Barred at the Pearly Gates
By Patricia Backora, author of the book
Tough Love in Christ’s Millennium
Which you can order online from: http://www.publishamerica.com
“Another migraine, dear?” Pastor Pete’s wife asked sweetly. She went to get him the two Tylenols and glass of water he usually took before bed.
“I just can’t stand this job,” Pastor Pete moaned. “Mary, those people are getting stupider and stupider all the time.”
“Just give them time, Peter,” she said. “They’ll learn.”
“I just can’t believe it.” He rolled up his eyes. “Those people are as dense as pea soup. I just dread tomorrow. Last week some kid put Monopoly money in the offering bag. Another rug rat put three jaw breakers in. And some dotty old lady put a fudge brownie in it with an IOU. Don’t those people know the only food I want to see in that offering is crispy lettuce with big numbers on it? If we don’t get more of a cash flow, our whole church operation will fold like a house of cards.”
“Just so what you tell them to do, dear. Just confess prosperity,” said his wife, rubbing his sore temples. “This trial will soon pass.”
“Why do we only attract down-and-outers?” Pastor Pete moaned. “Why can’t I persuade more upwardly mobile people to transfer their membership from Upper Crust Cathedral? We live in the ritziest part of town and all we get are underpaid peons who can’t even pay a decent tithe.”
“Maybe they need the money to feed their families, Peter,” Mary said.
“So? Don’t we need it too? Why should I have to deduct money from my base salary to rob Peter to pay Paul, just because the church board can’t afford to pay me a decent travel allowance? After all, I represent them whenever I go anywhere. If things get any worse, Mary, they won’t be able to keep up the premiums on our medical insurance. None of the other local pastors is going through this. That affects my standing in the eyes of the community, just the same as if I ran a five-star restaurant, then added burgers to the menu and cut my prices to attract the riffraff.”
“Aren’t you being a bit mean about it, Peter?”
“Mary, don’t be naive. Jesus said that sometimes we have to take the Kingdom of God by force.” The pastor got a devious look on his face. “It’s time to try the other approach, Mary. No more Mr. Nice Guy dangling the Prosperity Carrot. Time for the stick approach, seasoned with a little old-fashioned fire and brimstone. After I’m through with those people, they’ll rush their offering into the bags. Tithes too.”
Mary frowned. “Me? Immature? I’m only thinking about those scriptures you discovered about what true tithes really consisted of: vegetables, grain, livestock, stuff like that. Remember, you were as shocked as I was that Biblical tithes never consisted of money, and you couldn’t find any Scripture where Paul commanded church members to pay 10% of their wages to preachers?”
He put his hand on her lips. “Shhhh! Mustn’t let the cat out of the bag, Mary...or,” he grinned...”the tithe money out of the bag. Their ignorance is the prosperity of our church. And our ticket to paradise if I play my cards right. Honey, tomorrow is Fleece the Flock Day at Green Pastures Church!”
Mary bit her lip. She had a fine line to tread. Nowadays plenty of pastors had no misgivings about trading their old wives in for “a partner more compatible with their ministry”, and if she crossed her precious Peter she might lose him someday, along with all the fringe benefits that came with being a prosperity pastor’s wife.
Pastor Pete told Mary to just go on to bed without him, because he would be up most of the night. He got out the notes for his old sermon, filled with his usual prosperity rhetoric and tore it up. He spent the next two hours carefully crafting a new one. Then for another three hours he stood in front of a full-length mirror rehearsing it until he got it just right. He paid special attention to voice dynamics, facial expressions, body language and vocal inflection. It was 4 a.m. before he finished. He wore a tired but happy expression as he plopped into bed for four hours of rest before he must get up to dress for 10 a.m. services.
Next morning, Pastor Pete crawled out of bed and over Mary’s objections, chugged down four cups of strong black coffee with his breakfast. Despite his shortage of sleep he must appeared forceful and dynamic in the pulpit, not tired and washed out. Patiently he waited till the final pre-sermon hymn was finished: Give of Your Best to the Master. His heart raced from all that caffeine he wasn’t used to drinking...or was it from the sheer excitement of finding new direction for his ministry? He spoke a perfunctory prayer and popped open his Bible to Malachi Chapter 3, the first of many “sticks” he would use in this make-or-break sermon on giving.
His face was stern and hard. “Turn with me now to Deuteronomy 16:16. Why isn’t God pouring out His blessing upon His people at Green Pastures Church? Notice here it says: Three times a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God...AND THEY SHALL NOT APPEAR BEFORE THE LORD EMPTY! That’s exactly what so many of you have been doing. Coming to this hallowed place to take, take, take, but whenever the offering bag comes within fifty feet of you you shrink away from it like it has leprosy!”
An elderly lady in the second row raised her hand. “Yes, Sister Dora!” the pastor barked, irritated by the interruption. My, how very unseemly.
“Pastor, that verse you read from just told the males to come to the House of God to give donations, and only three times a year. Right?”
Laughs all around.
“Yes, sister, but this is the Age of Grace. We’re under a far better covenant, and so you should do much more than what that verse requires, just out of gratitude for all Jesus has done for you. That means you should give your best offering and tithes all year round and even if you’re a woman.”
“But I DID do more than that verse said,” she replied. “I stuck that brownie in the offering bag last week because my Social Security hadn’t arrived in the mail yet, and I wanted to show how much I appreciated you. Did you enjoy it, Pastor?”
He scrunched up his nose. “You’re here to give to the Lord, sister, and I very much doubt He likes brownies. That doesn’t do much to pay the church mortgage, now, does it?”
Dora rushed out of the sanctuary, crying. The congregation was buzzing by now. This wasn’t the popular “God’s Gonna Make You Rich” pastor everyone was used to. He was as just as outspoken as ever, but something was different about him today.
Pastor Pete kept on quoting verses on giving and sacrifice, and misapplying them to minister guilt to a financially struggling flock who could not hear the Voice of the Good Shepherd in the peevish, belligerent voice bellowing from the pulpit.
“You are cursed with a curse!” Pastor Pete shouted as his sermon reached a feverish crescendo. His face got red as a beet as the vast sanctuary reverberated with rebukes. “That’s what my Bible says in Malachi 3, verse 9, so it’s not open to debate! For these past few weeks the vast majority of you have committed highway robbery against God! And your lame excuse for being stingy is you’ve got to put food on the table! Yeah, right! Some of you butterballs could stand to lose a few pounds by fasting a day or two!” He scowled at them and pinched his middle. “See? I can’t pinch an inch! That poor widow who gave her last two mites to the Temple puts all of you to shame. At least she had an excuse for being stingy! You junk food addicts don’t even trust God to repay two dollars saved out of your grocery budget, so our missions fund is drying up! What a sorry excuse for Christians you are! You just don’t care that millions are going to hell without Christ! No wonder God can’t afford to bless you. Just think Who you’re being stingy with, the God who gives you every breath you breathe.....” Pastor Pete’s face went white as a sheet. His eyes rolled back and he slumped to the floor.
Two deacons rushed over. One dug out his cell phone to summon an ambulance.
“Peter, Peter!” his wife cried. She ran up to the podium, wringing her hands.
One of the deacons gave the pastor mouth-to-mouth respiration while the other said: “Sister Mary, this looks like a heart attack. Did he seem sick last night?”
“He’s had a lot of migraines,” she sobbed. “Especially the past couple weeks. His blood pressure’s been sky high. Oh, no! Oh, Peter, Peter...”
At the Pearly Gates stood a shining figure in white apparel, angelic in countenance. This saint of God, whose name was inscribed in the foundation of the City wall, looked peaceful but solemn, as if the joys within the Holy City were out of sync with something on his mind. A golden key ring hung from a belt he wore around his waist. The Apostle Peter loved to greet newcomers, and besides being with Jesus, his greatest joy was to admit newcomers into the City of His Blessed Redeemer. But how sad, to think he’d have to turn anybody away, especially someone who had once tasted of the life of Christ and then turned away from the Path of Life into the Path of Covetousness which drowns a soul in perdition. To be so close, and yet so far, how tragic!
Pastor Pete felt feather-light as an angel carried him upward, ever upward. He cried out in ecstasy to behold the sparkling prismatic light of the Holy City, suspended in the Highest Heavens like God’s crown jewel. His tongue, so heated and angry just a moment before, was now speechless, for tongue could never describe such radiant beauty. Surely heaven was his now, and never again would he have to fret about money.
Somehow the pastor recognized who stood at the Pearly Gate as he was set on his feet by the attending angel. “Oh, I know you! You’re the Apostle Peter, and I see your keys! Jesus gave you the keys to the Kingdom, didn’t He?”
“All those who abide in Christ their Living Vine have the right to enter here,” said St. Peter. “I am only His humble servant. Tell me the truth, now, Pastor Pete. Did you abide in Christ your Living Vine, or did you fall away from Christ as a dead branch fit only for the fire?”
“I died doing my duty,” Peter replied. “I wasn’t sitting in front of my computer downloading porn. I wasn’t running around with other women. I wasn’t even watching a ball game on TV. The Lord was the last thing on my mind before I dropped dead.”
“Really and truly?” St. Peter raised his eyebrows.
“Yes, St. Peter. I was speaking out in defense of God’s holy offering in the church. What nobler way could I have died, than while taking a stand in the pulpit against defrauding the Lord of what is rightfully His?”
“You were the one who defrauded the Lord, Peter,” said St. Peter. “You robbed his people of peace. You despised the poor saints. You robbed the Christ within them of dignity You peddled a deceitful doctrine to pry money out of God’s people, and you hoped they wouldn’t discover the real truth about tithing, is that not so?”
“Not exactly, St. Peter. I was planning to tell them sooner or later. But my congregation wasn’t mature enough to receive the entire truth just yet. Just like you can’t tell a tiny child the whole story about how babies are made.”
“But you thought your brethren were mature enough to have their pockets picked by a con artist posing as a minister of righteousness,” St. Peter frowned. “Why do you think you’re standing here now?”
“Well, those stingy people got on my nerves so bad it gave me migraine headaches, and my high blood pressure killed me.”
“I believe you know why you died,” said St. Peter.
“Was it all that caffeine I chugged down before church?”
St. Peter shook his head.
“But now that I’m here, St. Peter, I just can’t wait to see my mansion!”
“What about Jesus?” St. Peter looked very sad. “Where is He on your list of priorities?”
“Oh, I want to see Him too, St. Peter, but what a blessing, that I’ll never have to worry about money ever again!”
“That part is true, Peter. But there will be no mansion. You have no inheritance in the Kingdom of God.”
“What!” Pastor Pete cried. “I preached my heart out! I supported overseas missions. In the name of all decency, I demand that you tell me why I can’t go to heaven!”
A tall powerfully built angel emerged from the City gate. He handed St. Peter a scroll. “I’ll cite just a few of your sins,” said the apostle. “Any one of them would keep you out of this Holy City. Some of the sins listed here are ovetousness, envy of other churches, pride, deceit, greed...”
“But Scripture says ‘covet the best gifts!’” the pastor pleaded. “All I ever wanted was to have the best church possible! Doesn’t God want us to strive for excellence in our daily lives? And I didn’t envy other churches, I admired them and wanted to be more like them!”
The apostle shook his head. “That’s the sin of emulation. Peter, wanting to copy someone else’s sins of pride. This blessed realm is so filled with the Light of God’s Holiness that it is useless to try to whitewash your dirty deeds here. Nothing is hidden from His eyes. This whole city is as clear as crystal because of the Blessed Presence of the One Who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and in Him is no darkness at all. See, Peter?”
Pastor Pete seemed to be able to see right through the city walls. How refreshingly pure everything appeared beyond those Gates of Pearl. People walked the streets of gold, surrounded by the most exquisitely lovely trees and flowers. They laughed from the sheer joy of being in the Presence of God, not because they’d just outsmarted somebody else for gain. The buildings of the City shone with a crystal clear transparency unlike any on earth. But beyond that glorious vista was a barrier beyond which Peter’s sinful eyes could not see. Peter was unable to view the highest plane of the Holy City, where the Throne of God stood in all its fathomless Glory. It was overarched by the seven-hued Rainbow of Light, which spoke of the covenant of peace which God had made with Noah after the Flood. The Son of God stood at the Right Hand of God the Father, making intercession for saints on earth who were being led astray by wolves in sheep’s clothing. But Pastor Pete could not see Him.
“Besides all your other heinous sins, didn’t you filch money out of the missions fund to finance that first-class cruise to Hawaii, just so your base salary would remain untouched and available for other luxuries?” St. Peter looked disgusted.
“So? I was going to Pay it back, St. Peter, I swear I would have paid it back! I needed that vacation, to rest from all my pastoral work!”
“But you deceived your brethren about the missions fund and many other matters as well. Ananias and Sapphira fell dead at my feet for lying to the Holy Spirit about what they did with money allegedly dedicated to God.”
“I didn’t exactly lie, St. Peter. I just didn’t tell them the whole truth!” Pastor Pete was sweating by now.
“Your Great Judge has already weighed you in the balance and found you wanting,” St. Peter said.
“If that’s the case, St. Peter, can’t I at least be sent to some intermediate place to grow out of all my sins and faults so I could someday be found worthy to go to heaven?”
St. Peter shook his head. “I’m sorry, Peter, it’s impossible. If only you had not been so worried about protecting your reputation among sinful men. If only you had confessed your sins before the congregation as a fellow brother in Christ and asked their forgiveness for deceiving them in order that you might rob them. God gives grace to the humble, but you shut your ears to the Voice of His Spirit. Therefore, He has shut His ears to your cry of despair.”
What awful anguish filled the eyes of Pastor Pete. “Oh, nameless horror! Eternity lies before me, and there is no turning back! The only time I ever taught my congregation about hell was the day I used it as a weapon to extort money out of them! And though I am at the very Gates of Paradise, I stand already condemned in my sins at the Gates of Hell! Woe unto me! If only I had lived up to the meaning of my name! If only I had remained true to the Rock of my Salvation instead of forsaking Him for filthy lucre and building my life on shifting sand! If only I had followed in the steps of the poor fisherman who said: “Silver and gold have I none, but such as I have give I thee.’ If only I had laid up treasure in this blessed Paradise, I would not be so poor now!”
“Pastor Pete,” said the apostle, “you became a poor man the day Christ ceased to be your dearest Treasure.”
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