泰德和芙瑞德都會心地笑了。“ 你不需為他們感到難過，” 泰德解釋說，“ 他們其實是很享受生活的一群人。但我想幾乎每個我們認識的單身者都想結婚，我們聽到過他們對婚姻的各種討論，計畫和盼望，他們也問我們各種各樣的問題。還有，我想這群單身者最值得稱讚的是他們更渴望認識上帝，他們真的想要學習聖經，瞭解上帝對他們生命的計畫，而不僅僅是他們和異性的關係。你在主日學有教導過聖經嗎，比如說《以賽亞書》或《羅馬書》？”
“我認為人們不願意去宣教是因為同工的人。你們有沒有注意到在這三年裡通過我們教會去的那些人？沒有一個是從長青藤聯校畢業的，都是中西部或南部的基督教學院的。一直和這種人同工怕是很難吧！” 莫瑞塔·史路坡是週二下午茶的常客了，她很自信其他人都會迫不及待地同意她的話，而事實證明確實如此。瑪塔·菲爾浦斯拾起話頭又把它推進了一步，“你總是對的，莫瑞塔，” 她不加思索地繼續說，“我想現在最緊急的是我們不光缺宣教士，我們還有單身的弟兄在申請去宣教。”
彼得聳聳肩，“視頻通話原本也不是要代替個人親自的登門造訪，但它是一種免費的即時聯絡方式，如果需要我們還可以再向他提問。 特薇拉吃了一驚，“你是說你以後還要這麼做？” 彼得這回加快了語速，“當然還會的。但我想如果會眾提前提交他們的問題，不再問什麼種族隔離的事，效果會更好。”他一邊左右看著交通，一邊在心裡暗自嘲笑那天早上有人提出的問題。“今天早上還行，但隨著時間的流逝我們會使視頻通話成為一種有效的方式來和我們的宣教士保持聯繫。”
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Lucretia Sparks had developed the reputation as the most hospitable lady of the First Baptist Church. Widowed for 15 years, she kept her Elm St. mansion in perfect condition--both outside and inside--by employing a full-time maintenance man, who also served as her gardener and mowed her lawn, and a cleaning lady. Lucretia, however, did her own cooking and entertaining.
Her Tuesday Tea was famous. Anyone who was anybody at First Baptist Church attended Lucretia's Tuesday Tea. Or, maybe it should be said, if you didn't attend Tuesday Tea, you weren't anybody.
Conversation caught everyone up on the gossip on at church and in the personal lives of the members. Engagements were announced, weddings analyzed, and marriages evaluated. The two hours spent at Lucretia's house were the most exciting two hours of the week.
I wonder what the talk is today. Let's find out. Sh, Harriet Smigs is speaking.
"Why can't we find more missionaries is just beyond me. It seems as if no one wants to be a missionary these days. What do you think are the reasons, Cybele dear?"
Cybele finished chewing her small bite of cheesecake, sipped Lucretia's peach punch, tapped her lips gently with a napkin of Ghent lace and responded sweetly . . .as always, "I think people just aren't willing to suffer like the missionaries of the past. Six months on a steamer each way, threats from wild savages, tropical diseases--I think people today are too afraid to go to the mission field."
"Now, now," Harriet hurried to comment, "It couldn't be that reason. The Jones family were here last week on their way to Bermuda. I think they were very willing to suffer for the cause on that little island two hours from New York. They say sand is everywhere!"
"Well, I think people don't go into missions because of who you have to work with. Have you noticed the ones that have come through our church in the past three years? Not a one has a degree from an Ivy League school. All went to some Christian college somewhere--usually in the Midwest or in the South. I think it would be hard having to work with people like that all the time," Murrieta Slopes was a long-time member of the Tuesday Tea and felt quite confident others would chime in with their agreements to what she said, and she was right. Myrtle Phelps picked up the thread and moved it on further . . . "You're right, as usual, Murrieta," Myrtle didn't pause at all before saying, "What I think is so urgent is that now we not only have the problem of a lack of missionaries, we have single men applying."
"No!" Several ladies chorused their horror at the suggestion. Some couldn't say anything because they were still swallowing Lucretia's cheesecake or punch, but from their expressions you could tell they were equally affected by Myrtle's revelation.
Myrtle hadn't paused to notice their response. "Pastor said three single men have approached him recently about their future mission work"
"Haven't they read it isn't good for a man to be alone?" Telicia Faulkner liked to quote Scriptures and she had quite a battery of them memorized.
Myrtle paused ever so slightly to incorporate Telicia's comment. "Pastor used that verse with each one, and two dropped the topic at once, but one was impudent enough to mention Paul's example!"
Murrieta immediately gave her final judgment on this young man, "From that attitude, you can see he isn't fit to be a missionary" All agreed.
Myrtle decided it was time to change from narrative to explication: "I agree fully with Pastor's philosophy that if married missionary men are falling right and left to adultery, how can we expect a single man to withstand the temptation?"
Cindy, a new member of the Tea and a bit hesitant to speak, managed a question that she felt was safe: "Why do the men commit adultery?" Murrieta saw this as another chance to share her valued opinion, "They are attracted to women there, and pursue them, and then the worst results--they divorce their wives and marry the girlfriend."
Cindy thought she dared to ask one more question, "What would happen if we sent a single man?"
Murrieta was pleased to be able to hit a double play. She began, "Why, the single man would be attracted to a woman there and . . . ," she paused . . . no one had ever remembered Murrieta pausing before.
Cindy thought she would help out . . ."and might marry the woman he was attracted to?"
Murrieta thought for a moment and then saw her way clear, "Yes, Cindy, my love, and that would be tragic. We couldn't have our single men going to the field and marrying anyone there."
Telicia thought it was time for another Bible verse, so she said, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." While she sat back and beamed at her timing, she saw the other ladies nodding gravely.
Myrtle had been a bit worried that the others might have forgotten this was her topic, and she picked up her thought and continued, "Pastor says missionaries are often in counseling situations and who heard of a single man counseling a married couple? And how could he counsel a woman?"
Cindy wondered out loud, "Could he counsel men?"
Murrieta loved how she could see things so clearly, "If the men are doing what scripture says and are marrying, the only help a single man would need is how to marry, and how would a single missionary be able to help in that way. Of course, if the married men needed counsel, they would ask a married counselor!"
Myrtle really didn't like to be interrupted, so she hurriedly pulled everyone's attention back to herself. "I like Pastor's biblical stance. He won't accept any single men as missionary candidates at our church. Look at the great missionaries: Hudson Taylor was married; James Fraser was married. Who do these young men think they are to go to the mission field single when we have such great examples to follow?" She paused, a rare occurrence, to let the impact of her words fall on the group. Cindy looked around at the circle to see whether anyone would respond to the obvious error in Myrtle's relation of history. And then she ventured, "I thought both Taylor and Fraser went to the field single and then married there?"
Murrieta was beginning to regret Cindy's presence at the group and made a mental note to tell Lucretia not to invite this young lady again. "That's the point we've been trying to say and we are quite agree upon, dearie, the men were married."
Myrtle saw there was no hope of reviving her topic, so she stepped away to get more punch. Cindy decided not to make any more comments and moved to a group of younger women gathered around the piano. Murrieta glided over to the door happy that she had brought depth and clarity to the group once again. Lucretia announced, "Ladies, next week the theme is French Romantic. I have the most delightful morning planned!"
"Tom, I'm online now; do you have the mikes hooked up?"
"Yes, Peter, I think it's all ready. Go ahead and Skype the missionary."
At the back of the church sanctuary, Peter clicked a small green phone icon on his computer screen. Dialing sounds came loudly over the church public address system. After three rings, there was silence and then a familiar voice answered, "Hello?"
"This is Peter from Faith Baptist Church in Knoxville, TN. Is this Frank Wordsworth?"
"Yes, this is Frank. How are you this evening?" Peter glanced out the window at the sunny summer morning, and through a stifled snicker he replied, "Uh, good evening to you too, Frank." From across the room Tom shouted, "Sounds great here, Peter, I think it's going to work fine."
Peter took his cue to take charge, "Frank, it's 9:45 a.m. here and we just wanted to make sure the connection worked. We'll hang up now and call you back at 11:20 . . . I mean our time 11:20."
Frank's voice sounded like he was smiling, "Great! It's 9:45 here in Australia too, but it's already evening. Anyway, I'll be ready at 11:20 when you ring me again."
Peter clicked a red icon to end the call and then left the sanctuary with Tom to join their wives in the church education wing for Sunday school.
That morning the worship service began punctually at 11:00 in the familiar way: Call to Worship, a hymn, an opening prayer, announcements, and pastoral greeting. However, the pastor surprised everyone by saying: "This morning we have a treat for everyone. We are going to talk to our missionary in Australia Frank Wordsworth. The men have set up the public address system and some microphones to connect to the internet so we can let Frank greet us and share about his work and we can even ask him questions. Peter, are things ready?"
Right at that moment, Peter clicked on the phone icon, the whole congregation heard dialing and ringing sounds, and then, a few people gasped when they heard Frank's voice say, "Hello?"
The pastor spoke into his microphone, "Frank, this is Pastor Richland. We're here in our Sunday morning service at Faith Baptist Church in Knoxville, TN. Would you give us a short report about your ministry?"
"Pastor," Frank began, "I can't believe I'm joining you for your Sunday service. It was only two years ago when I was there with all of you. Now during this past year and a half in Australia I have often thought of you. Our university ministry is going well. Thirty students attend our Tuesday evening Bible study. A few guys come to my flat each Saturday evening. I follow up on seven of the guys in discipleship studies, and I teach the college and career class at my church. Thank you for continuing to pray for us here and support our work."
"Our work?" Pastor Richland had a gleam in his eye, "When did Frank Wordsworth become a 'we'?"
"Oh, pastor, I'm still single, but this college outreach is not just mine, I also view it as the Lord's work and an outreach from my church here in Perth, Australia."
The pastor laughed kindly, "I'm just teasing you, Frank, but you let us know when you become a twosome." At that point the pastor changed gears by looking up at the congregation and saying, "Are there any people that would like to ask Frank any questions about his ministry?"
An eight-year-old boy raised his hand and at the pastor's nod walked up to a microphone. There were loud noises as he reached up and tipped the microphone down toward his face. "It's church time. Why aren't you in church right now?" He asked.
Frank responded, "We're twelve hours ahead of you, so it's already 11:30 at night here. When the pastor emailed me, he made sure that you contacted me at a time when I wouldn't be in a church service or be involved in a ministry responsibility. This turned out to be a great time for me."
The boy looked around, looked up at the microphone, and then walked back to his seat.
A middle-aged man walked up to another microphone. "How are things now that apartheid is over?"
There was a pause, and Peter looked at the computer screen to make sure the connection was still ok. Then Frank's voice put him at ease, "I'm sure that South Africa has changed a lot since the end of apartheid, but I'm in Australia, and we have not had apartheid here."
As the man turned to walk back to his seat, a younger teen-aged girl walked up to the microphone that the eight-year-old had used. She fumbled with it to get it at the right height for her mouth, and then she asked, "Why aren't you married?"
"The Bible says singleness is good," Frank began, "and I'm using my time of singleness to serve the Lord. If I were married, I would serve the Lord differently, but now I minister in the ways that a single person can minister effectively."
The teenager didn't quite seem satisfied with the answer, but neither did she know what else to ask, so she went back to her seat. Since no one else was moving, the pastor spoke into his microphone, "I have one last question: now that it's summer vacation, what kinds of ministry are you involved with? Are there students in summer school?"
Frank answered right away, "It's winter in Australia now. I am busy with the activities I mentioned in my report a few minutes ago. The school year begins in February and runs to December when everyone gets off for Christmas and summertime. During our summer, I focus on our college and career Sunday School class, and the university students who are home from their courses at universities in other parts of Australia."
Pastor then thanked Frank, Peter disconnected the call, and the service proceeded as usual.
After church, as Peter was driving his family home, his wife Twila asked, "Did you like that call to Frank this morning?"
Peter thought a moment and then muttered, "Yeah, it was fine."
Twila frowned. "I just don't think we got to know him well in it. I mean, it just wasn't like having him here, eating in our home, being in our church."
Peter shrugged, "It wasn't meant to take the place of a personal visit, but it was immediate contact, completely free of charge, and we even had the chance to ask him a question if we wanted."
Twila was puzzled, "You mean you would want to do it again?"
"Sure," Peter spoke a little faster, "I think it would be better if people could submit their questions ahead of time so we don't ask any more people about apartheid!" He turned his head both ways to check the traffic as he laughed at the question submitted earlier that morning. "This morning worked fine, but with time we could make the conversations a very effective way to keep up with our missionaries."
Eight-year-old Jeremy rolled over and looked down on his 12-year-old brother Jim on the lower bunk. "Did you like that missionary tonight? I did!"
Jim sounded tired as he managed, "Yeah, he was OK. I didn't think him too special."
Jeremy's excitement was quite obvious, "I liked his toys he brought from Africa, and I liked hearing about eating monkey brains!"
"That was all right," Jim continued, "But he didn't seem to measure up to Sarah's description of him. I don't know what he said in those letters to her but she hasn't talked about much else for the past month." Jim imitated his teenaged sister's voice, "Ralph is going to come! Ralph is coming in just a few weeks!"
Jeremy giggled as he rolled over on his back. "Sarah really looked forward to Ralph's coming. But did you notice that he didn't say that much to her? I mean, he talked to all of us kids, and more to her than to the rest of us, but I think he talked to Dad the most."
Jim was pensive. "You're right. Adults always talk to Sarah more because she's older, and he seemed to treat her normally, as if there weren't any special relationship between him and her."
Jeremy rolled back over to look down at his brother. "You think Sarah really believes Ralph's her boyfriend?"
Jim was a little annoyed by the immaturity of Jeremy's question. "No, they aren't dating, but she's been writing him back and forth for a year, so I think she hoped that when he came, he would want to tell her how he truly felt about her and would want to give her his high school graduation ring or something like that."
"Did he?" Jeremy was obviously curious.
"No! Go to sleep!" Jim was even more annoyed. He didn't spend any time alone with her, and, as I said, didn't talk to her much at all."
Jeremy paused a little to gather his thoughts. He finally decided on a different approach. "How many letters did Sarah get from Ralph?"
Jim thought and then said, "I think about three or four. It takes a long time for letters to get to Africa and back. In the course of a year three or four times is about all you can write."
Jeremy didn't quite know what to say but then commented. "He looked really old. I mean, he looked almost as old as Dad. How old is Dad anyway?"
"No, he isn't as old as Dad," Jim corrected. "Dad's already 36. I would think he was 29 or so."
Jeremy didn't like always being corrected, so he said, "But he sure did look a lot older than his picture."
"Of course, he did," Jim set the record straight. "Haven't you noticed that all missionaries look older than their pictures? They take those pictures way back when they are young and then they come to our church after they go to the mission field and get grey hair and wrinkles. They're really misleading."
Jeremy thought he might have hit on a solution. "Do you think they could take the pictures later on when they looked older and then when they came to our churches they wouldn't have to look as old as their pictures?"
Jim was confused by the question and was getting tired of the conversation. "Do you mean they would take the picture when they were 40 and use it when they're 35? Jeremy, that's impossible!"
Jeremy didn't know how to cover his tracks so he took another tack. "Why would a missionary write a girl if he weren't interested in marrying her?"
Jim was silent and then said, "I don't know. I have puzzled about that too. Do you ever get letters from adults?"
"Grandma wrote me a birthday card," Jeremy tried to be helpful.
"Not a birthday card--a letter." Jim emphasized.
"No, I don't remember ever getting a letter from an adult," Jeremy admitted.
"Yeah, that puzzles me that Ralph would write all those letters to Sarah and then ignore her once he got here."
Jeremy was lost in thought, and then he queried, "Didn't the apostle Paul write letters?"
"That was to whole churches," Jim explained, "Not to individual people."
"But he wrote Timothy and Titus, didn't he?" Jeremy went on, "and even Philemon."
Jim thought a minute and asked, "What did he say to them?"
Jeremy had no idea. "I haven't read them, have you?"
"No," Jim was a bit sheepish as he admitted this fact to his brother. "But now after Sarah's bad experience with Ralph, I'm going to read them to find out."
Both boys were quite for a while, and Jim was just about to fall asleep when Jeremy's boyish voice broke the silence one last time.
"Remember that lady missionary who spoke at our church last year? Do you think I should write her a letter?"
"Go to sleep, Jeremy!" Jim was firm this time. "You can't write her! You're too young to get married!"
Jason and Rich had finished their stretching and started their weekly five-mile run.
"Things going fine with you?" Jason fell into his habitual question.
"Oh, nothing's too out of the ordinary. A couple of the kids have colds is all. How about with you?"
Jason didn't answer for a few paces and then said, "I was really moved by that missionary presentation last Sunday. All week long I've kept coming back to what he said: Get behind your missionary.!"
Both men were silent a few paces before Jason continued, "I'm always impressed when our missionaries come back. They always have good things to report, and I'm always impressed by the spiritual values they exemplify."
Rich knew Jason well enough that he didn't feel the need to give a lot of feedback to encourage him to keep talking. As he expected, Jason continued, "I really want to show our church's missionaries I'm behind them, but I don't know what I should do."
Rich looked over at Jason and wondered if this were a cue for him to start speaking or whether he should wait for a direct question. Jason solved the problem by asking, "Do you think I should type up a letter and email it to all the missionaries?"
Rich tried to be careful in his response. "Would you write them once or would you write again in the future?"
"I hadn't thought that far," Jason admitted wryly.
Rich decided to make a suggestion, "What if you wrote one of the men and let him know you believed in what he did, citing a specific detail or two from a recent prayer letter. You could wait and see if he wrote you back. Whether he did or not, you could write again a month later, and keep up the same rhythm indefinitely.
Jason looked over at Rich, "Why did you say to write 'one of the men'? Why not write the couple?"
Rich smiled, "I tried that. I wrote a couple in Latin America, and guess who wrote back--the wife. So, now my wife writes them."
Jason checked his watch as they rounded the fire station, "We're twenty seconds behind last week," he noted. "We need to pick up the pace a bit."
Rich lengthened his stride to comply with his pace-setter and then turned his concentration back to the topic at hand.
"Can I tell you what I do?" he looked over and waited for Jason to nod. "A few years ago I got to talking with one of the missionaries after church and decided I would pray for him consistently. And I have. I won't say I have prayed every day for his work, but almost."
Jason was interested, "Do you just say, 'Help brother so-and-so?'"
Rich kept his gaze on the uneven pavement in front of him. "No, I think about the needs I see that I have and pray that the Lord will meet the same needs in his life--you know, developing a good marriage, making decisions concerning the kids, getting along with co-workers. I figure if I'm facing it, he is likley facing the same thing. Then when his prayer letter comes, I pray especially for the details he mentions. I let his prayer letter remind me to write him, and I specifically adress my letter to him by name and sign it with just my name so he knows the letter is just between us, and I refer to certain specifics of his prayer letter and tell him what kinds of things I'm doing at the time. Over the years, his responses have changed."
Jason was obviously interested, "How so?"
Rich continued, "In the beginning the missionary just wrote general stuff back--you know, expanding on what he had put in his prayer letter. But now, I notice he writes me stuff that he doesn't put in the prayer letter, stuff that you just wouldn't want posted up on the back wall of a church. I think he knows I pray for him, and so he feels free to share even his fears and personal concerns with me."
Jason really liked what Rich was saying, "That's a special relationship you have."
They both paused as they focused on their pace again and tried to pick it up a bit.
"Does he hit you for money?" Jason decided to as the question lingering in the back of his mind.
Rich was quick to reply, "No, not at all. Actually, I ask him for ideas of ways we can help."
"Why do you ask him?" Jason was surprised.
"I'm behind him," Rich said simply.
Jason thought he knew his running partner well, but Rich's one-sentence answer seemed incomplete. He waited a few paces in case Rich were just catching his breath before continuing. When no more words came, Jason asked for more explanation, "What do you mean by that?"
Rich felt at a loss for words, "I just mean that if I'm behind the missionary, I should be taking the initiative in whatever way I can so that he knows and feels I am really behind him. I don't really know how else to say it."
Jason still didn't understand, but he thought he would review what he had heard Rich say. "So if I choose a missionary and write him by name and pray often for him--especially in the areas I find myself having needs--and I write him monthly or at least as often as I get a prayer letter from him and take the initiative to find out how I can be a support and help to him, I could really show him I am behind him. You really think I shouldn't write an email to all of them?"
Rich didn't quite know what to say. "Oh, I'm not saying not to, but you know how impersonal missionary prayer letters are. If you write an impersonal letter back, I think your relationship will stay that way."
They were coming to the last stretch before their five miles would be done, so Jason decided to ask one last question, "What if the missionary doesn't write back?"
Rich smiled, "There is that possiblity. But think yourself, how often do you get a personal letter from a man that is aimed at helping you? And if the same man kept writing . . . I don't know how the missionary could resist replying."
Both slowed down as they came to the end of their course and began their regular stretches.
"Hey, Rich," Jason raised his voice instead of turning around to look at his friend. "Thanks for the tips. I think you've hit on something special."
"Hey, Joe," Martin waved at his friend coming in the restaurant door. "It's great to see you again!"
Martin walked up to Joe and shook his hand warmly. "It's been about a month, hasn't it, since our last 'weekly' lunch! How have you been doing?"
"Doing great," he answered quickly before he said to the waiter seating them, "Could we sit over by the window?"
After they ordered, they both relaxed and gazed outside at the cars passing by.
"You've been doing a lot for your church's missions program lately, Joe. Tell me more about that," Martin let Joe have the floor first.
"My church really has a great missions program. Do you know we gave 1.2 million dollars to world missions last year? It's because the missions committee that I chair has been spearheading several projects that I haven't been able to meet you for lunch recently. I think we have accomplished a lot in the past few months�Xclothes drive for an orphanage in Puerto Rico, crating up the household goods of a missionary on his way to France, a work team going to Argentina to build a church building, and buying a car for a missionary in Singapore."
Martin liked Joe a lot, but sometimes felt intimidated by Joe's strong leadership abilities and wondered how he could learn from his friend in this area. He hinted at this attitude by saying, "You are really helping in a lot of ways. I'm a bit embarrassed to mention my small church's efforts. We've been focusing recently on a missionary in Singapore also and the needs he recently mentioned. I don't know whether you have heard of Sam Donnelly."
Joe's face lit up. "Does your church support Sam too! He's the missionary we have been raising funds for also. We just sent him a check for $35,000 so he could get a nice car. Our church likes to do things for missionaries in a big way."
Martin reached for his glass of tea and put it to his lips quickly. He really wasn't thirsty, but he was trying to hide his facial expression and borrow time before responding. "Joe, didn't Sam say he needed a motorcycle?"
"Yeah, that's what his letter said. We like large projects, so we decided to go ahead and buy him a car, and we sent an amount that could surely get him a good one." Joe seemed never to have to stop and chew before answering. Was it because he took smaller bites? Martin was always amazed by what Joe could do.
"Did you go online and check what cars cost in Singapore?" Martin knew that Joe led a fine missions committee of very capable people. "Even just a standard car can cost upwards of $50,000."
Joe paused. He held his fork in mid-air. "You can't be serious. That country is so small, you can drive across it in an hour. Cars should be cheaper there than in other places because you don't need to put as many miles on them a year as you would in other locations."
Martin wasn't sure how to proceed. "I haven't researched it myself, but the reason Sam requested funds for a motorcycle is that he didn't expect to be able to raise tens of thousands of dollars for a car, especially since the distances he needs to travel are short, and it never snows or gets icy in that tropical country."
Joe's mind raced on beyond what Martin had said, "If you are right, that a car costs $50,000, and we sent him only $35,000, he still won't be able to buy a car with that amount of money."
Martin nodded. "And then, their gas prices are higher than ours, and taxes, parking fees, and car upkeep are much higher than for a motorcycle."
"Then why didn't Sam explain all of this in his letter?" Joe was trying to find a way to justify his helping Sam buy a car.
Martin looked down at his plate, "Sam didn't mention a car; he mentioned his need for a motorcycle."
"Then how do you know all of these details?" Joe demanded.
"We wrote him," Martin confessed. "He told us that he had been using public transportation for a few years and thought he could save time by using a motorcycle. From one housing area to another there isn't always a direct bus, and sometimes you have to walk quite a distance to get to a main road to hail a cab. As for a motorcycle, Sam explained that he could ride it all year long in the warm weather there, and he wouldn't have high gas or parking expenses. We expressed to him our concern for his physical safety on a motorcycle, but he explained that the drivers there are quite law-abiding and safe, so he didn't worry about having an accident."
Joe then said the obvious, "You mean our church could have saved $30,000 if we had bought him what he mentioned?"
Martin reached for his glass again, and looked down at the ice cubes floating on top of his tea.
"So what should I do now?" Joe asked.
Martin shrugged and looked at his plate. "Maybe you could write him and explain what you have done. If prices have come down, or if other people sent money for the same project, or if he can buy a used car . . . there may be a way he can use that money anyway. Only he would know all the facts and possibilities."
Joe's eyes got big, and he fell silent for a while. Martin raised his hand for the waiter to bring the check.
On their way out, Joe shook Martin's hand again. "I've missed seeing you at lunch. I always learn something from you when we meet." Joe then hurried out the door at his usual pace, and Martin stood still for a moment wondering if he had just heard Joe correctly.
(This story is best read aloud.)
My name is Judah. My father's name is Jacob--that is, Israel. My mother's name is Leah, my father's FIRST wife. I have five brothers and a sister that all grew up in my mother's tent, two brothers by her serving girl, and then four other brothers from my father's second wife Rachel and her serving girl. But, enough about them.
I want to introduce my three older brothers--fine men. Reuben, he's all right, there's that time he seduced Rachel's serving girl. My dad was pretty angry, I don't see why. She's just a serving girl.
Simeon and Levi are pretty smart. I remember the time they convinced the men of Shechem to be circumcised. While they were still hurting, Simeon and Levi seized the opportunity and killed them all! I never did understand why my father was angry about that too. It seemed to me that they were just dealing with the people of the land in a wise way.
I'm next in line. Sometimes I think that I should be the firstborn because I think my ideas are pretty good. At least, they're better than the ones my brothers come up with. But my mother's sons are really OK after all--they're not like those sons of my father's second wife--Joseph and Benjamin. Benjamin, he's still pretty small. But that Joseph, none of us can stand him.
Why, do you know what he says? He says he has these dreams from God, dreams that we brothers are binding sheaves in the field--and our sheaves bowing down to his sheaf. The worst was a dream he had of the sun, moon, and eleven stars all bowing down to him. Our father Jacob couldn't take that one. He scolded him good. "Shall your mother and I and your brothers bow ourselves down on the ground to you?" Crazy seventeen-year-old! He needs to grow up.
He doesn't fit in with the rest of us. I mean, one time he didn't like what the rest of us were doing, and he ran off and told our father about it. Our father had no reason to know what we were doing. He was mad about it, but that Joseph should have joined in with the rest of us rather than thinking he was better and telling our father what we were doing. (It sounds like my father gets mad a lot at what we do, doesn't it? Aw, he's just old-fashioned. We know better than he does.'
What really makes me mad--it makes us all mad--is that our father really likes our eleventh brother Joseph. He treats him differently from the rest of us, even giving him a special coat that was of many colors. I hate Joseph. All of us do. Every time I see him, I get angry just thinking about what he has done and the way our father treats him. Why doesn't our father realize Joseph is the son of the SECOND wife. Six of us are sons of the FIRST wife, and two more by her serving girl. And Joseph is number eleven. Eleven! I need to stop talking about this or I'll get too angry to think straight.
Well, one day we had our chance. I couldn't believe it, it was just too good. The ten of us men--Joseph is such a boy, home with our father--the ten of us men were away from home with the sheep, and our father had sent Joseph to visit us. Joseph found us near Dothan with the sheep. I was exited. Here was our chance. If we killed him now, we could pretend he had never made it to us but that a wild animal had killed him. All ten of us men were pretty much in agreement--we all hated him so much--that we had about agreed to do it, except weak-willed Reuben, our oldest brother, wouldn't let us kill him right away. He said to throw Joseph in an empty hole nearby and just let him die slowly. We went along with his plan. I don't like Reuben's ideas sometimes.
Reuben went away for something, and then our chance came. We saw some businessmen on their way to Egypt. I told our brothers, "Let's not kill him--after all, he is our brother--but let's sell him to these businessmen and make some money." Everyone liked that idea because they knew that killing him wouldn't help us in any way. The money would come in handy. I look on it as I saved Joseph's life. Reuben, he wasn't too happy when he came back. Sometimes he acts just like our father Jacob.
We took that coat of his, the one of many colors and dipped it in the blood of a goat we killed that day and later showed it to our father. It convinced him that we hadn't done anything to Joseph, so he wasn't angry with us. But he was really sad about not seeing Joseph again. Really sad. Really sad.
I was glad not to see the dreamer anymore!
Well, I couldn't concern myself with my father's sadness; I needed to get on with my own life. So, I moved to Adullam, and started my own family. I know--my great-grandfather made sure his son married someone from outside Canaan. My grandfather was mad that my uncle married women of the land--Hittites and Ishmaelites--and my father married my mother Leah (and her sister) outside of Canaan. I decided I wouldn't follow the example of my ancestors--I would marry a girl from nearby--a Canaanite. And we had a son. A son! I called him Er! And then we had a second son Onan and a third son Shelah. I was really proud to have these sons. As soon as I could, I found a wife for Er--her name was Tamar. . . nice girl.
And then Er died. God killed him.
It's proper for the second son to marry the first son's widow, so I arranged for Onan to marry Tamar. He didn't . . . I mean . . .he had his own ideas about things . . .I don't know why he didn't go through with it. God killed him too.
Then I had just one one little boy left--Shelah. I didn't want to rush things, you know, with both of his brothers . . .dead. I told Tamar to go live in her father's house, and later I would arrange a marriage to Shelah.
Tragedy hit my family again--my dear wife died. My two sons; my wife. Well, I went to Timnah with the worker-what would keep me at home?
You know, along the road, I saw the most interesting woman. She covered her face like a harlot . . .and my wife is dead . . .so it wouldn't be adultery . . .and I'm away from home so there won't be any consequences, you know what I mean. She was attractive, but she drove a hard bargain. She wanted me to give her a small goat, but I didn't have one with me, so I gave her my seal and my staff and my cord to prove I would get the goat to her later. And I did try to send a goat to her, but no one could find her.
I don't know what happened. Everything seems to go wrong for me. How was I to know? Later, I noticed that Tamar--who was supposed to marry my third son--was pregnant. I was furious! "Burn her!" I said.
Then something happened that I think changed my life forever. She showed me things given to her by the father of the child: my seal, my staff, my cord. I was the one who had slept with a married woman.
She was more righteous than I. I should have arranged the marriage to little Shelah. I didn't. Now she was pregnant with my child--actually twins--so children. She had done less wrong than I had. I had tried to live by my own plans, and now here I am, my wife is dead, two sons are dead, my third son cannot marry the first son's wife because she is now pregnant with my children, but I cannot marry her because she is my daughter-in-law. What a mess I have brought on myself.
And I wonder what is happening to Joseph? Is he in Egypt? Is he all right? How did my suggestion to sell him end up?
And my father? Can I go back and face him? He is probably still very sad.
Well, life has its realities. We have to work because we have to eat. And the weather changed. We just ran out of food. There was nothing to eat. But we heard that in Egypt there was food!
My father urged us to go to Egypt, and the ten of us brothers did. Of course, Benjamin, son of my father's second wife, stayed home with him. He wouldn't want anything to happen to him.
In Egypt, we were foreigners. I didn't quite understand all that was going on there. We didn't get to see Pharaoh, but we were taken to see another man. A very harsh man. He accused us of being spies. Really, we didn't do anything out of the ordinary. And no matter what we said, he still called us spies. Somehow we tried to defend ourselves by talking about our family, but that was a mistake. He said we had to prove our words by bringing our youngest brother with us the next time we came. Why? I couldn't understand that.
And then, to make sure we would come again, he put all of us in jail and said one of us had to go back home and bring Benjamin. Those were three horrible days. Finally, he let us out and said he would keep only Simeon and the rest of us could go home, but we had to bring Benjamin back. I didn't know what we would do.
We talked pretty freely among ourselves even in front of the Egyptians because we knew they couldn't understand our language. Reuben reminded us of how Joseph had begged us not to sell him to Egypt. I wish now that we hadn't. I think all these things are happening to me because of our--my--sinful plan.
And it got worse. When we were on our way home, we looked in our sacks, and found the money that we had brought to pay for the food. Oh no. Now the Egyptians would call us thieves.
My father is sad. Very sad.
My wife is dead.
My two sons are dead.
One brother is in Egypt in jail.
A very harsh man says that if we want to buy more food, we have to bring Benjamin on this very dangerous journey. And now he will be angry with us because he didn't get our money.
What is God doing to us? What is God doing to me?
My father took it as I expected. "Joseph is gone; Simeon is gone; now you want Benjamin too?"
Reuben offered to kill his own two sons if Benjamin didn't make it back alive. My father was not moved.
We tried to wait as long as we could not to go back to Egypt. We couldn't convince my father to let us take Benjamin. Finally, I said, "If I don't bring Benjamin back, you can kill me." What else could I say?
We were worried about the attitude of that harsh man--so my father gave us gifts to give to him--the best things of the land. And we took double the money--the money we had found in our sacks and then what the food would cost. And our father prayed that God would deliver Simeon and protect Benjamin to come home safely.
This time was different. The harsh man met us one place and then acted strangely. He then told us to meet him at his house. We were worried that the man would attack us there because he was angry that we hadn't paid any money the first time. We quickly told the harsh man's manager that we had found the money and were glad to pay it. We didn't want any trouble, you know. The funny thing was the manager said he had already gotten our money. I don't know--we were confused.
At the house, the servants washed our feet and fed our animals--we were treated like guests. It was strange! And then Simeon came in--it was great to see him! And then the harsh man came and said very odd things:
How is your father? Is this your brother?
And then he ran from the room! We couldn't understand what was going on. We waited quite a while until he came back and then we ate together. I mean, we ate at the same time. Egyptians don't like to eat with us, so they ate at one table and we ate at another. Someone told us where to sit, and they had us sit in the exact order of our birth. Ten brothers--how did they know the order of our birth? And Benjamin--he was given five times as much food as we were! Unbelievable!
We didn't know whether to be happy or sad. This treatment was too good to be true so we just kept waiting for the ax to fall.
And it did.
We left the next morning very early, and along the way some horsemen caught up with us and accused us of stealing the harsh man's silver cup. I was mad. All of us were. We had tried so hard to return the money that we had found in our sacks; we had brought money to pay for this second purchase of food; why would we steal one silver cup?
"If you find it, the man whose sack it is in will die, and the rest of us will be your servants!" We knew no one of us had stolen the cup!
They started with Reuben, the oldest's, bag and checked all of ours. And then they found the cup . . . in Benjamin's bag. We were lost. We were lost! What could we do!
We all went back to the harsh man's office and he scolded us and scolded us. I didn't know what to say. I finally took the opportunity to explain how our father loves Benjamin the most and that I had promised with my life to protect Benjamin no matter what. I begged and begged.
I didn't dare look up at the harsh man's face, but then I heard him shout something in Egyptian. It was strange that all the Egyptians then left the room. And he was alone with the eleven of us. He cried and cried--really loudly. I didn't know what to think. And then I heard in our language--Hebrew--in our dialect--the words "I am Joseph." I didn't understand what he was saying. "How is our father? I am Joseph that you sold into Egypt." It didn-t make sense. One minute we were afraid of death because of a silver cup, and now we were seeing someone claiming to be Joseph--the person we had sold into Egypt--now in the second most powerful position in Egypt. I couldn't say a word. What would Joseph do to us now? What revenge would he take? What were we to do?
What was God doing in my life?
(This story is best read aloud.)
I'm John, fisherman's son from Galilee. I didn't have a lot of education growing up, just the standard Hebrew education in the synagogue. But we did pick up some Greek so we could get by with the Roman soldiers and other people living in Palestine. Remember, just across the Sea of Galilee in the Decapolis, the people spoke Greek. Still, I may not sound as eloquent as some others might.
I want to talk to you today about life--not life as a fisherman or your lives here but the truth of what life really is. You see, this life was from the beginning, but this life appeared to me; I saw it; I heard it. In fact, these rough hands touched it. That's the life I want to tell you about--I want to tell everyone. Because this life was with God the Father Himself I believe if I tell you this you will have joy abounding.
When we heard of another man named John preaching in the wilderness of Judea and baptizing the people who repented from their sin, we became his disciples. But the core of his teaching was always that someone would come after him that would be greater than he was. You can know we looked forward very eagerly for the appearance of this man. One day John said something that was different from anything he had preached before: he noticed a man from Galilee--from Nazareth, a town not too far from where we lived--and announced, "Look, here is the lamb of God that will take away the sins of the world." We took note of this man and kept track of what he was doing.
We heard that he had taught in the synagogue with such authority that everyone was amazed. If the teachers of the law were so unsure about the meaning of Bible passages, how could this Nazarene--a carpenter from not too far away, in fact--be so confident about what it said?
My business partner, another fisherman named Peter, told me one day that his wife's mother had gotten sick with a high fever. This Nazarene, named Jesus, went to Peter's house and leaned over her and said only a few words and then the fever was gone. Peter was especially happy that Jesus had healed her right away. Since it was the Sabbath, no other doctors would have come until the sun had set.
The next time we saw Jesus, he had a whole crowd following him. He approached Peter because he already knew him and asked to let him use his fishing boat so he could preach to the crowd. Since sound travels well over water and there was a natural rise to the land from the water's edge, it was better than a stone amphitheatre. Peter was only too glad to lend him the boat since he had been fishing all night but had caught nothing.
Yes, I'm a businessman. I wondered whether Jesus would give Peter any money for the use of the boat, but he didn't. From where I was, his voice carried easily to me over the water when he said to Peter, "Go out to the deep water and put down your nets." Peter protested that all of us had been fishing all night but had caught nothing. Still, he did what Jesus asked. In no time, Peter was shouting for me and my brother James to come help. There were so many fish that the nets were breaking! We hurried over and took on as many fish as we could, but had to stop when we saw our ships were starting to sink from the weight of the fish! This was the greatest payment any fisherman has ever received for the temporary use of his boat! Jesus looked at each of us and said, "Don't be afraid. From now on you will catch men."
I walked away from my boats and nets--so did James. We followed Jesus. And we--well, my brother James died quite a while ago--I still follow him. And I always will.
May I tell you about this man? I listened to him preach for hours--often telling parables that referred to simple things in our lives--sheep, a net, a coin--often telling stories that were outside of our experience--a pearl of great price, a rich lord going away on a journey, a thirsty man in Hades--I thought I didn't understand his teaching because I'm uneducated. But the other men--like Peter, James, and others that joined our group later on didn't understand either. Very often after teaching the crowds, Jesus would take the time to sit down and explain his stories to us. I listened to him for more than three years and learned to love his voice. I yearn even today to hear it again.
I would love that voice, even if it rebuked me.
Jesus puzzled us when he heard that his dear friend Lazarus was sick but he didn't go immediately to heal him. He had healed all sorts of people--quickly, and without any effort--but he purposely waited days before going to Bethany. The sisters of Lazarus were mourning his death, but Jesus spoke to them gruffly, "Your brother will rise again. Didn't I tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God." He seemed doctrinaire and unfeeling. But then I remember his commanding shout, "Lazarus, come out!" You should have seen the eyes of the Pharisees bug out of their head! You should have heard the cries of Mary and Martha, overjoyed to be with their brother again!
I remember the way he rebuked us when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. We were tired from a busy week and had just had a large meal at Passover time. It was very late at night, and Jesus wanted to pray. Peter and James and I wanted to sleep. Jesus asked us to pray with him--and if I could do it over, I would pray with him--but while he prayed, we slept. He came twice to wake us, and rebuked us for not staying awake with him. Only later, when the soldiers came to arrest him could we see by the light of their torches that Jesus was really worked up and worn out. I wish I could have been with him to encourage him at this crisis point of his life.
I remember that night in the storm on the Sea of Galilee when we saw what looked like a ghost walking on the water. I'm ashamed to admit that we were all terrified. But, Peter was brave and shouted, "Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you on the water." I can still remember the single word he shouted above the waves and through the roaring wind--"Come!"
As I stand here, I can remember the smells I associate with him. Because the twelve of us often slept together with him, I can remember waking in a room with the smell of thirteen men hanging in the air. I can remember waking out of doors and smelling the morning freshness through the dust of the ground we had slept on. I remember greeting him with a kiss and tasting on his lips the wine he had just drunk and smelling the warm dank odor of his sweat.
Many a time as we traveled, Jesus gripped my arm or laid his hand on my shoulder or embraced me. When we sat in a boat, his muscular body jostled against my own. When we reclined at a meal, he might be behind me, so I could lean back against his hard chest to make a private comment.
I remember walking on one of our many trips between Galilee and Jerusalem, I don't remember which direction we were going, but I reached out to touch his arm to catch his attention, and my hand slipped on his sweaty skin. I glanced over and saw that a small crumb of bread was caught in his beard. But when he turned toward me, the wind blew, and as the beard waved in the breeze, the crumb flew away. I looked straight into his eyes. His look made me feel loved, loved more by him than by anyone else I knew.
Another time we were at someone's house to eat--I forget whose--and, as usual we sat down so that a servant could come wash the dust off our feet. I was seated beside him that day, and noticed the servant unbind Jesus' sandals and place his foot in the basin of water. I noted that the clear water turned dark from the dust, but the skin turned darker too now that the dust was washed off. With the grey dust off, the black hair on his legs accented his skin color.
May I tell you something else about my friend? He was the closest of all of my friends. Yes, he was my teacher--and more than a teacher--he was someone I considered my lord. I did whatever he told me to, because he deserved that authority over me. But he was also the person I considered to be my loving friend, the best friend I have ever had.
I remember the shock, the pain I felt when he was arrested that night in the garden. What could the three of us with him do when armed men came with some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees? Jesus had said that he knew something important--so important that it was going to fulfill Scripture--was going to happen, and he asked how many weapons we had. Among us, we had two swords, and he said that was enough. When the soldiers came, should we have defended him with those swords? Peter drew his and ended up chopping off the ear of the high priest's servant, but that didn't do any good. Jesus even reached down and picked up the bloody ear and put it back on the servant's head. It didn't seem to make sense.
Peter and I followed the soldiers as they took Jesus to the house of the high priest. The girl at the door wouldn't let Peter into the courtyard, but because I had connections there, she let me in. I took a look first to see what was happening and then I went back and said a few words to the girl at the door and she let Peter in.
Do you know what it is like to watch the person you love most suffer painful, shameful, unfair, inhuman treatment? I watched the high priest question Jesus. One of the officials reached over and slapped Jesus for one of his answers.
They took Jesus to see Caiaphas and then to see Pontius Pilate and then to see Herod. Pilate had Jesus flogged, and the soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head, and then Pilate condemned Jesus to be crucified. That was a very long walk to Golgotha. Some women that followed Jesus walked along the way, and I followed too.
I stood at the foot of Jesus' cross and watched him hang there in agony, the nails in his hands and feet, blood coming down his face from the wounds and from the crown of thorns on his head. He writhed and gasped even to breathe. What could we do when our own Jewish leaders had teamed up with the hated Romans to put to death one of our own community who had broken no law?
The man who had preached authoritatively for hours now gasped short bursts of words. "Woman, here is your son," he said to Mary. To me he said, "Here is your mother." I knew he was putting her into my care. Of course, I would do anything for him.
And then I watched the man I loved most in the world . . . die. Have you watched one of your friends die? His breathing stopped. His body slumped down; his head dangled awkwardly down over his chest. It was the most offensively distasteful scene imaginable.
From very young, I have heard Moses read in the synagogues. We read through the whole Torah--the law--every year. I would watch as a boy as the men would turn the scroll slowly throughout the year. I remember what some might call the high point of the whole Torah. Moses was on Sinai and he was receiving the Law from God and he said to God, "Show me your glory." God said Moses wouldn't be able to see it and live, so God put Moses in a crevasse in the rock and God put his hand over the rock and then passed by so Moses could see only his back. What a change in Moses! When he came down the mountain, Moses' face shone so brightly, the people had to cover it with a veil.
Show me your glory--the high point of Moses' life.
God said that he didn't use dreams and visions with Moses, the way he spoke to other prophets. With Moses, he spoke face to face. And Moses saw God's glory.
I remember one day, Jesus took Peter, James, and me with him, and we hiked up a rather high mountain. At the top, something happened that caught the three of us by surprise. Jesus' body changed. His face shone brightly. Even his clothes turned completely white, whiter than I have ever seen any clothes. A booming voice came from heaven declaring, "This is my son whom I love. I am pleased with him. Listen to him."
Yes, we believed already that Jesus is the Son of God. Peter had already confessed to him that he knew Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. Andrew had recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah--the Christ--even before he introduced Peter--my business partner--to Jesus. Philip had recognized Jesus as the coming one promised by Moses and the prophets and told Nathanael, and Nathanael right away declared that Jesus is the Son of God.
But that day on the mountain, we saw his glory, the glory of the only Begotten, the One and Only from the Father.
Immediately we noticed two men standing with Jesus--one was Moses, the other was Elijah. With complete clarity, we saw from the presence of these two men that Jesus was the Christ that Moses and the prophets had foretold for centuries. Every Sabbath in the synagogue we had heard Messiah prophesied. Now we could see with our own eyes that Moses and Elijah were affirming and confirming that Jesus was the one they had been talking about. And we saw Jesus in his glory.
The next thing we knew we felt Jesus touching us to wake us. "Get up," he said, "Don't be afraid." Only Jesus was there--Moses and Elijah were gone; Jesus' face and clothes were back to normal. Had I only dreamt the glorious events that were still a clear memory in my mind? No, I hadn't, because Jesus said, "Don't talk about these things until I have risen from the dead." I understood the first part of his sentence--Jesus didn't want us to tell others what happened. But I couldn't understand what Jesus meant about rising from the dead.
But later I did.
After Jesus died, I didn't know what to do. I ended up being with Peter--my old business partner--and talked with him about what he had seen and done. Peter the rash, John the son of Thunder--we were now two helpless men, emasculated by the key leaders of our society.
On Sunday morning Mary Magdalene came running to see Peter and me. She was all excited about something and said many things that didn't add up or make any sense. We could only figure out that she was saying someone had stolen the body of Jesus from the tomb. Couldn't they leave him alone in death? The Jewish leaders had bullied Jesus for three years while he had taught what Moses had taught. Then they framed him and put him to death in a horrible way. Now they had to drag his corpse away somewhere. Peter and I felt some of our old energy and we ran to the tomb.
Sure enough, the soldiers were lying at the side of the tomb. The stone was rolled back. I couldn't go in but stayed at the doorway. Peter caught up with me and then hurried in. When I walked in afterwards, I saw strips of linen there and I saw the cloth that had bound Jesus' head folded up at the side. No one stealing a body would leave things this way. Jesus had to be risen! He had risen from the dead.
Remember, he had raised Jairus' daughter--only Peter, James and I had seen it. He had raised the son of that widow in Nain. He had raised Lazarus! Of course, he could rise again too!
How happy I was for the next forty days. Jesus appeared to us from time to time--in a locked room, by the Sea of Galilee, on the sides of a mountain. I was thrilled to hear his familiar voice, to see his face, to grip his body, and talk to him. Suddenly, one day without any forewarning, he rose up to heaven again, and we were told he would come again. We waited many years, many decades without seeing him.
But I saw him again. Yes, not too long ago.
Here, on the Island of Patmos, in the westernmost part of Asia, on one Sunday I suddenly heard a commanding voice--"Write down what you see!" I turned around and saw seven golden lampstands and in the middle of them, I saw Jesus.
He was glorious!
How do I express it . . . a long robe, a golden belt,
Hair a brilliant white, eyes blazing like fire
A booming voice, a shining face
Seven stars in his hand, a sword coming from his mouth
With joy. . .
With fear . . .
In full worship I fell at his glowing feet.
Then I felt him touch my shoulder as he had on the mountain that time. "Don't be afraid. I was dead, but now I am alive . . .forever. I have authority over death and Hades."
And then he showed me more of his glory: He took me up to heaven, and I saw wonderful living creatures and twenty four elders praising the Most High. They watched as Jesus walked out and took the scroll that no one else had the authority to open, and he ripped open each seal. He looked like a lamb, one that had been killed--and it reminded me of what the other John--the one who baptized so many people--had called him--the Lamb of God. And then the wonderful living creatures and the twenty-four elders bowed down before Jesus and praised him saying, "You are worthy! You bought mankind with your blood! You made them to be royal priests!"
And then angels . . . . literally millions of them chorused in a thundering voice proclaiming, "You are worthy! You died! Now you are worthy to receive power, wealth, wisdom, strength, honor, glory, praise!"
And then everyone--everything that God created--joined in with the angels and sang together "Praise and honor and glory and power to the Most High and to Jesus the Lamb!"
Then there gathered a crowd of people--more than anyone could count--from every country, every ethnic group, every language and they shouted loudly, "Salvation is God's and the Lamb's!"
And afterward, I heard what resembled loud peals of thunder announcing, "The Lamb's wedding! The bride is ready!"
And then I saw the groom--Jesus, whose eyes blazed like fire, under a forehead ringed with many crowns riding on a white horse and wielding from his mouth a victorious sharp sword to destroy his enemies. His white robe was emblazoned with King of Kings and Lord of Lords!
And then, a great white throne exalted and ominous. And Jesus seated there to judge all that had died.
And then a glimpse of heaven . . . a glorious place that had no temple. But there wasn't a need for a temple. The Lamb is the temple.
And then the vision was over, and I was back here on Patmos in Asia. But the memory stays with me. I know my time here on earth isn't long anymore. And when I leave here, I will see Jesus again, as I saw him in the vision.
And I can't wait to see him.
The Christmas party had been a failure . . . at least, in Bret's opinion. Out of 40 single adults on the church membership rolls, only 10 had shown up. Bret felt bad that his wife Mary had spent three days baking the cakes, cookies and other snacks and even preparing party sandwiches and all kinds of finger food, only to have it barely touched by the small group that had come. Why hadn't all 40 come? Why hadn't they brought dates or friends? He had purposely phoned each person and found out which date in December everyone had free for a party, and he had invited each of them personally to come to the party. What was he doing wrong?
He picked up his well-worn Guide to Singles Ministry that he had read three times all the way through and had referred back to countless times. He immediately found the familiar page that had informed him,
The three Black-letter dates on a single's calendar are Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas. Be sure to plan activities for your singles group at these times.
That's what he had tried to do! On the second Saturday in February they always had their snow weekend. The Saturday after Thanksgiving was a big barbecue at his house. And, this year the Christmas party had been on December 13th, an inconvenient time for him and his wife, but it had fit the schedule of all of the singles. For the past five years he had given of himself in every way he knew to help the singles of the church, but he seemed to be further from them now than the first few weeks after his arrival.
He looked at the calendar on his desk. Just looking at all the special programs through the Christmas seasons discouraged him: Christian school programs that his children were in, the Christmas party for the Sunday school class of married people his age, the church's Christmas outreach program, the choir's cantata. He felt like running away but knew he had to have a heart of service and go to all of these. And then there was the singles' New Year's party. After all the work he and Mary would put into it, would the singles come to it?
He decided he needed to work some more on the Singles Sunday School lesson and reached for his Bible. His spirits rose a little because he really liked the series he was going through: Preparing for Marriage. This week the module was on "Meeting the other person's needs." Bret liked this topic because it was something he could speak on from his experience. He paused to look up at Mary's large picture on his desk. Yes, she was a wonderful wife.
Sunday morning, as Bret stood at the front of the classroom arranging his notes, he heard a small commotion outside the classroom. Betty, a woman Bret considered to be rather abrasively outspoken, was voicing her opinion quite loudly to a group of women about to enter the room.
"The teacher of the Homebuilders class wouldn't let me stay and study Galatians with them. I told him that I was sick of 'Preparing for Marriage' but he wouldn't let me stay. We had this in high school and again in college and career days. Why do we have to listen to this again? I mean, why don't they have me teach the married women a class in 'Preparing for Singleness' since a lot of them will be widowed one day?"
There were some embarrassed giggles as the ladies moved into the classroom, and Betty followed them and found a seat in the back of the classroom, her sour expression betraying her total disappointment at being in Bret's class.
Bret found that his eloquence was muted that morning. Even though he passionately believed that marriage was a wonderful gift of God, he felt as if he were speaking to stones. He wished he could teach the singles how to think of the other person and meet that person's needs. If they could learn this lesson now, their marriages would be happier and richer. He surprised himself by finishing early and dismissing the class to go to the sanctuary for the morning service.
At lunch that day, he found great encouragement as his son Bobby excitedly talked about his junior-high Sunday school class's part in the upcoming Christmas Outreach Program. Sarah, his eight-year-old quoted the three Bible verses she was going to say in the Christian school program. He couldn't help thinking, If only the singles in his group could have the chance to be married and have children like this. He wanted so much to be God's instrument in bringing this kind of joy to them.
Sunday evening after church, he heard Jason Stark, one of his singles, shouting across the church lobby to another single man, "Pete, I'll see you at the Johnsons'." Bret immediately asked Jason, "What's happening at the Johnsons'?"
Jason looked blankly at Bret as if even he didn't know the answer to that question, "I don't know, we're just going over there to hang out." With that, he turned and walked out the door.
Bret knew the Johnsons, a couple whose grown children had all moved out of the community. They were faithful members of the congregation not known for any special talents, but they seemed always to have guests in their home--oftentimes invited, and oftentimes uninvited. Bret wondered why Jason and Pete--and likely others--would be going over to the Johnsons' house even though there was nothing planned.
Monday morning, Bret attended the 8:00 staff meeting that included all five of the pastors of the church, the full-time maintenance man, and three secretaries. The senior pastor seemed to be in a hurry as he began, "I'm going to try to keep this short today because we all have a lot to do at this busy time. The main thing I wanted to bring up is Chet's idea to have a Family Ski Outing at New Year's. There's still time to inform everyone. What do you think?"
Everyone nodded except for Bret. "We always have a singles' party on New Year's Eve," he protested.
The senior pastor was energetically positive as usual, "Bring them along! Young people love to ski. We can all leave from the church on the morning of the 31st and will come back on the evening of the 2nd."
Bret looked carefully at the senior pastor's few gray hairs and thought of many in the singles group that were older than he. Why did the pastor refer to the singles as "young people"?
It seemed all settled. Bret acquiesced to the group's decision, and made a mental note to change what he had written on his calendar.
Wednesday evening when the congregation split up to pray and the singles gathered in their Sunday school room, Bret announced that the singles New Year's Party would be replaced by the Family Ski Outing. A deadness settled immediately over the room. He tried to liven things up a bit, "Jason, you like to ski don't you? And Pete, didn't you win some kind of ski competition when you were a teenager?" Jason looked dazed as he responded, "Why are they replacing a singles activity with a family one? Why don't they want us to have a party?"
Bret didn't quite understand Jason's question, "They are inviting you along because they thought you would enjoy skiing. It's an outing for the whole church. Why don't you come along?"
Jason still had that dazed look in his eyes, "But it's an outing for families. They don't mean for us to come." He turned around and asked the woman behind him, "You think the Johnsons would let us come over to their house that night? I don't think they'll go skiing, do you?"
Bret was dumbfounded. He had planned a party for the singles; the senior pastor had invited the singles to come on a ski trip; and a healthy, athletic man would rather go hang out at the Johnsons' house? Why were singles so hard to understand?
The Christmas season flew by in a whirl. Bret loved the season with its emphasis on family and savored the special times he got to spend with Mary and the kids. He loved all of the songs that spoke of being home for Christmas and sharing in the joys of the season with family. Mary encouraged him by pointing out that a third of the choir on the Cantata night were single people. She pointed out that some of the single women from his Sunday school class taught in the Christian school and had done a fine job of preparing their students for the Christmas program. She reminded him that for this program they had likely spent many hours outside of class beyond their preparation for teaching. As he had come out of the school program, he had been surprised to find Jason and Pete in the parking lot. They had agreed to direct traffic and do parking lot guard duty during the program since they didn't have any kids. He felt proud of his singles. And, as he thought about the canceled New Year's Party, he was happy that Mary didn't have to do all the usual preparation for it, and he could relax and just go on the ski trip with everyone else. But would the singles come?
December 31, he got on the bus and looked over the group. The only singles that came were some college kids whose parents came on the trip also. Disappointment and frustration filled his mind. Here was a great activity that singles could participate in, but they didn't show up.
As he and Mary rode the ski lift on New Year's Day, he asked her, "What do you think the singles are doing today?"
Mary replied, "Didn't Jason say something about going to the Johnsons' house?"
"Yeah," Bret suddenly remembered. "Why do you think they always go over there? You and I plan great activities for them, and hardly anyone shows up, but they seem to love to go to the Johnsons'. What can we do to get them to stop going there and start coming to our activities?"
Mary gave a simple suggestion, "Why don't we go over to the Johnsons' too. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em!" Her laugh rang out through the still cold air.
Bret was shocked at her suggestion. But he couldn't think of a reason to disagree. Maybe he could stop by the Johnsons and just ask them what they believed they were doing right.
On the Saturday after New Year's Bret phoned the Johnsons. "Hi, Ted, this is Bret. I was wondering whether you might be free sometime this weekend that I could stop by to visit you."
"Sure, Bret, come over anytime." Bret was amazed at the way Ted's voice sounded encouraging and yet not pushy. "You could come right now if you want. We aren't doing anything special."
Bret said he would be right over and went straight to his car. The ten-minute trip made Bret more and more nervous until he broke out into a sweat in spite of the cold temperature outside, and he knocked on the Johnsons' door.
When Ted opened the door, Bret went inside and went through the normal pleasantries with him and his wife Frieda. He couldn't help feeling a twinge of jealousy when he saw two of his singles in the Johnsons' den watching a video. He tried to think of more friendly conversation, but he couldn't, so he burst out with the direct question, "How do you do it?"
Ted and Frieda said nothing, waiting for Bret to explain his question. Bret thought a minute and realized what he had said and then explained, "I notice that the singles really like coming over to your house. They like to come here after church; some come here for holidays; and I see now two are here on a Saturday. What do you do to encourage them to come?"
Ted and Frieda looked at each other and then Ted replied, "We don't do anything. They just come. I guess we have invited them over for ice cream so many times that now they invite themselves over." Frieda smiled. "Some come just because they feel lonely in their apartments, and others come because they want to watch a video that we have. We don't plan anything for them--after all, they are all adults and very resourceful. Did you know that Jason can quote poetry?"
Bret was surprised. Athletic Jason knew poetry?
Frieda laughed and reminisced, "Jason doesn't know any serious poetry, just silly rhymes. He has us all in stitches with the one about the purple cow!" She lowered her voice and imitated Jason's voice, "I can tell you anyhow, I'd rather see than be one." Ted and Frieda both laughed out loud.
"Did any of the singles come over on New Year's Day?" Bret tried to mask his disappointment and jealousy.
Ted didn't seem surprised by the question at all. "Oh yes, quite a few came. They were in and out all day long. Maybe a total of 20 or so of them showed up at some time in the day. They said there was nothing planned at church except for families, so they said they wanted to come over."
A burst of anger shot through Bret. "Nothing planned!" How could the singles say that? He stayed silent until the anger subsided, and then he asked, "Didn't they know about the ski outing?"
Ted explained calmly, "They told me the ski outing was for families, so they didn't feel welcome."
Bret was annoyed. "No, the outing was for the whole church. We welcomed everyone. I specifically invited the singles. I don't see why they thought they weren't welcome."
"In church we heard it was a Family Ski Outing. Maybe that's why the singles didn't feel welcome," Ted offered.
Finally Bret understood. The singles had been turned off by the name of the outing. No matter how directly and repeatedly he might have invited them, they would have balked at the activity being called a "Family" outing.
"We meant it for the whole church," Bret complained, "that's why we called it a'family' outing. We meant that it was for every age group. What else could we call an activity if we meant it to be for the whole church?"
Frieda looked at Ted and then suggested, "What if you called it a Church outing?"
Bret was stunned at the simplicity of Frieda's suggestion. The singles had thought a'family' outing was for families. Maybe if future activities were called 'church' activities, the singles would feel included.
Bret sudden understanding made him feel unusually open, "May I share something with you? I am quite discouraged about the singles ministry. I plan all kinds of activities for the singles, and then they don't come. What do you think I could do differently?"
Ted seemed a bit hesitant to say anything, but then he said something that shocked Bret, "What some of them were talking about is that they wish you would plan activities for holidays that are celebrated as families--like Thanksgiving and Christmas--or for the day they like least every year--Valentine's Day." Bret wanted to get really angry, but he realized that Ted was not criticizing him, "But I DO plan activities for them on those exact three holidays. I try to look out for them and their interests and go to a lot of planning and work to do so!"
Ted was a bit surprised at Bret's energetic remark and looked at Frieda before continuing. "Did you have something on Christmas day? The singles that came over here that day said there was nothing planned."
Bret shook his head in disgust. "I planned a special Christmas activity for them on December 13. I made sure everyone had that day free--and that was hard to do. And my wife cooked for three days. And then very few people showed up!"
Ted looked confused. "So you didn't have anything on Christmas day, but you had a Christmas activity for them December 13. Why didn't you have the Christmas activity for them on Christmas day?"
Bret thought his answer was too obvious to have to say, but he forced the words out anyway, "I spent Christmas day with my family."
Ted paused, began to say something and then hesitated. Then he took a breath and said what he was thinking, "What if next time you celebrated with your family on another day, and held an activity on Christmas day itself? You could do the same on Valentine's Day itself and on Thanksgiving day?"
Bret sat there for a bit, letting Ted's words sink in. He thought back on his Guide to Singles Ministry and realized he had been misinterpreting it whole time. The singles didn't need him to hold a Christmas party--they were adults that could plan their own. What they needed was someplace to go on Christmas day so they wouldn't be homesick for their families far away.
Bret was feeling more and more admiration for Ted and Frieda and their effectiveness among the singles. He decided to venture one more question, "I really feel for these single people--they don't have spouses to care for them, and I feel much more sorry for the women because of the unequal ratio of men to women. I really want to help them get married and enjoy the families that we married people have. But they just don't seem interested in my lessons on preparing for marriage. Do you think they are single because they don't want to be married?"
Ted and Frieda both smiled knowingly, "I don't think you need to feel sorry for them," Ted began to explain. "They are a great bunch of people that enjoy life a lot. But I think almost every one of the singles we know would really like to be married. We hear all kinds of discussion about their ideas and plans and wishes regarding marriage. They ask us all kinds of questions too. But, what we think is really great about this bunch of singles is that they have an even stronger desire to know God. They really want to learn the Bible and know what God has to say about their whole lives, not just their relationship with the opposite sex. Have you ever taught a book of the Bible in Sunday School . . . like Isaiah, or Romans?"
Bret was taken back that Ted could keep saying such surprising things. "But we want them to get married, don't we?"
Ted was gentle in his response, "We don't know what God's plan for them is. He may lead them to marriage; He may not. What we know is that God wants to draw them to Himself and reveal Himself to them and fill their lives with His spirit, His glory, and His joy. I think the singles hunger most for that."
Bret felt a yearning in his own heart and suggested, "Ted, would you consider teaching a series in our singles Sunday school class? I think they would love it, and I would too."
Ted's eyes grew big, and he looked helplessly at Frieda. "But Bret--Sunday school--I've never taught that. I wouldn't know what to say!"
Bret shook his head in total disbelief. How could Ted be totally unaware of his own eloquence and spiritual depth? "Ted, would it be all right if I came over sometimes when the singles hang out here? I would really like to get to know them the way you do."
Frieda spoke up cheerily, "Bret, come anytime. We welcome everyone."
Bret rose to leave, said his goodbyes at the door, and drove home. He couldn't wait to tell Mary what he had learned from the Johnsons.