If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 ( KJV)
By Bro. John L. Cash, “Country Preacher Dad”
Gwen Rockwood and I both returned to our childhood homes in Stuttgart this past week. We and our families have been visiting there on a regular basis since we were children. On Tuesday morning I got up bright and early at my mom’s house to drive the 8 blocks to Gwen’s parents’ house to deliver a Mississippi cantaloupe. Little did I realize I was about to have an encounter with law enforcement while driving that short distance. I was about to become a common criminal.
While approaching the stop-light at 18th and Main Street, I was startled by a police cruiser with flashing blue lights and a blaring siren in my rear view mirror. I instantly pulled into a parking lot to get out of the way of the good officer — thinking he needed to get past me so he could get to the scene of a crime or something. But when he wedged his patrol car behind me so I couldn’t back up or escape, I sensed that he might be after me. When his partner arrived in another squad car to act as a “backup,” I realized that, without a doubt, I was the offender.
While the good officer ran my plates, checked my insurance cards, and processed my driver’s license for any outstanding warrants, I had a few moments to reflect on the nature of my crime. I really couldn’t remember what I’d done, but I had a pretty good idea. Sometimes when there’s no traffic on the roads, I am kind of bad to approach a four-way stop without actually stopping. What I mean is, I just slow down to a crawl and look around the intersection. If there are no vehicles for as far as the eye can see (which is pretty far on “The Grand Prairie,”) well, then I just “almost” stop and make my turn. Unfortunately for me, in the eyes of the law, almost stopping is the same as not stopping at all. “Almost” only counts in horseshoes, hand-grenades, and hydrogen bombs. “Almost” does not apply to stop-signs.
Something else I quickly realized is that I don’t get out of Newton County, Mississippi much. Most of the policemen I see are members of my congregation. They don’t say, “We don’t know this guy with the out-of-state tags, and he looks suspicious.” They just say, “Look, there goes Brother John.” And I realize now that other people must not always perceive me as I perceive myself. I always envision myself as looking like an average American bald-headed, middle-aged white guy — not like a Columbian drug kingpin. More like a country pastor than a meth-lab-builder. More like “Mr. Potato Head” than Charles Manson. I guess I’ve been mistaken all this time. (You can judge for yourself. On the right is a photo of me with Gwen’s 3-year-old, Kate.)
I’ve been pulled over before, and something I’ve learned is that when the policeman tells you what you’ve done, you had better realize you’re guilty and you had better plead guilty. I knew in a flash that the good officer was correct in his assessment: It is against the law not to come to a full stop at an intersection. He was correct and I had no excuse.
I’m also ashamed to say that when I am trying to avoid a ticket, I will use every weapon in my extensive linguistic arsenal to try to avoid paying a fine. I don’t remember everything I said to the patrolman, but I think it went something like this: “Officer, you’re right that I am guilty. I don’t remember not coming to a complete stop, but I’m sure that you saw it and are correct. I am a country preacher in Mississippi, and I grew up in this town. I came home to visit my elderly, widowed mother. My dad was once the mayor here a long time ago. I’m on my way to deliver breakfast to a friend. I wasn’t watching what I was doing. But if you will let me go this time, I will not let it happen again. I’ll get my head back in the game.” When you are begging for mercy, never lose an opportunity to make an emotional appeal involving home, nostalgia, motherhood and the care-of-aged, history, politics, heartfelt-Southern-religion, friendship, repentance, and fresh fruit. It’s worth a shot.
I’m happy to say that the good officer turned me loose with only a warning. And I have kept my end of the bargain. I am stopping — completely — at all the four-way-stops.
When you break the laws of a town, you might get leniency or you might get a ticket. But today’s Scripture lesson (at the top) tells us that no matter the situation, forgiveness is always available from our Heavenly Father. St. John says that if we will confess our sins (admitting that we are guilty, expressing true sorrow, and seeking His forgiveness) God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. Then we need to seek His grace to turn over a new leaf, striving to lead a life of obedience. It’s always good to come home — and to get a second chance.
Dr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and is about to complete his 25th year of being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days he works at a public school.) He and his lovely wife, Susan, and his sons, Spencer (age 19) and Seth (age 16) live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church (where the Preacher is typing this week’s installment from the Stuttgart Public Library.) He would love to hear from you in an email sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.