The “Ned Flanders” Type
Yes, I admit to having watched an episode or two of The Simpsons TV show. Just a couple, mind you. Maybe a few more than that actually. But not too many. Christians aren’t supposed to watch The Simpsons, are they?
I identify most with Homer and Ned. Perhaps because they reflect both sides of me.
Homer — I mean, come on, who wouldn’t want to intentionally become obese, wear a Muumuu, hang around the house, collect unemployment and have handicapped parking, right?
Ned — Of course, our family and home life is just like Ned’s. We are the picture of the perfect Christian family. Want to be like Jesus? All you have to do is look to us.
I found this interesting bit of information about Ned.
— Ned Flanders has been described as “the United States’ most well-known evangelical". According to Christianity Today, "today [in 2001] on American college and high school campuses, the name most associated with the word Christian—other than Jesus—is not the Pope or Mother Teresa or even Billy Graham. Instead, it's a goofy-looking guy named Ned Flanders on the animated sitcom known as The Simpsons. The mustache, thick glasses, green sweater, and irrepressibly cheerful demeanor of Ned Flanders, Homer Simpson's next-door neighbor, have made him an indelible figure, the evangelical known most intimately to non-evangelicals.” —
As a TV viewer, sitting back and watching the Simpsons, I’m struck by two conflicting things about myself.
On one side, you just have to admire and even appreciate the openness Homer regularly displays. Homer is as Homer does. On the other side, I find myself recoiling from what I consider to be a fairly accurate portrayal of the practiced Christian front believers feel the need to display. Perhaps if Ned were to be a little more human, then Homer might stop resisting and come to Jesus. … Can God save Homer? Can God tone down Ned?? Tune in next time ….
Here’s what got me thinking on all of this. The incident I’m about to share may or may not have actually happened. And, it’s not about me.
A preacher and his wife had been given a gift certificate to go out and eat at a particular restaurant. They were expectantly anticipating this time out together. They ordered their meals and awaited the arrival of their food. I’m sure they passed the time in pleasant conversation. A free meal and time alone with the one you love is a special moment to be fully enjoyed.
When the food came, his order was wrong. It wasn’t what he ordered. His wife’s was fine but his wasn’t. So, the waiter apologized and went back to get it corrected for him. Well of course, time went by and when his food had arrived his wife had already finished hers. She couldn’t wait since her food would get cold. What a disappointing experience. If this has ever happened to you, you know how it just totally messed up their evening.
His food finally came back. This time it was correct. They even gave him a double portion. But … it wasn’t fully cooked. I’m sure the cook wanted to get the food out as quickly as possible, but in doing so ruined the meal. The preacher was able to eat some of it though … while his wife watched him.
Later on, sometime in the future, the preacher made an opportunity to share this story with his listeners. He said the thought in his mind during all of this was to be a witness for Jesus. He wouldn’t complain. He would express his gratefulness for the effort and not say a negative word. He went on to attribute his ability to do this to the grace of God. He said, however, he hadn’t always been so gracious in other scenarios.
Now … I’ve been a preacher for many years. I know a good sermon illustration opportunity developing when I see it. I have to wonder if, during this meal, he anticipated a future “sermon illustration” coming on. With that in the back of his mind, he “played” out the situation so as to have something that could be used in the future to make a good point in a sermon??
Have I ever done that? Yup. It can’t be helped. When you’re a preacher, you’re always “on.” You’re always in sermon making mode. Especially if you have to preach four different messages every week.
But, let me tell you what I wish he had said while not leaving the other unsaid. Or stated a different way: “Tell me the other not so pleasant things that coursed through your mind. What did you and your wife actually say while she was eating and you weren’t. Or, if you said the “correct” things to each other, was there at least a moment at which you were … MAD?”
How can anyone be human and not, at least to some degree, struggle with thoughts that wouldn’t make for such a great testimony or sermon illustration for Jesus? Truthfully, I don’t need to always have a preacher who is so squeaking clean. I’d like to know that, every once in a while, when the preacher smacks his finger with the hammer he actually says @!#$%&%$!@. I know, I know, “good” Christians don’t say words like that.
What’s my issue with the preacher’s story? May I suggest that, perhaps, it’s the fear of being openly authentic because others might disagree, misunderstand or even judge. A preacher is a Man of God, right? The Fruit of The Spirit always flow through him, doesn’t it? And when it doesn’t, he has his backup Holy Spirit to guide and contain him — his wife.
Why do you think we love the stories about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Job, Peter, Paul and Barnabas arguing, Timothy and his fears and weak stomach? WE CAN IDENTIFY. Did all these men lead lives that always made for good sermon illustrations? I trow not!
But aren’t you glad you can read about these men? Aren’t you glad David wrote all the heart wrenching Psalms that he did? How many people have found genuine comfort and forgiveness identifying with David and following his path to reconciliation?
I don’t need to hear how well the preacher outwardly behaved when the bad food came. Every once in a while, it might be good for the preacher to pull back the curtains of his life just enough to let us common folk begin to realize we’re all in this together?
I’m glad Peter started to sink while walking on the water. He became afraid even though Yeshua was right there with Him. But knowing Peter started to sink within arm’s reach of Yeshua, I don’t have to feel so miserable about myself when I fear and Yeshua isn’t at arm’s length. That’s the kind of authenticity we need to see from our preachers and leaders.
Please don’t misunderstand me. We don’t have to reveal everything to everybody. That’s just stupid. Some things are best left to God and those closest to us. But there are those aspects which, in the right moment, can be shared and make a huge difference in the life of a person.
The lost world knows we don’t walk on water. They already know we are a mixture of Ned and Homer. It might be good to let people know that even though we’re saved and have the Holy Spirit within, we do struggle against the flesh from without.
Can you imagine ever reading “The Psalms Of Ned”?