“Maybe if James wouldn’t try to change things, we wouldn’t be in this predicament. My family served in this ministry twenty years and we have watched pastor after pastor come and ruin this church. He’s no different!” screamed Bill at Jerry as they continued to argue about the condition of the church.
“Maybe if you weren’t so egotistical we would get stuff accomplished! Sitting in this meeting makes me sick!” replied Jerry as he slammed his fists on the table, “I’ve tried to make this ministry work but no one will get behind my ideas!”
“Your ideas are horrible and pathetic! We’re not some wacko church from the seventies! You can’t even run the building!”
“I’d be able to run the building if everyone would stop trying to do their own thing! You can’t even DO the simple tasks I ask!”
“It’s not my job to be a maid in this building!”
“Maybe a little respect once and a while might change your family life!” Jerry’s words stung Bill.
“That’s enough!” screamed Hank as he tried to maintain order between the two gentleman ready to kill each other, “I don’t want another word from any of you unless I say so! This is a board meeting! Let’s try to act civilized!”
James scratched his head in agitation as he realized he was experiencing another board meeting from hell. To make matters worse this meeting was an emergency meeting to discuss how James would receive an income.
“Let’s all pray first!” order Hank as he wiped the sweat from his face with his shirtsleeve.
“It’s not Sunday, Hank,” snarled Jerry in arrogance, “How can I pray with this animal across from me!”
“I’ll open in prayer! I pray God would judge you!” replied Bill angrily as both men began to turn red. James could not stand it any longer.
“ENOUGH!” he yelled as he tried to keep his anger at bay, “This is a CHRISTIAN BOARD MEETING! Why do you two act like a bunch of kids? We’re supposed to be CHRISTIANS!” Feeling disgusted, James closed his eyes as the room became deathly silent.
“God bless this time, Amen,” rushed Hank as he opened the board meeting up for discussion, “as you know this ministry is dying.”
“No it’s not! This is completely unres–,” blurted Bill as James immediately cut him off.
“Let Hank finish…”
“Two more families have left, not to mention we don’t have a worship leader anymore. The building is falling apart, we’re behind on bills, James has missed two paychecks, and YOU want to argue that we’re O.K.?” said Hank as he directed his statement at Bill before thrusting a report sheet in his general direction.
“That’s why I’ve called an emergency board meeting,” began James, “we need to talk about me getting a second job.”
“Completely outrageous!” Jerry burst in reply, “who ever heard of a pastor working a regular job?”
“I’ve got no choice. I’m already behind on payments,” angrily stated James.
“Your job is here!” demanded Bill.
Jerry and Bill seemed stunned at the statement but Hank understood the reality of the ministry. Families were leaving on a weekly basis. No worship leader and no children’s ministries sent many families leaving in multitudes. The atmosphere of the church on Sundays was not very welcoming either. Walking into their service was like walking into a morgue; many people were cold and apathetic, not to mention the place was full of dead faith. A colonoscopy seemed more bearable than sitting for more than five minutes in the cold unwelcoming service.
“I understand your point,” sympathized James, “but this is only going to be temporary—until we get things going again.”
“Well I don’t like it,” stated Jerry as he crossed his arms in disapproval.
“No one does, but I have no choice. I feel God wants me out in the community meeting people. This will be a great opportunity,” said James as he tried to envision a positive result of his decision.
“Or you could step down…” said Bill as he shot a dirty look at James.
“I’m not stepping down…God hasn’t spoken to me or anyone else about my leadership,” replied James as he fought with every bone in his body to stop the anger that stewed inside of him.
“God speaks to me all the time about your leadership. He will remove you from this ministry!” replied Bill sneeringly.
“That’s not what He has said through other people,” coolly responded Hank, “Watch confusing your opinions with God’s. God’s in charge here Bill, you might want to rethink your comments.” Both men (Bill and Hank) bit their tongues in silence, as they kept quiet.
“Moving on!” announced Hank as he rolled his eyes in frustration and continued, “All in favor of James getting a temporary job?”
“Second,” stated Jerry.
“James?” asked Hank already knowing his answer.
“Of course,” added James.
“Bill?” asked Hank.
“Whatever!” replied Bill as he grabbed his mug of coffee angrily and took a few swigs.
“Motion is James will get a temporary job until the ministry restarts,” stated Hank as he checked off the discussion on their meeting agenda, “Next order of business is the volunteering of the church at this year’s Sea-Tac fair. I’ll pass this on to James to explain it.”
“Moving on to new business. To help pay the bills for this place and to reach out to the community, we have been offered an opportunity to help out again at the festival with trash duty this Saturday. Hank can’t make it but I’ve got some youth who would like to. It will be only for a few hours and we’ll get paid five hundred for the day. Any of you guys think you’ll be there?”
“I guess you can sign me up. Only a few hours right?” asked Jerry.
“Yup,” said James.
“O.K. add Bill’s name too!” said Jerry as he tried to arouse Bill’s short temper.
“What?” snarled Bill in disgust, “I see what you’re doing, Jerry. I’ll definitely be there.”
“Motion to allow the volunteering at the Sea-Tac festival,” continued Hank.
“Second,” stated James.
“All in motion say yay?” ordered Hank.
“Yay!” echoed the sarcastic remarks of everyone in the room.
“Settled then, Saturday clean up at the Sea-Tac festival for five hundred dollars to pay bills. Anymore issues that need to be discussed? We have no more topics on our sheet in new business. Did I mention we are going to have to start renting the building out?” stated Hank.
Silence filled the room in reply.
“Completely outrageous!” yelled Bill as his anger began to boil and bubble again, “Why do we need to lend our building to a group who doesn’t even follow our doctrine! Let them rent a lodge or something. This property is sacred!”
“It has to do with cost, Bill,” coolly replied James as he shook his head in frustration, “the five hundred from the fair will help us get by this month but what about the future?”
“Unrealistic! Who wants to rent from us anyway?” barked Bill as he tried to destroy the idea.
“Maybe some A.A. groups. Maybe a new church plant. We’d only need a few to keep this property afloat,” explained James.
“I’d like to discuss the numbers before we commit to anything,” said Jerry as he tapped his pen in agitation.
“I can’t believe you actually want to side with him!” growled Bill, “You’re like the rest of them!”
“This isn’t the time to start World War Three!” yelled Hank as the room became silent, “Let’s just close in prayer and re-examine this proposal another time!”
We might not have another time, thought James as Hank closed the meeting in prayer.
“Thank You, Lord, for guiding this meeting in Jesus name, Amen.”
Chairs seemed to scream in hatred as the men got up from the table and made their way out into the parking lot; James stood silently in the board room, staring into the empty shell of a depleted leadership team.
Why did you call me here, asked James to God? I’ve done everything You’ve called me to. Why is everything falling apart? Am I here to watch this all die? Why did You call me here? Why…Why…WHY?
Feeling sick to his stomach, James dropped to one knee and fought the nauseous taste in his mouth. Frankly, James was disgusted with the church. Some much bigotry, hatred, envy, and malice possessed the souls of the people he knew. A maximum-security prison seemed more welcoming than the people he had to work with at the church. Bill and Jerry paraded around the church their own ideas or philosophies on what should be right, while the two men never seemed to support any ideas from Hank of James. What’s more is both men lacked follow through on their ideas. They could delegate but then again so could every other person in this self-centered world. They lacked action, commitment, and humility. Bill had a violent temper while Jerry indulged more in his own selfish ambitions, trying to get attention and praise for all the work he put into the ministry. Both men were sickly malevolent.
How did they become this way? James always seemed to ponder the question. Maybe years of failure, maybe they never really knew much of God’s love, maybe tough family lives? Bill always disapproved of any activity the church tried to promote, while Jerry could never stay grounded on any activity himself. Bill, more than Jerry, felt like the devil’s advocate. But such thoughts were not proper—thought James—“love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you.” James often did pray for them, but sometimes it felt as though God was not listening.
“You had better come quick!” replied Hank, as he burst back through the conference doors.
Please don’t let it be the nativity scene, thought James as he reflected on the last three years previous Christmas displays. It seemed that someone always stole some part of the decoration. Jesus was always taken from the manger and the vandals always took one of the plastic molded livestock.
“It’s the nativity scene, isn’t it,” groaned James as he shook his head in disgust.
“Yup,” replied Hank.
Both men began sprinting down the hall as their steps echoed and thumped with the foreboding truth of what they knew had already happened outside. Throwing the front cherry wood doors open, James stumbled down the stairs and slipped on the pavement, right into a an oily puddle.
“Careful!” cried James as Hank grabbed the side railing and did not end up in the same place James sat.
Pulling himself up, James looked at his oil and mud stained clothes and almost cursed. Holding his tongue, James asked for forgiveness and carefully made his way towards the front of the church. Luckily, most of the shepherds were there; however, two sheep were missing and graffiti was painted over Joseph. The mold of Mary lay six feet away, smashed to pieces, while the baby Jesus was, once again, missing.
“Why!” screamed James as he punched his fist into the ground, “why do I even bother!”
Hank said nothing as he walked over and began to try and pick at the paint sprayed all over the shepherds. James walked silently over to the remains of Mary and began putting them in a pile. Feeling nauseous again, James stopped for a minute, waiting for the bile to come pouring out of his mouth. Nothing came out but James still felt the same sickening feeling. He felt like curling into a ball and dying at the amount of stress he could not carry.
“I don’t know why they always target us,” spoke Hank, trying to get rid of the ominous silence that filled the area. James felt tears building up inside of his eyes and fought violently to keep them contained.
“Let’s just,” began James, “let’s just take the rest of them inside. We’ll throw the broken and vandalized ones into the dumpster.”
James grabbed one of the shepherds and began to drag him by his staff, towards the alley. Hank shortly followed after him with another shepherd. Both men could hear the ear piercing scrapping of the plastic against the asphalt. The sound reverberated through their bodies, as both men felt as though they were being stripped naked and paraded through the city to be mocked at.
“Why are You against me?” asked James to God, softly.
God responded with silence only making the situation worse. James had no idea what he was doing anymore. Maybe he should give up…so many other pastors, before him, had taken that path.
Placing his shepherd against the side of the dumpster, James walked over to help Hank toss the second one in first. Struggling to pick up the heavy mold of plastic, Hank and James felt their knees buckle under the weight as they managed to hurl the shepherd into the dumpster. Turning to the right, they grabbed the shepherd James had brought over; together, both men heaved the second one into the dumpster. Both men felt as though their backs had been twisted and convulsed in manners unthinkable to the human body; maybe it was the overexertion of their tired muscles or the crushing sensation of the yoke’s they bore.
“Let’s go back and clean up the remains of Mary before we bring the other ones in,” spoke James emotionlessly.
Hank nodded in agreement, as both men continued their walk of shame back to the nativity scene (or what remained). Burning oil filled the air as smog seemed to descend on the two of them. Being four in the afternoon, it felt like it was seven at night due to the rapid setting of the sun in the winter. James cringed at the descent of night on the land as it would make it harder for them to finish the job of cleaning up the shattered remains of Mary.
“You should probably head back home,” spoke Hank, “I can call some of the youth and see if they’ll help me—plus it’s getting late.”
“Right,” responded James softly, as he turned around and began walking shamefully back towards the parsonage.
Slowly walking back towards the parsonage, James felt a filthy shame creep over his body. With each step he took, James felt like he was writhing in garbage. His heart ached from the immense pressure of his failures, while his anger flared like waves rolling violently into rocks. How and why they were struggling were just fragments of questions James pondered as he continued to walk passed the sidewalk. Traffic had picked up and James dreamt of throwing himself into an oncoming bus. It would all end; the pain, the suffering, the fighting—all would cease in a simple few seconds. Shaking his head in disgust at the thoughts passing through his mind, James wiped the tears from his eyes and continued walking towards the door of his hovel of a home.
Gazing into the front window, one light was on. Darkness filled the inside void of his house reflecting the blackness of his soul. Stepping onto the threshold of the doorway, James pushed it opened and removed his shoes. Making his way through the house, James turned and saw Kate resting on the couch, to his left. Walking quietly by her, James began to head towards the bathroom. Closing the door quietly, James just sat on the floor and began to sob.
Removing his mud stained shirt and pants, James turned the shower on and felt the warm steam cleanse his mind a bit. Standing up, shakily, he stepped onto the floor mat and stepped into a warm flow of peaceful water. Standing in the presence of the water seemed to offer him peace from the chaotic reality he found himself in. Each drop of water gently fell and seemed to remove one bad memory after the other. Grasping the soap with his right hand, James began to scrub and scrub at his body, as if trying to remove some defect he was unaware of. Thoughts about the meeting and the heated responses from everyone echoed through his soul. Their faces seemed to spiral around him as he felt the water begin to turn lukewarm. Grabbing a towel and stepping out of the shower, James quickly dried himself and walked out of the bathroom motionless.
“I need to rest,” he whispered to himself as James made his way to the master bedroom. Falling face first onto the left side of the bed, James felt sleep coming over his eyes. Instantly, he heard a still small voice in the eternal silence: It has to die.
Darkness enveloped his thoughts as James began to fade into the eternal. Resting in the stillness, James felt his body begin to fall into darkness. With the continued sense of falling he felt, James lay huddled in the fetal position. Opening what seemed to be his eyes James gazed around and saw the infinite. Slowly approaching him from the west, James saw what looked to be a hut of some sort. As the picture began to grow, the hut seemed to magnify into a building. Slowly beginning from the outside and creeping slowly through the wood, a fire began to engulf the building. Trying to scream in terror, James realized the building was on fire. People could be seen talking to each other and sitting perfectly motionless in the conflagration.
“GET OUT!” screamed James as he watched in horror as some of the wood began to splinter and crack under the pressure of the fire.
Everyone in the building seemed to not notice what was happening around him or her. Men and women sat smiling maliciously, as if waiting for the destruction (but never being fully conscious of what was going on).
“ARE YOU BLIND?” he screamed.
James tried to run towards the building but could not move. The more he tried to run towards the building, the more the building began to drift away.
“What do you see?” asked a strange voice from the darkness.
James immediately began to realize the voice was the same person who had asked him last time. At that moment, James received a revelation that he was reliving the dream he had had a week ago.
“They’re gonna die in there!” screamed James in response.
“Without death there can be no resurrection…” echoed the voice once again. Immediately, James felt movement in his legs as he began to run to the building. I have to save them, thought James as he tried to dodge the flames. Ripping the door off of its hinges, James felt a blast of hot air knock him off his feet. Staggering to get back up, James cried in horror as he saw the skeletal remains and chard flesh saturate the sanctuary.
“Is anyone alive?” he cried as he started to make his way into the building. Looking left and right James began to see men and women lighting more fires in the building. Each one seemed to try to light the biggest fire, but never managed to outdo the person they challenged. When one person would bump into another, they would throw their matches at each other, burning their enemies.
“James,” began the voice, “A house divided against itself cannot stand. Will not the fire of dissention spread quickly? Will not the house divided against itself fall into ruin?”
“What about the children?” cried James he turned to the left and began to look for them, “They’re innocent. Would they be punished for their parent’s sins?”
Running down the hallways, James screamed into corridor after corridor of the smoldering building trying to locate anybody stranded in the building. Coming to the first room, he saw a child stranded behind some collapsed wall particles. Chairs barred her in and she sat sobbing, crying out to be rescued.
“I’m coming! I’m coming!” cried James in response but the girl sat scared and afraid.
James immediately decided to run into the room as the walls collapsed on him, splitting the building into two sections, before the building collapsed. Instantly, James awoke and found himself in his bedroom.
“Just a dream,” he whispered as he wiped the sleep out of his eyes, rolled over in the bed, and looked at the clock on his bedside mantle. The clock read five in the afternoon.
Slowly pulling himself up from the bed, James felt groggy and mellow as he journeyed towards the living room. The news was blaring in the background but James paid no attention to the anchors chiding away about various disturbances in the area. Kate sat on the couch, alive and energized from her nap.
“How did the meeting go?” asked Kate in anticipation of James response.
“Pretty…bad,” James laughed in disbelief as he walked into the kitchen and went to find a milk carton.
“Did you tell them about the Sea-Tac festival?” inquired Kate.
“Yeah, I did manage to get some volunteers,” grumbled James.
“That’s positive. How did you sleep?” asking a second question.
“I don’t know. Had a weird dream but I feel better. Did Hank come by?” asked James as he reflected on the nativity scene that had been vandalized.
“Yes. He told me about the nativity scene,” said Kate,
“I was pretty angry at the scene. Three years in a row!” James shrugged the memories off as he walked passed Kate.
“I guess we won’t be displaying another one?” sighed Kate.
“Not anytime soon.”
Reaching for a glass from the cupboard, James unscrewed the cap off of the milk carton and began to pour the milk into the glass. Talking a couple gulps of the milk, James chugged the remains of the carton and wiped his mouth in satisfaction. However, something drew his attention to the television as the anchor began to speak.
“Reports are coming in that a man, Philip Carmichael, was found dead in a dumpster. His body was found by local restaurant owner, Chun Nguyen,” began the news anchor.
“Could you turn this up?” asked James as he motioned for Kate to get the remote.
A quick display of the victims photograph had stirred something inside of James. James felt as though he knew the victim but was uncertain with the mixed feelings of anxiety pouring out of his body. Something continued to stir.
“Sounds sad,” Kate added as they both set their attention on the television.
The news anchor continued speaking, “Nguyen found his body near the local dumpster that his restaurant and other businesses use. Carmichael’s body was sent to Lakewood National Hospital to determine the cause of death. Reports say that Carmichael was a homeless man who frequented the area of downtown Seattle. Not much was known about him.”
“Sad story, did you know him?” asked Kate as she turned to face James and lowered the volume of the television.
“I don’t know…I did meet a Phil the other day. I hope it wasn’t him.” No sooner had James finished speaking his sentence, a current picture of the man appeared on the television screen. James felt sick in his stomach as he tried to choke a response; the inevitable had come to pass.
The news anchor continued, “Carmichael had been indicted on fifteen drug charges and had been court ordered to attend rehabilitation. Disappearing a year ago from his family, Carmichael was believed to be missing. Medical officials have concluded that his cause of death was a methamphetamine overdose.”
The only things constant in this life are pain, pleasure and death. The words of Phil once again echoed through James’s mind as he walked out of the living room. I was his last chance, thought James as he continued cycling through the kitchen to distract his mind from thinking about Phil.
“Did you talk with the man?” asked Kate, trying to offer some sympathy.
“I did…” responded James glumly.
“How did it go?”
“He…he was definitely gone. I remember his hands had tons of sores and dried blood. He said he wanted nothing to do with God,” shaking his head at the thought of all the man’s sores.
“Sad…” said Kate as she turned the television volume down.
“Very…I wonder what pushed him to that end?”
Ending the conversation, James walked back into the living room and dwelt depressingly on his state. What pushed him Lord asked James as Kate got up from the couch and walked into the kitchen to accompany James. Feeling boxed in, James walked passed Kate, emotionally numb to his senses. Kate seemed sad but her outward emotions seemed to hide any real indication of problems.
“How are we with bills?” asked James as he tried to look for his cell phone and change the subject.
“Still behind…” murmured Kate.
“I need some fresh air. I’m gonna go hand in a few job applications,” stated James as he reached for a folder that held his newly printed resumes.
Heading to the bedroom, James walked straight to the closet and began rummaging around for a clean shirt and dress pants. Looking to the left and looking to the right of the closet reminded James of his own problems. As cluttered with old and new things like the closet, James’s own problems were scattered too. How could he provide for his family, run a dying ministry, pay bills, and juggle all the emotional baggage of others. Something in his life had to give before he plummeted further into the role of a workaholic. He was near the edge of cracking under the unnatural amount of pressure.
Quickly tying the last button on his shirt, James felt energized and eager to get out of the house. Walking back out of the bedroom, James saw Kate waiting for him. In her hand she held a couple of his resumes. Reaching for the resumes, James took them carefully and tucked them under his right arm.
“Thank you for everything,” whispered James as he kissed Kate on the cheek and headed out, “You help me WAY too much.
“Where would you be without me? I love you,” she replied.
Thank you for her Lord, thought James as he walked out of the door. If it weren’t for Kate’s one hundred percent support of the ministry, James wondered how he’d survive. She was definitely a Psalm Thirty-One woman.
“I love you too,” said James.
Walking quickly down the footpath towards the main street, James decided not to drive his car. While evening was setting in early, James felt a need to enjoy the scenery; he felt the need to embrace the surroundings of the man-nature jungle Seattle defined itself with. Whistling to himself, James began to dwell on the year that had previously passed.
Many people had begun to leave the church way before James took the ministry. Aged in years, many of the congregation members were in there sixties. Some small families brought their children to the services, but most members were Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. From the moment someone walked into the building, a sense of spiritual arrogance could be felt that made you feel incredibly vile. Sadly, many of the members were stuck in their ways and would not even think of anyone else but themselves. What life new people brought to the building was quickly snuffed out with a wet blanket of apathy, selfish ambition, and religious bigotry. However all the problems of the church could not be blamed on the members, James was new to leading a church. He was fresh out of Bible College and four years of youth group experience. Running a church was a new endeavor for him; furthermore James had a bit of a temper that would flare up from time to time. This did not contribute positively either to the ministry but most of the anger stemmed from underlying frustration with how poorly everything seemed to result from the ministry. One could call James’s anger the thorn in his side that God would not remove.
However, James also began to remember how much joy he had at the youth groups. James had originally interned as a youth pastor in southern California before becoming a missionary. After years overseas, coming to the Sanctuary in Seattle had been his pastoral opportunity. During that time James discovered no youth group had ever existed in the fifty years of history the Sanctuary possessed as a ministry. Most did not even consider the youth a viable group of people to impact but James managed to see the potential in them. Being asked to start the youth group by Josh (a frequent teenager attendee), one by one Josh would invite some of his friends. Periodically, other youths would discover the group and seek to join in as well: most instances were initiated by Josh ultimately. They were not the shiniest of kids, but they were genuine and down to earth. The hearts of the youth reflected ambition, passion, and most importantly an infinite amount of hope. Their presence only reinforced James’s perseverance in the Sanctuary of staying.
With job applications tucked under his arm, James decided to detour to the café dubbed the Corner Coffee, not far from the church. The evening was silent (silent for a city anyway) in that most of the traffic was already bumper-to-bumper on I-5; however, every few feet there sat a bus stop with benches of people waiting to head home.
Sitting close to the bus area, a bearded man in a tattered leather jacket and brownish jeans sat playing his guitar and humming a tune; his guitar case lay to the left of him, accepting donations of any kind. Something inside of James seemed to fixate on the man; something compelled him to talk to him. Maybe he needs a latte or something, thought James, as he approached the man.
“Would you like a coffee or something?” asked James.
“Sure,” he replied as he continued to hum away joyfully.
“Any kind is good. I’m pretty open,” stated the man.
Walking into Corner Coffee, James felt the fire of God fall upon him. Stopping for a moment to listen, James felt as through every part of his body was alive with warm peaceful electricity. Inside the café, men and women sat at small two seated tables chiding away about various political, social, and economic topics. A horde of people circled around the bar area. Green and blue signs lay displayed behind the counter, and baristas of all ages scrambled around in an efficient and organized manner assembling the most eclectic blends of coffee the city could imagine. Taking his place last in line, James look up at the menu and began to ponder what he’d like to have.
“Welcome to Corner Coffee, what can I get you today?” asked a young woman in her mid-twenties. James thought for a minute, pondering the plethora of options then decided to go with something basic.
“I’d like to get a tall Mint Frappuccino and could I also get a tall drip,” stated James as the barista wrote the information on a piece of paper.
“Sure,” she replied, “it will be right up.”
Rushing to the right, the barista disappeared behind the counter as James moved to the left, to allow other people to order. Gazing at a newspaper next to a few couches, James picked one of the newspapers up and sat on the nearest Victorian era armchair, awaiting his order.
“Are you blind!?” yelled a man as he rushed through the door and began screaming at all the workers in the area. The intensity in his voice was enough to scare any small child.
“This order is completely wrong! I demand a refund!” continued the man as he threw the coffee over the counter, “I demand to speak with your manager! I want a refund!”
Peering over his newspaper, James began to watch as the man continued to bang on the counter and make a scene. Other men and women pretended to ignore the man and not interfere; they did not want to offend the obviously offensive man. Baristas behind the counter quickly made their way to the manager’s office trying not to be the ones to take the heat. James’s eyes followed the girl that had helped him as the manager followed closely behind.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked the manager.
“I said I wanted EXTRA hot! This is only medium! Are your employees deaf or something?” yelled the man.
“Well, according to health regulations we have to make our coffee at a certain temp–,” began the manager before the man cut her off.
“Whatever! I’m not coming back!” Immediately the man stormed off and grabbed the door violently.
“One tall Americano and one tall Mint Frappaccinno ready,” called the barista as James began to get up from his seat. Without looking James accidentally tripped over the irate man’s leg causing him to curse and stare maliciously at him.
“Are you blind too?!” he yelled.
“No,” replied James, “I apologize.” No point in making the guy angrier—thought James—the guy obviously had more issues than being externally identified.
“Maybe you’d get more service if you remove the bum sitting out front!” yelled the man as he rushed out in disgust.
Some people just have no consideration for others—thought James—as he walked over to the coffee bar and picked up his drinks. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a ten-dollar bill and handed it to the barista who helped him.
“Sorry you guys had to deal with that but you can keep the change,” said James.
“Thanks,” replied the barista as she began to fumble around the coffee bar for something.
“You should take one of these,” she said as she handed him a punch card, “I notice you come in here a lot.”
“Thanks,” replied James as he continued out of café and tried looking for the homeless man.
Listening for the melodic music, James found the man still sitting outside. Again the fire of God seemed to burn all over James as he handed the man the coffee.
“You live around here?” asked James as he took a sip of his coffee.
“You could say that,” replied the man.
“You’re pretty good at playing that guitar,” noticed James.
“Thanks, I’ve been playing since I was a kid. Never really had much family around…I did have a knack for guitar though,” remembered the man as he sipped his coffee.
“Well I’m James Reese. What’s your name?”
“Hmm…haven’t been asked that question in long time. Friends call me Matches but my real name is Colby Langley,” said the man.
“Which do you prefer?” inquired James.
“Matches mostly…Colby just sounds too straightforward. So why did you stop anyway, most people look at me with disgust and walk off.”
“Felt like God wanted me to talk to you,” exclaimed James as he took the lid off of his drink and blew some steam away.
“Interesting,” chuckled the Matches, “I’m been praying for something warm all day. After that snow storm last week, it’s been real hard,” said Matches as he blew on his hands to warm them.
“You’re a Christian?” asked James, puzzled that such a man could be on the streets.
“Yeah…been one for three years.”
“How come you’re out here?” asked James.
“Turn of bad luck I suppose. Does me good though. You learn not to take stuff for granted. It’s amazing how many people write you off like some sort of disease or something,” said Matches as he picked his coffee up and took a few swigs.
Matches began to move his guitar from the wall he had left it against and towards the guitar case. A few meager dollars lay strewn in the case with other pieces of folded paper and napkins.
“Do you get much for playing?” asked James as he looked at a few pennies inside his guitar case.
“Depends, changes daily like our awesome weather,” chuckled Matches sarcastically, “I gotta take what I get to the others.”
“What do you mean?” asked James, what did he mean by others? Were their more homeless Christians like him?
“When you’re on the streets you have to stick together with someone or else you end up dead. Me and a few other Christians stick together. We may look like drug addicts or gang members but we aren’t. Amazing how fast this city stereotypes us. Well, each of us goes out begging and at the end of the day we pull our money together to buy some food. You could call us urban nomads.”
Walking out from an alleyway, another man wearing an old tattered Mariner’s cap and rugged trench coat stepped into the twilight of the evening. His complexion showed wisdom behind the mask of a middle-aged man. Beard to his shoulders, the man resembled Santa Claus in appearance. He carried a knapsack in his right hand and whistled a familiar hymn, James could not identify.
“You’re back, Ray?” stated Matches stunned, “I thought you were going away for a while.”
Ray just eyed James and smiled in approval as if Matches’s words carried no relevance. Something about his appearance seemed to stir the area with a divine presence. James could not figure out what was going on, but he felt he should definitely listen to the men.
“I’m always around. Though you may not see me I’m always watching, waiting…” smiled Ray having heard what Matches had asked him, “this must be James Reese.”
“How do you know my name?” asked James as he stared puzzled at Ray.
“The Almighty knows everyone; those who hear God’s voice will hear many other things,” stated Ray as James pondered this guy’s appearance.
This guy sounds crazy, thought James, as Matches closed his guitar case and got ready to leave.
“Will we see you tonight?” asked Matches.
“Cannot say…” said Ray as he looked at James a second time.
“Well good seeing ya,” smiled Matches as he placed his guitar on his shoulder and began to walk towards the waterfront, “good meeting ya James. Maybe I’ll see ya around.”
“You too!” replied James as he stood with Ray for the moment. I must be crazy standing here with this guy, thought James as he tried to hide his feelings behind a stern Seattle exterior.
“You’re not crazy,” replied Ray, “God always brings people in at the right time.”
HOW DOES THIS GUY KNOW MY THOUGHTS? James was utterly stupefied by the man’s statement.
“What else do you know about me?” asked James as suspicion clouded his thoughts. Was he going to rob him?
Ray smiled quickly and got ready to speak, “You’re James Reese…pastor of Sanctuary in Seattle church. God tells me your church is dying.”
James mouth now dropped open in amazement. How could this man possibly know that? Was he a denominational member or something? Did he come to a service?
“And I know you are conflicted about the decisions presented before you.”
“Are you a prophet or something?” asked James. James remembered about reading the prophets of the Old Testament but never dreamed he would actually meet one.
“No, I’m not. Maybe we should walk and talk a bit.” James nodded his head in reply and they continued to walk downtown.
“You must be a man of God!” spoke James, dumbfounded.
“You could say that. But I know you are dealing with much,” said Ray as he tried to change the conversation from focusing on him to focusing on James.
“So much! I can’t sleep or eat over this whole ordeal. We’ve got one year to get our ministry up and running. We have no worship leader and practically no more elders.”
“Man’s sin always catches up to him in the end,” spoke Ray sharply.
“Every Sunday I hate waking up to walk back into that building. So many faces are ready to kill me! They blame all their problems on my leadership. I do mess up from time to time I’ll admit that. But how do I live with the fact that God has called me here?”
“Maybe this verse shall answer your questions: ‘Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.’ ” offered Ray as the two of them walked together slowly.
“Isaiah 40:30-31,” remembered James.
“Exactly…though you grow weary and you have stumbled God will renew your strength in the ministry. Not only will your strength rise but also it will soar like an eagle. This will not be your own doing but the Lord’s doing. Eagles ride the thermals of turbulence. It is in the times of chaos that you will soar high and strong. You will run the race and not grow weary. You will continue walking when you cannot.”
After Ray had finished speaking James felt a fire burning inside of him. He was sweating and his hands were shaking a bit. Every word Ray spoke burned inside of him (not burning as in a pain but burning with passion.)
Ray continued, “You know what you have to do. If you do not trust my words, ask some of your youth. They will provide the answers you know in your heart. When you stand before the multitude, God will give you the words to say.”
James stopped walking for the moment and began to breathe hard as the words of Ray continued to echo inside of him. God felt very tangible to James as the words continued to reverberate through his mind.
Off in the distance all of their walking had led both of them to the waterfront. Being twilight, the sun seemed to divide the water from the sky. Radiantly shinning its glory, James felt he was at the fork of two roads. One road would lead to continued pain and suffering, while the other road would lead to the unknown. The world seemed to be place on James’s shoulders as he turned to ask Ray what he should do.
Looking left, James saw only the reflection of the buildings basking in the twilight of eternity. Confused, James looked to the right hoping to see Ray again. James saw nothing. What had just happened?
Deciding to head back towards to the city, James was once again dumbfounded. He could not speak or think clearly. Why had he come down town? Why was he taken advice from a strange homeless man he had only known for a couple minutes? This all seemed crazy to James as he could not even answer his own questions. Looking at the watch on his right hand, James realized he was holding job applications.
“That’s why I’m out here,” spoke James to himself as he realized it was getting late.
Starting to jog a little, James tried to remember one of the places where he had seen a hiring sign. There was a local mom-and-pop restaurant three blocks from where he stood. Calculating the hour of sunlight left and his immediate location, James felt he should try the restaurant and finish distributing more applications the next day. Jogging a little faster, James began to feel apprehensive as a bit a sweat began to drip from his brow. Reaching a residential street, James quickly stopped to wipe his brow. At least I do not smell awful, thought James, as he waited for the crosswalk to indicate he could cross the street. Flashing a neon sign to indicate “walk”, James continued jogging across the crosswalk and saw the sign for the restaurant. “Help wanted” sat strait in the window, peering out for everyone who passed by the restaurant. Saying a quick prayer under his breath, James reached for the old tattered door and walked inside.
Fragrance of Greek food filled the air while waitresses chided amongst themselves and delivered meals to the nearby tables. As James entered the restaurant the place awkwardly dropped dead silent as he walked up to the nearest table looking to talk to someone. Feeling awkward, James walked up to the hostess, who stood behind a podium to try and lessen the attention he had gathered from his entrance.
“Welcome to Valentino’s. How many in your party?” responded the hostess with much overly bubbly enthusiasm.
“Well,” began James, “I’m actually here to apply for a job. Is your manager available?”
“Hold on one minute.”
Quickly darting out of the foyer, the hostess vanished from sight as James sat down on a nearby antique chair. Squeaking at his weight as he sat down, James prayed the chair would not break while he temporarily rested on it. Seconds later, the hostess reemerged ready to speak to James.
“I believe he has gone home for the night,” she replied.
“Could I leave an application with you?”
Handing the hostess his resume, James’s head drooped a bit in disappointment. Opening the restaurant door, James walked out hoping to get home and sleep off his day.