Earl faithfully sat down on the pew that he had come to know as “his seat.” Throughout all the years, he always sat in the middle row, left of center. It was the church that he and his wife, Betty had attended for decades. Previously a deacon, he currently enjoyed being a lay member and felt no pressure to serve (as he did in his former role). No more teaching Sunday school as in years past. Earl was enjoying his “golden years,” satisfied with being a non-participant in the church.
His family’s involvement with First Christian goes way back, since its inception in the mid-1880s. His great-great-grandparents were founders and back in the 1980s, Earl was honored in their place in the Centennial Celebration. Going forward in time, today it’s a routine Sunday morning.
“Now on the fourth stanza let’s all stand,” said the music director.
An offering was taken and prayer requests were spoken. “Pastor, I have an “unspoken.” My sister’s husband’s been down in the back.” The requests continued. Then the senior pastor led the congregation in prayer.
“Finally,” Earl muttered under his breath to his wife, as the pastor finished his prayer with an, “Amen.”
Earl looked at his watch. His mind drifted to Wall Street. Wonder if my blue chippers are okay…Did I remember to tell the guys I would be late for golf today? I forgot to call the landscapers…
Then from the pulpit came the introduction that brought Earl’s mind back to the time at hand.
“Everyone, I’m so excited to share this young pastor with all of you today. I’ve heard great things about his ministry and I know we are all in for a special treat today.”
“Oh boy,” Earl whispered as he leaned over to his wife. “This young man is still wet behind the ears, can’t be a day over 40, maybe not even 30.”
“Shh,” Betty scolded.
Stepping to the pulpit and embracing the church’s senior pastor, the guest pastor placed his Bible on the pulpit and opened it.
“Wow, what a great honor it is to be here today and to be able to share with you an urgent message which the Lord has laid on my heart. A message I know is for just such a time as this. Thank you for this invitation, and the opportunity to be here with you.
Earl sat restlessly, having heard it all in his many years—positioning himself for some secret “shut eye” during the sermon. Over the years he has perfected his trade.
He opens his Bible, places it to his left just between himself and the end of the pew, and then he leans on the shoulder of the pew and rests. It looks like he’s reading, but in actuality, he’s able to close his eyes and doze off.
“If we may, let’s get ready to hear the Word of the Lord. Heavenly Father, we come before your presence with great reverence as we are about to open up your Word. And knowing you have said that your words are ‘spirit and life’ we ask today, on this day, that your words will pierce the souls of each one here, including myself—with a new and great urgency to be ready for your Son’s soon return, in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people said?”
“I want you all to all please turn in your Bibles to Matthew 7:21-23.”
A bristling sound rushed through the congregation as the people opened their Bibles. Earl, still awake followed suit.
The young pastor spoke boldly with conviction, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name, and done many wonders in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
The impassioned pastor finished reading the verses. Stepping out from behind the pulpit standing closer to the congregation, he continued to preach his sermon.
“All across this great nation, people have come to churches just like this one for years. They have gone through the motions. Sunday after Sunday attending church services and choir practice — followed by business meetings, Wednesday night prayer meetings…and many revival gatherings. Some are committed to the Lord serving Him and for others all of it is nothing more than a religious duty void of a real born-again relationship with God.
To the carnal eye, if someone was to be that faithful, diligent, pious, and dedicated, you would think it would be safe to assume that those persons, or any person for that matter—with such devotion to their church—would be ‘saved’ from the wrath to come. But that is why I’m here today, because it’s obvious after reading these passages, it’s never safe to assume. I’m sure you’ve all heard why they say it’s bad to assume?”
The visiting preacher coaxes and a few giggles assure the answer.
“Here, in these verses our Lord and Savior gave us a strong warning. He said there will be those who will stand before Him and even call Him, ‘Lord’ but in response He will say, ‘Who are you?’ But they will say, ‘Lord I’ve done this or I’ve done that in your name. I went to church. I was a deacon. I’ve been to hundreds if not thousands of services. I gave thousands of dollars to the church. I taught Sunday school.’ The excuses will keep coming…I, I, I. He will look to these people and say, ‘Depart from me I NEVER KNEW YOU.’”
Earl, who would usually be asleep by now, quickly realizes that this sermon is not the norm. This is not a sermon he will be able sleep through. He straightens himself up.
This young whippersnapper better watch it, he thinks to himself. Doesn’t he realize just who he is preaching too?
The young pastor walks back behind the pulpit taking a drink of water, then, slowly looks around the room.
“To my eye, you all look like very godly people. You’re here in church when so many don’t even bother. It would be easy for me to assume that everyone’s okay with the Lord, but…”
His voice began to slightly quiver.
“I know the reason God has put this message on my heart. The reason is because there are some here today that aren’t okay. Therefore, I beg you all to listen. Please, hear the heart of this message. I have not come, nor did Jesus send me here to condemn you, but rather to urge you to make sure you’re not just ‘playing church.’ That you haven’t lived your lives in a way that when you stand before Jesus, He will look at you and say, ‘Depart from me I never knew you.’”
Earl’s temper was being stoked. “Who is this guy?” he asked, nudging his wife.
“Honey, quiet,” his wife whispered. “Well, he’d better change his tune. I don’t need to hear this type of message,” Earl replied.
Meanwhile the determined pastor continued preaching with great passion. Begging and pleading he warned the congregation, “People, please make yourselves ready. Jesus’ coming is even at the door.”
Many eyes in the congregation showed a sincere brokenness. When the altar call came, many responded and ran to the altar crying out, “Jesus, save me.”
But not Earl, he stormed to the back of the church, grumbling the entire way, glaring at the pastor to alert him that he was not happy. Putting on his coat and hat, he left in a huff.
Betty cautioned, “Earl please calm down, slow down, you are all worked up.”
All afternoon the only thing Earl could think about was how he was going to go to the young pastor’s house, and sternly let him know in no uncertain terms there would never to be that type of speaking again at First Christian Church!
It was finally bedtime and Earl was still fuming. He made himself comfortable on his bed, Wall Street Journal in hand. But he had to get one more thing off his chest before he could read his paper. “Honey, it reeked of legalism…that holier than thou preaching has no place at First Christian Church. My granddaddy would be rolling in his grave. Turn it to KY3, will you, Betty? I want to hear the weather report for tomorrow.
BREAKING NEWS! Reports are coming in from all over the Ozarks that hundreds if not thousands of peoplehave just disappeared.
“Betty?” Earl reached out in desperation to elbow his wife.
She was not there! She had been caught up to meet Jesus in the air.
Earl grabbed his chest and fell to his knees. At 8:30 p.m. central standard time, a shout had gone out…“COME UP HERE!” Earl was now praying, but it was too late.
He was NOT READY!