January 2, 2016

It’s a sin to think you’re incapable of sinning.

If you’re driving during the holidays, I caution you to be careful out there. The roads aren’t just filled with drunk drivers.

Sometimes they’re filled with reckless pastors — such as they were 25 years ago in Brentwood, Calif. During the late ’80s, I was the pastor of the First Southern Baptist Church in town. No, this wasn’t the southern California Brentwood of O.J. Simpson fame. This was the sleepy rural Brentwood in northern California where strawberries were first bioengineered.

As our town was somewhat secluded, I would often drive a few hours to attend ministers’ conferences in one of the San Francisco area cities. It was on my return from one of those conferences that I found myself on the wrong end of the law.

Thus, it was about 2 a.m. one Friday night when I drove into the Brentwood city limits. There were no stoplights at the time and thus little to impede my anxious return home.

However, the town was full of stop signs.

Now before I continue, let me hasten to add I was 27 years old, fresh out of the seminary. With somewhat invincible thinking, I reasoned there are only Ten Commandments and everything else seemed more of a suggestion.

And along the final half-mile homeward stretch of Walnut Boulevard, there were posted what seemed like three suggestions — stop signs about 100 yards apart.

And at 2 a.m. it certainly seemed as though a young minister, anxious to return to his young bride, ought to be allowed passage through the signs at about 25 mph. Not exactly fast enough to be reckless, but fast enough to draw the attention of a fairly sleepy police officer.

In a red flash, the officer pulled me over and began to question my memory.

“Do you recall seeing the three stop signs you just blew through?”

“Yes,” I said, sheepishly producing my license.

For the next several minutes, we played “20 Questions,” and he quickly discovered I was a pastor.

“What church?” he asked.

“The Southern Baptist church — but probably not for long.”

“Why is that?” he asked.

I reminded him the town newspaper usually published police reports, and it was difficult to imagine my parishioners reacting favorably to the news that their pastor had blown through half the stop signs in town.

As he generously wrote my ticket for running only one stop sign, he posed a question that has guided me much of my career.

He asked something like, “Have your church members never been ticketed?” In the middle of the night, the officer’s question seemed to imply a church that doesn’t realize it has a flesh-and-blood pastor would be a church that has long been asleep.

In the years since, I’ve come to realize that not only is it is a sin to think of yourself as incapable of sinning, but it may be worse to think of yourself as someone who’d never want to be discovered sinning.

No, I’m not suggesting we display our sins in a way that makes us seem more human. I’m only suggesting we don’t attempt to hide our sins in a way that makes us less than human. Because, as my mom always said, echoing Numbers 32:23: “Your sin will find you out.”

Not long after that, the Brentwood Press published a story about speeders with a picture of an unsuspecting car driving down Walnut Boulevard.

Guess whose car just happened to be depicted in the story headlined — “Walnut Boulevard Problem with Speeders.”

Guilty, again.

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