Billy the Kid Masquerading as Godliness

by Joe McKeever

Billy the Kid Masquerading as Godliness

In novels, movies, and a television series of many years ago, "The Saint" was a sleuth who assumed various disguises, always a saint in one way or the other. Hence the name. Canadian pastor Mark Buchanan says this is how pride works: it always disguises itself as a saint. Selfishness is presented as merely being kind to oneself. Stubbornness is called strength of character, and anger is thought of as righteous indignation. A critic is seen as someone with higher standards than most, and the Pharisee sees himself as a defender of truth. Underneath it all lurks Saint Pride.

In his latest book, Lake Wobegon Summer 1956, Garrison Keillor takes the voice of a 14-year-old boy describing the ups and downs of his young life. At one point, he describes his mother's Aunt Doe as a "skinny minnie…who tries so hard to be no trouble to anybody and stay out of everyone's way and make no demands whatsoever on anyone…[that] her visits place a huge weight on our household. The weight of meekness. Aunt Doe is sort of the Billy the Kid of meekness, a professional meeker…she can meek you to death."

Mrs. Earwood was the biggest gossip in town, but she always prefaced her news with, "I know you love Mrs. Jones. I thought you would want to know that.…" Saint Pride masquerading as compassion.

Eloise claimed to be a Christian and was always praying for her alcoholic husband to come to Christ, but drove him relentlessly to make more money to finance her out-of-control lifestyle. "I think God wants His people to have the best," she would say. Saint Pride? In the flesh; dressed in white robes of holiness.

Have you noticed a trend here? I'm telling you about Saint Pride's disguises in other people. It's easier to spot in them than in myself, and a lot more comfortable. However, as I look at myself, I see:

• Materialism-disguised as "taking care of my family's needs." I put a lot of miles on a car in pastoring a church; surely the Lord wants me to have dependable transportation. The leather upholstery? It came with the car. But doesn't it look nice?

• Self-indulgence-which goes by the name of wisdom. Those shirts and ties were on sale. I'll be needing some one day and have to pay full price then. So, I'm smart. Same with the new suit. How many do I have in my closet? Well, some are getting threadbare and some I wear almost every week. The church expects me to look my best for God. In a sense, it's an investment.

• Laziness-which we pastors know as "resting in the Lord." We all need our down-time to unburden ourselves from the cares of the ministry. We do our best thinking when unhurried and quiet. Everyone knows the golf course is the best place in the world for that…or in front of the television.

"It's easy to see a smudge on your neighbor's face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,' when your own face is distorted by contempt? It is this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor" (Matt. 7:3-5 The Message).

The next time compassion and humility call on you, look them over closely. It may be Billy the Kid and some of his old gang.

Dr. McKeever pastors First Baptist Church of Kenner, Louisiana