Friday, December 30, 2005
Yes, I'm going to pick up some flack on that one. Dave Long is presenting a number of entries he received for a short story contest on his blog, Faith in Fiction. Unable to quell my candidness, I left a comment for a story by Laura Alice Eakes that agreed with all the glowing assessments left by others, while suggesting in the nicest way I could that the story needed some basic editing. Laura Alice, if you read this I want you to know that while I don't go in for arbitrary criticism, I believe an honest balance is best when commenting on others' work. As writers, we daren't allow ourselves the luxury of thin skin, but strive to learn what we can from each other.
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Joelle crossed the room again, passing her door for what, the fiftieth, hundredth, thousandth time that afternoon? Her dirt floor was beginning to rut where she paced from one wall, three cubits to the door, and three cubits to the other wall. Finally she had to admit the light passing through the window-slit was waning, and the bit of grain and roots in her larder were all her children would eat for the Sabbath meal. James had assured her that the rations would be delivered before sunset, but Sabbath had arrived, the law was the law, and there would be no food delivery that day. As usual, she would make do, and survive with the Lord's help.
~~~"James my brother," Alkaios stood before the apostle, his eyes shining with desperation, his voice earnest, "the Greek widows are still starving in their dwellings. Most of the brothers see to their own widows, and the Greeks are ignored. They too must feed their children and nurse their babies, and even if they could find a little work, they must first care for the little ones. Pray to the Lord for His word in this." James was crestfallen. He had been assured that the widows were well provided for. Now this. The elder apostle was ashamed of the Hebrew Brethren; his prayers for Messiah's love to flow through them seemed to remain unanswered. His blank stare searched for a solution in each crack of the synagog's ancient, stone walls. Why did he not have direction? "Brother Alkaios," said James, eyes moist, "The Lord has not spoken to me on this matter, even after much prayer. Yet, as you say, the widows must eat. "Seek out, please, Nathan the Tsadik. He prays without ceasing, and will know The Lord's will in this."
~~~Nathan the man of prayer stood on Stephen's stone stoop and tapped on the door's rough boards. "Brother Stephen." He spoke into a crack between the boards. Again he tapped politely, hoping not to wake the neighbors at this pre-dawn hour of the Sabbath morning. Some conservative Jews would accuse him of breaking the Sabbath by trying to raise someone from his bed. "Brother Stephen, I would speak with you for only a moment."
~~~Stephen disliked his Greek name, yet he always humbled himself and refused to object when the brethren used it, especially a devout man such as Nathan. Stephen simply meant crown, while his Hebrew name, Katriel, meant God is my crown. But the quiet tapping and calling continued, so Stephen once again swallowed his pride and rose from his pallet to answer the door. The stone floor was cold against Stephen's bare feet, but he hoped the sound of flesh against the floor would be quieter than the leather of his sandals. He approached his door with shushing sounds, trying to quiet his visitor. The iron door-latch made its usual rumbling noise despite Stephen's attempt to quiet it. So with the door finally cracked open a few spans, he gazed into Nathan's uncharacteristally urgent expression. "Stephen," Nathan whispered, "the Twelve has sent me to inquire of you." "And ..." "Yes, they have a work for you, involving food distribution." "Please, step inside before a neighbor hears you." When Nathan obliged and Stephen closed the door, he continued, "Now, please tell me of this work." "Brother Stephen, there is an urgent need amongst the Grecian widows. Many are being overlooked in the daily food deliveries and they are going hungry. Will you consider overseeing those deliveries? The elders know you see no difference between the Greek and the Hebrew brethren." Stephen's black eyes studied his friend from under furrowed brows. "Brother Nathan, there must be some mistake. I am nobody, the least of the brothers. Perhaps you would return to the Twelve for confirmation." Stephen knew of no higher position he could hold than servant of Messiah's people. "This call is straight from James. Listen my brother; are you the only one who does not see what The Lord has done within you? Accept the commission. We need you to see that our community serves everyone equally." Stephen gazed into the distance, desperately trying to envision his place of service. "If they see me in this work, who am I to quibble? "Tell them, please, that I will come for instruction on the first day of the week."
~~~"Your duties are crucial to properly distributing food among the widows." Though the force of Peter's hands on Stephen's shoulders nearly pushed him to his knees, Stephen knew the apostle refused to be knelt to. "All the brethren honor your fairness. There will be no more questioning of how we distribute the food. Do the work, my son. You are the man." As the Twelve laid their hands on him, a prickling flush crept through Stephen's body and perspiration dripped from his face. He desperately hoped and prayed they weren't making a mistake. But he would not question the Holy Spirit's decision.
~~~"Is this the home of Shomer son of Nathan?" Marti cocked her head, examining the young man at their door. She had seen Stephen entering the assembly, and heard of his unpretentious service, but she had never met him personally. "My husband is in prayer and will not be disturbed. You will please return later." "Please excuse my urgency. There must be some place to wait for him out of your family's way." The woman sighed, but nodded as she stood back and allowed Stephen to enter. "Eitan our son will show you where to wait." The tall, stocky boy emerged from behind the front door. His face shown neither welcome nor suspicion as he silently led Stephen further into the home. When they reached the formal receiving room he gestured for Stephen to sit on a stone bench. Then he stood nearby, watching their visitor. Feeling self conscious, Stephen smiled and spoke to the boy. "You are named well, Eitan ... so strong and not yet a man. You favor your father." The boy gave no acknowledgment of Stephen's small talk. "You are old enough to join the brothers' assembly, yet I have not seen you." That observation elicited a subtile darkening of his expression. Stephen decided not to probe further, but to quietly await Shomer's arrival. "Brother Stephen," Shomer's booming voice was a welcome change from the tense silence. "I was not expecting your visit. How can I help you?" "Brother Shomer ..." Stephen reached out his right hand to greet him, but the big man drew him into a tight hug. When he could finally breathe, Stephen continued, "The Twelve has asked me to oversee food distribution, so the Greek widows will no longer be skipped. You have a reputation for fairness, Brother Shomer. Will you please assist me with the food service?" "It will be my honor, Brother Stephen. I will help, and my son Eitan. Please share my humble dinner so we might discuss this thing." Despite Shomer's warmth, Stephen still felt uncomfortable from Eitan's manner. "Brother Shomer, I must go to--" "Katriel ..." His use of Stephen's Hebrew name silenced his objections. "My brother, you will please honor my home by eating with me and my family. Stephen forced a smile and nodded his assent. Glancing at Eitan, he saw that his face remained impassive, but for the tightening of his jaw muscles.
~~~"Yes, and then he commands them to stand up from their pallets, and their limbs are restored." Gimel the commander of the temple guard cut in. "Eitan son of Shomer, tell us how you account for these 'miracles' this Stephen performs." "He is a magician, who does these things by the name of the Nazarene." A low rumbling of comment passed through the room. Its occupants had assembled in the large room off the Court of the Gentiles in response to the rumor of a rare, night-time inquiry. The priests who united in their hatred the Nazarine Sect stood scattered among the rabble. "How does he speak about the Law and the Temple? Does he speak of destroying the Holy Temple and rebuilding it?" "I ... well, he spoke of Raban Yeshua--" "Has he mentioned the Temple, boy?" "Yes, I believe--" Gimel smirked toward the crowd as he continued. "Does he directly give the God of Israel credit for what he does?" "Well, not in so many--" Gimel turned triumphantly to face the crowd. "There you have it! Eitan son of Shomer, an eye witness, confirms the testimony of other witnesses. The Law says by the testimony of two witnesses shall guilt be declared." The guard commander spun around to address the boy. "Eitan son of Shomer, you will immediately lead a detachment of the Temple Guard to take Stephen into custody and deliver him to this place for trial." The boy smiled.
~~~Levi the beggar pointed his bony finger at Stephen. "And I too heard that man say the Nazarene will destroy this place, and the Law of Moses and the holy customs handed down to us." The emaciated, unkempt man nodded quickly in affirmation of his testimony, then glanced hungrily at Gimel as a ripple of low voices moved about the chamber. The Temple Guard Commander gave the beggar an assuring smile and stepped forward. "Brothers and fathers, we have heard the witnesses. Is there need for further testimony in this matter?" The high priest stood, his clothing conspicuous in not reflecting his office. He faced the prisoner, who was bracketed by guards. "Stephen, you may answer these charges, keeping in mind the overwhelming weight of these men's testimony." Eitan sat uncomfortably with the line of witnesses, having already given his testimony to the hight priest. The other witnesses had shown no more conviction of truth in what they said than he had. Perhaps further investigation was needed before giving judgment. "Well, Stephen, are these things so?" The high priest spat the words as if he were made unclean simply by speaking to the man. Stephen stood, his piercing gaze slowly passing from face to face, causing the stares of many, including that of Eitan, to falter. When the boy dared look up again, he saw a sort of radiance emanating from Stephen's face. "Hear me brothers and fathers ..." With the assurance of a rabbi, Stephen began to perfectly recount the history of the people of Israel. Without omitting any of the rebellions and grumblings faithfully recorded in the Torah, he held the entire chamber rapt for the better part of an hour. Finally, he ended his history with this commentary, "You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always rebelling against the Holy Spirit, just as your fathers did." The chamber rumbled with the assembly's angry muttering and hard stares. "Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?" Stephen's passionate words shook Eitan with truth. His studies in preparation for his mitzvah tumbled into his mind, including many stories of persecuted prophets. "They killed the prophets who heralded the Righteous One's coming. The same One you betrayed and murdered, you who received the Law ordained by angels, and did not keep it." Stephen's words cut the crowd to the quick and they rushed forward to take hold of him. Eitan stood to avoid being run over, and was pushed ever closer to the condemned man until he was almost nose-to-nose with him. The boy saw Stephen's eyes staring beyond the chamber's ceiling, his face radiating with what must surely be God's reflected glory. Stephen's lips moved with one word, over and over, "Master, Master, Master ..." Then amidst the jostling and grabbing he said with a loud voice, "Look, I see the heavens parted, and the Son of Man standing at God's Right Hand!" The crowd plugged their ears and screamed curses at Stephen, and with one accord they seized him, shouldering the boy aside until he fell and was trampled by scores of sandals. As the crowd shoved and dragged Stephen outside the temple, Eitan struggled to his feet and limped after the mob. Once out of the city, and not even waiting until they reached the pit, nearly everyone picked up stones and began flinging them at Stephen, clouting him horribly on every part of his body. The boy approached a young Pharisee who guarded some of the priest's garments. Conscious of the boy's arrival, Saul spoke down to him, "Watch, and learn, Eitan son of Shomer, what happens to heretics and blasphemers." Eitan indeed watched, rapt with the violence of hundreds of stones and more hundreds of curses flying at the condemned man. Yet, when he thought the man should be dead, he heard a voice rise above the crowd. "Lord Yeshua, receive my spirit." Then the blood-thirsty crowd's din rose even higher as Eitan heard some saying, "He's down!" But Stephen's voice came through the crowd, more quietly this time, as if spoken for none other than the boy. "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And Eitan knew Stephen's words had been uttered in his behalf. A sense of unspeakable loss engulfed him, and as if completely alone in the crowd, the boy began weeping. No one but God noticed. Between convulsive sobs, Eitan screamed, "What have I done? What have I done? Forgive me Stephen ... God ... Lord Yeshua. All he said ... it was true. It is all true ..."
Sunday, December 18, 2005
Those of us who claim to be in Christ often find things in our lives that need fixing, and we set about working our magic--independent of God's council. Maybe a church fellowship doesn't feed her. Maybe a job doesn't stimulate him. Maybe her family deserves a nicer house or a better neighborhood. Maybe a marriage fails to satisfy him. Maybe after years of praying for God to fix ourselves, our families or our situations, He's remained mute and inactive. Time's running out! We're not getting any younger! It's time for action! Our prayer changes to, "God, I don't know what You want, so to save you the trouble--You're obviously too busy to fix it--I'm prepared to work on the problem." Then we piously add, "Open the doors that need opening, and close the doors that need closing." Next, we march into our own fix-it shop, grab the crowbar and sledge hammer, and get to work. Suddenly, God has answered our prayer by opening all the necessary doors to give us what we want. We can always clean up the wood splinters later. Days, months, years pass, and we wonder why God is so remote. The new church is hypocritical. The new job is frustrating. The new wife is a nag. How could God deal me such a hand? "It's time for a change, God, and if you're not paying attention to my needs, I will! "Now, where's that crowbar?"
Friday, December 16, 2005
I've been reading a kid's book that doesn't talk down to kids. In fact, it might be good for the reader to have a dictionary fairly close by. It's not filled with six-bit words for laughs, but it's a great way for young people to tweak their vocabularies. LANDON SNOW AND THE AUCTOR'S RIDDLE is a world-class fantasy by R. K. Mortenson. And the best thing about it is it points straight to God.