Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, NC, a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com
My credentials as a genuine Southerner, while not infinite, are nonetheless quite high. Born and raised in the south, a lover of tomato sandwiches (maters, to quote the vernacular) with Dukes mayonnaise, fiercely independent, and with a strong ambivalence for things like lacrosse, hominy, sky scrapers, traffic, and leaving the R out of words like “park” and “car”.
Nonetheless, there is one thing about me that has, in recent years, led a few paranoid souls to suspect that I might in fact be a northern infiltrator:
I drink unsweetened tea.
Mind you, not unsweetened tea with little packets of artificial sweetener added to it, just plain unsweetened tea.
In my beloved South that is enough to get a person labeled with such titles of unsavory intent as Yankee, city-slicker, or even liberal.
I have been doing this for quite a few years now. I am not trying to cut calories; I am very physically active, in excellent shape, and can eat pretty much whatever I want without gaining weight. I simply got to where I did not like the syrupy taste of soft drinks or sweet tea. I went to diet soft drinks and unsweetened tea with artificial sweetener for a while, but quickly grew tired of those as well.
When I switched over to drinking either water or unsweetened tea, an amazing thing happened; I found that I could actually taste the tea. For me, all of this is a series of positives. Water is free when I order that, and doing without sugar is good for my joints and overall health. But drinking unsweetened tea in the South will, as I mentioned above, get one’s Southern credentials called into question, and I am not kidding when I say that. Sweet or unsweet tea, while not actually a big deal, has actually become an unofficial litmus test of whether or not one truly is a Southerner.
The question of tea aside, litmus tests in general are funny things, mainly in that they usually overlook the majors and focus on the minors. This is especially true in spiritual matters.
In Matthew 23:23-24 Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
The Pharisees were famous for rigid adherence to even the tiniest points of law and tradition. It was not that those things were wrong; Jesus actually praised them in these verses for things like tithing, telling them that they should indeed be doing those things. The problem was that, while maintaining that focus on smaller issues, they were neglecting greater things like judgement (carefully and without favoritism discerning whether or not things are good or evil) mercy (showing kindness and good will even toward the undeserving) and faith (placing actual trust in God, relying upon him with confidence).
The “thou shalt” and “thou shalt nots?” Check; they had all of those down pat. The real walk with God that would affect every moment of their lives, especially their interactions with others? Not so much.
It is very easy to get caught up in the minors to the exclusion of the majors. By Jesus’ own words, though, some things are “weightier” than others. The modern Pharisee bristles at that notion, but Jesus was clear in his words. While we ought to obey absolutely everything God commands of us, some things ought to have a greater weight than others to us, especially those things that actually impact our relationships with God and with people. If we do not grasp that, we will become much like an unpleasant gentleman whom I have avoided for a great many years now, who is in his avoidance of sin very particular, and yet has such a bitter and miserable spirit that he literally pushes people away from Christ rather than drawing men to Christ. His positions on even the tiniest matters are quite correct, but his disposition is loathsome. For the child of God this is never acceptable. Judgement, mercy, and faith ought to be weightier to us than that.
Remember that. And please know that if you are working the drive through window and I come through and order, I will test my tea before I drive away, since roughly 80% of the time I have to hand it back and say, “Pardon me, I said ‘unsweet.’”
Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Feature photo by Pastor Bo Wagner)