The recent death of my mom has caused me to reminisce about my childhood and the events that shaped my way of thinking. A particular character from my past came to mind this morning as I was writing notes for this Sunday's message "Transparent."
This fellow, while only a few years older than my friends and me, seemed more like an old man in a young man's body. He sometimes seemed to appear out of nowhere. Always watching for one of us to break one of the commandments so that he could beat us about the head with the large black Bible that was resting on his hip. I'm sure he didn't always carry this coffe table sized holy book with him, but for the life of me I can't remember a time when it wasn't in his possession.
According to this walking embodiment of God's judgment and condemnation almost anything that was fun was reason for God to throw the switch and open the gates to hell. I was always looking over my shoulder for him while playing marbles with a boy who occassionally stayed with his grandmother on my block. He was a godless boy who either didn't attend my church, or according to God's emissary of doom, attended no Bible believing church at all. The boy always wanted to tempt into playing for "keepsies" instead of "funsies." The second was frowened upon by God and the first was almost the unpardonable sin. Sure enough, whenever I gave in to the boys impassioned plea to play for "keepsies", the fellow with the KJV was already heading my way looking for the verse that would condemn me to hell. If I remember correctly it was usually from the Book of Revelation.
Other times it was while trading comic books with a friend on his porch or under a nearby tree. With stacks of Superman, Green Lantern and heaven forbid Daredevil at our feet, this fiery preacher would expose such literary works as demonic and from the pits of hell. Not even Wendy the good little witch or Hot Stuff the friendly and well mannered devil could escape his fiery indignation.
I could go on with stories of being verbally condemned for racing bicycles down the street in front of the church; or talking about girls; or swearing; or going to movies. I think you get the idea. If this guy was really speaking for the Lord, I was sunk. I didn't have a snowball's chance of ever getting through the pearly gates. His inability to smile; his unwillingness to ever wear shorts or a t-shirt confirmed in my young mind that this fellow was what God wanted you to be like if you were going to be holy. I was conflicted between feelings of wanting to go to heaven and knowing I could never live up to this man's holiness to get there.
One day a friend of mine and me were riding our bikes to the other side of the tracks. Literally. When we rode to the other side we were riding to the nice side of town. Just before we arrived at the crossing we observed something by the side of the tracks. It was a body. It was his body. The guy who was always coming out of the shadows to condemn me to hell. He had been hit by a train and we were the first ones to come upon the accident. How could this happen? Wasn't this God's prophet to keep boys like me out of hell and out of fun at the same time? Had the law just been killed by the side of the tracks?
As I remember this story and episode out of my life I am sure I have embelished parts and forgotten others. That's what our minds do to distant memories. The one thing that stands out however, is that I can never remember this fellow killed by the train in church. I never remember one encouraging word to ever come out of his mouth. Never once did I ever remember him saying that God loved us wayward boys and wanted us to be with Him forever. Now I wonder if people see me like I saw him; mean, judgmental, and quick to condemn. I pray not. I want to encourage people more than I want to reprimand them. I have found over the years that God's Holy Spirit is better at convicting someone than I am. I want to be known for what I am for nad not just the things I am against. I want to be transparnt with people about my own struggles and not pretend to have it all under control. I still struggle and I have a feeling you do to. I want to begin to explore the benefit of being transparent Sunday. I hope you can be there Sunday when we begin to look at God's Word about being holy without being phoney.