirited spite against their revival titled, “Thirsty in a Dry Land.” The pastor knew that the charismatics were watching him, almost openly, in fact, but he never let it bother him. For he never saw that particular church hold any revival or launch any efforts to save the lost, which, in his interpretation of Christianity, was the purpose of salvation—to propagate souls for Christ. They claimed to have the fullness of the spirit, but only sat in their comfortable chairs and soaked in the rays of sonshine like a nudist at a beach. As long as First Church had a burden for the lost and actually attempted to reach them, he felt that he was doing God’s will.

This had been a particularly dry campaign. He had preached his heart out for the last few years, but had little to show for it in terms of the lost coming to Jesus. There were the local neighborhood kids who would always walk the isle to make a decision, but he had pulled no adults out of their seats in the last three years. His wife often defended him by saying it wasn’t all his fault, for the church members had failed to bring in a bunch of sinners for him to lambaste. But the issue of the members failing to bring in sinners was always a point of contention with him, for he felt that they should go to the sinners, rather than bring the sinners to them. In his mind, it seemed as though he was a fisherman that was standing in the river and fishing on the bank. He loved to get out into the streets and witness one on one, but that was ineffective in Justice, which is, again, a small town. Small towns highly frown upon people knocking on their doors or stopping them on the street. So, beyond his efforts to sit at the Truck Stop and buy coffee for wayward travelers, his revival was the only means of reaching out to the people of Justice without slamming beams of iron on their toes.

He had never been afraid of preaching the truth. He loved and embraced the testimony of the Bible. His usual sermons on Hell and damnation were effective. He had a turn or burn message that sent chills down the collars of the weak and old. His sulfurous and direct messages often sent sinners to the isle desperate for relief from the wrath of God. They wanted no part of a holy God that was offended by their lifestyle and was reserving judgment upon them. To these broken sinners, the grace of Christ was a glass of cool water in a parched land. They readily accepted the sacrifice of Christ when they realized the death penalty was being reserved for them. To know that a substitute willingly took their place—what a relief! The pastor also had a high success rate with his converts. Seldom did they have to extend a large effort to follow-up ministry. The sinners that converted under his preaching were most willing to become disciples. They knew what they were saved from and would not willingly return to that lifestyle.

He had watched the young man in the back of the church as he squirmed each night. In fact, the man seemed to be angry with Pastor Kurt. A preacher that sends the message of the wrath of God often incurred anger from those around him, as the message is not popular. In fact, he had many arguments with his deacons over the messages he preached. They pointed to the other denominations in town, where they seldom, if ever, preached hellfire and brimstone messages. Rather, they favored the message of,
“God has a wonderful plan for your life. If there is anything wrong in your life, simply come to Christ and He will fix all your problems and your life will be a bed of roses. Just allow Jesus to fill-in that God shaped vacuum in your heart and all will be well with you.”
He went around and round with his deacon board over his “repent or perish” message. They claimed that he was too intolerant and too insensitive. People today wanted to hear happy and positive messages, not about how bad they were. “In fact,” the deacons argued, “if you keep preaching about abortion, adultery, and homosexuality, then we are going to be sued some day.” Pastor Kurt refused to compromise his message.

During the week of the revival, the young man had jumped up and ran out just as he had been finishing his altar calls. The man seemed to wait until the very last minute, and then bolt for the door just ahead of the counselors and ministry team. Pastor Kurt would only watch and grin. He had preached for years and knew that the Holy Spirit was speaking loud and clear to the man’s heart. He was under conviction, but was fighting it. He was uncomfortable in the meetings, but seemed compelled to return. Pastor Kurt was not too concerned over the man bolting from the church just ahead of the altar calls. To him, altar calls were not necessary. Many people got saved without walking to the altar. If the Lord sent a sinner down the front of the church to pray the sinner’s prayer, then the sinner was ready to repent of his lifestyle of sin. If the Lord didn’t send him, then the sinner wasn’t quite ready and there was no need for force something that God was quite capable of handling Himself. The pastor was hesitant to force a decision upon a sinner, because he wanted the decision to be a genuine conversion. In his experience, whenever he talked a man into repeating the sinner’s prayer, in hopes that it would stick, he only converted miserable sinners. They never fully surrendered to the lordship of Jesus Christ and were constantly backsliding into sin and draining his church of valuable time and resources.

Today was the last day of the revival and, to his surprise, the young man was still sitting in his pew. As no one was walking the isle to the front of the church, he ended the service and walked to the back of the church to greet the members and visitors as they exited the building. He noticed that several of the deacons had surrounded the young man and were shaking their heads at him. As the church emptied out, Pastor Kurt returned to the auditorium and saw that the young man was still sitting and listening as the deacons sandblasted him continually. One of the deacons was waving to Pastor Kurt, eager for him to join the gang and was pointing at the young man.

The pastor was not the type of man who insisted upon having his finger in every pot. The deacons were more than capable of approaching this young man without his help. As he walked within hearing distance, he witnessed the following exchange…

“Son, what is your name?”

“Allen.”

“Allen, I’m Jerry, the Head Deacon here at First Church. We are glad you came.”

“Thank you. I’m new to town.”

“What brought you to First Church?”

“Well,” he hesitated as he glanced around at the deacons who had him surrounded. “Well, I, uh…”

“It’s okay, we won’t bite.” All the deacons laughed.

“Sure.” He shrugged his shoulders and forced a smile. “You see, my wife and I had a fight and I was out driving around. I saw the lights on and all the cars in the parking lot. I was hoping that this would be a party.”

“Well, it is a party.” Said a sour faced man, trying to force enthusiasm. “We’re here to celebrate Jesus.”

Allen shifted in his seat and awkwardly tried to appreciate what Sour Face said. “Oh, that’s great.”

Jerry, being the Head Deacon, felt it was his obligation to cut to the chase. “Allen, have you ever asked Jesus to come into your heart?”

“No, I don’t think so.” Allen seemed to perk up and pay attention.

“Well, do you want to?”

“Want to what?”

“Ask Jesus into your heart,” replied Sour Face.

“Gee, will He fit?”

Allen’s question managed to generate a series of replies ranging from “absolutely” to “no, not physically.” Finally, they settled on Jerry’s reply, “Son, there is nothing that is too big for Jesus to do.” Then he became very sincere. “Jesus will come into your heart right now, if you want.”

“But why would I want that?”

Almost all of the air was sucked out of the auditorium as the deacons gasped at such a question. Sour Face was the first to respond. “Well, you had a fight with your wife, didn’t you?”

“Yes.” Once again, Allen was focused on the conversation.

“Well, God can fix your marriage so that you won’t have any problems.”

“Really? He can do that?”

“Of course! That’s what He does. He fixes our problems.”

“What kind of problem?”

“All problems.” Almost all the deacons spoke in unison.

“Really? I could have all my problems fixed tonight?”

“Every last one of them.” Jerry was reeling in his fish. He would love to be the only person to convert a soul at the revival.

“What about my money problems? I have trouble paying my bills.”

“You bet. God loves fixing money problems.”

“What about my job? Will God give me a promotion at work?”

“Absolutely, but first, you have to pray this little prayer….”

“Are you sure that this will work?”

“I am so convinced that I did it myself, 42 years ago.”

“And it worked? God fixed all your problems?”

“Ever’ last one of them.” Even though they let Jerry take the lead, the deacons were all nodding in unison.

“You never fight with your wife?”

“Oh, not really.” Jerry seemed to hesitate before he answered.

“Wow that’s great!”

“That’s why they call it the Good News, because it is good news.”

Pastor Kurt was squirming in his seat. He desperately wanted to jump in at this point. The Good News had nothing to do with fighting with one’s wife. It was about the Savior taking the place of the sinner on the cross and receiving the wrath of God. However, the deacons were so eager to serve and they had to learn somewhere, so he resigned from the scene and walked over to chat with his Sunday school director.

To Be Continued....

3 comments:

Mrs. Travis (aka Sarah) said...

Hey sweetie, I checked your blog today and was very surprised. You've been a busy fellow while I am away. Anyway, I thought I would let you know that my mamaw likes the look. She says it is easy for her to read.

Travis said...

That's good to know. I didn't realize your grandmother frequented my blog...

Avily said it was harder to read. I'll get more comments and decide, but if your grandma likes it, then I'll have trouble changing it!

I miss you...

Amy Deardon said...

Love the look of your blog :-) Hmm, looks like another one I know...

I'm anxiously awaiting more of your story... Want to comment on it but my boy is pushing me off the computer now