Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Glen, the "Soul Sleeper"

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2

There was one customer in the Oak Street Bible Shop and he was about to leave. Gary had completed engraving a name on a Bible for him. The man, an older, rather severe looking gentleman, looked at the embossed letters, in shining gold, with approval.

“Looks real nice” he said. Then, his glance fell upon a package with a note rubber banded to it, “for Glen”. “Say,” he said,”that’s not Glen Brock is it?”

Gary looked at the man, trying to gauge his intention. “Yes, that’s for him. Do you know Glen?”

“I used to go to his Bible studies” he said rather heavily, “ but not any more. Not since I found out he was a soul sleeper!”

Joy, perched on her stool, took a deep breath, but said nothing. Here we go again”, she thought. People either love the man or despise him. Can’t there ever be a middle ground with Glen?”

Sue, in the back room had just finished wiping off the table where the coffee urn sat. She looked up at the man as he was leaving. She felt resentment against this stern man because she agreed with Glen and disliked anyone who spoke against him.

The shop was silent as each of the three went about their tasks, alone in their thoughts. It was about an hour later when they heard Glen’s footsteps on the porch and the bell jingle as he swept open the door. It was chilly and windy, the kind of weather he liked, and he was smiling.

“Howdy” was all he said as he glanced from one to the other.

“Your Bloomfields are here” said Gary, touching the package with the note on it.

Sue poured a cup of coffee for him and started to walk into the front room. “We had a visitor today” she smiled as she said it. “”A former fan of yours.” Glen reached for the coffee, with a nod of gratitude.

“Former?” he asked. “What have I done now?”

Joy spoke with just a touch of irritation in her voice. “Oh you must have offended him by saying you don’t believe in immortality.”

“Hold on,” Glen replied. I believe in immortality as much as anyone. Can’t figure why anyone would say I don’t. But I agree with Paul on the subject, that’s all. Why would agreeing with Paul offend anyone?”

Sue looked on with obvious enjoyment. She never tired of the way Glen stated his case in such situations. He would turn things around, put his attackers on the defensive. He once told her he learned about how Jesus did that. Dr George Washington Crane called it the “reversible why” technique, he said Jesus spoke in this way to his attackers.

Joy sat up straight. “Why must you always offend people, Glen? You’re not going to change anyone’s mind and you just make them mad, you lose people that way when you could be popular.”

Gary and Sue looked back and forth at the two, as if at a tennis match. Glen took a drink of his coffee, looking out the front window at the tree limbs bending in the wind.

“Isn’t it curious that I am accused of offending people? Have you ever considered that maybe I am offended by people promoting this devilish Babylonian doctrine of intrinsic immortality?” He said this without anger, just raising the question. He paused, drinking the last of his coffee. Sue reached out to take his empty cup.

“Oh, it isn’t true I won’t change anyone’s mind. I read them the scriptures and a number of people see it the Bible way, instead of the devil’s way. Somebody changed my mind with the scriptures, so it can happen.”

Joy took on her persecuted martyr look, wondering to herself why she got into these arguments with Glen.

He continued, “As for being popular, how popular was John the Baptist and the other great prophets? I just want people to think and not just follow what everybody says.”

There was silence for a bit as they all reflected. Then Sue spoke up, “What do you mean you agree with Paul”.

“Yes,”, said Joy, “Do you think people who believe we are immortal disagree with Paul?” She emphasized the “dis”.

“On the subject of immortality, yes, they do.” Glen walked to the counter and turned one of Gary’s Bibles around. He found his place and began to read,

Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump; for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruption must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So, when this corruption shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. (1 Corinthians 15:51-55.

Joy was about to speak but saw Glen silently mouthing the words “But that’s just the body” and closed her mouth. Glen continued.

"When I say I agree with Paul, I am saying in this manner, this mortality must put on immortality. If we presently have immortality, why must we put it on at the last trump. Joy, you and I both believe in immortality. You believe we are immortal now, that all people, even the unsaved are. Paul says our immortality is something we put on at the last trump, it is future. I agree with Paul. If we are immortal now, why must we put on immortality at the last trump?”

Again there was silence, if not agreement. Gary spoke, “Do you get mad when people call you a soul sleeper, Glen?”

Glen shrugged. “Oh, I don’t like it. Name calling is not an argument, just act of aggressive ignorance. But I feel I am in good company with the “soul sleepers” of the scriptures. Job would be called a soul sleeper today, so would David. Guess I am in good company in this regard.

Joy’s expression softened. “I think I know where you are going with Job, not that I totally agree, but I have heard you quote from chapter fourteen, am I right?”

Before Glen could answer, Gary began to leaf through his Bible. He read silently for a time. “You know, all of chapter fourteen is a powerful statement of your belief. My Bibles’s note says “Job continues; he awaits resurrection. Of course that’s just a note, but it does state it well.”

Joy looked at Gary intently. Sometimes she felt she was alone against the three others in her belief.

Gary looked at Glen. “I’ve heard you read these words more than once. Shall I read them out loud?” Glen smiled and nodded.

But man dieth, and wasteth away; yea man expireth and where is he? As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up; So man lieth down, and riseth not. Till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. Oh, that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest conceal me until thy wrath be past; that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me!If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, , till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee; thou wilt have a desire to the work of my hands. (Job14:10-15)

“Thank you, Gary”, He stepped to the counter and turned the Bible’s pages to Job chapter nineteen. “For those who say our souls are with God as soon as we die, and we see Him in our soulish state, Job has this to say:

For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God, Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me. (Job 19:25-27)

“In my flesh” said Glen, “not in my soul”.

Joy was conflicted, Glen’s scriptures were so convicting. But at church, so were the arguments of her preacher and the teachers. She said nothing.

Sue asked, quietly, “But it must upset you to be called a name like soul sleeper, doesn’t it Glen?”

He smiled a little as he conceded, Oh, sure, I would prefer scriptures to slurs. But you get used to it. After all, some people call me a Bible thumper too. That’s real intelligent.”

“But what about David? You said he was a, quote, soul sleeper too.”

“Last verse of Psalm seventeen” Glen said, “But, look, I have to be going, I have a class tonight. He counted out the money for his books and turned towards the door. “See you.” and he was gone.

Joy turned with resignation on her high perch. “Well, lets’s hear it.” was all she would say.

Gary found the place and read, "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. Psalm 17:15."

Sue repeated the words “when I awake” with quiet wonder. “I’ve read all the Psalms. I wonder why I didn’t see that.”

“Mental set, is what Glen would say”, Gary replied. “You see what you expect to see.”

“Or want to see” Sue added.

Gary closed his Bible. “It’s like going to Bible college every time Glen gets going.”

“Yes,” Joy spoke wearily, “and I always feel like I just flunked my exam.”

One of God's Workmen

Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. II Timothy 2:15

As I was about to go up the steps to the Oak Street Bible Shop the door opened and Glen backed out with a heavy carton of books, more than his usual supply.

"Can I give you a hand?" I asked.

"No", he said, "I've got this one, but there is another one inside. If you'd bring it out, I'd appreciate it, I've got to go make room in the van."

When I brought out box number two he was rearranging items in the back of his Astro van, a tub of laundry and some wrapped bundles from an art store, which he carefully placed on the back seat.

"Been to the laundromat and the art store", he said. I didn't say anything so he continued, "Since I moved out of our house I don't have any laundry facilities. I have to go to the laundromat now. Jeanie used to do everything for me, but now that she is gone, I have to manage for myself, and I guess I don't manage very well, to be honest."

He saw me looking at the art store packages and explained, "I got some extra large poster boards. I'm learning to make big posters of prophetic subjects. Even Oak Street doesn't have what I need, but they did look for it. I need something I can point to and people can see it several rows back, something real vivid, yet plain too".

He had everything loaded and walked around to the driver's side. I was curious about how he was going to make these large posters, as I had made big photo blowups and asked how he was going to do it.

"Are you artistic?" I asked. He kind of laughed at that, "Oh no, far from it, but I bought something that could help me make what I need. I know what I want, I just can't freehand draw it."

Glen could see my interest and maybe needed to show it to someone and maybe he needed to talk too. "I could show you, if you're interested" he offered, "but weren't you going into the Bible Shop for something?"

I told him the book I had ordered was not in yet and I was just going to talk awhile with Gary and the others. "I'd rather go see how you make the posters if you don't mind." "Well he said, I haven't done much yet, but you're welcome to see what I've done so far".

He drove slowly through the side streets, his eyes going from side to side and checking the mirrors too. When children or animals appeared on the sidwalks, he lifted his foot from the accelerator and poised it over the brake. Soon we arrived at the house where his room was. It was an old wooden house, set back from the street and surrounded by trees. He pulled his van into the gravel driveway and parked near a wooden stairway leading to an upstairs room.

"Let's take the outside steps", he said, "My landlady is real nice, but if I go through the house she wants to talk and I got things to do".

We carried the boxes up the stairs and he put his down to get his key out and open the door. We stepped into the large room and he turned on a ceiling light, then walked to a pole light and snapped on a soft fluorescent bulb over a 4'x 4' sheet of plywood on a table.

"Just set that box anywhere" he said. He pulled a wooden chair over for me to sit on. "You just take it easy while I go down and get that art stuff". When the door closed behind him I looked around the room. There was a small bed with a wool blanket and one pillow. Beside the bed was a pair of the simple black shoes he always wore.

"Navy shoes" he called them. There was a surplus ammo box open with shoe rags and a tin of Kiwi polish. He had the laces out of the shoes which were clean and shiny, ready to be laced up. His room was simple and old fashioned. It had big high windows with white curtains. There were gas lights on swing arms still in place, with pink glass shades. This place really is old, I thought, built before electric lights were used. There was a fireplace with a decorative tin cover over the opening. It had a mantle with a picture of a young woman in a wedding dress. I figured this was his Jeanie. Then I heard his feet on the steps. I got up and opened the door for him. He was loaded down with his art packages plus a bunch of purple flowers.

"She heard us coming in, and came out to give me these" he said nodding his head at the iris. "She knew that Jeanie loved the old fashioned iris, the purple ones and the little yellow two toned ones, but they bloomed early and are all gone by now".

He set the packages down and put the iris into a dark blue vase on a marble topped table by a window. He stepped out into the hall and I heard the water run as he filled the vase with water from a sink in the bathroom.

"They always remind me of Jeanie", he said, "As if I need any reminders".Then he opened the first package, tearing off the brown paper and placing one of the big posters on the plywood sheet and the others against a wall. The device in the second package had me curious. It was a series of metal strips with numbers on them and pivoted so they formed X es, kind of like those folding baby gates.

"I told the clerk at the art store what I wanted to do, and he said what I needed was a pantograph." He was reading the instructions. "It says you can enlarge up to eight times according to how you set it up." He read the instructions some more, then walked to the table and taped a picture to the plywood with some pieces of masking tape. He laid the pantograph on
the board. It had a flange with a screw hole in it for attaching it and holding it steady. He reached under his bed and slid out a small tool box. He pulled out a screw starter and a nut driver plus a box of screws.

"All I got is sheet metal screws, but I guess one will do ok." He attached the pantograph and put a soft pencil lead into its holder. "If I do this right I can trace the stylus over the original and the
lead will draw a bigger picture of it. Then I can use poster colors to represent the different metals and the clay", he said. He turned his chair towards me. "I'll do it later, I'm afraid of messing
up these big posters. I can practice on that brown wrapping paper they gave me. Anyway, that's my plan. I got to get this across to these people".

He gestured toward boxes on the floor. Each box had books and 3 hole punched lesson sheets in them, in see through folders. One box was marked "high rise" another "rest home". He had one marked "YMCA". He saw me looking at it.

"You know they were formed under a Christian charter. Someone said we could have a class there and they were right. They treated us real nice, had a blackboard and an easel, plenty of chairs". I teach any place they let me. It would really help if I could make posters like this". He got up and handed me a copy of the great image of Daniel chapter two. "This is so important, so basic", he said with fervor. "If people only knew that the Bible lays out the future so plain, that if you understood it, you couldn't go wrong." He waved at the boxes of books. "It's all in there, but it really helps if you look at it together. Some people don't get it from a book, not right away. I
know I didn't".

He saw I was interested and I was agreeing with him every step of the way. I had said the same thing a number of times."But" he said, lowering his voice. "People don't know a damned thing, if
you'll pardon my French. You go into a church and everybody smiles at you. They know nothing about you at all. Why all the damned smiles? Maybe I don't feel like smiling, maybe I'm walking around with a knife in my heart, they don't know. And you know why? They don't care, that's
why. They don't have the time to get to know you, that's why. Hell, if you get a new dog or cat or a horse, you got to take the time with them so you know their temperment. Later on, if you treat 'em right they may start liking you. But it takes time! Man, animals are smarter than people in a lot of ways, they've got more sense, and more dignity."

"But that's all personality stuff. It's more than that, it's content,... content. People don't know anything any more. You go to a Bible study, or I guess I should say Sunday School class and it's once over lightly about some material the teacher studied the night before. I don't know how many times I've sat outside a church office waiting to talk to somebody and listened to preachers on the phone laughing it up, haw hawing about this and that. And church people get together and drink coffee and talk about sports and cars and jobs, such shallow stuff! I hope you take this right, but you can have a better talk in a bar sometimes and I don't drink any more or go to bars."

Glen held up a volume from one of the cartons. It was Daniel and the Latter Days. "This is so important", he said with great earnestness. "This is what we need to understand. If we did we wouldn't be involved in so many foolish enterprises. It's heavy stuff. Daniel collapsed when he saw the future for his people, Israel. But angels comforted him. They called him 'Greatly beloved'."

"But it takes years to get what's in here" he said looking at the book. “Daniel chapter two is one of the great prophecies of the whole Bible, get that and it's hard for anyone to deceive you. But you can't sit around with your friends gabbing and learn anything. You have to spend time alone and prepare your mind. If you do that you will never see the world the same way. It changes you after you understand Daniel and the other prophetic books."

From below we heard a TV set being turned up and then off. "That's my landlady", said Glen. "That's her signal that it's supper time. She listens to the evening news while she fixes supper and that's how she signals me to come down."

How you gonna get home? he asked. "Oh, I can walk to where I parked my car, it's not far". I hope your posters come out ok. And I hope people get the message that is in them".

I turned towards the door for the outside steps and Glen turned off the light over his poster table. He gave me a little smile as he walked out of his room to go to supper.

Jael, Rhymes with Nail

Then Jael, Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand..... Judges 4:21

Gary had barely finished reading the passage about Ehud and Eglon, when Sue’s eyes lit up. “That was great!”, she said with excitement, “but I’ve got another story that I like too.”

We didn’t see a lot of emotion from Sue. She was a devoted Christian. Anyone who spent time around her soon realized that. But she was not what you would call outgoing. There was always an air of quiet about her. She could bond with children and, for some reason, she was not shy around Glen. His rough exterior and blunt manners did not seem to frighten her one bit.

But her avid expression and enthusiasm over the story of Ehud and his home-made dagger, did seem out of character for someone with such a quiet personality.

Maybe it shows that all of us are more complex than is generally realized?

“Have we got time to read it too?” she asked.

“Unfortunately” said Joy. “I mean business this morning has really been slow. But let’s hear the story you like so much..”

“Gary, I bet you know where it is.”

“Where what is?” said Gary, with an air of mild curiosity.

“I mean my favorite story in Judges, or a least one of my favorites. It’s the one where Jael takes a hammer....”

“Oh, sure” said Gary. I know about where it is. The heading in my Scofield has it under “Sisera’s defeat and death.You would think Jael would get the top billing, not Sisera.”

“Sisera was such a powerful force against Israel” said Glen, who had been quietly taking this all in..Not only the subject matter was of interest to Glen, but he liked to find which parts of the Bible appealed to each of his friends. He said he learned a lot about them in this way.

“Sisera had nine hundred chariots of iron. In those days chariots were the equivalent to tanks in the modern army.”

“I’ve read this story” said Joy.“Why doesn’t it mention how many chariots Israel had?”

“Israel was forbidden to have chariots, or even horses” said Gary.

“Good point, Gary” said Glen. “Israel was meant to rely on God to gain the victory, not horses and chariots. When they went out on foot and defeated enemy forces that came at them with armored calvary, their victory showed that it was by the hand off God that they were able to win.”

Sue listen quietly, but you could see she was impatient to hear the story.
“Sorry to interrupt, Sue” said Glen, “Just a little background, is all.”

Joy spoke, after an apology to Sue. “You know, Israel went into battle knowing they would win. Deborah, a prophetess, spoke for God. She said He would deliver the enemy into their hands. Now I’ll shut up so we can hear the story.”

Gary began to read: And the Lord discomfited Sisera, and all his chariots, and, and all his host, with the edge of the sword before Barak; so that Sisera lighted down off his chariot, and fled away on his feet. Judges 4:15

“Imagine Patton leaving his armor outfit and running for his life!, exclaimed Glen.

“That’s how bad this is.”

Gary read on “But Barak pursued after the chariots, and after the host, unto Harosheth of the Gentiles: and all the host of Sisera fell upon the edge of the sword: and there was not a man left. Judges 4:16

“Not a man left of the army, just their leader, Sisera” said Gary.

Howbeit Sisera fled away on his feet to the tent of Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite: for there was peace between Jabin the king of Hazor and the house of Heber the Kenite.

“He figured he was safe” said Sue gleefully.

And Jael went out to meet Sisera, and said unto him, Turn in my lord, turn in to me; fear not. And when he had turned in to her into the tent, she covered him with a mantle. And he said to her, Give me, I pray thee, a little water to drink; for I am thirsty. And she opened a bottle of milk, and gave him drink, and covered him.
“Nighty night!” said Sue, obviously enjoying this part of the story.

Again he said unto her, Stand in the door of the tent, and it shall be, when any man doth come and enquire of thee, and say, Is there any man here? That thou shalt say, No.

At this point Sue clasped her little hands together in childlike anticipation.

Then Jael, Heber’s wife took a nail of the tent, and took an hammer in her hand, and went softly unto him, and smote the nail into his temples, and fastened it into the ground: for he was fast asleep and weary. So he died. Judges 4:21

“Just like Deborah foretold” said Joy. “Deborah said the Lord would sell Sisera into the hand of a woman”

“Every man feared that fate” said Glen. “It was considered a curse to die at the hands of a woman.”

We turned to Gary, who completed the story: And behold, as Barak pursued Sisera, Jael came out to meet him, Come and I will show thee the man whom thou seekest. And when he came into her tent, behold, Sisera lay dead. And the nail was in his temples. Judges 4:22

Sue’s left hand curled as if to hold a tent stake. She swung an imaginary hammer down with such vigor that her locket came out of her dress and swung on its chain like a pendulum. “Pow, pow, pow!” she swung three times, killing Sisera again in her imagination.

“Take that!” she said.

We all watched her in amazement.

Joy’s face had an expression that seemed to say “Who have I got working in my store?”

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ray of Hope

Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.This commandment have I received of my Father. John 10:17,18

“There are people hidden all over the place” Glen once old me,”Some of them are so hidden away it’s like only God knows where they are.” But Glen knew of a lot of people, often alone, and if they would have him, he would visit them and teach from his Bible to the best of his ability.

One Wednesday, he drove to a highrise for the handicapped and elderly. It was on the edge of town and was sixteen stories high. A crowd had gathered near the side entrance Glen liked to use. A cruiser was there and a policeman stood guard over a corpse covered by a tarp. An old man had gone off a balcony from the twelfth floor, a suicide people said. “He had health problems and he couldn’t take it any more”, said someone who knew him. Children pressed closer, scared but curious, hoping to see something that they could tell to their friends. A boy, about eight, stepped closer. He had an orange popsicle in his hand.

The cop saw him edging closer. “You wanna see?” He reached down as if he was going to raise the tarp. The little boy’s eyes widened and he shook his head to say no.

“Then please get back, everybody,” said the cop. “This is a terrible thing, you don’t want to look at this.” He waved his arm around the alcove where the man had hit. His corpse was covered, but spattered blood was on the gray concrete where he had hit and on the walls of the building.

Glen went through the side entrance and to the elevator. He pressed the button for floor twelve. Today was the day he visited with Ray and Bessie. With Bessie, really, as Ray didn’t care to join them. He walked to the end of the carpeted hall and used the door knocker. Bessie opened the door and motioned for him to step into their little sitting room. She was a small, plump woman with a round face. Her hair was pulled back into a bun. There was a look of deep concern in her brown eyes.

Glen sat with her, but said nothing. Bessie looked at him intently, “I was down on the first floor” she told him, almost in a whisper. “We heard it, like the sound of a collision, that’s what we thought it was, a car. Then when someone told us it was a man who had climbed over to jump.

The first thing I thought, was, what if it was Ray! I realized he couldn’t get out of his wheelchair, but that’s what I thought, just for a minute. How horrible for him to die and not be a believer.” Bessie leaned over to Glen, “Ray is a real he-man type. He was in construction. You wouldn’t know it now, but he was a powerful man when he was young.”

Glen took it all in, but said nothing. Bessie put her hand on Glen’s arm. “Ray said he can’t believe in Jesus, he thinks Jesus was a sissy!” Glen could see that Bessie hated to say this. But he had heard it many times before. He had grown up in a church where Jesus was presented in just this way. He told me once,”The Powers that Be” want you to believe Jesus was weak, and they want you to be the same way, so they can boss you around and rule over you. But the hardest thing for Jesus to do, was to hold back His power and take a beating and execution for you and me.”

Glen once said the hardest thing for him was self control, or it had been. He once told me, “If I had the power Jesus had, I don’t think I could have held back, I know I couldn’t. One day it hit me” Glen told me. “The hardest thing, and the greatest thing, was what Jesus did not do. If He had used his power and not let them take him, we would all die in our sins and lose eternal life.”

It was then that I learned a secret about Glen. That old fighter was imitating Jesus, by not doing the mean thing, when he could, and by learning patience, and Glen was patient.

As they rose to go to the kitchen, Bessie touched Glen’s wrist, “I just thought I would tell you” she said.

Glen seated himself at the little wooden kitchen table. It had red flowers stenciled on it was trimmed in red. On the wall was a crocheted cross. Sunlight lit up the table as Glen opened his Bible.

Bessie stood at the doorway talking to Ray. “Don’t you want to join us, honey? Come on and sit with us.” She wheeled his chair into the kitchen. It was a big heavy chair with a rack to hold his oxygen tank. Glen got up to welcome him, but Ray waved him down. Glen looked at his long arms and legs, he had big hands, but now his body was thin and sagging. He was friendly enough, but had a look of detachment, as if he would rather be somewhere else if he only had the opportunity.

Glen began his lesson for the day. “Jesus is often presented as a kind man, with lots of good intentions, doing kind deeds and so forth, until his luck ran out and the authorities killed him. But the words of Jesus and his life teaches us just the opposite.

Ray listened, but gave no clues as to what he was thinking as Glen continued, “There are two forces at work in the world today. One is the present administrator of the world system, Satan, the devil, once known as Lucifer. He runs the world and owns its kingdoms and their glory. Mankind turned to the devil in the Garden over six thousand years ago and in so doing we turned away from God. God permitted this, but promised our mother, Eve, that one of her sons, would crush the devil’s head under his heel. Thousands of years went by, the devil running the world pretty much like he wanted to, with God setting the limits, like in the book of Job. When evil became too extensive, God intervened with the flood, only eight people surviving it. Then came that wonderful day when God entered the devil’s world to win His people back from the devil.

Glen read from his Bible: But when the fulness of the times was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, Galatians 4:4

Here is the son of Eve, that God promised her, oh so long ago, would crush the serpent’s head. This was planned in eternity, but is being worked out in time. God lives in eternity, we live in time, but God knew what the devil would do and had His remedy ready when the time was fully come. Jesus came to engage in the strangest combat you ever heard of”, Glen continued. “And here is why He came:”

For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8

Jesus fought the battle to buy us back from the devil using the devil’s own weapon, the cross. By giving His blood He bought us back, out of the devil’s hands. But to give His blood he had to allow himself to be slaughtered. He fulfilled the feast of atonement by giving himself as the lamb of sacrifice. Any attempt to kill Jesus before the day of his slaughtering was impossible, and there were attempts.
Let’s read about one of those threats and how Jesus stood up to it. It’s in the Gospel of Luke chapter thirteen.”

The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill thee. Luke 13:31

Glen looked over at Ray, “The religious authorities, who later would have Jesus killed, by lying about him, threaten Jesus, and warn him that King Herod will kill him. Now let’s hear how Jesus answered them.”

And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to day and to morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Luke 13:32

Ray smiled “That fox!”, he said to himself

Glen concluded his little session, knowing that people get tired. “Don’t try to go too long.” he once told me. Glen arose from his chair and started for the front door. Bessie wheeled Ray to his room. “Is he coming back?” he asked.

“Yes, he’s coming back” she replied.

“Good” Ray said “I want to hear more stories about Jesus.”

Bessie looked at him in surprize, “Oh yeah, since when!”

But you could tell she was pleased.

Potato Bread

I applied mine heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom, and the reason of things, and to know the wickedness of folly, even of foolishness and madness. Ecclesiastes 7:25

For once, Joy was hoping she could spend some time alone in her Oak Street Bible Shop, it was inventory time. She sent Sue out to a nearby store to get a cellulose sponge and some liquid floor wax. When inventory was over she wanted to go over the floors again. To a casual observer the shop’s floor looked perfectly clean and shining, like everything else in her immaculate little store. But she would move her head around to catch the sunlight reflecting off the sunny spots and see places that were not as bright as they could be and it bothered her. She had instructed Gary to wipe his feet carefully when he came up from the basement where he was moving cartons around and generally cleaning up.

She counted on being alone for at least an hour, Sue said she would be back “right away” but Joy knew from experience that she would wander into the fabric section and look at all the patterns and colors and dream of another one of her sewing “creations”.

She stepped over to Glen’s “prophecy corner”. As usual he had mixed up the books. “Oh, Glen” she thought, “”You’ve put Dwight Pentecost in with John Waalvoord.! Don’t you know the difference between a “P” and a “W”?

But, she was thrilled to think there would be no distractions from his presence for at least long enough to finish this dreaded inventory. Just then she heard his feet clumping up on the porch and the little bell jangling as he came into the room. “Howdy” he said in a rather distracted way. He headed for the coffee urn table.
“If you’re here for the genealogy charts, they’re not in yet” she said, anticipating his question. “Oh, the charts, “he said, “tell you the truth I had forgotten all about them.”

He sat down on the chair by the coffee urn and reached into the pocket oh his blue dyed field jacket. He took out a carefully wrapped grilled cheese sandwich and plopped it onto the table.

“Did Cheryl make you another sandwich” asked Joy. She preferred he talk about something simple, this morning. She was trying to concentrate on her inventory sheets and was in no mood for one of Glen’s endless discussions.

He was looking out the side window at the birds gathered at the feeder.

“Cheryl? Oh, no,” he said rather absent mindedly.” My landlady made this one for me. I got her one of those toaster ovens and she made this to thank me. She wanted to know if I liked the combination of Colby cheese and potato bread. I told her I was sure I’d like it, but I never even heard of potato bread before.” He poured out a small cup of coffee and began to unwrap his sandwich.

“Too bad those blue jays run off all the little guys, isn’t it? he asked.

Behind the counter, she put down her inventory sheet. She hoped she could remember where she was when he stopped talking, if he stopped talking.

“ I don’t know what I can do about it, they have to eat too, you know, she said”
Glen was still looking at them. “Oh, sure they do. I like blue jays, beautiful birds, so full of life and spirit, never saw a blue jay mope around. You know, when I was a kid I always thought they looked like policemen. And you ever notice how they’re the first ones to spot danger? Then they give out a loud scream and all the birds take off. They can be a bother, but they can save the lives of the other birds by giving the alarm.”

Joy put down her sheet. “What’s the use!” she thought. Like Sue and Gary, she loved Glen, but sometimes he was just too much, and today was one of those days. “How’s your sandwich?” she tried.

“Good, good!” he said. “But it doesn’t taste much like potatoes.”

“It’s not supposed to” said Joy.
“Then why do they call it potato bread if you can’t even taste the potatoes?”

“They put potatoes in the dough to give it texture” said Joy with growing impatience.
Glen was looking at the birds again. “Oh.” was all said. He had a sip of coffee and took another bite of his sandwich. It was quiet and Joy risked picking up her inventory sheet.

“You ever see those squirrel proof bird feeders, Joy? The have a perch that is set so when a bird lands on it it stays put. But when a squirrel gets on, it closes up. You could make’em for different weights of birds, one for real little guys like chickadees and Carolina wrens, and medium size birds too. Then one just for big guys. The Blue jays could have their own feeder that way. Leave the other guys alone. Maybe you could make’em adjustable?”

Joy, put her chin down on the heel of her hand. “I think I’m running a Glen feeder” she thought. All this detail stuff to do and he just goes on and on!”

“How’s the cheese?” she thought she might as well go along with him.

“Very good!” said Glen, with enthusiasm, “Always liked Colby, although I thought it was used mainly grated on salads, stuff like that. It’s a type of cheddar, you know. Named after a place in England. They came up with what is now called the cheddaring process. They adjust the acidity of the curds, makes it milder. Longhorn is a type of Colby. I might ask her if this is Longhorn. My landlady, I mean.”

Just as Joy thought he had run out of things to say about the cheese, Glen spoke again. There’s another Colby you know. Former director of the CIA. After he retired he started talking too much and they offed him. Joy sat up, startled. “How do they know he was “offed”? she said.

“It just figures” said Glen. “To begin with he was typical CIA, very meticulous. They are the kinds of guys who wear belts and suspenders, take no chances, you know. Ever read The Spike? It tells how they recruit such guys, they like gourmets, they feel a man who knows which wine goes with which meal, has discernment, has a good mind. On the day he died William Colby was having clams with wine. The table was still set, clamshells in the sink, and suddenly he decides to go canoeing with a storm coming up! He did canoe, but checked the weather each time before he went out and always wore a life jacket. They never found a life jacket or his floating paddle. Nothing fits. He wouldn’t leave those shells in the sink or dishes on the table, his friends said. And never go canoeing in a storm. He was taken out because he was ready to talk. I could tell you about two books he was associated with that were total shockers.”

Joy got to her feet and opened the door to the stairway. He heard her feet on the steps going upstairs to where she and Dave lived. He ate some more of his sandwich and finished his coffee. After about five minutes Joy came back down with a china cup and a kettle of hot water.

“Look Joy,” he said apologetically, “I’ll get out of here and stop bothering you. I know I talk too much and I’m really sorry. It’s just that I like to get to the bottom of things.”

Joy put the cup on the table and dropped in one of his Constant Comment tea bags. She poured water from the kettle into the cup. “Here,” she said, “when you get to the bottom of this, I’ll make you another one!”

How to become a Virgin

For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy; for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ. 2 Cor. 11:2

The world may well marvel at the words of Paul in this verse. How can someone who is stained with the world ever be considered a pure virgin bride? Yet that is exactly what Paul says we are. The Corinthians are a notable example for the world and for us of the miraculous power of God to clean up the unclean.

Among the early churches it would be difficult to find a more corrupt origin, a more evil background from which to emerge. Without the knowlege of how evil they were it we do not see the irony in the words "a chaste virgin".

Paul is reminding them of his mission. He is to present them to Christ as a bride.

There was a girl in my school who was a prostitute. It was not a rumor, it was an open thing with her. I remember as a kid walking to school hearing her make a date with an old man who was cutting grass, concluding a business deal and turning to grin at me in her impudence. She was shunned at school for the most part. But there was a Catholic girl who, knowing what she did about her, befriended her, sat with her and walked with her. One day in study hall the girl who was a prostitute used the name of Jesus profanely. The Catholic girl said to her with great seriousness, "You should never speak that way, that is a holy name you just spoke". It was touching to see the aplologetic attitude of the first girl. "I'm sorry," she said, "I won't do it again."

I learned a lesson that day. The extended friendship, the shared conversation and sympathies, made the rebuke effective. The Catholic girl had treated her with respect and this made all the difference to her friend. The rebuke was over her words and not her person, and was spoken in friendship, not scorn.

The Catholic girl taught me by example, that day and I have never forgotten her or her example. It took me years to learn about the nature of our faith and God who is its author. It is completely wrong to shun those on the fringe of society, who we think of as below our station. I remember the statement, "The ground around the cross is level". Amen to that.

You cannot be almost pure in the eyes of a holy God. We all have to be cleaned up completely. That is what Jesus does. We need to remember that Jesus said ;

"They that are well have no need of the physician, but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentece. Mark 2:17

In the eyes of God the Catholic girl, and her friend the prostitute, needed the same forgiveness and the same salvation. And God offers us all the same benefits. To use a modern example it would be like a car wash that cleans up a dusty little sedan or a muddy truck exactly the same. When they come out they both are gleaming clean.

Such an offer God makes to us all, Let me clean you up, let me make you perfect, I want to do it. Then you can live with me forever. Who would turn it down?

Do you remember Anita Bryant, the singer? She made a fatal career move when she became a Christian and told a group of homosexuals that they needed, like everyone else, to be made clean. I remember her at a gathering starting to read the following words; Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

As she read the following words the crowd began to shout her down;
And such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Cor.5:9-11

Anita Bryant had tears in her eyes as she pleaded with the group who shouted their hatred of her and the words she read. She had told them they needed to be made clean and to change how they lived.

I worked with a man who joined a homosexual church. He was looking forward to Wednesday evening, he told me. It was to be a special dress up night. It was Shelley Winters look-alike night. This was their response to the offered grace of God.

What of those who know they are filthy and want to be clean? King David wanted another man's wife. He had sex with her and murdered her husband so he could have her as a wife. That is dirty. Nathan called him on it, publicly. God's word records this in detail. The Bible shows us what depths a person can fall to and be recovered. The story is told in 2 Samuel 11:1-12:25

David wrote a Psalm of repentance over this sin, Psalm 51

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy loving-kindness; according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me....

My best friend worked for a government agency. His job could be very complicated and burdensome. One day he complied a list of documents that needed to be copied so they could be mailed to offices across the country. It was an intricate job of duplication and collation. There was a young lady who worked on such matters. Could she help, he wondered. He approached her with this armload of material. "What do I need to do to have these all copied and in order" he said. "Just ask" was her calm reply. He told me this story and described her gracious manner and how she put him at ease.

The story of David's adultery and murder, and his forgiveness, is just one example in the Bible of how God forgives when we ask him. David's later life was not easy, there are consequences to sin. The baby born of his liason with Bathsheba, died. But in eternity his name is cleared and his kingdom is assured. The same can be said of everyone who comes to God and confesses their sin. Just ask. Some will not do it, out of pride, and a spritual blindness that only God can take away. But for those who do humble themselves there is a wonderful future. They have lost their uncleaness and become virgins unto God. Paul uses this imagery of us all united in the church;
...even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word;
That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Ephesians 5:25-27

Alexander the Coppersmith

The little bell on the door of the Oak Street Bible Shop tinkled as I entered, but the occupants hardly looked up. Apparently I had come into a discussion in progress.

Glen was holding up a little volume titled "Forgiveness, Our Christian Duty” “ You take this sappy little book”, he said. “I don't even have to read it to know what it's about. If someone murders a member of your family, it's your fault if you don't love and forgive them. The focus is all on you.”

Glen was off on one of his tirades again.

Joy had just come up from the basement and overheard his remark. She was sensitive to any criticism of her books.

“You can't just throw out the sermon on the mount”, she said. “Jesus said, For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. That’s in Matthew chapter six, verses fourteen and fifteen.”

Joy really did know her Bible, it was admitted. Arguments with her were about how she interpreted it.

“I'd like to get my hands on the creep who smashed out my car windows”, said Sue, her blue eyes blazing. She held out her smooth little hands, “ I'd strangle him if I had the chance.”

It was hard to imagine Sue strangling anyone, but her anger was evident, and understandable. She had never harmed anyone and it was rare for her to even raise her voice.

“Well, you had better try to forgive unless you want to be unforgiven by God” said Joy, in her Mother Superior voice.

“Or go to hell”, said Glen. He knew Joy was big on hell.

Gary was looking at his MacArthur's Study Bible. “ You know, MacArthur has a really good note on those verses. He says the issue is not salvation, or eternal forgiveness, God does not take away justification from his children. What it is, is a chastening, it has to do with our daily walk, not our eternal destiny. I'm sure we all agree that once saved, always saved.”

“ Once born always born”, said Sue. There was a silent assent from all present.

Glen was still hot. “That's another thing”, he said. “This whole sermon on the mount thing really bothers me. When I was a kid that's all we heard in our church, the sermon on the mount, and the parables of Jesus. All that meekness was a real turnoff for a boy trying to be a man.”

Joy persisted with her theme of unconditional forgiveness. “Jesus set the pattern for us all. From the cross he said,Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Glen replied, "But he is saying forgive them because of their ignorance. What about those who do know what they do? Stephan, when he was dying, said, Lord lay not this sin to their charge, that is in Acts chapter seven. Doesn't that sound a little more
severe? He calls their actions sin.”

Gary spoke up with an air of moderation. “There seems to be a progression in the doctrine of forgiveness, the more you know, the more you are held accountable. In the days of the crucifixtion, and Stephan's martyrdom, the Bible hadn't even been written. Today it's hard to plead ignorance.”

Joy seemed to have been reconsidering her stand. She really was sensitive to the Word. You couldn't get her to back down on a personal basis, but if you used scripture she would listen.

“We really have to be careful about basing our doctrine on a single quotation. I remember what Jesus said in Luke seventeen. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him.”

She looked down into her pocket testament, “That's in verse three.”

“If he repents! If he repents!” Glen spoke with satisfaction. “That doesn't sound like the sermon on the mount, does it?”

“Progressive revelation”, intoned Gary. “Progressive revelation.”

“We need the whole Word don't we?”, said Sue. “ You have to keep on reading.”

“That's why I love my Strong's”, said Gary, his hand resting on his big volume.”Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word of God”. Sue recited from memory. “That's what Jesus told the devil in Luke chapter four. Every word.”

“God really does understand our weaknesses and limitations”said Joy. She seemed to be moderating. The Scriptures had that effect on her. “Look at Romans chapter twelve verse eighteen, what Paul is saying; “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceable with all men.”

“Two modifiers”, said Glen. "If it be possible" and "as much as lieth in you". That sure is an understanding way of saying it”.

"I know sometimes not much lieth in me, I'm so glad God understands.” Joy, still looking at Romans, continued, “This sure sounds like a mixed message doesn't it, quoting from verse twenty "Therefore, if thine enemy hunger, feed him: if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head”.

“I'd like to heap coals of fire on someone's head”, said Sue, still thinking of her shattered car windows. “And speaking of progressive revelation”, Glen, who loved The Book of Revelation, quoting from chapter eighteen:” Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix double for her. In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; “

That is what God says about Babylon at the time of her judgment.”I know of someone Paul did not forgive, said Gary. At the close of his life, Paul remembered a man who wronged him and his ministry. He knew God would take care of this person. He read from his MacArthur Bible:

“Alexander the coppersmith did me much harm. May the Lord repay him according to his works. Second Timothy chapter four, verse fourteen.” “Have you ever heard a sermon on Alexander the coppersmith?” asked Glen. “Do you think you ever will?”

What flavours are we?

No two days were ever alike in the Oak Street Bible Shop. We would learn something or unlearn something each time we met. Our common ground was the Bible and truths about the Christian walk., but one morning we learned a little about one another.

It was a brisk morning with little fits of wind and rain to add to the misery some people felt on such gray days. Others, Glen in particular, thought such days were perfect. He would sometimes comment, “It is a perfect, rainy day, but the weatherman says there is a threat that it might clear up later on.You have to enjoy them while you can” he said, “old man sun will come out and spoil everything.”

Enjoying it was just what Glen was doing, seated on the folding chair by the coffee urn table. He was drinking black coffee, but had placed a can of Constant Comment tea bags by the urn as a hint to Joy, He had become such a fixture at the shop that the woman known as “the Crab” once said ,“Don’t you have a home?”

“Yes, Ma’am” Glen replied, “and I love it here.”Sue was at the front window wiping the condensation off with a dish towel. Joy was sitting on the stool, head bent over, reading The Bible Cookbook. Gary was preparing to emboss some Bible covers for a customer who had called the order in. He had turned on the machine and was waiting for it to warm up.

“You know what I think of on days like this?” asked Sue.

Gary couldn’t resist a movie reference,” Singin’ in the Rain with Gene Kelley?”
“No, silly, she said, “I think of how much fun it is to be in the kitchen on a chilly, gloomy, day and baking something. I think of food.”

Joy ignored her. She couldn’t imagine Sue cooking anything, she was too much of a China Doll, she used to say, just an impractical dreamer. She might manage some Brown and Serve rolls, maybe something made with Bisquick, but that’s all.

I think Sue was aware of what people thought of her, if they even bothered. She sensed that she had an unrealistic view of herself. “You are an idealist, Sue”, her mother had told her, “only this is not an ideal world.” But she persisted in her dreams, and although she saw the world from a rather detached vantage point, her insights could sometimes be quite telling.

“Sometimes I see people that way too”, she said.“What way is that, Sue?”, Glen stopped making notes in his little notebook.“Oh, sometimes I think of people as food”. Joy, closed her book, and looked up. It was no use trying to read with this monologue going on. She felt Sue was an immature child, but her perspective was all her own, and sometimes she could capture your imagination and pull you into despite your best efforts to resist.

“Food!” she exclaimed.”You didn’t have any cannibals in your background did you?” Sue explained, “Not food really, but flavors. Each person I know has a different flavor. One of my old lady teachers was cinnamon, I remember that. And our principal was a scorched ironing board cover!”

Glen was intrigued, “I’ve never heard it put that way before, Sue. I think of people as having different kinds of auras, I guess you could call them, some are judgemental, some are all lovey, don’t know which is worse. But I never thought of them as flavors.” This was too much for Joy. She would let Sue drift around only so long, then she would try to pop her balloon, and bring her down. “So what flavors are we” she asked in a demanding voice and waving a finger around the room. Sue was thinking, “Well, you are definitely licorice, Joy. Not the red kind, but old fashioned black licorice!”

Joy had a pained expression on her face, her dark, piercing eyes glared at Sue. “You’re giving me a licorice look right now, Joy. I mean, you have such a strong personality, people either love you or hate you.”

Joy looked accusingly at her, “And what about you, which is it with you?”

“At first, I ...” Sue hesitated, then said, “Well, you are an acquired taste.”

She turned to Gary, “Now Gary, I think of you as stew. Plain old fashioned stew, different things, mixed in together, no one outstanding flavor, but good.” Gary’s expression showed he was not happy being described as stew.

Sue sensed this and tried to console him. “When I first knew you I thought you were cottage cheese.” Glen was waiting for his description. “Glen, you are a big smoked ham! You make a great sandwich, thin sliced, with a leaf of crunchy lettuce, on whole wheat bread.” “With mayonnaise?” asked Glen.

“Sometimes mayonnaise” said Sue, “but more often mustard”.

Glen smiled at that. “What about you, Sue, what flavor are you?” Sue got a far away look in her eyes. “I used to want to be angel food cake” she said. Then she put her hands up over her face and giggled. “But now I think I’m just a pot of navy beans.”

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Isaac is calling you

You may never know how it happened, but suddenly you are out in a very dry desert place. You have never been here before, but it is very important for you to be here. There is someone waiting out there and he has wonderful news for you.

The latitude is the same as the state of Georgia. It gets hot here in the daytime, but the nights can be cold.

You have no idea where you are or why you are there, as you walk toward a distant horizon. The air is clean and dry. It seems as if you can see a hundred miles. Far off you can see purple hills. Their images waver in the shimmering heat. As you continue your walk, the wind whipping your clothes around your body, you see, far, far off, some black objects, like pieces of paper on the ground. No, they are black cloth, their corners staked down against the force of the wind.

They are tents, you realize. Someone lives out here! Then you see the figure of a man. He is facing toward you and you feel he is looking right at you. He has something in his hand, fluttering in the wind, and he is holding it out to you.

As you draw close, he beckons to you, still holding out the piece of cloth or paper.

He is looking directly at you, smiling at you as if he knows you.

"You look like someone from the Bible days", you tell him. "Your clothing looks like it and so does your hair and beard."

"I am someone from the Bible", he says, still smiling. "Come, sit with me my brother, I've been waiting for you. My name is Isaac."

"I think I have heard your name somewhere, but I'm not sure who you are. Why do you call me "brother"?

"Because we have the same father. My earthly father is Abraham, and he is the father of all who believe. If you believe in the God of the Bible, you are a son of Abraham too."

He gestures for you to sit with him on a large, folded blanket and you begin to look around. A lovely woman wrapped in a loose garment is preparing a meal for you and your brother Isaac. She put cheese into earthernware bowls, and cuts pieces of meat that she removes, still sizzling, from the fire. Then she prepares a tray with fresh bread and two silver cups of wine.

"You will dine with me, brother?" Isaac asks, with a look of pleading. You happily agree and he smiles with pleasure. He is silent for a time. There is an air of total peace here. No one is in a hurry. It is as if they have all the time in the world.

You glance around and see a little boy, about four years old. He is feeding a baby goat. He offers it a little branch of a plant and watches it disappear into the goat's mouth. His head is tilted as he stands close so he can see the goat eating. He is fascinated with how it chews. In his hand there is a bundle of plants to offer when one has been eaten.

Isaac pushes the platter to you, and you break off a piece of bread. It is still warm, and has such a rich taste. You marvel how it could come from this simple little desert kitchen.

"Take your time, brother," Isaac says. "While you eat I want to tell you about this scroll in my hand. It is for you, my friend, a legal document, with such good news of riches, and love, you will need eternity in which to enjoy them. You may need to study its contents to fully appreciate the blessings that are yours. It is signed by God, our heavenly father and cannot be revoked or nullified."

"But why me?" you ask. "What have I ever done to deserve anything like this?"

"Oh, it's not what you have done. It is about what He has done. He picked you out to be his heir before you were even born."

"But I don't understand" you protest.

"Your Father knows you don't understand. This thing is great, it is from all eternity. All He asks of his children is that they believe. You do believe, don't you, my brother?"

For some reason, beyond your understanding, you do believe, and tell him so.

Faith puts you into the family of God", says Isaac, with such peace and certainty in his voice. "None of us has ever done anything to earn these treasures." Isaac holds out the scroll for you to see.

When you have finished your meal, Isaac rises. "I have all the time in the world", he assures you. "But I know that you have things to do before you join me and the others. We will all be waiting for you, and some day we will never need to say goodbye."

As you rise he hands you your scroll of God's promises. As he places it into your hand, he puts his other hand on top of yours in a gesture of warm farewell.

"But brother Isaac, I thought you lived a long, long, time ago?" you ask in wonderment.

"Thousands of years ago." he says. "By now I am dust, as are they." He gestures towards the woman and child and the baby goat.

"But how can I be seeing you and talking with you?"

Isaac looks deeply into your eyes. "You are looking into the living word of God, my brother. With the eyes of faith you will see me there whenever you search for me."
He lifts his hand in farewell as you turn to walk away. After a few steps, you turn to see him once more. But there is nothing but empty desert, and the dust blowing in the wind.

The light of the setting sun casts a glow upon your scroll.

And I say to you that many shall come from the east and west, and shall
sit down with Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.

Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise. Gal. 4:28

Glen's Tool Kit

The little bell above the door of the Oak Street Bible Shop failed to ring as Glen entered on this bright morning. Instead, it kind of clanked with a pitiful dull sound.

Glen looked up to see what was the trouble. “”Morning” he said as he examined the bell above his head.

“Oh, Glen” said Joy, “would you mind looking at our bell? It seems to be coming loose. I’d try to tighten it up but Dave keeps all our tools in the trunk of the car.”

“Sure” said Glen as he reached into his pocket for his trusty multi-tool and knife.”

Joy turned to Gary, “Would you mind bringing up the step stool from the basement?”

Glen carefully selected a screwdriver bit from his pocket tool kit, swung it out and locked it into place, just as Gary came up the steps with the little ladder. Glen placed it in front of the door and stepped up to look for the loose screw in the bracket that held the bell in place.

Sue stepped to the door and slid the bolt in place. “Just in case somebody tries to open the door while you’re up there” she said.

“Good idea, Sue” said Glen, “I appreciate it”. The loose screw was soon snugged down and Glen started to close up his tool. “Can I see it?” Sue asked. Glen handed it to her and unbolted the door. “Last thing Jeanie gave to me” he said. “Never without it. Nice to have so many tools in one place.”

“Neato!” said Sue, “It even has a little pair of scissors.”

“Like a whole tool kit in a nutshell” said Gary.

“Thanks, Glen” said Joy. There is fresh coffee if you’d like some.”

“Believe I will” he said. Glen stepped into the back room and poured himself a cup of coffee. He sat looking out the back window at the birds at the feeder. For some reason he did a lot of thinking whenever he was watching the birds. He was quiet for a time, musing.

“Nut shell” he said. “You know how they say, if you were a castaway on some deserted island, what tool would you want to have?” No one said anything, waiting for him to continue.

“What if you could only have one part of the Bible” Glen said. “Guess everyone has a favorite verse or chapter.” Glen sipped his coffee as he watched a chickadee dart in a take a seed before a blue jay could threaten him.

“You’ve heard of the Gospel in a nutshell” he said. “If you could put the Gospel into just a few words, that would be it.”

“I’ve heard the term,” Sue said, “but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the verses.”

“Oh, Sure” said Joy, “It’s in 1 Corinthians chapter 15.”

“What verses?” asked Sue.

Gary had turned to 1 Corinthians 15 in his Scofield.

“Depends, I guess” said Glen, “how many verses you want to include. First eight verses for sure, that’s the Gospel.”

“I’ve seen people underline verses three and four” said Joy, “that’s really in a nutshell.”

Gary read; For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: I Cor. 15:3,4

“That is the essentials alright” said Glen. “It’s all about Christ and what he did for us. Old McGee used to say, “You notice, friends, how you are I weren’t there. This happened long before we were even born.”It’s all about His work, not our work.”

“Amen to that,” said Gary.

“As for me,”said Glen, “I’d like to include verses one through eleven, but verses three and four are the heart of it all, I agree. Sometimes we need to search out a number of scriptures and place them together like good workmen. But other times you need it to be real simple, and above all, the whole idea expressed in one place.”

“ An old airline pilot told me a story once about how he got lost on a commercial flight. They were flying visual and lost sight of the ground. They were doing time hacks and everything, this was before the days of GPS. He was confused. He told the stewardess, that’s what they were called in those days, “Go back and get one of those packets out of the passenger seats. She brought him this little folder that said something like “You are now flying over beautiful Lake Louise”, stuff like that. That’s how he finally got his bearings!” They all laughed at that one.

“But”, said Glen, “sometimes we do need to get our bearings with something plain and simple in the Bible too. First Corinthians fifteen is a powerful chapter, full of doctrine, but verses three and four are simple and direct. What is left out can be as important as what is included, at times.”

“We had a bayonet instructor at Fort Knox, who ran us through the gamut of moves right out of the book. Parry right, parry left, long thrust, short thrust, vertical butt strokes and so on. The he said, “And if this don’t do the job, just reach inside your field jacket, whip out your pet .38 and blast his ass”. Glen put his hand over his mouth.”Sorry,” he said, “but that’s how he said it.” Everyone enjoyed Glen’s recollections, still so vivid they made him forget himself and where he was.

“ I guess what I’m saying is sometimes we get too complicated in our doctrines, we forget the basic ideas and get all confused. You take all this soul stuff, flying around here and there, leaving us, coming back to us...”

Joy shifted on her stool, about to speak. Glen held up his hand”Now, wait Joy, I respect people who don’t believe like I do, even though I think they’re wrong..”

“You had to say that, didn’t you?” said Joy with a wry expression.

“Wouldn’t be honest not to” said Glen” But what if there was a place in the Bible that showed in action, not in doctrine, what will take place when we die and are resurrected?”

“You mean Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha?” asked Gary.

“That’s a wonderful story” said Glen, “I love it, full of doctrine, but not in a nut shell.

"No, what I’m referring to is the two witnesses of Revelation, chapter eleven.
Glen took out his pocket Testament and leaned towards the window for light.

“Revelation eleven verse seven and eight” he said “And when they shall have finished their testimony, the beast that ascendeth out of the bottomless pit shall make war against, and shall overcome them, and kill them. And their dead bodies shall lie in the street of the great city which y is called Sodom and Egypt, where also our Lord was crucified. Rev. 11:7,8. Now Im going to skip to verses eleven and twelve,

And after three days and an half the Spirit of life from God entered them, and they stood upon their feet; and great fear fell upon them which saw them. And they heard a great voice from heaven saying unto them, Come up hither. And they ascended up to heaven in a cloud; and their enemies beheld them. Rev.11:11,12

“There it is,” said Glen, “I believe that is the most basic statement you can find in the Bible of life, death and resurrection, by the Spirit of life from God.”

“Keep on” said Joy, “You almost have me persuaded.”

Gary, who agreed with Glen, just smiled. Glen put away his Testament and watched the birds at the feeder again. Sue walked over to him.

“You know those little scissors you have?” she said. “Would you cut this thread off for me?”

Glen took out his multi-tool and swung out the scissors. Sue pulled a thread from her sleeve tight so he could cut it.

“Looks like a store bought blouse” he said, “Nice, but not like you make.”

“That’s right, she said, “I’m like you, I don’t leave any loose threads hanging.”

Helping the Lady Out

“I’ll be glad to help you out, just show me how you got in”
sign on pushcart in Cincinnati .

The lady was perplexed. She had come to the Oak Street Bible Shop to find out,if possible, what is the true sabbath. She was in her early thirties, slim, wearing a dark blue dress with a white collar and had on medium heels, very conservative. She had such an earnest expression she made you want to help her.

“My husband has been reading a book someone at work gave him. It says most churches teach you to observe the wrong sabbath, and that they are breaking God’s commandment to keep the sabbath holy. I’m not convinced yet, but it looks like he may want us to leave our church to follow God’s law. I don’t want to go against my husband and, for all I know, we really are breaking one of God’s commandments. Do you have a book that tells what is the true sabbath?”

Behind his counter, Gary assumed a wide-eyed innocent expression, completely fake, and started to hold up one of his precious Bibles. Joy, on her stool, got a pained expression on her faced and flipped her hand at him. Her mouth was framed in a silent “No!”.

The woman looked from one to the other. She couldn’t understand what was going on. Joy, slid off her high stool, and reached over to a shelf of books about cults.
“Are you still in your original church?” she asked, You haven’t joined this new one yet?” The woman told her she had not, but depending on how her husband understood the book, they might join any day.

“Is this an Adventist Church?” Joy asked, cautiously.

“Yes, that’s right, Seventh Day Adventist.”

“Uh huh” Joy said, thoughtfully. “Well we do have books on Adventists, from a cult point of view. Would you be offended by that approach?”

“It’s not me, it’s my husband” she said, “And all I want to know is what is the true sabbath”?

During all this, Sue had said nothing. Doctrine made her nervous. She was afraid she would say something wrong, and she didn’t want to offend a customer. In the back room, Glen was taking all this in as he hurried to eat the rest of his grilled cheese sandwich. Joy had finally given in and let him eat there.

“Where do you get all these sandwiches? She asked. “Cheryl makes them for me.”

“Who’s Cheryl,” Joy asked with womanly curiosity.

“Oh, she’s a waitress at the Blue Bird”.

Sue had listened to this with evident alarm, as if who made sandwiches for Glen was an important issue for her. Glen dropped his sandwich paper into the waste basket and carefully wiped his hands. Ordinarily he liked to take his time eating his favorite sandwich, but he had hurried through this one to join the group in the front room.

“Glen”, Joy said brightly, “Would you like to help the lady with a book about the true sabbath?” Joy figured she might as well ask him, he couldn’t stay out of such a discussion anyway.

Glen smiled politely at the young woman. “Couldn’t help overhearing your discussion” he said. “I have been in the same dilemma as your husband, if that is the right term to use.”

“It is. He’s still not decided, but he says the book answers all his objections. He said it is very convincing.”

“I picked up a couple of Adventist books in a Good Will store” said Glen, good illustrations. There was one called Beacon Lights of Prophecy. I cut some of the illustrations out with a razor blade and had them enlarged. I almost bought their theology too, but I finally found out their faulty logic.”

The woman was looking intently at Glen. Could she trust this man? She said nothing, so Glen continued.

“But first let me say I do agree that the Adventist are right about what is the true sabbath..”

Gary was really caught off guard. Joy had a look of horror. Has Glen gone crazy?, she wondered.. I thought he was a Fundamentalist and now he is agreeing with a cult religion. How I wish I hadn’t asked him to talk to this woman!

“As I was saying” Glen continued. “If you want to keep the sabbath, the seventh day, or Saturday, is the only one to keep. That is Saturday in Judea, specifically in Jerusalem.”

There was tension in the room, the woman was listening to Glen, but not at all pleased. He seemed to be agreeing with her husband and his new book. Gary, in an ill-advised attempt to lighten things up came up with one of his little jokes.

“I saw a cartoon once that showed how geography affects what day it is.” Joy dreaded these side trips by Gary and braced herself.

“There was an Eskimo on the witness stand, and an attorney asks him “Where were you on the night of November, December, January, and February?” We all enjoyed this in spite of ourselves. Glen resumed his presentation.

“There is only one weekly sabbath, and that is the seventh, or last, day of the week. But the whole sabbath argument, which sabbath should the church keep, is based on totally faulty logic. Imagine a guy goes to a used car lot to buy a Ford truck. A car salesman comes over and says ”Which Toyota do you want to buy?” The guy says, “I don’t want to buy any Toyota, I want a Ford truck”. Right away your choices of how to live a Godly life are limited by which sabbath you keep. It is a false premise.”

The woman was puzzled, she wanted to believe that her church was not breaking God’s commandment to observe the sabbath, but was far from being convinced by what Glen had said, so far.

“But you treat keeping the sabbath as if it was a matter of choice, just pick which day and that is fine!”

“Well, it sure was not a matter of choice for Israel!” said Joy, fiercely. The ten commandments are very plain about that. Gary, where is that passage about the man gathering firewood on the sabbath?” Gary began turning until he came to Numbers 15:32. He began to read :

And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day. And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done unto him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded.

“I’ll bet that’s not in your husband’s book” said Glen. There is the sabbath law in action. Who wants to be a part of that?”

“But you’re saying “who wants” like it is a matter of choice,!” the woman exclaimed. Glen was holding back, letting the question hang in the air, before bringing it to a conclusion.

“My church teaches that Christ paid the penalty for sin so lawbreakers are not under the penalty of the law” said Sue. This brought even another joke response from Gary.

“Remember Brother Juniper?” he asked. “I saw one where he is pounding a sign into the lawn of the monastery. It read “TRESPASSERS WILL BE FORGIVEN”.

“Good one, Gary” said Glen and very fitting for those who break the law. But I submit to you that the sabbath law, as far as the church is concerned, is not an issue. The law was given to Israel and to no one else. The law and its penalties are for Israel and not the church. So which sabbath we are under is pointless. Are you Jewish, ma’am? Is your husband Jewish?”

“No, we are not.” she replied.

“Then why would you let anyone put you under a law that applies to the nation of Israel and to no one else?”

“It makes sense to me, what you just said, but my husband’s book quotes the New Testament and in one of the letters of John, I forget which one, it says we are to keep the commandments. What do you say about that?”

Glen turned to Gary, “Help us out, Gary. I John, chapter 2.” Gary found the tab for I John and turned to chapter 2, verse 3, and read : And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that sayeth, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.

“See? There we are, as Christians, still in the Ten Commandments!” The lady was very troubled. “My husband’s book is right. We do still need to keep the Ten Commandments, and I’ll have to leave my church. But I like my church and I don’t want to leave it.”

“Then stay in it” said Glen.

“But what about John saying “If we keep his commandments? Just forget about it?’

“I certainly hope not, ma’am!” Glen liked to keep people in suspense, to make a point. “We need to read carefully. John did not say the ten commandments. Never said any such thing.”

“Are you saying there are commandments we should keep and commandments we don’t need to keep?”

“Oh, no!” said Glen with a happy expression. John says we should keep both commandments. He is very definite about that!”

The woman was truly lost by now, she almost thought that Glen was mocking her. She remained silent.

“Gary” said Glen, if you still have I John, please read to us from chapter 3 verse 23 forward.

And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight. And this is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ,and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

“We need to keep on reading” said Sue..

The woman looked so relieved. “I can’t believe how much better I feel. I wish I could remember all those scriptures, though. I want to tell my husband.”

“I marked them” said Gary. He looked over at Joy, who nodded “Yes”. Gary handed the Bible he had been reading from to the woman. “Compliments of Oak Street Bible shop, ma’am”.

She looked like she was about to cry.

Gary, as if to lighten the mood said “I just thought of another cartoon. These two hippopotamuses are floating in the river.”

Gary imitated their slow breathing. “One of them turns to the other one and says “You know, today just doesn’t seem like Sunday, does it to you”.

Sue had a puzzled expression. “But what difference would it make to a hip....? Oh, I get it!”

Glen started to walk to the little table by the coffee urn. “I’m going to finish my grilled cheese sandwich” he said. “Oh, that’s right, I already ate it. I get so carried away sometimes.”

Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. Colossians 2:16,17

One man esteemeth one day above another: another esteemeth every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind. Romans 14:5

Sue decides to quit

But all these worketh that one and the very selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will. I Cor.12:11

Sue entered the Oak Street Bible Shop late that day. Joy was about to call to see if anything was wrong, when Sue hurried through the front door, obviously upset. To the amazement of us all she was not wearing one of her long dresses with the elaborate frills and patterns, but instead had on a rather old fashioned woman’s suit of an indeterminate color, a reddish orange shade that did not become her.

She was visibly upset, on the verge of tears. We all waited for some kind of explanation. Sue looked at Joy when she spoke. "I'm sorry I'm late, really. I was trying to make up my mind what to do and what to wear. I won't lie to you. I have decided to look for another job and that's why I'm wearing this thing" she touched the jacket. It was Mother's and I guess it looks awful, but I thought I would make a better impression for my job interview."

Joy was so stunned that she was speechless for a moment, taking this all in. "I don't know what to say" was all she could muster. "Look, if it's your salary, you know I can't afford to pay anyone what they are worth. Dave and I barely break even. We couldn't even operate the shop if he didn't have a good job. We consider the store as a ministry."

Sue dipped her head as she spoke, "Oh, no, Joy. It's not money. Actually I think you pay me more than what I'm worth, considering how little I contribute around here."

This statement was too much for Joy. Although she was not know for her compassion, or gentle spirit, Sue's humility and evident misery were too much for her to bear without speaking. "Sue", she began, "You do contribute a lot every day you are here. There are people who only want to talk to you. You are so kind and approachable, they go right to you when they want advice on books. I know I can be offsetting to people. Dave tells me to ease up, but I guess it's not my nature. I go after what I consider is false doctrine and I promote what I believe is true and in the process I trample peoples' feelings underfoot."

Gary chimed in, "I need to confess I feel a little distanced from customers sometimes. I heard someone say I was like a computer, efficient, but cold. I guess it's how I was brought up."

Sue looked at both of them before she replied. "I appreciate what you are both doing, trying to make me feel better, I really do. But we all know I just don't have the knowledge either of you have. Who would ever ask me about a Bible doctrine or which Bible to buy? I make mistakes in figuring things out, it takes me forever to use the cash register. Gary is so fast and efficient.." Like a computer" he broke in", that I feel bad when I do it."

"And Joy, you really know doctrine, you know you do. You've spent years just on the tongues movement and healing, just to name two things. What do I know?"

"I should have said something to you a long time ago." said Joy, with genuine sorrow in her voice. "If you were not of value, I would have let you go a long time ago. I get so involved with details of running this place, I forget the people who make it work."

"Where are you going to apply, if you don't mind my asking?" "The fabric shop", said Sue softly. "They have a sign in their window for help and I love to work with fabric as you know. I was going to apply on my lunch break, but now I'm not so sure."
"Please don't leave us Sue", was all Joy could say. Sue began to cry. Glen, across the room looked at her with undisguised love in his eyes. If circumstances had been different he would have held her in his arms to comfort her.

Sue, with tears in her eyes, touched her jacket's lapel. "Isn't this color awful? I look like a sweet potato". she tried to laugh through her tears. "You know, the Bible says we all have gifts of the Holy Spirit. But what is mine? I never knew."

Outside an older model car pulled to the curb. A woman got out and lifted a little girl out of the back seat. She left the car door only partly closed and hurried up the steps. She burst into the room. " I really hate to do this, but could I leave Marcia here for just a little while? She's very quiet and you could let her read at the table in the other room. I'll buy a book, if you want."

"No need for that" said Joy with concern on her face. "Do you have an

"You could call it that. I found a lump and called my husband at work. He told me to get to the hospital for an exam."I can't take Marcia along and I don't know what to do." The distraught woman spoke with such tension in her voice that both Gary and Joy wanted to help her in any way they could. "We'll all pray for you." said Gary. "Yes, said Joy. "You go ahead, Marcia will be fine with us".

The little girl looked up at Sue, trustingly. She took Sue's hand and they walked to the little table by the coffee urn. Sue took off her jacket before she sat down. She was wearing a silk blouse with an antique brooch pinned below the collar..

She took down a big book with an illustration on the cover of a shepherd holding a very young lamb in his arms. It bore the title Bible Babies. Sue leafed through the stories and lay the book flat on the table. Before she began to read, she asked Marcia "Do you know who this is?” Marcia placed her hand on the page and looked up at Sue. "Moses!" she said. Sue smiled at her answer and began to read in a sweet gentle voice. Glen watched them from the front room.

"Sue's gift is herself", he said.

I am no monster

These six things doth the Lord hate;
Yea seven are an abomination unto him;
A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands
that shed innocent blood,
Proverbs 6:16,17

It was shortly before two in the morning when a company pickup drove through the gate of the plant where I was on duty. It was Leonard, checking the post. He parked the truck and strode to the guard shack. He was a former deputy sheriff, lean and tall, tan from working in hislarge vegetable garden. He had short gray hair, but a young face, with a striking resemblance to the actor Jeff Chandler.

"How are things with you" he asked fixing me with his penetrating eyes. Leonard was cautious with people, it took time to become his friend, but I hoped I had earned his trust.

"Things are fine, with me Leonard, you can see it is slow around here. Everyone has gone home except the maintenance men." He looked at two books on the counter top, my Bible ,and Cohen's Chronology of Revelation.

"That's the way you like it, isn't it", he smiled."Yes, a friend told me I've beaten the system. I read and study what I love the most and all on company time."

A truck pulled in the gate and I walked out to punch his ticket. "I notice you're limping a little" , Leonard said, he was always observing, though not in an obtrusive way.

"I did a stupid thing, the other night, "I ran out of gas and had to walk about four miles to get to a phone. I finally found one by Reed's tavern and called triple A. That's why I'm a little sore, not used to it, you know."

"I know where you mean", he said. "If you were on the way home from work, you walked right past the place where we found the body of that girl."

The girl he was referring to was a young lady who had been found with her throat cut. The mystery of who killed her had been solved, but I did not realize at the time that Leonard was the one who had broken the case, his last police work. Shortly after that he had a severe stroke and had retired.

He had a way of watching your reaction as he spoke, wary of the shock and disgust so often on the faces of people he dared to talk to about his work.

I asked him about the details of the case, what possible motive there could have been for such a savage murder and how the murderers had been caught. I could see he was grateful for my interest and that he needed to talk about it.

He leaned against the door frame of the guard shack and began to relate the circumstances of the murder. Two young women, of good reputation, had visited a tavern, apparently out of curiosity, and naivete. Everyone knew it was a hangout of some really rough people, among them the members of a motorcycle gang. But they thought it would be exciting and they would be alright if they stayed together, took a look around and then went home.

When the victim's friend decided she had seen enough she looked around for her friend. She was horrified to see her surrounded by a group of bikers who were showering her with attention. She motioned for her friend to come over and told her she wanted to leave. Her friend said to go on without her, she would be leaving soon and "These guys said they would take me home, I'll be alright, they will take care of me". She could not be dissuaded, so reluctantly, her friend left without her.

Several days passed without anyone hearing from her. Then, someone cutting grass at a nearby cemetery, found her body.

Leonard said the girl's throat had been cut and one of her breasts removed. She was fully clothed and the examiner said she was a virgin. There was no evidence at the scene to indicate who the murderer or murderers were. Then someone talked, in a bragging way, of "getting another badge". The hearer was a hardened criminal, but what he heard was too much even for him. He made an anonymous call implicating the
gang as perpetrators. Leonard was called in as a veteran in such cases and because of his knowledge of the gang in question.

"What about ‘the badges’, what does that mean?" He stood up straight and walked his fingers across his chest as he explained. "This particular group has a series of badges that you earn as you progress in the gang. They are like little eagles that they sew on their jackets, all different colors. One is for having sex with all the members of the club, men and women. One is for having sex with an animal, another for sex with a corpse." He paused, watching my reaction, not wanting to go too far.

I gave no hint of how I felt as he went on. "This badge, the one the anonymous caller was talking about, was for eating human flesh." Leonard waited before he went on with his narrative. "That is why they took her breast. I was there when one of the braggers, kicked back and told us all about it. By that time he knew we had the goods on him, so was enjoying telling me the gory details, seeing the look of horror on my

"We cooked it in a pot of beans", he smiled, "And everybody ate some." That's how you get your badge."

When I said I didn't understand how he proved they had done it, Leonard became very intense. He never boasted or promoted himself. If he had any pride it was in his dedication to gathering evidence, putting the pieces together.

"We knew where some of the members lived, so I kept dropping in on them until I saw a van parked in a garage at one of their homes. We had a witness who had seen the victim leave in a van, but no description. I asked this fellow if I could look at his van. We had no search warrants yet. He was just as relaxed as he could be, 'Sure, sure, ' he told me, 'Look all you want."

When I looked at the van, I could see it had been all cleaned up, the floor and mats and everything. Too clean, you know what I mean."

“Later they told me as soon as they were out in the country a ways, they cut her throat, really deep. Then one of them held her arms while another one pushed her head down so her blood drained into a bucket. We never found why they wanted to save the blood. Oh, and another thing, she was Jewish, a Jewish virgin, though they couldn't known that at the time."

All he did know is that this gang killed her, he was sure of that. But he had no evidence. He continued to look around. "The guy had no objections", Leonard told me, "He was real haughty, sure of himself. Then I saw a mop on the back porch. I looked at it up close and spread the strings. It looked pink to me. Could that be from blood where they used it to clean the van?"

"I bagged the mop as evidence and put a tag on it. The lab got enough blood out of it to type it. It was her blood type. Piece by piece we put it all together, until one of them caved and implicated the others. It was a planned thing, the bucket and all. The girl was just available. She volunteered, in a way, horrible as that is to think of."

He finished his story and neither of us said anything. I made my call in, to say all was well on my post. Then a tiny car pulled in and stopped abruptly. It was one of the plant bosses, dropping in to see if he could catch anyone misbehaving. Leonard went how to chat with him, respectfully listening to what the boss was talking about. He leaned down with his arm on the roof of the little car so he could hear over the engine, which was still running. The car had racing stripes and, though pitifully underpowered, was supposed to look sporty I guess. It still had dealer tags on it and the driver was bragging about it. Leonard bent down to look the driver right in the face."Tell me", he said with mock seriousness, "Does this come with a non scalping mower attachment?"

The driver revved the engine and drove out from under Leonard's arm. He made a tight turn and sped out of the gate.

Leonard looked at me, smiling, "They can't stand it when you don't take them seriously". Then he walked over to the truck and picked up a little styrofoam box. He lifted the lid and took out two baked potatoes wrapped in foil.

"Potassium!" he said , "Want one?" He explained he was on a strict diet since the stroke. I gladly accepted the big potato and we peeled the foil back and ate in silence.

"You're the only one I can talk to about these things. The others, when I try to tell them, pull away from me. They think I am some kind of monster because of what I have seen and what I talk about. But it's real. It's not that I enjoy it. It had to be handled and that's what I did. At first I thought you would hate me too, you being a Bible person and all."

"You are in the Bible, Leonard, you and the work you do. Romans 13 praises you and your profession. When you help to restrain evil, your sword is God's sword. I respect that."

By now, he had finished his potato. He wadded up the foil and dropped it into the waste can. Then he reached over and put his hand on my Bible. "I believe in God", he told me "and I read my Bible. I'm no monster."

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No More Death

No More Death, Boom!
No More Death, Boom!

Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
As a seal upon thine arm:
For love is strong as death;

Song of Solomon 8:6

One early summer evening long ago when I was about eight years old, I was standing outside a deli with a friend, waiting for a train to pass so I could cross the tracks and go home. I had just purchased a candy bar and my friend was drinking from a bottle of pop with one hand and with the other trying to unscrew a reflector from a stop sign.

The slow freight was going up grade, clank clank, clunk clunk, as we watched. We looked away as we were talking and when we looked back a white cat was approaching the passing train. I had never seen such a cat in our neighborhood, pure white, with long fluffy fur. Must have been a Persian, I suppose. It was so startling to see it there and so alarming to see it approach the noisy freight train. No cat I ever had would ever get close to anything so noisy as a train, and this cat looked like a delicate show animal, completely out of place in this situation. It was standing between the other set of rails and looked like it was trying to dart beneath the moving freight cars. It would start to run beneath the cars, then pull back, such odd behavior, as it showed no fear.

We watched for a time, when suddenly we saw the light of a downhill locomotive light up the scene. A fast train was approaching the intersection on the rails where the cat was standing. We stared at the white cat in the head light of the engine, wondering when he would see the train and jump out of the way. But he never did. While we watched in horror, the speeding train ran over the beautiful white cat. He never saw it, apparently, so intent on crossing the tracks, getting past the slow train, that he never saw the one that killed him.

But we saw it in every detail, and, over sixty years later, it is still in my mind. This was, in my memory, the summer of death, as if the cat’s death was a token.

Children around this time were immersed in death. Life could have been so simple and sweet in those long ago years. It was still common to see horse drawn wagons deliver milk. The pace of life was so slow and gentle compared to today. But overseas a war was raging and this intruded into almost every aspect of our lives. The brother of a friend ,brought home a trophy from the Pacific. He showed us a blue typewriter ribbon box. He opened it to reveal human teeth, knocked out of the mouth of dead Japanese soldiers for the gold they contained.

We drew so many war pictures, especially fighter planes in aerial combat, with lines for tracer bullets, that our parents became alarmed. A teacher once projected some slides of European cathedrals for us to admire. The boys in the class began to make whistling sounds, pretending bombs were descending to blow the buildings up.

Everything was a target to us. The teacher screamed art us. “Stop it! Stop it! Is that all you can think of, war?” She might as well have yelled at a sponge in a pail of water for being wet.

We were marinated in thoughts of war and death, from our toys to our books and movies. What did we know? What do we know today? War is the natural state of man, and death is its natural consequence.

But in this summer of death, it was not the deaths of war that pressed down upon my life. It was the deaths around me. Seems as if the funerals were going to keep coming all summer long. In my mind a funeral was the worst thing you could inflict upon me. The awful mournful music, the smell of the flowers, the viewing of the corpse, the endless crying, dressing up in uncomfortable clothes for an endless day of agony.

I was a sensitive little kid. Life often scared me. In my mind, the perfect escape was to go into the woods and become what, in my imagination, was a savage, a primitive, an Indian! What a life, I thought. Your food and shelter were all around you, and, perhaps best of all you didn’t have to go to school!

If someone could have granted me my idea of heaven on earth, it would have been to place their hand on my shoulders and say. “From this day forward, you don’t ever have to go to school. You don’t ever have to wear dress up clothes again or the shoes made in hell to torture little boys’ feet. You may roam the woods all day and come home only when you feel like it. You will henceforth be imbued with magical powers. The spear you make out of a box elder tree branch with a triangular piece of a broken bottle for a point and held together with string, will never fail. It will kill any animal from deer to buffalo, and no foe can stand against you. Today, my son, you are a savage, but please wear enough clothes to be decent.”

But this never happened, and my life as a free Indian was postponed forever. But traces of the dream, and the desire, remained.

After the last funeral of the season, I could stand the spell of death no longer. I wanted to make some noise. I looked around in our basement until I found some suitable drum sticks, maybe old chair rungs, something like that, and wrapped rags around the ends and tied them with string. I took a big round washtub into the back yard and placed it on the ground upside down. Then began the wild music, my idea of what a savage rhythm should sound like. now this was life, this was freedom!

My father came to the window. He called out that all this noise was not appropriate, for there had been, after all, a death in the family. As if I didn’t know.

Will you forgive me, when I look upon Jesus, that I do not always think only of sin?
He is the Champion over sin, the One and Only victor over sin. Everything we desire He bought when he paid for our sin.

But someone asked this question. What if Jesus, after he died, had stayed in the tomb? What if our savior had remained dead? Since we follow the course he set for us, we too, would stay dead, would we not?

What this person was saying was, what if we died righteous and never lived again? There would be cemeteries filled with the bodies of righteous dead people, forever righteous, but forever dead.

Once I asked why Catholic churches have crucifixes portraying Jesus on the cross, but protestant churches have an empty cross? I was told, “Because He is risen, he is not dead or dying any more.

My childhood experiences, my “summer of death”, and all that has followed, have shaped me. I have seen a lot of dead people. But I have never seen anyone resurrected to live forever. I truly expect to. Chances are I will need to be resurrected unless Jesus comes pretty soon. I count on His raising me up, along with all of His church. Jesus did more than pay for our sin, he bought us eternal life. That is what I think about every day.