Growing Up “Then”

Recently a Facebook page was started about my hometown, Forsyth, IL – then and now. I joined the page and quickly posted a few pictures I have of the “then” part of the equation. My grandparents ran a grocery store from 1930 through the late 60s. My dad grew up in the residence in the back of the store. I grew up next door in the 50s and 60s and did lots of pop, ice cream, and candy shopping in that store, as well as worked in there once in a while. My pics and commentary stirred up lots of memories and comments from friends on Facebook. They remember, too.

It was a great time and place to grow up. Everybody knew everybody and even some of their family who didn’t even live there (they came to visit now and then and we’d meet them!). People watched out for each other; we felt like we had numerous moms and dads! We played in the school yard, the church yard, several backyards, and even in the streets. I walked to grade school or rode my bike. I mostly went home for lunch and went right back for the noon recess – it was just a few short blocks. We played Hide ‘n’ Seek, Ditch, Kick the Can, and all the sports – which in those days meant baseball, football, and basketball.

We played in the snow and since it was central Illinois, we had plenty of opportunities. We built forts and had snowball fights; we built igloos; we went sledding and even were towed behind cars through the streets of town! Yeah, I know, that’s too dangerous! We had the run of the whole town which cannot really be done these days – the town has grown and spread out in all directions and across the highway, which is more lanes and filled with much more traffic and business.

I was a paperboy for 4 years – from when I was only 7 until I was 11 years old. I did my own delivering either walking or riding a bike and did my own collecting for the cost of the papers on Saturdays making change and everything at 7 and 8 years old! Kids who rode the school busses were dismissed a few minutes before us townies, but my older brother and I got to go when they did during basketball season. We needed the extra time to deliver the afternoon papers and get right back to school for practice.

We had Little League Baseball in the summers with July 4th tournaments and fireworks afterwards. We played basketball with all the other similar sized schools in the area and rode the bus to and from the games. We didn’t have football until high school, just played it in our yards – usually just “touch” football, occasionally “flag,” but every now and then tackle. Once in a while we built high jump stands and did that. I can remember playing marbles, collecting and trading baseball cards, playing catch and “hotbox” for hours, often listening to the Cubs game on a radio. We played more softball games than I could count and possibly even more games of Indian Ball (you’ll need to contact me for a description of that game).

We would play after school, then rush home for supper. We often went back out until dark and many, many nights even later. Hide and Seek, Kick the Can and other such games were much better after dark. It was safe then and there. In the summertime, some of us would get our sleeping bags and sometimes a tent and “camp out” in someone’s back yard. We brought snacks. We talked much of the night yet slept a little. Don’t tell our folks, but we usually quietly snuck away and walked around town in the wee hours of the morning, just to do it. Aw, they probably knew it anyway.

Television was three channels if you could get them by antenna. I did well in school so my parents were not strict on me going to bed early. I would stay up with dad and after the news when most kids had gone on to bed, I’d be watching “Perry Mason” and “Tightrope” reruns or Johnny Carson or Joey Bishop. Summertime was reruns in prime time, so we didn’t watch much – we played outside. It was black and white shows at first – color came later.

We had radios and listened often. I even bought a transistor radio, small enough to carry around with me on my paper route! That was big deal! Music at home was provided by playing records on a record player. You younger ones may just have to google it to understand. Some of us would ride our bikes 5 miles into Decatur to buy the latest 45 record and go to the DQ before riding back home. No way should anyone try that there now!

And speaking of dangerous travel, I hitch-hiked a lot in my teens – back and forth to high school in Maroa or just to go hang out up there. One year I hitched rides home from the family vacation in Arkansas! I would rather not hitch hike nowadays either! Times have changed.

Phones were attached to the walls and cords were short. I remember when we finally got a long cord and could walk 10-15 feet away from the base! It was years before we had cordless ones. Long distance calls cost more so they were limited. No such thing as texts and emails. You COULD write a letter, put it in a stamped envelope and mail it though! Only took a week or so for the other one to get it.

On Halloween, we dressed up and went Trick or Treating all over town and made a haul! Back then, people tried to guess who it was behind that mask or makeup. Yes, we soaped windows, too. My mom even did that a time or two! The grade school always had a Halloween party and a fall carnival. Lots of fun and candy!

Christmas was great! There was always a Christmas program at school, and each class did its own thing. I remember playing a doctor in a play in the fourth grade. (I have dispensed medical advice because of that experience (see my post Crayola Virus). At church we also had programs – carols, plays, and the nativity scene. Families had get-togethers, extended families. We went into Decatur to our other Grandma’s or an aunt’s house for Christmas Eve. Sang all the way there and back in the car. Got home late. Our afternoon paper route was a morning delivery on weekends and holidays. A time or two, we went by the newspaper office after our family Christmas Eve time and got our papers before they were sent out to the routes. We could get them delivered really early in the morning before even going to sleep and not have to get up early on Christmas Day to deliver! Never did see Santa on his deliveries though.

Our church always went caroling throughout the town, stopping at all the senior citizens’ houses and more. One year, it was the last time I saw my grandma alive. She went to be with Jesus that night in bed after we left. Over the years, I mowed their lawn, helped out in their grocery store occasionally, and saw them often because I’d go buy things there on a regular basis. I had charge account! I could buy pop and candy on credit and pay off the tab when I got my newspaper route money. When Granddad got sick and had to spend time in the hospital then the nursing home, us kids took turns staying all night with Grandma. I don’t think she was afraid of anything! It was just in case something went wrong, we’d be there to get a hold of dad next door. And maybe to keep her from being lonely.

Their residence was in the back of the store. One night some man tried to pry open the side window, probably thinking he was breaking into the store. It was a window right next to Grandma’s bed. She awoke and sat up and stared through the window right at the man! He ran for the hills! Probably a good thing because Grandma would have taken him on had he gained entry into the house and probably would have taken him out! She was a tough little bird. Reminded me of Granny on the Beverly Hillbillies TV show!

My dad was a fastpitch softball umpire for 17 years while I was growing up. Decatur was a hotbed of ASA games. Teams from all over the country came to Decatur to play and I saw them all. Most Friday and Saturday nights during the summers were spent watching the games and Dad umpiring. I watched the best of the best. I also chased foul balls. You got a dime for each one you returned. I made more than enough to enjoy all the pop, popcorn, and candy I wanted! During all day tournaments I made enough for hotdogs, too!

A big treat was getting Dad to stop at the Dog n Suds just across from Chaps Field in Decatur after the games and get us a mug of root beer! It is still my drink of choice (in fact I have a case of it in glass bottles right now as a Christmas gift from my son’s family.). I skipped a couple of days of school in the eighth grade to go with my family to Indianapolis because Decatur was in the national tournament that year. My cousin Jack played. His dad and my dad are in the ASA Hall of Fame – my uncle as a business manager/coach and Dad for his umpiring.

Friends from back then are still friends, even if we can’t be very close. Social media has helped us stay in touch. I try to get to as many funerals as I can and see them as they lay to rest their parents or a spouse or sibling. I am a minister and I have done a wedding for one of my high school friends and her mother’s funeral. Another friend or two have reached out over the years when they were hurting and needed a friend. The internet and cell phones have provided opportunities for staying in touch that we did not have back in the day.

God first, family next, church and friends. Do your best in school, working, or playing. Treat people with kindness and your elders with respect. Be honest, helpful, generous, and polite. Have fun yet behave. Unfortunately, it seems that too many don’t have a clue what I’m talking about. My kids didn’t have it too bad growing up. We were able to keep lots of what I had in place for them despite the changes that occurred. They have tried their best to hang on for our grandkids to enjoy similar living, though the world is changing way too rapidly and mostly NOT for the better. I am sorry they can’t have it just like we did. I am especially sorry for those kids whose parents are clueless. I don’t know all that much about Forsyth “Now”, but I am thankful I grew up in Forsyth “Then.”

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2021 – A Blessed Year!

Happy New Year! 2022 – sounds a little like sci-fi to me, yet here we are! I have seen lots of posts and comments about being so glad to see 2021 leave. Lots of negativity. Not sure it really translates into hope for the new year. I saw the same things posted at the end of 2020! I do not at all want to make light of anyone’s sorrow, troubles, or problems from living through 2021, but much of it is about perspective and attitude. I would not have wanted to go back to the pandemic of the Spanish flu, or the Great Depression, or WWI or WWII, or even Viet Nam, etc. Terrible years with devastating consequences. Seems every year has its good AND bad times.

I for one want to be thankful for the blessings of 2021. Sure, I am hoping for and planning on more blessings in 2022, but I am indeed thankful for a pretty good year this past year. My wife and I started the year celebrating 45 years of marriage (I know, she should get a medal!). In Feb., our church enjoyed a Super Bowl fellowship of fun, food, and games. In March, we had a great family vacation to Orange Beach, AL enjoying the beach, pools and hot tub, mini-golf, go-carts, good food and more. In April, our church celebrated Easter with a full breakfast, fun activities for the kids, and a large crowd for worship. We had already been back to full a full schedule for a long time.

May brought us another breakfast for Mother’s Day and another great crowd of worshippers. By July, we had planned and worked toward what turned out to be another fantastic VBS, which ended with a pool party, several professions of faith, and a couple of baptism services. On Aug. 1st, we celebrated 20 years as a church with special music, slide shows, testimonies, a BBQ lunch, inflatables and a fire engine for the kids, games, and a great crowd! Two weeks later my wife and I spent a week with our kids and grandkids at a resort in Branson, MO – after the “Jesus” show at Sight n Sound theater, we also enjoyed a week of swimming, mini-golf, shuffleboard, fishing, boating and tubing, jumping off cliffs into the lake, playing and singing around the villa, and lots of good food and fun!

We returned in time for the Pana Labor Day Parade in which our church had a float and passed out tons of candy and brochures about our children’s ministry. Straight Street, revamped after a three-year hiatus, was up and running for its eighth season and is going well.

My wife and I took a quick unplanned vacation in October to Branson to celebrate my birthday and Pastor Appreciation Month. Besides having a relaxing time, we saw a couple of shows and enjoyed some great food and a round of mini-golf. I bought lots of new clothes since most everything I had was too big and I also got featured on the DVD made during “The Hits of the 60s” show we attended! Wow – my 15 minutes of Fame for my 67th birthday!

A big crowd came through our church’s Trunk or Treat event in October. We celebrated Thanksgiving with a good-sized crowd at church for dinner and a special service and all our family at home for the holiday – more good times with lots of good food and games as well as the addition of two children taken into our daughter’s family from an unfortunate homelife of their own.

For Christmas, our church had our highest attended adult party and good kids’ and youth parties. We went caroling to the homes of our own senior citizens and bought, wrapped, and delivered gifts to area nursing homes. Our family enjoyed a great Christmas with everyone there – again with lots of good food and fun. After Christmas, our church youth went to a huge conference for teens in Branson! My wife and I quietly ushered in the new year with a couple of old movies, pizza, and goodies.

Our church enjoyed its best year financially of our twenty years – so far! In 2021, we did ministry, supported missions and disaster relief, and reached and developed people for Jesus. Yes, we mourned the loss of one of our church fellowship, had a few others get covid and recover, prayed over other illnesses and troubles (like every year), and did our best with what we were given. So, despite living in the midst of an atmosphere of pandemic and pandemonium, illnesses and ill-will, negative news, nastiness and name-calling on antisocial media, and polarizing politics, I personally want to go on record as thanking God for all the blessings of the past year. I am indeed looking for an even better year in 2022, but that is always the case with a new year starting! What a mighty God we serve!

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Twenty of Plenty!

We moved into the house in Pana, IL, that is still our home, on the last weekend of July in 2001.  The very next Sunday we had a worship service in our house with 30 people and Celebration Community Church was born! A couple of months later we rented “Danceland” where folks were going on Saturdays and Sundays to dance to various area bands. The former skating rink would be our church “home” on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights for nearly a year.  We then rented the former Grandpa’s Hardware on Hwy 51 at the south edge of town.  We renovated that space and operated there for the next 14 years!

During that time, besides continually redoing the facility to meet our needs, our church was involved in such things as VBS each summer, children’s camps, youth activities, Disaster Relief ministries, kids’ carnivals, Trunk or Treat, nursing home ministries, all kinds of worship and fellowship opportunities, a mission work in Peru, and our very own children’s ministry called “Straight Street.”  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

God has blessed us tremendously, and we believe others through us, over these past 20 years!  We bought our own property 5 years ago and totally remodeled that. By God’s grace we are debt free and are contemplating adding more to our building. We have seen God’s hand in our own ministries and programs, but more importantly in lives touched.  Our stated purpose has always been to “reach and develop people for Jesus!”  We have and will continue to do just that.

We are planning an all-day celebration on Sunday, Aug. 1st (2021) to testify to God’s goodness and power for these past 20 years.  As I have gone back through our history and photos and worked on presentations for that day as well as for our You Tube channel, I have reflected on those people and ministries. It has been my privilege to pastor a great group of people for these 20 years and watch them grow in the Lord and pour themselves out for others.  I’ve thought about the salvations and baptisms, the kids touched by our children’s ministries, the people encouraged and helped through Disaster Relief, the churches we’ve helped, the Quechua people of the mountains of Peru, and so much more.

  I’ve thought about our usual crowd each Sunday after all these years and recalled the weddings and funerals I have helped them through.  Their loss of a son, a brother, a husband, a father or mother, a grandparent, or another close relative or friend.  Every life has been touched by death or other drastic events, but these hit us close to home.  Yet, God has been there and seen us through it all.  It has been my privilege to try to do the same in some small inadequate way. 

It has been a fantastic “ride” so far!  I said the other day to someone that my job throughout these 20 years has been just to hold on to God’s hand yet stay out of His way!  He has done great things!  I expect He will do many more with and through Celebration Community Church.  I look forward to watching that happen.  I am getting a bit old now and my health is beginning to fade a little.  I never really thought I’d be saying that while still in my 60s, but here I am!  I do not know where it’s all headed nor how long God will have me continue as the pastor here, but I DO know that whatever lies ahead is in His hands, not mine.  It has been that way all along and it’s best to just leave it that way!

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The Destination is NOT All That Matters!

Is the destination all that matters?  Or does the pathway there also count?  Is a lie okay as long as it achieves the desired outcome?  Is crime to be excused if it brings good to someone besides the criminal?  Is cheating all right if it yields good grades, a degree, and a career?  Or is it also important how one gets the desired outcome?  And what about political speeches, debates, class lessons, even sermons?  Is making a good point the only thing that counts?  Or should we make sure we use accuracy, honesty, and legitimacy as we make our points?  I say, the destination isn’t all that matters.  It also matters how one gets there. 

Social media and technology have provided platforms for nearly everyone to speak to practically every subject known to mankind.  No one needs even to be informed, much less be an expert or even knowledgeable about the subject.  You can say whatever you want and if you say it well enough or forcefully enough, or glibly enough, many will agree and pass it along.  That serves to spread your opinions and add credence to them.

            Many things, though untrue and often even ridiculous are passed along as if true or perhaps just possible.  Most are innocuous, maybe slightly entertaining, and of no real consequence.  I still prefer not to agree with nor pass along without confirming.  To do so shows a lack of intelligence, reason, and concern for the truth.  Some, though, concern truth and even scripture, but fall short of solid truth or biblically based truth, and therefore might be dangerous.

            Leading people astray is a serious matter.  Leading people to practice shallow thinking may be less dangerous, but it is still dangerous.  If people don’t practice good, solid principles for determining God’s truth in lesser matters, they might be lulled into using shallow, easy reasoning on weightier matters as well.

            I ran across one such post the other day.  The quote had a good point to make but was faulty in what was used to make the point.  The quote was making the point that God does not find His leaders on pedestals, but rather in pits.  The point is that God determines whom He calls and then qualifies them – not man – and He often chooses from places that man never would.

            I agree.  Man tends to think leaders become qualified by their own or other men’s efforts, perhaps even through random circumstances.  The Bible clearly teaches that God Himself qualifies His leaders and there are no such things as random circumstances!

            The quote uses the examples of three of God’s leaders of old – Gideon, Joseph, and Daniel (the order is not chronological, rather the order the quote’s author used). The author stated that God found Gideon in a hole, Joseph in a prison, and Daniel in a lion’s den.  I disagree with the examples of Joseph and Daniel.  Gideon was not actually in a hole, but he was hiding in fear and lacked faith to begin with.

            Joseph, on the other hand, had been “found” by God long before he was in an Egyptian prison!  God had previously chosen Joseph, given him prophetic dreams, and protected him from death at the hands of his brothers.  Indeed, Joseph was in prison for taking a stand against yielding to temptation and giving in to sexual impurity.  As a slave, he repeatedly turned down the improper advances of his master’s wife!  He even said it would be a sin against God even though this predated the Ten Commandments by five hundred years!  He had been a leader in his master’s household and became a leader in prison as well.  God did not simply “find” Joseph in a prison.  His stand for the God he already served, and His righteousness, put Joseph in prison!

            Likewise, Daniel was not “found” by God in a lion’s den.  Daniel had proven his belief in God, his commitment to godly principles, and obvious leadership long before he was put into that den of lions.  In fact, he was put there because of his godly lifestyle and leadership!  God protected him there, but Daniel’s long life of leadership and faithfulness put him there.  God did not pluck him out of a mess and turn him into a leader.  God allowed one of His leaders to prove his faithfulness and get cast into the den.  He brought His leader through the ordeal and continued to use him.

            The quote’s author has a good point.  He simply misused scriptural examples to “prove” that point.  Trading good biblical understanding or interpretation to make a nice sounding point is not a good idea or practice.  Neither is agreeing with someone’s “evidence” for proof of a point just because the point is good.

            God did not find, let alone choose for leadership, Joseph in a prison nor Daniel in a lion’s den.  They had already been chosen.  Joseph was already displaying godly leadership though he still had much to learn.  Daniel had already proven himself to be a godly leader for decades before landing in the den of lions!

            It does matter how we get where we are going.  Truth and integrity do matter.  If our premise gets debunked, people might well reject our conclusion, even if the conclusion is actually correct.  If you cannot prove your point without invalid reasoning, maybe your point is wrong.  Or, if your point is definitely true, then there surely must be true ways to validate it.

            By the way, God can also choose, call, and qualify those on manmade pedestals, too.  Of course, it is neither being on a pedestal nor in a pit that qualifies or disqualifies one from leadership.  Wherever you are, God can use you if you’ll surrender.  Well, technically, He can use you even if you don’t.  He is God – He exalts whom He will and abases whom He will.  It’s best we just go with God!

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About Christmas

To help you understand Christmas

Check out Debunking Christmas:

Debunking the Nativity Story – or NOT!

About The Real Nativity Story:

The Real Nativity Story

See my children’s books:

www.twasthenightjesuswasborn.com

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Give Me a Break!

A sabbatical, by one definition, is a time away from work to give one a chance to step away to focus on personal enrichment and perhaps professional development. For a minister, it can be a time to relax, refresh, renew your spirit, and de-stress. A paid leave keeps the financial stress at bay; no time constraints, sermon, or Bible study deadlines; no – or at least extremely limited – access for members to intrude with church business or their own personal needs – no pressing agendas!

Eleven years ago, I was facing a near burnout situation. My church granted me a month, paid sabbatical. They would take care of “business” while I was gone. I found a refuge in rural Arkansas that provided me the perfect place for a sabbatical. One month of just me and the Lord! Reading, praying, writing, relaxing, whatever – it was up to me – my time! It saved my ministry.

This year, my trustees talked it over and said I should do it again. I’m 11 years older and nearing retirement age – yet still going. I have had, in the past five years, a triple bypass, a subsequent slight heart attack requiring two stents, an ongoing major building project at church, added missions involvement through our Association of churches, and more. Added to all that, it has been extra stressful navigating the Covid pandemic of 2020 and its influence on ministry. By the time I could get a sabbatical planned and set up, I definitely needed one!

So, in August, I spent two weeks back at that same refuge in AR, the next week with family at a resort in Branson, MO, and then another week back at the refuge. I thought perhaps I’d share my typical day. Keep in mind these facts about the Broomtree Refuge: it is a retreat just outside the small town of Mountain View, Arkansas, nestled in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains; the “cabin” is actually a modern house in a rustic setting; they lay in a few days of provisions and the kitchen is stocked with utensils; there are a washer and dryer in the house; they have a small cabin on the grounds that serves as a library; there is no TV service, but they do have plenty of DVD movies available; there is no Internet and the cell service on the grounds is very weak and spotty.

So, I can get up whenever I want to, but I tend to wake up between 6:00 and 6:30 anyway. I clean up, make the bed, and take my daily walk. I usually walk about 30 minutes at a good fast pace, which means I can do around 2 miles. It’s more of a daily stress-test when in the hills of Arkansas! Then I shower and fix breakfast. Breakfast is something like scrambled eggs and toast or French toast or pancakes, bacon or sausage, fruit, and juice. I’m not a coffee drinker, but it’s there.

I like a tidy place, so I clean up the kitchen and do the dishes each morning. Devotion time comes next. I had visited the library early in the sabbatical and chosen a few books to read – one for devotional purposes. I have options for the devotional spot – the front porch, the living room, or the loft that opens up over the living room. Some days, I do the porch, others the living room. I prefer to save the loft as a makeshift study since it has a desk at one end.

I like organization, so I tend to do my devotions every morning on the porch or in the living room, read for pleasure in the recliner or in bed, and do some sermon prep or church planning up in the loft. It seems to keep the different activities from bleeding into one another!  A time and place for everything, so to speak, keeps down the stress.

So, after the devotional time, I take some relaxing time – no studies or planning for a while. I work my Rubik’s Cube a few times nearly every day – it helps keep my hands nimble and it helps with my memory skills.  I like working Sudokus and reading mysteries, so my Kindle Fire tablet provides me with plenty of both. The refuge’s library has plenty of books of all genres if you prefer old-school – and sometimes I do! I always get a couple of spiritual books to read and sometimes some fiction. This year, I just used my Kindle for my personal reading and puzzles.

There is no agenda nor timetable, so I do puzzles or read for however long or short I want! If reading makes me sleepy, I doze off! I usually skip lunch, but if I do get hungry, I have lunch meat or PBJ sandwiches or soup or leftovers from my previous supper, etc.

By early afternoon, I often decide to be productive for a while. I take a book or two up to the loft with a couple of notebooks. There is also a couch up there. I read, take notes, and eventually make some sermon or study outlines. I might even get out the calendar and do some church planning!

By late afternoon, I do some reading just for personal pleasure. That might bring on a nap – might not, but who cares? The idea is no stress! I gauge supper time by my hungriness. I planned for no late-night snacking, so eating supper a little later in the evening doesn’t hurt, but then most days there is no lunch, so that can go either way!

Suppers were things like spaghetti, or grilled pork chops or hamburgers, fried chicken from a deli in town, etc., baked or mashed potatoes, green beans, and always applesauce! I always cleaned up and did the dishes after each meal. Evenings were spent doing Sudokus and reading murder mysteries. I would finish off by reading in bed until I got sleepy.

Sprinkled in among the usual daily activities would be an occasional shopping trip to town, weekly laundry, a few text messages home when I could track down cell coverage on the front porch, or a relaxing soak in the tub. I journaled every day and began to write another short-story for my blog. I have always fantasized of writing a successful novel but seem to do better at the short-stories. I read once where a novelist is just a failed short-story writer! So far, I’m quite successful! Hopefully, I will finish the story now that I am back home.

So, that’s how I spent my sabbatical. I could have used the swimming pool, but I’m not big on pool time. I could have taken nature walks, but I’m always leery of poison ivy – and besides, I walk every day! I could have watched some DVD movies – in fact, I did watch one – but I get enough television at home. It might all sound lonesome and boring to you, but it was peace and quiet, relaxation, no worries, no stress, no deadlines, no expectations, few interruptions, and not costly at all! Pretty nice if you ask me!  Thank you, church!

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The Thief

“Move along!” the soldier shouted angrily. He prodded the man in the small of his back with the shaft of his spear. “Next time you stop, you’ll feel the sharp end!”

Asa picked up the pace a bit. One of the other men was slightly ahead of him, but the third man had fallen even farther behind. Asa felt for him a little, but he figured he would only need to keep pace with this third man, which would not be difficult. Asa had been treated roughly, and he had to admit rightly so, for he was a thief, at best! But this one had been brutalized. He could barely stand by now, much less walk, and even less, carry the crossbeam for his cross.

As he looked back, Asa saw the Roman soldier grab the sleeve of a man in the crowd along the street where they marched. The road they travelled led to a hill outside of Jerusalem where criminals were put to death. The three of them had been condemned to die on crosses, but Asa wasn’t sure this third man would last long enough to die the horrible death of a Roman crucifixion.

The three men had been carrying their own crossbeams upon their shoulders with their arms outstretched and tied to the beams. One of the soldiers quickly untied the arms of the man on his knees and lifted the crossbeam off his shoulders. Then he hefted it up onto the shoulder of this man who had been dragged from the sidelines. “What is your name?” asked the soldier who had grabbed him.

“Simon,” he replied. “Of Cyrene.”

As the soldier released his grip of the beam, leaving the full weight on Simon, he yelled above the crowd, “Carry his cross!” Asa turned back to continue his death-walk and thought that perhaps now this other man just might make it. He might last long enough to be crucified after all!

When they got to the place of the skull, as it was called due to its eerie, deathly shape, there were indeed three men still alive. The crossbeam was taken from Simon and the third man was once again tied to it. They were laid one by one on the upright poles of their crosses with their arms spread out and tied to the crossbeams. The crossbeams were constructed to fit onto the tops of the poles to form a cross. There was a small stud of wood nailed onto the front side of the uprights on which the victims could rest their feet and, for a while, push up for relief from hanging there, still tied to the beams.

Asa had witnessed a crucifixion or two in his day, so he knew what to expect. It didn’t make it any easier though. Having been laid out on the uprights, first his partner in crime, then Asa, and finally the other man had their wrists nailed to the crossbeams! Then their feet were nailed to the upright poles. He always knew that had to be painful – he was never even close to imagining correctly. He almost passed out and later wished he had. The men on their crosses were now raised and the poles were dropped off into the holes and wedges were driven into the holes to secure the posts in place. By evening, one way or another, the three would be dead. The Romans would make sure of it!

Asa Bar-Jonam had come to terms with it. He had conned people out of their life savings, robbed others at the point of a knife, beaten some who resisted, and even worse. He had not killed anyone that he knew of, but he had left victims behind who might well have died later if help didn’t come quickly. Asa naturally never stuck around to find out. Perhaps he had murdered and didn’t even realize it! He had finally come to the end of a life of everything dark and gloomy, even evil.

Asa knew what he had done, but how had he come to this? Asa, son of Jonam and Rachel. Born in Jericho. ‘Was that it?’ Asa wondered. Jericho had been cursed since the days of Joshua. Maybe Asa had inherited the curse!

His father was a poor man. He worked for a local merchant – behind the scenes – counting, marking, and displaying merchandise and then putting it all away each night. He was never involved directly with the customers, so he didn’t make much more than a servant’s wage. He and Rachel had six children – four girls and two boys.

Asa was the first-born. He had to do most of the chores and help with his siblings since Jonam was always working just to make ends meet. Asa tried, but by the time he was fourteen he felt that he got no credit for his hard work and all the blame for everything that had gone wrong in the family. He wanted out.

By the time he was sixteen, he had found easier ways to make money than his father had ever found. None of them were legal or decent! He learned to cut loose the money pouches draped from the waist bands of customers in the marketplace without them ever sensing it. He found ways to trick others into betting on a “sure thing” only to be cheated out of their hard-earned money by Asa.

He learned he could teach others how to steal and take a share of their earnings for instruction and leadership. By the time he was eighteen, he had left home and was living on the streets of Jerusalem or Capernaum or Bethany or Nazareth. He traveled from town to town stealing, recruiting fellow thieves from among the poor youth of each town, and much more.

When Asa left home, he would not return for several years. He had been caught a few times in the early days, but he learned to cry and lie his way out of it. Becoming a perfectly good actor, he later learned to trick others out of their money. He would make a nice little fortune and move on. He cared for no one but himself. He had no friends, just people he used for business or entertainment.

One day after a failed attempt to rob a merchant as he closed up his shop, Asa had to flee from Jerusalem. He headed out of the city toward the north, but soon turned east and circled back around to the south, eventually making his way to Bethlehem, about 6 miles south of Jerusalem. It was just after dark when Asa slipped into town.

A quick survey showed the town to be overflowing with visitors. Asa remembered the census he had heard people talking about. Orders had come from Rome that all subjects of the Roman Empire were to be registered, so they could be counted and taxed. To keep it orderly and official, each was to return to the village or town or city of their ancestry for the census.

He figured all this confusion and traffic would make it easy to make some quick money and get away. But it would be easier to steal some food and he was hungry. Several traveling families had camped around town and fires dotted the town and its outlying areas just begging Asa to take some food. So, he did!

He watched in the shadows of a campsite until the family had moved away from the fire and provisions. Part of the family went into the tent and the others wandered over to a nearby tent to visit with the “neighbors.” Asa quickly and quietly slipped into camp and helped himself to all he wanted – bread, cheese, a bowl of stew, and a full wineskin. He grabbed a cloak hanging nearby and wrapped up all but the bowl of stew, which he carried separately, and slipped off into the darkness, completely unnoticed.

Asa moved quickly to the center of town yet away from the crowds. Finding a quiet, dark side street, he ducked into the shadows behind a small house, where it appeared the inhabitants had already gone to bed. He unfurled his cloth “bag” and enjoyed the repast he had procured from the camp. After filling his stomach, he left the bowl and took the cloak and wineskin and headed out into the street again.

Asa moved quickly across town, looking for a good place to hide and sleep for the night. He soon spotted the perfect place! It was a stable – the one belonging to the local inn. Surely, he thought, by this time the travelers would all be settled into the inn and only the animals would notice the latest arrival to their stable. He quietly snuck inside and found a makeshift ladder that led to a small loft over the back half of the stable.

Asa climbed up into the loft and piled up some straw to hide behind. Out of sight from the entrance, he spread out the straw to lie on and used his new cloak as a blanket. The hours of traveling roundabout from Jerusalem had taken their toll and now with his belly full, Asa quickly dropped off to sleep.

In a short while Asa was roused by the noise of someone in the stable below! Living on the run, he had learned to be fully awake and alert in only a second or two. He quickly sat up, rolled noiselessly to his knees, and peered out and down over his straw-wall. It was a couple, likely in town for the census, seeking shelter in the stable. Asa watched and listened.

The man spoke first, “I’m sorry that this is the best accommodation we could get. Maybe in a day or two we can find something better.”

The lady, obviously much younger than he, laid one hand on her stomach and replied, “By then, we will need room for three!”

A baby! And apparently due at any moment! Asa felt a tinge of pity for the young lady, having to give birth in such a place, but it didn’t last long. He seldom felt much of anything for anyone but himself. He watched as the man, Joseph he had learned as the couple talked, fixed a straw bed for his wife and hung a blanket between them and the doorway to block the chilling wind.

They spread out their belongings and made a nice little camp for the night. The horses and donkeys of the travelers from the inn didn’t seem to be bothered at all, so Asa figured he would just go back to sleep himself. Little did he know just how soon the baby would arrive!

He had barely drifted back to sleep when the woman’s quick cry of pain startled him back to reality! He lay in silence, only to hear more moans and groans. Joseph asked her, “Mary – is it time?”

Between labor pains, Mary replied that she was pretty sure that it was, and Joseph sprang into action. As Asa watched from his perch above, Joseph got up and showed that he must have had a plan all along. From a bag, he pulled out some clean, wide strips of cloth, some thread, a knife, and some rags. Apparently after Asa fell asleep, Joseph had drawn a couple buckets of water and had them ready. He must have cleaned out a place on the ground nearby and built a small fire, too, and a stone pitcher of water had been heated up.

They were as prepared as they could be under the circumstances and Asa watched quietly as Joseph helped his young wife give birth. From his angle, Asa could only surmise what Joseph was doing. He had seen a midwife do as much for his mother years ago when his siblings were born. The baby squalled right after his birth and Joseph cut the cord, used the thread to tie it off, and with warm water, gently wiped off his son. It took them both to wrap the babe in swaddling cloths and they smiled and spoke softly to each other as the baby cooed strange sounds.

Asa noticed they called the baby “Jesus” and did not seem surprised at all that they had had a boy. He knew that they were happy, and he figured he should have been happy for them, but his thoughts were more along the lines of ‘too bad, what a shame.’ Asa’s main thoughts were of another poor son of Israel destined to a life of poverty, misery, and despair. He silently laid back down and hoped the baby didn’t cry too much and he could still get some sleep.

About an hour later, perhaps around midnight, Asa was once again startled awake. “Here they are!” called out a voice he did not recognize. He heard the shuffling sounds of feet as a few men entered the stable. Once again behind his straw fortress, he saw three or four men entering the stable as one tried to hush the others and speak to the couple.
“Excuse us for intruding,” he said to Joseph and Mary, “but we were told to come.”

Joseph’s curiosity was immediately aroused. “Who told you we were here? Why have you come?”

Another of the men – shepherds, Asa surmised by their appearance – answered. “You may not believe this, but an angel from heaven appeared to us out in the field and told us the Messiah had been born!”

A third shepherd added, “Then a whole host of angels showed up praising Yahweh and we knew it had to be true!”

The first one spoke up again and told the whole story, as they all gathered quietly around the feeding trough that Joseph had fixed up as a bed for Jesus. The shepherds knelt and bowed their heads. Mary spoke, assuring the men that they did believe them. She told them that they had both been visited by angels to prepare them for this miraculous birth.

“So, you’ve known all along?” asked the youngest of the shepherds. “I mean that your baby boy would be our Messiah?”

“Yes,” said Joseph. “He is Yahweh’s son, not mine. But I will love him and raise him as my own.”

Asa simply could not believe what he was witnessing. He had heard the prophecies as a child. He had longed for the coming of the Messiah like every other Jewish child for centuries. But he had begun to doubt it would happen – certainly not in his lifetime. He didn’t know what to make of what he was hearing, but it surely would not happen like this.

After a brief visit, the shepherds rose to leave and said their goodbyes. They left quietly, but once outside the stable, they got louder as they hustled away. From what Asa could hear, they were excitedly making plans to tell everyone about this night. He figured he had better watch and wait for a good time to slip away.

It didn’t take too long for the baby and his new parents to fall asleep. When Asa was sure of it, he quietly folded his blanket, gathered up his few belongings, and as quietly as possible, climbed down from his lofty bedchamber. He was good at sneaking in and out of places unnoticed and that skill served him well that night. He snuck a peek at the sleeping baby boy, shook his head, and quietly left the stable. Asa was wide awake, so he just kept walking. He walked all night, circumventing Jerusalem, and headed northeast. He had no plans as yet beyond distancing himself from Bethlehem and Jerusalem. He would eventually stop for some sleep and then continue on the next day.

*********

For the next thirty years, Asa Bar-Jonam continued his life of crime, running and hiding. He stole plenty, but never really seemed to have much money. Drinking and gambling accounted for most of it. He spent years traveling all over Israel, mostly Judea, taking advantage of people, robbing whomever he chose, and wasting it all on riotous living. He spent several years in prison – several short-term stays and once for three years. Asa never once considered changing his ways after a stay in prison. He no sooner got out, than he was right back into crime. It was all he had known since before he left home at eighteen.

He had just been released from another six months in prison near Jerusalem, when he began to hear talk about the Messiah again. He had heard almost nothing about him since that strange night in Bethlehem thirty years ago. Once a couple of years after that night, he heard something about the Messiah’s birth being the reason for Herod’s massacre of a bunch of babies in the Bethlehem area, but with the Herods, anything was possible! Even the current Herod had killed family members to protect his throne!

He vaguely remembered a small stir in Jerusalem about ten years or so after that. There was something about a twelve-year-old boy amazing the teachers in Jerusalem about the time of the Passover celebration. It seems he had gotten lost and separated from his family who later found him conversing freely over religious matters in the temple courtyard. Odd, but hardly messianic, Asa had thought at the time.

Otherwise, Judea, and all of Israel for that matter, had been pretty silent these past thirty or more years. Asa assumed that “special-birth” story hadn’t turned out to be anything after all. He couldn’t really explain what he heard and saw that night, but he couldn’t imagine it mattered much either.

But now, after all these years, talk had started up again. Roman rule had been in effect for many years now, but it seemed to be getting worse. The people were tired of the oppression. Asa thought the Messiah talk was mostly just wishful thinking, but the rumors were circulating. A man named Jesus from Nazareth was traveling around preaching about God’s kingdom. Some were saying he was performing miracles. Asa remembered that night long ago in Bethlehem – they had said that baby was the Messiah and they called him Jesus! No, it couldn’t be, Asa concluded.

He went about business as usual, dismissing the accounts. Life was what you made it. Get what you can, any way you can. You’ve got to take care of yourself because no one else will take care of you. You can’t count on some Messiah to come fix everything. It just couldn’t be.

But the stories continued. Asa heard more and more about this Jesus. Teaching, drawing followers, healing the sick, opposing the Pharisees. With every passing month and season, the accounts grew, and the message intensified, until finally they crossed paths.

One day, a couple of years after the Messiah had been proclaimed, though still doubted by many, Asa found himself at the Feast of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem at the same time as Jesus and his disciples. Asa liked crowds. Plenty of potential victims ripe for the plucking. Crowds provided anonymity. The festive atmosphere caused people to let down their guards. It was easy to rob someone and then get lost in the crowd. Getaways were easy, too.

Early one morning, Asa was meandering through the crowded street when a commotion arose. People shouted everyone’s attention to a side street that led to the temple complex. “Jesus!” they yelled. Asa stopped moving and watched as a man and his band of followers approached. Jesus walked into the temple complex, which quickly filled with people. He began to teach them about God’s kingdom.

Asa’s first thoughts were that this was a great opportunity. People were so intent on seeing and hearing this Jesus that Asa would have no trouble relieving several of their purses – pouches of gold and silver – just hanging there from their waistbands, waiting for him! The crowded conditions would cover the feelings – no one would notice when he cut away their pouch.

But before he could get started there was another commotion. The teacher was interrupted! The crowd parted as a small band of Pharisees and devoted followers paraded into the complex with a woman in tow. They led her forcefully to Jesus. The crowd grew deadly silent. Asa stood back to watch.

He listened as the spokesman for the Pharisees told Jesus and the crowd that the woman had been caught in the very act of adultery! The crowd made a collective gasp, but Asa focused on the reaction of Jesus. He did not flinch. His face did not betray his feelings one way or another. Asa noticed this Jesus to be about the right age to actually be the same Jesus he had watched be born so long ago.

The spokesman held up a hand to silence the crowd and addressed Jesus again. “The law says she should be put to death by stoning! But what do you say?” he asked. Asa had gotten pretty good at reading people and he felt that these rulers weren’t really interested in the woman or the law. They were out to trap Jesus.

If all he had heard these past couple of years was true, tensions had built between Jesus and his followers and the scribes and Pharisees. He had heard stories of trick questions and false accusations aimed at discrediting this new “rabbi.”

Asa listened for the answer to the Pharisee’s question. Instead, Jesus stooped down and started writing words in the dirt with his finger! Asa moved around and got a little closer. He wanted to see what Jesus was writing. Asa read “adulterer”, “liar”, and “love thy neighbor.”

Asa mulled over those words while the other Pharisees tried to continue the questioning. They were pressing Jesus for an answer. Asa thought it out. If Jesus agreed to the stoning, they would likely point out his lack of mercy and forgiveness. He would be to blame for the death of this “unfortunate” woman. If he demanded her release, he would be guilty of denying the law of God! Surely, he could not be from God and disobey the commandments!

Jesus stood and spoke up. “The one without sin among you should be the first one to throw a stone at her.” Asa had to stifle a laugh but could not hide his delight at that response. No one would dare stone this woman now and it would not be Jesus’s decision to stone her or release her!

But then Jesus stooped down again and wrote some more words. “Condemning”, “hateful”, “tax fraud” and more. In the silence, one by one, the Pharisees and scribes turned and walked away. Some who had held stones dropped them and slipped away quietly.

Asa was impressed. He wasn’t convinced the Messiah had come, but he was impressed with this man Jesus, who was still writing. The Pharisees were all gone. Jesus wrote one more word – “thief” and looked up, right at Asa. Asa felt the accusation. How could he know?!

Then Jesus turned to the woman. Motioning toward the vacant complex that had been her courtroom, he asked where her accusers were. Hadn’t anyone condemned her? She replied, “No one, Lord.”

Asa heard the word ‘Lord.’ Did she simply acknowledge him as her better or did she truly call him Lord? Who was this man? Then Jesus spoke to her again. “Neither do I condemn you – but go and sin no more.”

She bowed her head to Jesus, then lifted it back up as she walked away. Asa sensed that she felt forgiven and free. Jesus turned again and found Asa in his gaze. He nodded at Asa as if to say the same thing to him. Asa felt him say, “Go and sin no more,” but Asa was not convinced. Jesus moved on one way and Asa another. He had been moved, but not changed. Asa did not steal anything that day, but when he woke up the following morning, it was to business as usual.

Asa continued his wayward lifestyle. The special feast days provided plenty of prospects. He spent two days gathering his small fortune in the daytime and gambling and drinking most of it away in the evening. He seldom spent more than three days in one place. Eventually, word would get out about a rash of thefts and the Jewish leaders would appeal to the Romans. Asa had felt the wrath of the Roman soldiers more than once and had no desire to experience that again, so he moved on before they got involved.

One town was as good or bad as another to Asa. Feast days provided easier prey and more of them, but every town and village had markets and merchants. If you were smart enough, you could always find someone who could easily be relieved of their burden – money pouches, jewelry, or other goods.

********

Asa continued his business for nearly another year before his real trouble began. Pickings had gotten slim. People seemed to be getting more desperate due to high taxes. There was less wealth out there and most people kept better watch over what they had. Asa and others like him had to resort to more violent approaches to get their bounty. The Romans were getting more involved in keeping the peace. Beatings and jail time were becoming more prevalent.

Asa crossed paths with Jesus once more. He had pretty much done all he dared do in the town of Jericho and was about to head for Jerusalem, when he heard the announcement – Jesus was passing through town! “Why not?” Asa thought and decided to stay a little longer to see if there was anything new to this Messiah story. Besides, Jesus was always good for drawing a crowd, and crowds were easy pickings for a man with Asa’s talents.

He had learned before about a man named Zacchaeus. He was a tax collector. Wealthy and despised by most everyone. No one would even care if he was robbed – or worse! Tax collectors were Jews who made a living collaborating with the Romans in taxing their fellow Jews. They could keep whatever they could collect above what was due. Most were thieves themselves, just in a different way! Asa figured Zacchaeus would show up to see Jesus and he could rob him there.

The crowd walking along with Jesus grew with every step. Everyone wanted to see him, hear him teach, and perhaps witness a miracle. Asa didn’t care. This would be a good distraction to help him take some of Zacchaeus’ tax profits. Asa scanned the crowd – no sign of his quarry. He followed along with the crowd, hanging back enough to avoid contact with Jesus and still be able to see when Zacchaeus joined the festivity. Surely, he would come. And as for avoiding Jesus, well, Asa hadn’t forgotten that day in Jerusalem, when Jesus had written ‘thief’ in the dirt and stared knowingly at Asa.

Finally, there he was! Zacchaeus had come to see Jesus. Asa had made it a point to locate Zacchaeus before, so he would recognize him anywhere. And would know how and where he carried his money. Asa had three plans. His first was simply to cut loose Zacchaeus’ money bag while in the crowd and take off with whatever he could. The second, if the first didn’t work, was to lie in wait along the way back to his house and ambush Zacchaeus. If he didn’t go straight home after seeing Jesus, Asa would beat it back to Zacchaeus’ house and steal whatever he could while the man was gone.

Asa started to make his way up to Zacchaeus even as Zacchaeus tried to make his way through the crowd to Jesus. Zacchaeus was a short man. He couldn’t see over the crowd. He tried to worm his way through the crowd, but he was a despised man, and no one let him through.

His struggle and determination to see Jesus made it impossible for Asa to get a hold of Zacchaeus’ money bag. He got close, but the tax collector had to quickly form a new plan of action himself. He broke out from the crowd and sprinted ahead in the direction Jesus was leading the crowd.

Asa followed as closely as he dared. He couldn’t possibly have guessed what Zacchaeus would do next. He ran on ahead, cutting through town to arrive at a certain place along Jesus’ route. There was a Sycamore tree that spread out lowly over the road leaving Jericho. Jesus would soon pass by there.

Asa watched from behind shelter as Zacchaeus climbed up that tree. Once up in the tree, he scooted out on a limb that overhung the road. He would be able to see Jesus clearly. For once in his life, Zacchaeus would be able to see above the crowd! Asa decided he would have to wait for plan number two. He would wait and catch Zacchaeus afterwards on his way home.

Asa watched from a distance and Zacchaeus watched from his perch.  Jesus and the crowd made their way down the road and presently Jesus was right under the sycamore tree. He abruptly stopped and looked up. Zacchaeus got what he wanted – to see Jesus.  Jesus told Zacchaeus to come down. He added that he wanted to stay with Zacchaeus at his home. The self-righteous members of the crowd objected – Jesus consorting with a sinner like Zacchaeus! It wasn’t right.

Zacchaeus said that his meeting with Jesus had changed him! He would give half his goods to the poor! And if he had wronged anyone, he would repay him, but with four times as much! Asa couldn’t believe his ears. What had just happened? What kind of man was this Jesus?! Just one meeting and this Zacchaeus was a completely different person! Could this be real?

In any case, it had sure fouled up Asa’s plans. He couldn’t ambush the man on his way home now. Jesus, and likely a crowd, would be with Zacchaeus. And he couldn’t get there first in order to rob an empty house. Three good plans – all ruined! Asa headed away from Jericho toward Jerusalem. Passover was coming. Jerusalem would be swarming with people. Plenty of money.

********

After just three days in Jerusalem, Asa’s life was hanging in the balance. After he had arrived, he quickly looked over the city and formed a plan. The city was filling up in anticipation of the feast. The Passover was the biggest religious and social event of the year. Jews from all over Israel journeyed to the capital city for the annual sacrifice and observance of the Passover.

Asa knew all about the Passover. As a boy he had learned all about Moses and his ancestors who had been freed from slavery in Egypt when the Death Angel from Yahweh passed over the land. All the Israelites had been spared because they trusted their God and obeyed him by making a sacrifice and sprinkling its blood on their doorposts. They prepared a special meal and stayed inside that night as an Angel of Death passed across the land.

All who remained in a house “covered by the blood” would be spared. Anyone not doing so would experience a great loss – all the first-born sons would die! Naturally, the Egyptians did not obey, and every household suffered. The ruling Pharaoh agreed that all the Israelites should leave Egypt.

The Jews were supposed to offer this same sacrifice and eat a similar meal every year after that in remembrance of this Exodus. Asa’s family had observed Passovers as he grew up. He had not observed any since.

His only interests in Passover were the crowds and their money. As he scouted out the city on his first day in Jerusalem, he formulated a plan and even recruited a partner. Asa took charge and laid out the plan. His new partner would accost one of the travelers and start a fight. He was strong and experienced. He could take a beating if he needed to and give plenty back. His role was to create a distraction while Asa relieved the company of as much money or small goods as possible. Eventually, the partner would simply run away as if he was afraid and had given up. They would meet up later and split the rewards.

For two days, the pair plied their criminal trade around the city. They were careful to move around so as not to be recognized nor spotted afterwards. It all seemed so easy. But on the third day, they got caught!

The fight that was supposed to be a distraction got too serious. A knife was pulled. Asa’s partner had never resorted to that before, but this time he had to in order to defend himself. Someone ran for the authorities. Roman soldiers quickly responded. Asa tried to slip away with the goods while his partner was taken into custody. A crowd had followed the soldiers to the fight and one of them recognized Asa from the day before when his friends had been robbed.

The soldiers grabbed Asa, too, and took both men away. The magistrate took little time to sentence them both to a beating and jail time, while an investigation was started. He had heard similar stories and not just this week. Some witnesses were quickly found, and it was determined that these two thieves had both been involved in crimes and violence for years throughout Judea. Both had been in prison before and obviously had not learned any lessons.

The magistrate ruled that these two were far worse than just ordinary thieves. They had menaced all Judea for years. They were not only a threat to the personal wellbeing and property of the Jewish citizens, but such widespread criminal behavior was causing the Romans to threaten harsher treatment for all, in order to get things under control. The result was a sentence of death!

Asa’s partner cursed and tried to escape but was knocked down and almost unconscious. Asa did not react at all. He knew all along that this day would come sooner or later. Now it had. He went along quietly to his cell. The actual date for the crucifixion had not yet been set.

*******

Two days later was the first day of the week and Asa was aroused by a great commotion outside his cell. He couldn’t see, but he could hear it. Something was getting the populace excited. It sounded like somebody special was coming to town. He couldn’t hear enough to find out who.

The guards came in with something they called food. Asa couldn’t recognize it, but he tried to eat it anyway. It was awful, but it helped take the empty feeling away from the pit of his stomach. He asked the guards about the commotion outside. One of them said it was some sort of unofficial procession. A man called Jesus had ridden into the city on a donkey and his followers had walked along side of him, shouting his praises! The other guard added that a crowd quickly sprang up and things started to get out of hand. The people were shouting about him being some kind of king and the Pharisees demanded that he stop them.

“Did he?” Asa asked.

“Not really,” the first guard said. “I heard someone say he told the Pharisees that if the people stopped shouting, the rocks and trees would cry out!” The guards laughed but Asa half expected a response like that. He asked the guards if they would tell him if they heard any more about this man this week. One said he would.

The next day the guard told Asa a story about Jesus making a whip and chasing people out of the temple! He accused them of abusing the people for profit. He said the temple was supposed to be “his father’s house of prayer.’ Asa wondered about Jesus saying, “his father’s house.” He recalled the words of Joseph that night in Bethlehem when Asa had watched him deliver the baby boy. Joseph had told the shepherds that the baby was God’s son, not his, but that he would love him and raise him. Asa tried to recall his lessons from childhood about the Messiah. He didn’t remember much, but he did remember the teacher saying that the Messiah would be Yahweh’s son.

Simply put, Asa was having a hard time believing. He had invested so much time and energy in not believing! He asked the guard to please keep him informed should there be further news about this Jesus.

*******

There was no news for the next few days. Asa pressed the guard for any news, anything at all. He had become almost obsessed with finding out more about Jesus. The guard said he had not heard of any more encounters, but he had heard a rumor or two. Asa asked for more. The guard explained rumors of plots to kill this Jesus. Not among the Romans, but among the Jews, especially the Pharisees.

As Asa probed for more information, the guard said he had heard whispers about an inside job – a traitor among the followers. He added that nothing would likely be done right away, at least not during the feast. Asa pondered it all. He racked his brain for memories about his knowledge of the Messiah. He didn’t question the concept of a Messiah and had always thought, well, maybe someday he would come.

His struggle was in believing it had happened right in front of him! Would the Messiah really be born in a stable in Bethlehem? With shepherds, and maybe a thief, being the only witnesses?! Would scribes and Pharisees, teachers of the law and the prophets, reject him? Much less, plot to kill him?! It didn’t make sense. But the evidence…

He needed to know more. The next day he learned it. The guard seemed almost excited to bring Asa the latest news. Jesus had been arrested late in the night. Asa stood rapt by the soldier’s story. Soaking it in. The guard told him about Jesus being betrayed by one called Judas, one of his own followers, for money. The Jews’ temple guards had led a mob to the Garden of Gethsemane and had taken Jesus into custody.

Asa interrupted, asking about a fight, or any resistance. He knew he would have fought! The guard said he heard that one man started to fight, even cut off a servant’s ear, but Jesus made him stop.

“Stop?!” asked Asa in disbelief.

“Yes,” the guard said, then added, “and the talk is that this Jesus actually healed the man’s ear!

“He healed others – why not, I guess,” said Asa. “Go on, what happened?”

The guard told Asa that Jesus surrendered peacefully and was taken off to stand trial. The way he had heard it this morning, they moved him around from one official to the next and back again. He was currently standing in front of Pontius Pilate himself!

“What charges?!” asked Asa. “What are they trying to convict him of?”

“I heard blasphemy,” replied the guard. “They say he is claiming to be a god!”

“The Son of God,” said Asa, almost under his breath.

“That’s all I know for now,” the guard said. “I would think one way or another, this man’s fate will soon be decided. Pilate won’t want to deal with this very long and the Pharisees seem determined.”

Asa pleaded with the guard to get an update. He had to know. He didn’t say it aloud, but he had to know if Jesus could really be the Messiah. The guard said he would try to find out more and started to walk away. Another soldier met him and after a brief discussion, the guard returned to Asa’s cell.

“It may not matter now,” the guard said. “I’m afraid I have bad news for you and your partner.”

Asa simply asked, “When?”

“This afternoon.”

Asa bowed his head. The guard said they would come get them shortly before midday and escort them to a hill outside of the city. There, they would crucify them both. Asa looked up and actually thanked the guard for his information.

*******

A few hours later, the guards came and took Asa and the other thief from their cells. Just outside the prison, they were handed off to the soldiers who would escort them to the Place of the Skull. They would be hung upon crosses to die an ignominious death.

A large crowd had already assembled, and more people were coming. Soldiers lifted large wooden crossbeams onto Asa’s and his partner’s shoulders, forcing them to carry their own means of death to the hill. He wondered what all the commotion was about. Surely this large crowd and the shouting he heard coming from another gathering crowd could not be about two thieves being crucified. It happened quite often these days.

Some of the oncoming crowd were yelling, “Crucify him!” Asa turned and watched as the crowd around him parted. More soldiers arrived, pushing and prodding another prisoner. He, too, was carrying a crossbeam on bloody shoulders. The man could barely stumble along. The cruel soldiers shouted at him and hit him with the shafts of their spears. The man looked as if he had been beaten and whipped half to death. Asa wondered what he could possibly have been guilty of to have received such treatment. The man raised his head at last as a surge of strength propelled him to continue his death-march.

His face was bruised and swollen and bloody. Sweat and blood had soaked his hair. Someone had fashioned a sort of crown of thorns and pressed it on his head. His eyes fixed on Asa. Asa had to strain to recognize that face, but oh, those eyes! It was Jesus!

“What has he done?” Asa asked his guard.

“Who cares?” replied the soldier.

Another said, “The Jewish leaders demanded he be crucified. Said he is claiming to be their God, stirring up people against Caesar!”

Asa could hardly believe what he was seeing and hearing. This man was innocent. He did not deserve this. Asa wasn’t quite sure the Messiah would be treated this way, so, maybe Jesus isn’t him. But he did not deserve this!

The soldiers prodded the men onward. The crowd jeered and mocked. Asa was a strong man and had only been beaten a little, yet the crossbeam made the long march difficult. Jesus stumbled and fell. The crowd shouted angrily at him. The soldiers jerked him to his feet and prodded him to continue. Asa had been mean and rotten almost his entire life. He had fought and even beaten some innocent victims in order to rob them and get away. But even he had never seen such brutality.

Asa stopped. Jesus had fallen again. He had carried his own cross about as far as any man in his condition could possibly do. The soldiers compelled a man from the crowd to carry Jesus’ burden the rest of the way.

*******

As the three men hung in open shame upon their crosses that afternoon, Asa remembered his life. What a waste! Selfish, angry, even brutal. Caring for no one but himself, he had cheated and robbed others of what they had earned and saved. He wasted it all and had nothing to show for more than fifty years of living. He had been given several chances to make a fresh start, but he would never get another. He was sorry now, but it was too late.

His partner, on the other hand, seemed only angry. Jesus, hanging between the two thieves, still seemed focused and guided by a purpose. He was beaten and wounded beyond all reason, far worse than either thief, yet there was something more there. Asa was trying to process it.

He struggled for breath and even life itself but watched and listened. The crowd taunted and mocked Jesus. Asa marveled at Jesus’ response to the horrible treatment. Betrayed, deserted, arrested, falsely accused, wrongly convicted, beaten, whipped, mocked, and nailed to a cross! His response? “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Asa’s heart broke with final recognition. Somehow, he was suddenly sure. His questions – all answered. This is the Messiah. This Jesus was the baby boy he had seen born in Bethlehem thirty-three years ago. This Jesus was indeed God’s Son, not Joseph’s, and had come to save his people. He was the prophesied Messiah, sent from God to open the eyes of the blind, set the captives free, and heal the broken-hearted! And he had just asked God the Father to forgive them all. Forgive their mockery, their brutality, their rejection, their indifference. Forgive their pride and selfish ambition. Forgive their ignorance. But could he forgive Asa?!

Asa feared he had come to his senses too late. The other thief joined in with the mockery of the crowd. “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself – and us!”

Asa looked past Jesus to his former partner and rebuked him. “Don’t you even fear God? You’re dying on a cross, too! We deserve what we’re getting – but this man? He has done nothing wrong.”

Asa then turned his attention to Jesus. Their eyes locked onto each other as they had that day in the temple complex when Jesus had picked Asa out of the crowd and looked into his very soul. “Jesus,” Asa said, “remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Asa knew it sounded strange. His thief partner likely thought he was crazy. They were all about to die! What kingdom? How would this Jesus or any dying man hope for a kingdom? If there was any hope at all for life after death, how dare a man like Asa hope for forgiveness and restoration? Yet somehow, Asa believed in him. And believing in the Messiah meant hope and forgiveness! So, he had asked, and he hoped.

Looking into Asa’s eyes, Jesus must have seen the sincerity, the faith, the repentance. Asa called him by name – Jesus – Savior. Asa said when you come into your Kingdom. Not if, but when! That was faith. That was recognition of who Jesus is! Remember me – that was hope for mercy and grace. Jesus responded to Asa’s request. “I assure you,” he said, “today you will be with me in paradise.”

With that declaration of forgiveness and acceptance and promise of hope for eternal bliss, darkness came upon the earth. Asa didn’t care. In fact, it gave him peace of mind. It gave confirmation that this was God’s Son. It gave a covering for their shame and punishment. It even told him that his sins had just been blacked out. Death would come soon now, but only for the bodies.

Asa held on to his three-fold promise from Jesus – today – with Jesus – in paradise!

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The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth – Finally!

I had some fun with the posts about the Crayola virus and my “mission” to the hospital to see what some mysterious “patients” were really up to.  I mixed a little truth with the nonsense to keep my family, church members, and friends informed on my health condition.  You see, I really did have a problem and had to go to the hospital.

I woke up early that Thursday – around 2:30 a.m. – and was experiencing sharp pains all around my torso.  It subsided pretty quickly and since I have lots of back pain, I dismissed it, noting though that it was a different kind of pain.  In a short while, the pain returned and went away quickly again.  When it happened a third time within about an hour and half of the first time, I also noticed that I could feel the pain start up and build, then fade away.  That was not like any muscle pain I’ve experienced before.

I checked my blood pressure and it was very high.  I checked it a couple more times over the next twenty minutes or so.  The pain didn’t return, but the BP stayed high.  I woke up my wife and told her what had been going on.  She got dressed and said we should go to the hospital.  (for those who do not know, I had a triple bypass four years ago, but had done well ever since – except for the back pains).  I stalled.  We both checked our blood pressures to test the machine and make sure it was working properly.  It apparently was, but my pressure had come down to nearly normal and the pain had not returned.  Naturally, I went back to bed and went to sleep.

I woke up a few hours later, had breakfast, and began to work on sermon material downstairs, while my wife did whatever she does upstairs.  I checked my BP and texted her that it was normal and still no pain.  Less than thirty minutes later, I felt the pain start to rise up in me again and I quickly checked the BP again.  It was spiking.  I texted her back and she hollered down for me to come up and we’d go to the hospital!  Which we did.

They ran some tests and contacted my cardiologist.  Though their tests did not reveal anything wrong and the pain had not returned, my doctor wanted me sent to the hospital in Springfield, IL where he works.  I went by ambulance a little while later and was admitted.  They began to run all kinds of tests and other than one called troponin, everything was coming back as fine.  The troponin went up, though, which apparently is not a good sign.

On Friday, I was set to take a stress test.  I had done the prep work and the first part and was about to start the treadmill or nuclear part.  They were planning on the nuclear type test.  I asked about the troponin as I had heard the nurses say it had gone up yet again and was pretty high.  They decided to do a heart catherization instead of the stress test.  It hadn’t been planned nor scheduled, so I had to wait my turn.  I had already been on a fast for the stress test and now it had to be extended.

Late Friday afternoon, I had the heart cath and it was determined that one of my bypasses had failed and I needed two stents.  The procedure went fine, but the recovery was terribly painful.  Seven plus hours of misery!  Shortly after midnight, though, I got better, ate some food, and got some sleep.  I went home Saturday and rested just fine for the next couple of days.

As I was preparing for re-entry into my ministerial duties, we were learning quickly about the onslaught of the Coronavirus!  We heard the mandate that gatherings be limited to ten people or less in an attempt to control the spread of this unknown disease, so we called off church services for the next two weeks.  Later, we extended our church-gatherings hiatus indefinitely and I personally have been “shut in” a week longer that the rest!

We have recorded sermons for YouTube and put together some online daily devotions.  We call, text, and email each other to check on all our church folks and so far all are behaving and doing well.  God is good!

 

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My Grandfather’s Clock – Mystery Solved!

I think I’ve solved it! No, not the coronavirus, that’s a real thing. No, not even my Crayola virus – I made that up. What then? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Remember the old folk song we sang as kids – “My Grandfather’s Clock?” My granddaughter likes to play it on the piano when she’s around. Well, it got me to thinking. We’ve always assumed that when the old man died, the clock stopped ticking. It’s in the lyrics, but there is room for another scenario.

The lyrics could be interpreted that the old man was already dead as the family stood by his side and the clock had already stopped, too, after it sounded its alarm. So, I began to wonder – did the clock stop when the old man died or did the old man die when the clock stopped!?

And if the alarm sounded with the clock’s final tick, perhaps, since it was in the dead of night, it scared the old man to death! So, if the alarm sounding and the clock stopping caused the man’s death, what caused that to happen? Was it just a coincidence? I don’t think so.

Oh, I know most of you don’t think like this. Most of you don’t care. You just blindly follow time and traditions, never questioning, never seeking answers. You are sheep and Little Bo Peep doesn’t have to worry if you get lost, because sooner or later, you’ll come home, wagging your tails behind you. You don’t even wonder why the sheep’s in the meadow and the cow’s in the corn! OR why anyone would trust their care to a little blue boy who would fall asleep in the hay and let them go astray!

But I digress. I wonder things. So, I wonder about that clock and the old man. And I think I have it. I cannot prove it, but I think I’m right. See what you think.

The family bought the clock when the old man was born – no, not as an old man! A baby was born and grew up to be the old man – stay with me here! For the next 90 years, the child, youth, young adult, old man wound the clock every week, and the two ticked on together, so to speak. But the man was getting old.

Across the field from his house there lived a “Farmer in the Dell.” The farmer took a wife and so on. Eventually, a mouse came into the farmer’s house after the wife’s cheese. Now, we all know mice don’t work alone. If there is one mouse, there are more!

I believe there were at least three more – three blind mice, three blind mice. They all ran after the farmer’s wife, who cut off their tails with a carving knife.  –  Yes, she did! But they got away.

These three blind, tailless rodents ran out into the dell and ran in the direction of the grandfather’s house. They blindly found their way inside. It was nighttime, but they were blind, so they didn’t know. In fact, it was just before 1:00 in the morning and the old man was asleep.

Well, one of the mice bumped into the grandfather clock and ran up it! Hickory, dickory, dock! The clock struck one, the mouse ran down, and according to my theory, the clock, for the first time in memory, set off its alarm and then stopped ticking.

The alarm startled the old man whose ticker wasn’t too strong either and he died of a heart attack! The family awoke and stood by his side, saying their last goodbyes to a grand ol’ gentleman who died in his sleep at 90 years old.

So, unwittingly, the Farmer in the Dell’s wife set off a chain of events when she left that cheese out to stand alone and attract mice. She chopped off their tails, which sent them blindly into the night and one of them eventually, inadvertently set off the clock whose alarm scared the old man to death! That’s how I think it all happened. Scoff if you must, but I believe it.

Unless — she trained the mice to climb the clock and the whole thing was a dastardly plot to murder the old-timer! But what would have been her motive? Humm…. I wonder…

 

For more “deep” reading, if you haven’t already, read these…

Crayola Virus               More Crayola                  Closed Caption Confusion

Too Much TV?              Too Much More of TV!

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Filed under Fairy Tale? You decide!, Fiction, Personal Thoughts

Too Much More of TV!

I’ve received several requests, but I’m going to offer some more advice anyway! In particular, I mean about TV being the wrong source of entertainment during this stressful time of quarantine. Naturally, I am immune to its influence. I don’t want to be Branded as a fanatic, but I just have to speak to this some more – this social distancing thing shouldn’t be that hard to get. You don’t have to Run for Your Life. You don’t even have to make a Quantum Leap to get away from others, just stay 6 feet apart. It’s the right thing to do, so Get Smart!

It’s not that difficult either. Don’t wander around out in public like an aimless Maverick. Stay inside! You can still have Good Times. Everyone in your household can help, even if you have a Full House. Just don’t invite over your Friends until this thing is over – make sure to keep your germs All in the Family. You don’t want to inadvertently infect people who might be Perfect Strangers.

If you must go out, remember the advice we got when us older folks were little – you know, about cooties and such – and “Don’t touch That Girl!” As for shopping, if you’re not going to buy those particular groceries, leave them alone. They are The Untouchables!

You can do this people! This is not Mission Impossible. In fact, The Name of the Game is common sense! Listen to the authorities – after all, Who’s the Boss? Just take it One Day at a Time. I’m sure this will all be over soon and we can have a great big Shindig! Meanwhile, just remember “Who loves ya, baby.”  And don’t watch too much TV!

Too Much TV?

Crayola Virus

More Crayola

Closed Caption Confusion

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