I stop in occasionally at a store called Bubba-Doo’s. It’s about 10 miles outside the interstate on the main highway that rolls through a series of towns. They are supposedly “world famous” for their hamburgers, according to the big sign over the store. But I’ve never ordered one. So all the hoopla still evades me.
I’m there just often enough that I know some of the regulars. Fred is about 85 years old and leans up against the ice cream freezer each afternoon about 3:00. He’ll be nursing a Pepsi and eating his peanut butter crackers. Meanwhile, Aaron will be on the bench out front enjoying his cigar. If you call, Ralph will answer one of the last pay phones still in use and joyfully call out, “Bubba-Doos!”
There are a couple of old leather-topped stools over behind the counter area. They are just out of the way, and folks jockey to get a seat during prime hangout times. You might have to move out of the way if someone needs a quart of motor oil or a gallon of antifreeze. Otherwise, you could sit and shoot the breeze for a while there.
That’s where I found myself with Mickey as he said, “Preacher, I want to ask you somethin’ and I said, “Alright, ask away.”
“Why don’t you preach the gospel?” he asked.
“Well, I’d like to think I do,” I replied. “So, please, tell me more.”
He explained: “It’s just that I don’t hear you preaching against sin. I don’t hear you calling sinners to repent. People need to be saved. We got a world that’s goin’ to hell in a handbasket. But with you, it’s just ‘love’ this and ‘love’ that. So, I wonder why you won’t preach the gospel.”
“Well, John the Baptist did call people to repent because the kingdom of God had come near. And Jesus did the same when he started his public ministry. So, I guess that’s fair,” I responded. “But let me ask you a question.” He nodded, so I asked, “What would you say are some of the sins people ought to be repenting of?”
He nodded, so I asked, “What would you say are some of the sins people ought to be repenting of?”
The list he rattled off didn’t surprise much. Mostly things that had to do with who sleeps with who, and who parties too much. One sexual sin seemed to bother him to an extent that a therapist would love to delve into why he had a fixation on that. Those were the big things. Then, he looked at me. It was my turn.
“Well, Mickey, I do lean toward the side of grace. But I think that’s because on balance Jesus did, too. So if I’m going to err, I figure it ought to be preaching love too much because the New Testament makes the case that God actually is love.”
“That’s about what I expected from you lib’rals,” he snorted. I said, “What gives you the idea I’m a liberal?” He said, “Well, if you don’t think sins are sins then that makes you a lib’ral.”
I sat and considered it for a minute. “Mickey, it’s no surprise that I’m a little left of you. But a liberal? I’m pretty sure an actual liberal would think it’s funny trying to call me one.”
“OK, then I want to ask you that same question,” he said. “Ask away,” I invited. Because for all our differences, Mickey had proved himself to be someone I trusted and I liked. “If you believe there are sins, then what are some things you would call sin?”
“Well, I tend to give more weight to things the Bible actually talks about a lot more than other things it only mentions a couple of times. Do you like the Old Testament, Mickey?” He laughed and said, “It’s my favorite part. God was tough on that stuff!”
Do you like the Old Testament, Mickey?” He laughed and said, “It’s my favorite part. God was tough on that stuff!”
“Good,” I said. “Then, let’s look at some of the sins God actually got upset about there. When the people stopped going to church and ignored God, God got jealous. When their systems mistreated people economically, the prophets were sent to pronounce judgment. There was some about how violent and addicted to war they had become. And when ‘aliens’ were mistreated, God was on the aliens’ side. God didn’t like being ignored, either. If they were negligent of their faith, that was an issue. In the Gospels, Jesus got pretty riled up about the same stuff.”
“Well, I just don’t know about all that. I’m goin’ to have to think on that some,” he offered.
“By the way,” I whispered gently. “When was the last time you were in church?”
“Alright,” he interrupted. “I gotta get home. Wife ‘n me’ll be having some supper soon. Man, I just don’t know if there’s any hope for you,” he said. A huge smile creased his face. I laughed and said, “Good talk, Mickey. Let’s do it again!”
Editor’s note: This is fiction, sort of. The location and names are made up, but the setting and the conversations are about as authentic as you’re going to get from a story-telling preacher.
Charles Qualls serves as pastor of Franklin Baptist Church in Franklin, Va. He is the author of eight books.
Preaching the ‘red letters’ often makes congregations red in the face | Opinion by Mark Wingfield
Is our gospel no longer the gospel of the early church? | Opinion by Bill Rosser
Gospel politics in the midst of social turmoil | Opinion by George Mason