I will lay the blame on Pastor Jimmy for the start of today's article. I like the analogy of a mustard tree, but since Jimmy likes peaches, we'll go the peach route. Now, Jimmy, don't jump at me, but I couldn't concentrate on some of your sermon because of the pictures of the fruit basket, one on the right and one on the left of the platform. My congregation never gave me a fruit basket, but they did make a couple of peanut butter pies for me. I guess that's because Presbyterians are called the frozen chosen.
The wonderful point of the sermon was for me, as you so clearly presented Galatians, that we Christians are justified (made worthy) through God's gift of faith.
I remember a sermon I gave some years ago about God's grace, which couldn't be earned, worked for or awarded because of an exemplary life. All we sinners could do -- and we'd best listen carefully -- was to hear of God's love, the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, grasp His irrevocable promises and accept what we could not truly and completely understand.
A parishioner walked up to me and whispered in my ear, "Did you mean what you said? Some lifelong reprobate could ask for forgiveness, make a confession of faith on his deathbed and be accepted by God?"
I whispered back, "Yep."
The parishioner glared at me, "I've been a good person all my life, kept every commandment and some scumbag will get the same reward as me? I can't worship in a church that believes such garbage!"
I have never been able to forget that moment and always wished I might have had better skills in sharing the Word of God. I was 14 years of age when I walked down the aisle of Jefferson Avenue Baptist Church in Huntington, West Virginia, with two of my best friends to accept the call of God. That's been 63 years ago and I still feel like a scumbag now and then. It's good to know that God makes the final decision.
Allow me to digress just a tad.
As a young man growing up in a very serious Bible-pounding, red-faced-sermon-shouting-church, where there was a lot of talk about who's going to live in the heavenly mansions and about the majority who are going to roast like popcorn while the chosen watch, being a Christian was more like following an ever-growing list of "do this" and an even larger list of "don't do that."
I probably had more than I wanted when it came to walking the narrow path because as a young guy there were too many side streets calling out my name. I basically came to the conclusion that God was a very somber sort, who didn't enjoy what He had created, and this Satan person really ran the show. The worst thing was that I felt helpless to resist such stuff as movies, chewing a wad of Red Man with my friends, sleeping in on Sundays, having one colorful imagination ... and using a few favorite words when I slammed my thumb with a hammer.
Why God called me as a pastor was one big surprise! He either enjoyed a good cosmic joke now and then or He believed He could truly change me to become what I had failed to change on my own. Actually, Julie and God were in cahoots and knew more about me than I did. (That's another story for another time.)
I found out why I was called! The answer had been there all these years, but I couldn't see the tree of knowledge due to the fact that it was surrounded by a forest of rules and regulations. It was in a class taught by Dr. Ben Lacy Rose where I found the answer. He looked right at me and said, "You can't be good enough, intelligent enough, smart enough, lucky enough or righteous enough to enter the gates of heaven."
Hang on, Brother Jimmy! He asked me to read to the class Galatians 5: 1, 13-14, Romans 3:23, 5:1 and 5:6.
"Why was I called to be a pastor?" you might ask. The answer was just four pages over in Ephesians 3:7. All I could do was to let go and let God.