Thursday, February 14, 2008

L.D. and the Religious Folk

L.D. was a colorful character who ran a country store a couple miles from Longs crossroads where I grew up. I used to stop in occasionally, and visit with him and any of the local farmers who happened to be standing around the old wood heater that sat in the middle of the one-room store. He watched and listened as people from the local churches dropped in. From his position behind the counter he would hear all the latest gossip and get a good whiff of all the “dirty laundry” to which he was exposed on an almost daily basis. Consequently he did not have a favorable impression of many of the church members who passed by. When one of the local pastors tried to talk with him about his need to repent, LD quickly responded, “You surely don’t want to check behind your members too close. Cause if you do, you’re going to be disappointed.” LD knew all that was going on. He could tell you who had been “on a drunk”, who was having an affair, and how the various communities took turns with their episodes at sin.

As you would expect, he never attended church, but like so many people who believe in God but don’t claim to be a part of any Christian fellowship, he did have his own philosophy of religion which he was quick to share, especially if he thought you were about to “preach” to him. He would share his own philosophy of religion with the added implication that you might want to clean your own house before you try to clean his.

He had an amazing insight into human nature, as well as an almost humorous insight into the life he observed around him. He once told me, “It’s a shame for a church to have more doors than members. That being the case, if they live long enough, that church will eventually die.” Referring to one of the cult groups that came knocking on his door, he said, “The thing that makes me feel so bad is how people treat them. It’s about as wrong to mistreat them as it is to believe them.”

There came a time when L.D. became very sick and soon learned he was dying. And even then he had some interesting things to say. Knowing death was imminent he told me, “If I have to take the early bus, that’s okay.” A local pastor visited him and was telling him he needed to change his life. His response was, “Well, there ain’t much sin I can do right now---unless I do it in my mind.”

In spite of all this, he did make a commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord while he was in the hospital. A local pastor, Owen Johnson, prayed with him one evening during a visit. I went to visit him shortly after that and found him very eager to tell me about his experience. He told me, "The time was just right. It could have been you or any other preacher, but the time was meant to be. Owen was leaving. He got to the door, stopped, and turned to me. My hand was sort of stretched out toward him. He came back and started leading me in the sinner's prayer. It wasn't planned. It was like two trains colliding. Like lightning striking. It just happened.” His encounter with the Lord was real.

Soon afterward, I went again to visit him in the hospital. As I walked up to the door of his room I overheard a pastor talking with him and telling him that his recent conversion experience was not valid, and that he was not saved because he had not been baptized in water, and that it had to be by immersion. I thought, “How can this religious leader say something like this to a man who is on his death bed and unable to walk?” I entered the room as the pastor was leaving. L.D. looked up at me from his bed, and the first words out of his mouth were, "That little man was telling me that what me and Mr. Owen did won't but a bunch of sh_ _. If I won't felling so bad, we might a had to call 911."

I assured him that the Lord had honored his prayer and his commitment. I told him that normally a believer should be baptized in water out of obedience to the Lord’s command, and I personally believe in immersion. However, I reminded him of the thief on the cross next to Jesus who went to paradise without being baptized. I told L.D. that he was already in right standing with the Lord, that the Lord understood his inability to get out of that sick bed, but if it would help him feel better about it all, I would baptize him by sprinkling right there in that hospital bed. He was delighted. We invited a couple other people to join us and we had a little ceremony right there. The Lord’s presence was with us, and LD was at peace.

It is amazing how unloving a religious spirit can be. It is a religious spirit that makes us so rigid, cold, legalistic, unbending, and pharisaical. This type of attitude will not reach our contemporary culture. We who follow the Lord need to “oil our hinges” and “loosen our joints” in order to reach the people in the world around us today. We don’t have to throw out our convictions in order to reach sinners, but there are many things we are uncomfortable with that are not sin. We have to be careful that our religious convictions are not just religious rather than spiritual. We often separate ourselves into irrelevancy. Those who desire to be fruitful in reaching this current generation will find themselves being led into strange and religiously uncomfortable territory in the season ahead. Jesus did ask the Father to sanctify us, which is to set us apart from the world. But then Jesus said to the Father, “As You have sent Me into the world, even so I send them into the world” (John 17: 18). Sanctification is God’s taking the world out of us. A religious spirit is our taking ourselves out of the world and separating ourselves into being out of touch, out of reach, and irrelevant to the very people we need to reach. How do we obey Jesus’ command to not eat and drink with the drunken, while following His example of eating with sinners and being called a drunkard? There is a place where God’s love brings wisdom. A religious spirit is so sanctimonious it keeps us away from the very people we need to reach; and when it does not keep us away, it drives them away. Jesus told the Pharisees, “The harlots and sinners will get into heaven before you." Sometimes we are so busy keeping the outside of the pot clean that we lose touch with the inner living fountain of God’s life and love.


steve H said...

You've done it again, brother -- hit the mark right in the center. Maybe you could sell a book of your stories -- one section consisting of humor and one of rich truth wrapped down home wisdom.

Anonymous said...

Being Billy's sister I can attest to the fact of these wonderful stories from Longs. I remember Mr L.D., as I called him, and his little country store. I would drop in to buy a pepsi or something and he never rang up a bill. He would spend a few seconds adding in his head and then say well, that'll be about 20 cents. I agree you should write a book. Mr L.D. and others will forever be ingrained in my memory. Eva

Tim said...

Billy, great story as usual. I had a similar conversation with the guy who makes my surfboards yesterday at lunch. I've been praying for him for over 25 years, been on trips out of the country with him, and he's one of the ones who helped Jason and Leah with finances back when Jordan died. He's not a believer, but a great guy and we've had some awesome talks. He recently went on a surf trip with an arrogant, self-centered, hyper-religious guy, and his first question to me was, "Why is someone who says he knows God such an A--H---? When he asked me to pray over our lunch, I prayed, "And God, help us Christians to stop being such butt h----." He just laughed.

Keep the stories coming!


Billy Long said...

I am posting here a comment from Jeff in Miami. -BL

This is why I don’t like the word “religion”. I don’t have a religion with God, I have a relationship with him. I’ve always said religion was designed to put god in a box and is man’s way of conforming God to our wishes. Our God is too big and too wonderful to do that to. Thanks for the story-it is a good reminder.


Anonymous said...

I am one of Billy's friends that classify myself as a raconteur. I am an under-educated lover of people and life.

I once shared with Billy that I was an ordained minister, a distinction bestowed upon me for a fee of $25 to an advertisement in a periodical. I sometimes tell people I am ordained to change the tone of on going does get people to stop and consider language (and how foolish they must appear)

I, too, have many stories about observations of people and life over many years of living...A quick story I will share: A friend of mine was a Duke divinity graduate and a minister of the First ______church of Charlotte or Raleigh. He was in the pulpit preaching and the rear door of the church opened and in walked his drunk brother yelling to him,"HEY BRO".My friend grabbed his brother and took him to the front of the church and said,"This is John, my brother, a drunk, and I love him. You will get to meet him after the service." He did make his brother stand next to him as the congregation left and introduced him to everyone. (My kind of man)

I did not know Mr. LD but I know many similar to him...I may even remind Billy of him in some ways.

To those that know me not...being ordained was a whimsey due to the area I come from producing ministers, cops, and criminals...and my wanting to be counted on the good side of that group.