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Short Stories of Faith

March 31, 2009

Look for inspirational stories that can give men courage to be God’s own.

DID YOU HEAR WHAT I HEARD?

It started with the shepherds in the fields in those early hours before the sun rose and the sound of the horn rang in a new dawn. Those early hours when it seems the darkest time is just before rising of the sun; it is also the coldest. The fire of the night was not glowing coals. The darkness closed in around them. The full moon was not setting on the far horizon. Chills ran through their bodies as the world prepared for its transition. Noises in the darkness were clearer. Nerves were on edge as they listened for any disturbance that would signal a threat to themselves and their flocks. They needed to pay attention to the sheep. Didn’t you read, “they lived in the fields.” They were not just one with the sheep as shepherds but it was their very life that was at stake. It was easy to be afraid. No matter how experienced they were at enduring the night it never seemed to change. The darkness brought something unexpected. Evil lurks in the darkness from the thief who would take a sheep be it man or beast or a murderer who would steal their soul whether it was man or spirit. On this particular night the darkness seemed darker and more sinister. It was as if evil spirits were on edge dancing along the perimeter of the fainting fire’s glow. In fact, they were. Satan was aware of the course of events and that his rule was about to be defeated. But, God had a plan to save the faithful and sent His Son into the world with angelic announcement the glory of which could never be matched. Zooming across the sky like a blazing meteor, the angel of the Lord stopped over the heads of the shepherds. The concussion of his arrival knocked the shepherds and the sheep flat to the ground in fear. They cowered believing that life as they knew it was over. In fact, it was. The spirits of darkness departed in the overwhelming glory of God and retreated back into the recesses of the pit out of which they had dare to climb. These mighty men trembled and rightfully so in the presence of the Almighty. But, the fear of the Lord which they exhibited was rewarded with a blessing, “Fear not, I bring good news to you that is for all people. Today a Savior is born who is the Messiah promised from old. You will find Him as a baby wrapped in cloths lying in a manger.” At that moment, the heavens erupted with stars falling from heaven to near earth. Their countenance filled the sky as each angel revealed itself to the shepherds. Their gaze was fixed. They could not turn their eyes because of the beautiful sight. Then their ears heard what their hearts knew, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace on everyone upon whom His favor rests.” As soon as they appeared, they were gone. They had been caught up into a single star far above their heads. Their song echoed among the hills and returned to the shepherds as full as it had been when the angels sang it. The shepherds looked around them fearing that the sheep would have been scattered by the sudden impact. Instead, all the sheep were kneeling, glowing faces pointed toward Bethlehem. They looked beyond them to see other flocks in the distance the same as theirs. They did not know if those shepherds heard the same or not but the sheep knew something had happened. It had happened to them. These mighty men rose up to their feet and without question walked toward Bethlehem. The sheep moved as well following the voice of their shepherd and then moved beyond them as if they knew the way. The sheep took the lead and came to a small cave that served as a stable for the inn on the edge of town. They noticed the glow emanating from the cave that felt just like the one they saw with the angels’ appearance. As they drew nearer, all eyes were fixed upon a wriggling baby boy wrapped in cloths laying in a manger. He was perfect in their eyes. Even the sheep seemed to know and fell again to their knees as did the shepherds. It was then that all eyes were fixed on them. There were the animals in the stable, other people who were allowed room in the stalls as there was none in the inn, Mary and Joseph and the baby. Even the baby’s eyes were wide open and fixed upon them. They saw Him smile and his little hands reached up from inside the swaddling cloths and reached out to them. His mother looked and knew that God was doing, not had done, a great thing. She asked one of the shepherds to step forward and held the baby out to him. He fell to his knees deferring the moment and began to tell the story of what had just happened in the fields. The other shepherds nodded their heads in agreeable disbelief knowing it was all true. Mary held out the baby again and said softly, “Behold, the lamb of God.” Tears streaming down the shepherd’s face anointed the tiny face of the baby boy cradled in his arms. The baby wriggled in his arms and giggled with a peace-filled sound as each drop touched His face. Handing the baby back to His mother the shepherd bowed humbly and gave thanks for the opportunity to see God’s work firsthand saying, “Behold the Messiah, the Christ of God.” The breath of everyone was taken with the words. Animals bowed. Everyone in and near the stable clutched each other frozen in time and space. The shepherds rose up to their feet as one and returned to the fields singing the angels’ song, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” The sheep bleated “Amen.”

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  1. Have you ever had a crisis of conscience? It was probably one of those times when you knew what you were doing was right but doing it seemed wrong to so many people you had to pause and wonder. Or did you? Do you? In “Say It Again,” a young preacher found the answer that many of us have been looking for. It isn’t just a matter of will, but will you.

    SAY IT AGAIN

    The story is told of a young pastor fresh out of seminary and preaching in his first full-time pulpit assignment. The church house was packed to the windows with people ready to see who God had called to lead them in the years to come. Several people came forward and gave their lives to Christ. After the worship service was done, everyone was buzzing with anticipation for the next Sunday. Throughout the week, the word spread and though it seems impossible, the small church house was filled to the rafters with people. The preacher stood in the pulpit and delivered the same sermon as the week before. Still again, several people came forward to give their lives to Christ. There was a bit of concern by the older members who were wondering why this young preacher would deliver the same sermon two weeks in a row. They decided among themselves to be forgiving and let the issue resolve itself. However, after the third Sunday of the same sermon and watching still more people come forward who were new to the church the elders got together and decided that something needed to be said.

    The elders met at the new pastor’s home that afternoon. When they arrived, they found the street lined with cars. They had to park two blocks away and walk back to the pastor’s house. When they walked up to the door they heard singing and laughter through the open door and windows. They rang the door bell and knocked neither of which could be heard above the joyous noise. Finally, someone whom they recognized as one of those who had recently joined the church saw them and passed the word to the preacher that there was someone to see him. He made his way through those sitting on the floor and standing in a circle around them. He met with the elders outside in the brilliant sunshine. It was so bright they had to shade their eyes. “Can I help you?” asked the young preacher. The lead elder stepped forward and said, “We know you are kind of new at this. Perhaps you do not have a good routine in place to manage your time and that would explain why you have preached the same sermon two weeks in a row. But, there is concern among some of the members who are afraid that preaching the same sermon might keep some people from coming to church. Why would they want to hear the same thing over again? We want to be supportive and encouraging. Is there anything we can do to help you so you can be better prepared for next Sunday?” The young pastor smiled and nodded his head, then asked, “Will you pray for me?” The elders agreed wholeheartedly and prayed right there in the yard with the young pastor. They patted him on the back and shook his hand, each expressing great anticipation for the coming Sunday as they left.

    The young pastor watched as each of the elders turned down the street talking to each other. As they disappeared one by one into their cars and drove away, he bowed his head and prayed, “Your will be done.” Inside, the singing and laughter continued without him. He was glad. This is what he thought worship should be all about. It wasn’t something he caused to happen. It was something that happened when God’s Word was discovered, shared and celebrated. He just loved being in the midst of the happening. If he could help open a door for someone when life had closed one for them, then he was content. If it meant opening a window to let the breath of God flow in like a refreshing breeze when the captured air of a troubled life began to suffocate their hope, then he was grateful for the strength to do so. It was all he really ever wanted to do. It worked not because of his doing but because he allowed God to do it through him. It made life worthwhile. But, there were those times when he could feel the world closing in on him, too. He knew this had been one of those times. As he turned to the house he prayed again, “Your will be done.”

    Throughout the week, he met people who were excited about his being in the community. He listened as they said he had brought a sense of liveliness to their town. He nodded with appreciation but was quick to point out that only God can give life. He was glad to be able to share the joy of life with them. He wondered to himself if they truly understood what he was saying or if it was about the confidence they saw in him and the ease with which he practiced his faith. He knew it wasn’t really about what he was doing or had done or what he was about to do. He didn’t even know exactly what he was about to do. Only God knew that and he trusted God to be there with him and for him when it happened. What was left for him to do at all times was to be prepared and ready for whatever the day provided. He didn’t need to worry about it. It didn’t help anyway. The day would be full of trouble all by itself. It certainly didn’t need his help. But, if it wasn’t about the doing of God’s work what was it that made it all so
    different? That is what he wanted the people to know and also understand. What makes the difference is not what you do but who you are. What you do is an expression of who you are, for better for worse. Actions are reflections of the soul. All he ever wanted was for people to see God alive in him and to know that God wants to be alive in them, too. If by his example, whether it was in good times or in bad, he could give them some hope for their own lives that God was always there for them, then it would all be worthwhile. It hadn’t always been easy. While he was glad to see these times of joy and prosperity, he knew that there had been those troubling days, too, when joy seemed squeezed out of his life like juice from an orange. Bitter and sweet. What would tomorrow bring? He didn’t know exactly. All he knew was that he had to remain in the midst of God’s will for his life. Let Sunday bring what it may. He would bring himself before God and his God before the people.

    Sunday morning didn’t come any earlier than usual. The rooster crowed. The sun rose. The smell of breakfast cooking filled the whole house as praise and worship music swelled in joyous crescendo. By all appearances it was just a normal Sunday. But, for the young pastor this would be one of those days you only want to dream about. He sat at the dining room table with his wife and young son who was enjoying playing with his breakfast. He was unaware of what this day was. It was just like every other day to him and why shouldn’t it be. In the heart and mind of a child every day is a good day filled with joy and learning moments. He took his cue from his parents. He was a reflection of them. Except, if they ever had one of those down moments, he would first try to get them to laugh and play. It is always better to a child to enjoy life instead of resent it. Children have to learn how to regret something; that is the joy of innocence. His father looked at him and took his cue from his laughter. He thought to himself, “I am a child of God. What does God want for me to do today?” He bowed his head and prayed “Your will be done gladly for this is a day which only You could have made. What we make of it is our choice. I pray we choose wisely this day to say best whose we are. In Jesus’ name.”

    As it had in the weeks previous, the anticipation of worship in the small community church didn’t come any earlier than usual. It started when that particular person who needed God, whether they knew Him or not,woke up and looked at his or her world. Worship for some people was not always a joyous time. Too many people seem to wake up on the wrong side of the bed and hit the wall early. The voice they raise is not a voice of praise. They have forgotten or never even knew that they, too, were a child of God blessed with every reason to get the most out of life and enjoy it to the fullest.

    But, in the past weeks since the young pastor’s arrival and first sermon there was a different feeling. The walls of doubt and fear had started coming down for so many. The windows of their souls were opening wide to see the world as it was, is and will be. Some thought it was because of the pastor. They were the first ones to enter the church when the door was opened. The moved straight to the front where so few had sat before. They wanted to sit close to this man who had made such a difference in their lives. They were becoming reflections of his outwardness. They hadn’t grasped the whole of the truth but were drawing nearer to the kingdom. They wanted this good life. Others were already into the wrestling with the words of this young man. They felt the truth in them as well as the challenge it represented to their lives. He wasn’t asking for them to change, they knew that, but something was and that was what they were coming back to find out. They were all kinds of people from all walks of life. Some of those walks had been dead ends or cliffhangers. They were the turn-around group that would benefit from the comfort of repentence. Like the others, some of them had never been to church. The word was out and they found themselves drawn to a hope that had been lost long ago.

    By the time the regulars showed up they found the parking lot full and the streets lined with cars. Worship hadn’t officially started but it was already in full force as people they didn’t even know greeted them and shook their hands. Some even said, “God bless you.” The pastor stood on the front step taking time to greet each one as they entered. He watched as the elders were gathering together. He wanted it to be a time of prayer and thanksgiving for them. Somehow, he knew it was a different kind of “preying” that troubled them. They were be gnawed at and eaten by their own challenges. He looked to heaven and prayed, “Your will be done.”

    The Spring morning brought bright sunshine and a brilliant blue sky. Everything seemed more alive today. The leaves and grass were a true green. Flowers of every color and hue blossomed with faces turned toward the sun. Even the birds would not hush their singing and added their songs to the ones that were pouring out of the open windows from the little church house. It was as if the whole of nature itself was called to worship. And it was a good thing that the day was so fair and the windows were open because there was no room inside for everyone to gather. The pastor was
    overwhelmed with the vibrancy that filled the room. He could feel the hair raising up on the back of his neck with the electricity of the moment. He looked across the room and thought, “Surely God must be in this place.” He invited everyone who was not standing to join those who were and led them in singing. Even those who had not been in church before appeared to know the song. The roof raised with the praise, “This is my Father’s world and to my listening ears all nature sings and round me rings….”

    The music never seemed to end. One song led to another and in the midst of the singing you could see this person or that person well up in tears and sit down. Immediately those who were near them laid hands on them and started praying. Here was a true community of faith in a spontaneous combustion of love and mercy. Different walks of life had come to this small intersection and stopped. No one wanted to go further along the road. Here was an oasis of hope in a desert of despair. It wasn’t just the “place” to be because it was Sunday morning, it was “thee” place to be. Mourning was turned to laughter. Sorrow turned to praise. Burdens were light. Yokes were shared. The pastor watched as so many people were becoming a part of the priesthood of all believers by God’s invitation alone. He mused, “I shouldn’t be surprised, God is the miracle worker. Give God a chance and He comes through every time.” He smiled as he waved his hands to signal it was time to stop singing and sit down. Those who could did. Eyes were searching for those who needed to sit and seats were offered to them as a true sign of sacrifice and care. When there was finally a semblance of calm, the pastor began.

    “The world is Mine and all that is in it, declared the psalmist David. He was talking about how God saw the world He had created. No matter how much the people of the world believed they were in control, the world and all that is in it still belonged to God. He is telling us today, as He does each and every day, we are His sheep, the people of His pasture.” The pastor stopped to catch his breath as his heart pounded. As if on cue, the people picked up the now familiar line, “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.” As they completed the 23rd Psalm, he watched how the presence of God was moving among them. The words of the psalm were spoken but it was the living out of those words that humbled him. He was motionless as if held by the Spirit. Those who had already been shepherded were now shepherding others.

    But not all the sheep were content. Sometimes it is difficult for a few shepherds to first understand that the prerequisite for spiritual leadership is to take your place as one of the flock. Sheep made sheep, not shepherds. While Jesus called His disciples to become fishers of men he knew they had to be plucked out of the sea first. Who would know better the needs of fish than fish. Every good fisherman knew this. It was important for the fisher to be able to think like a fish. It wasn’t any different for David. He was a
    shepherd long before he was a king. He led people just as he had led his sheep. But, of course, they weren’t really his sheep. Those sheep belonged to his father. He was their guardian and protector because he honored the trust of his father. He learned this from his father who had learned it from his father. He would pass it on to his sons. Not all of them would understand or accept this teaching. Those who didn’t became as wolves. Solomon, on the other hand, understood how important it was to be a follower before ever truly accepting the place of leader. In fact, the proverbs that he penned were actually lessons he was giving to his son. He did what he could do. It would be up to those who listened to that wisdom to decide for themselves if they would accept it as a guide for their own lives. Was it any different today? The names had changed. The pasture certainly looked a bit different from the days of David and the nation of Israel. But, the truth remains the truth. It, like God, was and is and will always be.

    The young preacher gathered himself once again. He saw the shifting feet of the elders. They were like sheep filled with anxiety as if they felt the presence of a wolf stalking them from somewhere just beyond their sight. They were afraid. Things were changing. This was, of course, what they had prayed for when they asked God to bring them the right man for the job. Sometimes you have to be careful what you ask for, God just might be listening and give it to you. But, this was not what they had in mind. Suddenly things were beyond their control. They were far away from their vision of still waters and green pastures. The pastor sensed their nervous-ness and fear. This was the valley of the shadow of death David had sung to the nation of Israel when he was king. The road to renewal was never going to be a simple journey. But, the sheep had to be encouraged and calmed. They could not do it themselves. They needed a shepherd to guide them through the difficult times as well as through the good times. This shepherd knew what was on their minds. They were asking each other, “Why is he preaching the same sermon once again? Didn’t he understand what we were asking him? We said we would be glad to help him with his other duties so he could come up with a different sermon. I guess he didn’t think we were serious. Or is this the best he can do?” Yet, despite what he knew he had to remain faithful to what he believed. He was doing what God had asked him to do. He couldn’t change his course any more than Jesus could alter the events that night which led to his arrest and crucifixion as he prayed in the garden. He uttered quietly, “Not my will but Thine be done.”

    He realized that everyone was looking at him with eyes full of expectation. How long had he been standing there in silence? How long had he dwelt in the land of Israel moving with those mighty men of faith across the pages of God’s Word? How long had he been in meditation for those who were struggling now in the midst of this service? It was as if all the air had nearly left the room in one big gasp. Everyone was holding their breath. Even the birds hushed their singing. He had been walking in the Garden of his spirit talking with God, seeking His wisdom and listening for His
    answer. In that moment the weight of their waiting pressed heavy upon him. There was such a burden on his heart, in his mind and with his spirit that he fell to his knees. At first no one moved. Then there was a slow rippling of whispers that passed across the pews. He couldn’t hear what they were saying. He was embarrassed that they were no doubt wondering about him. He never wanted to be the focus nor the center of attention. That place belonged only to God whom he loved with all his heart, soul, strength and mind. Now, here he was.

    It was then he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see the face of one of the elders. There was genuine concern in his eyes. There was a warmth in his touch. He helped the young preacher to his feet. “Are you alright?” he whispered. The pastor nodded his head that he was. “Maybe you should stop now,” he continued. The pastor shook his head “no.” The elder looked at him and urged, “We knew this was more than you could do. You should have been listening to us. We knew what we are talking about.” The pastor was struck by his words. It wasn’t a burden of concern for himself or the expectation of others that had brought him to his knees. It was one of sorrow. Jesus must have felt that sorrow, too, only in volume too great for even he to imagine. Jesus hadn’t died of His physical wounds no matter how severe. He died of a broken heart. His spirit was never broken, however, and neither would the spirit of the young preacher. He looked deep into the elder’s eyes with all the compassion he possessed and smiled. But, the focus of the elder did not change. “Why do you persist in preaching the same sermon each Sunday?” he asked in a voice too low for anyone but the two of them to hear. The pastor lowered his head for a moment and then returned his gaze to the elder’s eyes. He put his hand on the shoulder of this seeker and declared, “When you have done what He has asked you to do the first time, then we can go on to the next lesson.”

    The elder stepped back speechless. He was now caught in clear view of the crowd. All eyes were on him. He saw those who started coming since the preacher arrived filled with love and joy. There was such a peace in them. He looked at those whom he had known for some time but never really knew except by reputation. They, too, had a peace about them but he didn’t understand it was from the forgiveness they received through God’s Word. How could he know? He didn’t really take the time to know them before. How could he understand their joy now when he didn’t know their pain then? Then he saw those whom he had grown up with and now served with as elders of the church. He didn’t see the same love or joy or peace as in the others. He saw confusion and doubt. He stepped forward because he cared about the preacher. Did they think that he was “taking care” of the preacher now and being their representative of setting him straight? He looked back at the pastor with tears in his eyes. He was undone. The words of the weekly sermon now rushed to the front of his mind. He considered them all from the familiar psalm of David’s trust in God to guide him and meet his every need. It went to the words of John proclaiming God’s unfailing love in Jesus the Christ who died that he might live as one with the Father. It went to the words of Paul urging the Christians in Philippi against those leaders who saw only their own agenda and his desire to safeguard them so they might grow in faith toward God. Was all of this for him? It couldn’t have been, he thought, look at all of these people who are here. They are hearing something in this Word that is just for them as much as it is just for me. The pastor leaned in to the elder and whispered, “Let he who has ears to hear, hear!” The elder embraced the young pastor in reply “Thank you for helping me to hear.” The pastor reminded him it was all about what God wants to do, “He will say it again and again until we listen and obey. He loves us, and you, that much. His love never fails.” With that the young preacher stepped from chancel and sat with those who had come to worship.

    The elder stepped to the pulpit and found the final text just as it had been for each of these Sundays. The Bible was already turned to the closing scripture the pastor had offered each time. He lifted up the Bible, looked into the eyes of the eagerly waiting hearers and said “I am glad to say it again for you today.” He began to read, “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord….”

    ****************

    “Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.” ( Philippians 3. 1)

    Comment by Chuck — April 4, 2009 @ 9:43 pm

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