Linda Wood Rondeau

Snark & Sensibility

You Asked for It
Wednesday, April 10, 2019 by STEVE STROBBLE

PLEASE WELCOME

STEVE STROBBLE

TO

SPECIAL EDITION

SHORT STORY

 

 

“Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel. The Lord said, “In this way, the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them.”

Reverend Guy Heath shut his Bible and coughed to clear his throat.

“That was Ezekiel 4:12, 13. And that’s what I believe the Lord has spoken to my spirit not just for Madison Community Church but for all of our city of Madison.”

For the first time, any member of the board of elders for Madison Community Church could remember, an extended silence during one of their meetings dragged on until it felt uncomfortable. Their good meetings lasted less than an hour. If this new pastor, Rev. Heath, got his way, this meeting and every other during his tenure might drag on for four or five hours.

Elder Ira Payne tried to jump-start the silent bunch brooding around him.

“I move that Pastor Heath expands on his vision for our church,” Ira said. “Any second motions?” He nudged the one next to him, who coughed before seconding.

“I second the motion as long as he does not expand it into a full-blown sermon, and that he keeps his expansion under five minutes,” said Elder Will Mixon.

So far I’ve preached one sermon and opened one elders’ meeting here in Madison, the nervous pastor thought. I guess this is the shortest honeymoon period of all time between a new pastor and the church that called him.

Leading Christians who often acted more like stubborn goats than willing sheep had exhausted Pastor Heath over the last dozen years. His exhaustion now caused him to speak without regard for any consequences for the first time since his ordination. He forced his words through a dry mouth.

“You asked for it,” he said as he poured another glass of water.

“Asked for what?” asked Elder Pogue.

“For me to share my vision for our church with you. I prayed and fasted but the only thing that the Lord impressed on me was the Scripture verses I read to you earlier.”

“But isn’t Ezekiel cooking his food over human crap a little bit extreme?” Elder Pogue asked.

“If you read on, the Lord ends up letting him cook it over cow dung instead,” said Pastor Heath. “I think symbolically the human excrement referred to in the verse I read to you represents the crappy way the Church spreads the gospel today. The human excrement is us doing things our way instead of God’s way.”

“But we’ve always operated pretty much the same way,” said Elder Pogue. “I’ve watched pastors like you come and go since I was a kid in this church but our program has pretty much always stayed the same. In fact, it is so entrenched it’s become just like a deep rut in a road. Once you get your wheel stuck in it, there just is no way of getting it out.”

Pastor Heath shut his eyes and said, “You know what a rut is for a church?”

“No.”

“Just a coffin with the ends kicked out. You know what the eight words of a dying church are?” Pastor Heath held up a graph of the number of members at Madison Community. For the last thirty years, a downward trend from a high of 278 members to the current eighty-one was represented by a descending jagged black line resembling a floundering stock market.

“No.”

“But we’ve always done it that way before. According to the statistics you gave me, the average age in our church is sixty-four. In another twenty years or so, Madison Community Church will cease to exist.”

For the next two hours, the new pastor and entrenched elders argued, compromised, agreed to disagree, and then argued some more. Elder Pogue and Elder Mixon spoke eighty percent of the time, Pastor Heath about fifteen percent, while the other three elders confined themselves to an occasional amen, maybe, or I don’t think so.

At last, Pastor Heath made a final motion.

“I move that from this day forward, we will not act as a church to reach out to our community in any way unless there is a unanimous vote made by the board of elders.”

A longer silence than the one at the beginning of the meeting descended.  Not one of the five elders could recall a single unanimous vote during their tenures. But those with the most doubts about this unheard of way of doing the Lord’s business had been staring at their watches and fidgeting the most.

They shrugged and the vote was six to zero.

Then Pastor Heath offered what he called a suggestion to consider during a future meeting.

“I think we should all pray about ending our annual Christmas display and replacing it with an Easter display.”

“What? What did you just say?” Elder Pogue asked. “But everyone is much too busy on Easter weekend. Every year we have a Good Friday service and then two Easter services on Easter Sunday morning because we get so many visitors every Easter. The last time I checked our attendance records of late have been getting more attendees on Easter than on Christmas.”

Pastor Heath expanded his proposal.

“I was thinking perhaps we could have an Easter display the weekend before Easter weekend. In other words, on the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that fall right before Palm Sunday.”

*  *  *

“How was your first meeting, dear?” asked Mrs. Heath as her exhausted husband stumbled around their dark bedroom.

Pastor Heath groaned. “Pack your bags and call the moving company.”

Twyla Heath lurched upright as if doing one of the morning exercises ensuring her body had as much muscle as fat.

“What?”

When her husband had tried to lead their last church in a new direction, a classic church split erupted. About a third of the members had stomped off to start a new congregation. With the tithes and offerings starting to dwindle among those who had remained behind, four months after the split one of the elders took Pastor Heath aside.

“There has been a crisis of confidence in you, Rev. Heath,” the elder had said in the tone of voice he usually reserved to announce the death of anyone. “Perhaps you should make your name available for a call from another church in need of a pastor. I’m sorry.”

The remembrances flashing through Twyla’s mind ended when her spouse shook her. “I was only kidding,” he said.

“Very funny, wise guy. All right, tell me all the gory details of your first elders’ meeting here in Madison.”

*  *  *

Other versions of the elders’ meeting were recited to the elders’ spouses, who then compared notes with each other. They agreed to sound the alarm via the Prayer Chain. A list of seventeen names and phone numbers, the Prayer Chain had become as much a means of spreading gossip disguised as news as asking for prayer.

“We really need to pray for our new Pastor Heath. He has some rather strange notions,” Mrs. Pogue, whose name sat on top of the Prayer Chain list, told the one whose name appeared below hers.

She next told her contact, “Pastor Heath is one of those young radicals. You don’t think he wants to put an end to all of our church socials and craft fairs do you? Why my mother and grandmother and great grandmother all attended every one of them for years and…”

By the time the last person on the Prayer Chain had been contacted, the request included dire fake news.

“That’s right. Everything has already been canceled, including our Easter Egg hunt, Summer Bar-B-Q, Fall Craft Fair and even…” The caller paused to stifle a sob, “…our annual Christmas Program. I’m shocked speechless as I’m sure you are.”

The prayer requests turned to gossip, which turned to war between the saints.

*  *  *

Angela Pogue carried the concerns of those who had been asked to pray to her pastor’s office.

“Pastor Heath, we have been informed that you intend to do away with all of our annual outreaches to the citizens of Madison, such as the Easter Egg Hunt, Christmas Program, Summer –” She stopped in midsentence as he raised his hand.

“I’ve already been informed of what you’ve heard.” He placed his phone on speaker and hit a series of buttons to play its voice mails. Angela Pogue listened to all of them, making mental notes of the names so she could thank the callers later.

Next, Pastor Heath spun his computer screen around and said, “You can also read the emails I’ve received if you want to.”

She blinked in reply.

“Mrs. Pogue, the only way any existing outreach will be canceled is by a unanimous vote of the elders.”

She harrumphed as she left. “Well, I should certainly hope so.

“What I hope is that our church can begin to minister to outsiders without expecting anything in return.”

*  *  *

Pastor Heath’s next sermon ruffled the wool of some of his flock. He called it Praying before We Pray for Someone Else.

His text was Acts 9:36-41:

 

In Joppa, there was a disciple named Tabitha (which, when translated is Dorcas), who was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!” Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them. Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive.

“Notice how Peter first prayed before he prayed that the dead woman would rise from the dead,” preached Rev. Heath. “I am convinced that Peter first asked our Lord how and what he should pray instead of just blurting out something. Would to God that we would do the same. Too many Christians today operate on a frame it and name it and claim it basis. They take a single verse of Scripture and frame it in their heads as their blank check to pray whatever they think is right for anyone they meet, whether it’s healing, prosperity or whatever. We need to start praying and asking God what He wants us to pray before we begin to pray for anyone else.”

One out of two seated in the congregation tuned out the rest of the sermon for that Sunday morning.

For the first few months, the elders voted as a bloc of 5 to 1 against any motion raised by their pastor during their monthly meetings. But by Easter, they, at last, agreed on a modification to the annual Easter Breakfast. For the first time, no offering baskets would be prominently placed where attendees, many of whom came to church only on Easters and Christmases, picked up plates to fill from the buffet line of eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, pancakes, sweet rolls, and fresh fruit.

Bit by bit other modifications emerged, such as all of the profits from the annual craft fair going to an outside local charity instead of into the annual budget of Madison Community Church.

But the biggest change proved to be internal.

Instead of challenging each other, the elders began to cooperate and then love one another. The change did not go unnoticed.

“Why aren’t you bad mouthing those other guys you’re always disagreeing with at your church anymore?” asked the barber who cut Elder Ira Pogue’s hair.

“Because I finally realized they are my brothers in the Lord,” answered Ira. “It sure took me long enough to stop killing them off with my tongue so much. Way too long, huh?”

The barber dropped his scissors and cursed as he picked them up. Hitting his head on the counter behind his two barber chairs unleashed a long string of profanity. After brushing some of Ira’s hair from his smock, the barber said, “Run that by me again.”

Within a month, the barber, a backslidden Christian who had given up on the church because they’re all a bunch of hypocrites, always badmouthing each other, attended his first worship service in twenty-eight years. The long-hidden gift of evangelist imprisoned inside his bitter spirit rekindled.

Soon, every customer or delivery person or salesperson who walked through his door heard, felt, saw, or in some other sublime supernatural way experienced the love of Jesus Christ radiating from the barber. Some of them began showing up twice as often. Not because of needing another trim or making a delivery or a sale, but because their souls craved the love they could find nowhere else.

Fifty years later, a theologian trying to trace the origins of America’s Third Great Awakening concluded it began in that barbershop.


ABOUT STEVE STROBLE  
Steve Stroble grew up as a military brat, which took him from South Dakota to South Carolina to Germany to Ohio to Southern California to Alabama to the Philippines to Northern California. Drafted into the Army, he returned to Germany.
To introduce you to my stories, there are a number of free books available. Please follow me at my Amazon author page to receive updates on new stories as they are released.
I sincerely hope they entertain and maybe even help you on this journey called life.

books synopsis:
That's Life (Short Stories Book 3) 
A collection of short stories:
The Conqueror Earthworms --- Earthworms help a grieving widow and her granddaughter to bond
You Asked for It -- New pastor upsets the status quo at Madison Community Church
Something Smells Good, It Has to Be Brownies -- Struggling artist tries to help a struggling writer
The Case of the Rich Dead Mom -- Private investigator Bobbi Heck is hired by one of the heirs to investigate the death of a rich woman 
Carrier Pigeon -- Luther Jolly wants to a missionary but those he signs up with have other plans

Links: Steve J Stroble

 

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