A Walk With Saul

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(An original joke by Steven G. O’Dell Oct 12, 2013)

I was walking with my friend Saul one day when he said there was someone he wanted me to meet. I asked how far it was and he said, “Just a short way down the road.” (Funny how a short way down the road becomes a few miles, all uphill.) Anyway, I ask him about the man and he says the fellow is Chinese and is the president of the local Sino-American league. He also told me the fellow was prone to drinking and always had a bottle of wine on his desk, from which he drank directly.

“Now, I should warn you he is an albino, so try not to stare, okay?” I answered in the affirmative and we walked on, or should I say up?

“He calls himself a Republican, but it’s in name only, so try not to get into a discussion of politics with him,” Saul advised. I answered in the affirmative.

“Oh, he is 97 years old, too; a real dinosaur,” Saul told me. I was beginning to be intrigued.

As we walked, Saul told me the man had been a gynecologist for many years before retiring. My head was beginning to swim.

“Oh, and he is over eight feet tall! Really Gi-normous!”

That did it. It was all beginning to sound contrived. I stopped to catch my breath and then asked Saul, “Just why do you want me to meet this man?”

Incredulous, Saul nearly exploded, “Are you serious?!! Are you kidding me?!! Where else are you gonna meet a Sino wino albino RINO dino gyno so Gi-no?!!!!!”

That’s when I turned around and it was all downhill from there, strange as that may seem.

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Lamb And Lyon

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The following story is fictitious, but based upon the preaching and conversion successes of the Elders who were sent to England and Wales in the early days of the church. Today there are similar movings of the Spirit that are reaping rewards equally great.

Lamb and Lyon

“…and the lion shall lie down with the lamb….”

The year was 1893. The place was England. The debate is endless.

“Brother Lamb….”

Elder Charles Lamb looked up from his desk. The voice was that of Brother James Lyon, also an Elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

“Oh, hello. I didn’t hear you come in.”

“So I noticed. Deep in thought.”

“Yes, I suppose so. What brings you here?”

James Lyon smiled as if at a private joke. “A challenge. A personal challenge.”

Charles grinned in return. “Alright, you have my attention.”

“Good, because this challenge concerns you, as well.”

Eyebrows raised, Charles’ mouth dropped open a bit. He knew his friend could be a scamp at times and couldn’t help but wonder what he’d gotten into, while dragging him along for the ride. He sighed deeply and closed his eyes. The challenge had come from the Pastor of St. John’s Church. It seems he had a personal vendetta against the ‘Mormons’ and he couldn’t let it go, having accosted James on the street and claiming he could defeat him in a debate. He made it clear the offer stood open at any time and that his pulpit would be open to any response James cared to offer. It was also implied, in a condescending manner, that a real man would take up such a challenge.

“So, I would like to accept that challenge and I want you to accompany me.”

“And by ‘accompany’, you mean that I should take part in the debate?”

“What would a ‘real man’ do?” He grinned widely and patted Charles on the shoulder.

“Alright. Not that I appreciate you drafting me into your service….”

“Not my service, Charles. The Lord’s service.” His expression grew serious, but was kind.

“You’re right. My apologies. I did take a vow to defend the faith.”

“Good man.”

The day came for the meet at St. John’s. Elders Lamb and Lyon had fasted and prayed in preparation for the day and covenanted with the Lord to speak His will and word, as led by the Spirit to do. They had prayed for the men and women who would attend, desiring that their hearts would be softened and their thoughts made clear. They had prayed that their own spirits would be in tune with the Holy Ghost. They had prayed to be led to the verses they would need to confound the Lord’s enemies and to convince the deluded of the truth of their words. In short, they had prepared in every way they possibly could. All that was left was to be reliant upon the Lord to bring all things to their minds in the hour of need.

The Pastor of St. John’s stood and faced his congregation, raising his hands to get their attention and calm the chatter. When all had quieted sufficiently, he proceeded.

“Good people of St. John’s Church, I welcome you on this special day. It is always good to meet to worship the Lord, but on this day we have the opportunity to expound upon his word. We have with us today a gentleman whom I have invited to defend his beliefs in the ‘Mormon church.’ May I introduce you to ‘Elder’ James Lyon, who has seen fit to bring with him either reinforcements or a bodyguard. I know not which it may be.”

The Pastor snickered and was joined in laughter by many in his congregation.

“You may know that these men claim that an angel came from Heaven and appeared to a young farm boy in America, whereupon the ancient church was ‘restored’, as it were. They claim that Christ’s church was lost from the earth long ago and that none of the modern churches have claim to being legitimate.”

Again came the laughter, which the Pastor made no effort to calm.

“They also claim that this young farm boy received a golden Bible and translated it, being that it is supposedly new revelation from God. After that came many more visitations from apparent angels, lending credence to this boy’s station as a prophet of God.”

There were not so many chuckles this time, but had been replaced with glares of disgust, aimed at Elders Lamb and Lyon, who offered silent prayers to the Lord for guidance.

“Further, we are to believe that their church is the only path to salvation, that our baptisms are illegitimate, that our authority is null and void, that none of our ordinances are recognized by God.”

The stares from the congregation now bore a resemblance to either incredulous disbelief or true hatred. James Lyon simply took notes. The Pastor was doing his utmost to ensure that nothing the Elders would say would be heard by the congregation. When he finally turned time over for response, Elder Lamb wondered if he should simply excuse himself and leave. He turned to look to his friend for reassurance and Elder Lyon smiled confidently, then leaned over and whispered in his ear. Then Elder Lamb stood and walked to the podium, looking quietly out over the congregation for a long moment before speaking.

“My friends…my brothers and sisters in Christ…my companion and I wish to thank you for allowing us to visit your congregation today. I am Elder Charles Lamb and this is Elder James Lyon, who was invited by your good Pastor to explain our beliefs to his congregation. I have been asked to accompany him, because, as you are surely aware, the Lord himself has set the guideline that all things must be established in the mouths of two or more witnesses. And he has also stated that the spirit of contention is not of him. Therefore, with your permission, to alleviate any concerns that we are here to contend and cause dissension, please allow me to pray for the Spirit of the Lord to be amongst us.”

He then bowed his head without further delay, not waiting for acknowledgment or for the surprise to pass.

“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be thy name. Great are thy works, oh Lord, and endless thy mercy. We ask humbly that thy Spirit be with us in this meeting and that our hearts and minds be opened to thy word and thy will. We ask that thy Spirit enlighten our minds and soften our hearts, that we may be in tune with thee always. Let us set aside our preconceived notions, our biases and opinions, leaning only to thee for truth. And may thy blessings be poured out in rich abundance upon the humble amongst us. In the name of Jesus Christ, thy Son and our redeemer. Amen.”

The change in spirit amongst the congregation was markedly different from a few moments before. Some were confused, some were humbled and the Pastor appeared to be disarmed for the moment.

“A number of claims have been made regarding us and our beliefs, as you know. Some are true and some have been distorted, whether through repetition or intentionally. We simply wish to clarify and establish truth, letting you good people decide for yourselves after. It is between you and God what you do with the information.

“I wish to establish from the scriptures…the Bible, which we share a belief in…that Christ knew his church would not remain untouched, unscathed and permanently upon the earth. He warned of such when he said that grievous wolves would enter in, not sparing the flock. He warned through the Apostle John that the written record should not be altered, seemingly predicting that men would do exactly that. He said that false prophets would come and that there would even be false Messiahs. Is this to mean that there would be no prophets after his time, ever again? To determine that, we need to turn to his words through his chosen. We are told that his church was built upon a foundation of Apostles and prophets…seers, revelators…and would be so until we came together in a unity of the faith. I ask you simply, has that day yet come when we are united in faith as regards our scriptures, our Lord and our faith? Has history shown us, in nearly two thousand years, that man can agree upon even the Prince of Peace and his word? Or did the Lord foresee the need to again send prophets in a day when men would not only disagree regarding his doctrines, but on the very divinity of Christ himself in some instances?”

The Pastor was visibly uncomfortable now, aware that he had already lost control of his rapt congregation and that a pacifying spirit now reigned over them. He tugged at his collar as Elder Lamb continued softly.

“As Christians, we in the modern world often make the mistake of thinking we are too sophisticated to believe any longer in the miracles of ancient times. Is that why we no longer have miracles amongst us? Did not Christ say that even he, the greatest amongst them, could do no miracles where there was no faith? God will not force miracles upon anyone. He is too much the gentleman. Signs do not make for lasting conversion. Conversion comes only from the witness of the Holy Ghost to our souls. Each and every one of us has been given the promise that we can know the truth for ourselves, leaving no doubt whatsoever. We no longer need to take the word of men, accepting their interpretations and opinions as to the truth. We have the sure witness of the Spirit of God to teach us. May I quote from James.

“‘If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God.’ I think that is fairly clear, don’t you?”

Heads were nodding in agreement. Eyes were glued to the speaker.

“He further states that we are to ask in faith, nothing wavering, and that he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea, tossed about with every wind of doctrine and shall receive no answer. As adults, we like to think we are rational and perceptive, able to think things out on our own. But God has clearly stated that we are to ask him. We are to be as children. Why does he say we should be as children? Because children do not doubt and waver. They take God at his word. Samuel, the boy prophet, did so. David, the boy prophet, did so. Jesus, as a boy, did so. He grew in wisdom, knowing what his Father would have him do, because he asked and received. Can you imagine what it feels like to have God tell you personally what His will for you might be? If there are no miracles amongst us, it is we who have failed, not the Lord. God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. And he is not the author of confusion.”

There were tears in the congregation now and some were wiping their eyes and sniffling. Even the Pastor seemed more serene now.

“David, Samuel and Christ were by no means the only young men who trusted God to keep his word and answer their pleas for wisdom. As you have been told, a young American farm boy also put to the test the very words of James. He did not doubt he would get an answer. He knew that God alone could settle the questions he had in his mind, for he saw that the several churches could no longer agree on doctrines or even the nature of God. There was only one solution to his problem, if he were to ever know the truth, and that would be to go to the source and ask his Father in Heaven for the truth of the matter.

“The young Joseph Smith did just that, kneeling in private in a grove of trees and implored his Father in Heaven to impart knowledge to him. What he received in answer to his prayers exceeded his wildest expectations. For thousands of years, men had debated the nature of God. They argued over it and accused one another of the meanest of things. They abandoned their very Christianity in many instances, all the while proclaiming their acts to be in the service of God. Those in the days of young Joseph Smith did not stop even from attempting to take his life, thinking themselves to be doing God a favor by their murderous acts. All the while they labeled him a non-Christian, a cult leader and worse, they themselves were acting in the most unseemly and un-Christian-like manner.

“What young Joseph proclaimed, along with the Apostle Paul, was. ‘He, whom ye ignorantly worship, declare I unto you!’ To the various creeds and sects of so-called Christianity, young Joseph proclaimed that not only did God and Jesus Christ exist, but that he had seen them, that they had spoken to him and that they keep their promises to mankind. He witnessed that God is still a God of miracles, to those who believe. He affirmed, along with the prophet Stephen of old, that God sits in the Heavens and that his Son, Jesus Christ, is a separate and distinct being and that Holy Ghost is a third personage, of spirit and not of flesh.

“These were claims that any one of them could have substantiated for himself, by the same methods God laid out to be followed. To ask for wisdom, believing God would answer and give it to man. Sadly, relatively few would put it to the test, but leaned unto their own understanding. The ministers of the day, those who were to feed and defend the flock, chose instead to persecute the young boy. These scholars, these wise men whom God had warned would be confounded by the unlearned, chose to ignore the God of miracles and attempt to silence His chosen prophet, just as their predecessors in ancient times had done.

“This boy, too, grew in wisdom and stature. And in persecution. But he also learned more each day to trust his Father, the God who had created him. He received the visitation of angelic messengers to restore keys of authority in his dispensation, just as Christ himself had received from their hands on the Mount of Transfiguration. He healed the sick, via the restored priesthood, just as the ancient Saints and Christ had done. He received revelation and new scriptures, writings which attested to the truth of the earlier Jewish scriptures, which modern man was beginning to doubt, labeling them to be a mixture of fable, legend and allegory. He proclaimed that there had been a remnant of the house of Israel that had been preserved, just as promised by God, and that they had kept and buried records to be found in our day — that indeed truth would spring from the earth and that the Stick of Judah, the Bible, would be one in his hand with the Stick of Joseph and his remnant.

“As with ancient prophets, he sealed with his blood all that he has attested to, witnessing that he proclaimed it to the end, even under threat of death, which he endured and suffered to be. Those who claimed to be good men of faith are among those who persecuted him relentlessly and sought to take his life by violence. His witness stands for all time, sealed with his own blood, which will cry out from the ground to the Lord God. Testimonies sealed with blood, just as the ancient prophets had suffered.

“I bear you my own witness that I know these things to be true, having tested the words of James, not leaving to chance my own salvation to the whims of men and their opinions. I have received the witness of the Holy Ghost that the things I have told you are true — that and much more. Marvelous things to lift the hearts and spirits of the faithful. I bear you witness that you can receive that same testimony of the truth, as I have, as my friend has, as countless others have. Only you can say what you will do with the opportunity. I beg of you not to waste it in doubt and denial. In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

At this point, Elder James Lyon stood and took the podium. He smiled as he looked out over the faces that waited expectantly and without enmity.

“My friends, my brothers and sisters, we are all children of the same God, are we not? He has said that Adam was his son. We, as descendants of Adam, that first man, and of Eve, his wife, are also of divine lineage. Reason alone would tell us so, but God has not left that to the reason of man, but has instead told us the sure means by which we might know the truth of all things. He has said, regarding his newly revealed word in our own day,

“‘Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.’

“The very same guidance given to and through James, the Apostle, was given to the escaped ancient remnant of Israel that God led to the American continent anciently. That exhortation has now been passed to us. Will we ask God, the Eternal Father, whether there be a restored church in the latter days, in the ‘times of refreshing’ the Lord spoke of? Will we ask Him if the ancient priesthood has been restored, allowing men to act in the name of God by the laying on of hands, with a direct and traceable lineage to those of old, and not just through a document given by a school of divinity?”

The Pastor winced visibly at this, but kept his peace as several shot questioning glances toward him.

“Will we lean unto our own understandings or to the God who created us, trusting that His arm is not shortened or his power diminished? Will we put our souls in jeopardy by choosing to disregard, disbelieve and dismiss His chosen prophets? Or will we humble ourselves and hear His word and will for us, proving the truth of these claims by the prescribed method that has always been God’s way for mankind? Will you humble yourselves and see that God is still a God of miracles today? That He keeps his promises of old and still takes interest in the fate of His children?

“I bear witness, with Elder Lamb, that what you have been told is true and that you can know for yourselves the truth of it, by the direct witness of the Holy Ghost. You can have your own witness, not relying on any other for the truth. Is this not what Peter did, gaining the sure knowledge that Jesus was the promised Messiah? Is revelation not the ‘rock’ that is sure and stable, not blown about by the winds of changing doctrine? Peter did not rely on man to tell him this, but his Father in Heaven told him so. Is this not preferable to speculation, to blindly trusting men or their interpretations? Is this not God’s way from the start and forever?

“And now, the next step lies with you; with each of you individually. Your relationship with God is personal. The responsibility lies with you to advance or retreat in that relationship. It can grow and blossom or you can let it whither and die. Which will you choose? Look to God and live, my brothers and sisters. Look to God and live. In Christs Jesus’ most precious name, Amen.”

When Elder Lyon sat down, there was complete silence for a time. No one moved a muscle. Now and then, a sniffle could be sensed, more than heard. Heads were down in prayer and reflection, eyes were closed, hands clasped together or over mouths and faces to isolate their owners from their surroundings and to mask tears and stifle sobs. Souls were turned to God for the first time in life, in many instances. And then the real sobbing began. Softly, at first, then louder, as others were swept away in the emotion. The Spirit of God began to be poured out in great abundance upon the assembled. Hands were raised to the heavens, shouts of ‘praise God’ and ‘hallelujah’ rang out. Some cried out, ‘thank you’ to the two Elders. The Pastor quietly got up and left the room, accompanied by a few still faithful, willingly deluded followers.

As Elders Lamb and Lyon stepped down from the podium, throngs of people surrounded them to shake their hands, to ask where they might learn more, to seek clarity in scriptures they had never before understood. Many were already convinced and sought baptism under the true and restored priesthood of God. All had felt the power of God in the words that had been spoken; even those unwilling as yet to obey.

The next Sunday meeting at the small building attended by members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it was much more full than usual, many new and eager faces welcomed warmly into the fold. Elders Lamb and Lyon had together spoken the word of the Lord, witnessed to the truth, had fulfilled their duties and obligations to God and their fellow man. There would be peace now and long-needed answers in the hearts of more children of Heavenly Father. A new generation of believers was being born…and born again.

(C) Steven G. O’Dell 2011

The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever

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Dec. 24, 2009 — While saying my prayers last night, I reflected on how I needed to write a Christmas-oriented story for the collection of short stories I am currently writing. The answer, a gift to me, and now to you, came in a flash of insight. “Why not share your own conversion story and the best winter and best Christmas present you ever had?” I knew instantly that was the right answer. There are a few liberties with details, like the meeting with a stranger at the bus stop and the locale being in Michigan, but the rest of the story, regarding my friend Daniel and myself, is completely accurate, and even more amazing than the few details I shared here. The writing was done in one morning, this morning. God is amazing, isn’t He? Here is His, and my, Christmas gift to you, before it comes out in the book The Visitor.

The Greatest Christmas Gift Ever

“Greater love hath no man than this….”

‘I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.’

Those were the words the old man used. A few years have passed since he and I sat and talked, but I now understand the words and the look in his eye as he spoke.

It was a day about like any other winter day in our area – cold, windy and generally miserable. I wouldn’t even have been out in it, had it not been necessary to get a last minute Christmas gift. The last thing I wanted was to die of exposure to the weather in a Michigan winter. And yet, here I was, sitting at a bus stop in the frigid, unfriendly conditions that any sane individual would be avoiding like the plague. That’s when he approached and sat on the bench next to me. He was of average height, weight and appearance, but there was a sense of happiness that was disarming in a strange way.

“Hello, young man, how are you this fine day?”

He offered his hand, wrapped as it was in glove. A bit surprised, I offered mine in return before I had even processed the thought.

“As good as anyone can be on such a nasty day, I guess.” I went back to looking for the bus and wondering if I would need to be thawed before I could get on it.

“Nasty? No, sir. It’s a wonderful day to be alive. Any day this side of dirt is a good one.”

I have to admit that I thought he might have been a bit addled to be so enthusiastic about such inclement weather conditions, but the world is full of all kinds, after all. We can’t all be sane and well-adjusted. Yet, he continued.

“I take it you don’t share my enthusiasm.” His smile did not fade in the least.

“Well, no, I have never been one to enjoy winter that much. I would rather be inside with a hot cocoa and a good movie or book right now. Instead, I need to get a gift for my niece, if there are even any left when I get there.” I snorted and huffed in disgust at the thought of the shelves being picked over or empty.

“I once felt as you do. Not anymore, though.” He clapped his gloved hands together and looked about himself as if he were sitting on a park bench in the middle of new spring flowers. There was an unmistakable joy in his gaze and countenance. It made me wish I could share it, yet I could not even understand it.

“It all changed one winter, just like this one. That winter was like a gift to me.”

“Gifts….” I sniffed. “Well, this winter is no gift to me, that’s for sure. I don’t expect my last minute search will pay off, so I will have been out in the cold for nothing and my niece will still have no present of any real value.”

“Value is in the eye of the beholder, son.”

“Well, that may be, but the fact remains that I would rather be inside where it’s warm. Why Jesus chose to be born in the middle of winter is beyond me.”

At that the old man began to laugh. It was warm and infectious and somehow chased away the cranky feelings I had been expressing so openly to a stranger.

“Well, there is some debate as to the time of year he was born, but let me share a story with you while we wait…if that’s alright with you?” He raised his eyebrows in anticipation of my answer.

“Sure, why not. I have nothing else to do until the bus comes.” I was being polite. Pleasant or not, I wasn’t convinced his story was going to make me feel any better.

“Alright, then. I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.” He took a deep breath and let it out slowly and settled back on the bench as he began to weave his tale. It took only a moment to know that the story was real to him and I was drawn in, like an observer unseen and sitting in the darkness of a theatrical presentation. His words were heartfelt as he continued.

“As I said, it was a winter just like this one – the winter of 1971, as a matter of fact. I was an irresponsible, young rascal of the highest order.”

He snickered softly and you could sense that he saw again in his mind the scenes of that day.

“I was wrapped up in sex, drugs and rock and roll. And I was on the path to eventual destruction, I am sure. And I was not alone in my drive to oblivion, either. Several friends, so-called, were sharing the view with me along that road. We were partiers, all of us. Hard partiers.”

Suddenly, it was as if only he and I existed in the world at that moment. There was an utter and complete stillness that enveloped us. No traffic noises, no sounds at all, but for the voice of this one old man. Even my chattering teeth and heavy breathing had ceased to be noticeable. I hung on every word this man spoke, unable to pry my attention from him.

“…so there we were, Dan and I, sitting at the kitchen table, high on LSD and rambling about some inane thing that we must have thought to be very clever and insightful at the time. That’s when it happened….”

He paused in a far-away gaze and sat silent with the hint of a smile on his face.

“What? What happened?” My voice seemed like a noisy intruder in the quiet that surrounded us.

“The Holy Ghost, son. Suddenly we were not alone anymore. We both knew it, too. There was no denying it for either of us. One moment we were just two stoned idiots sitting there talking and the next we had our minds blown totally by the presence of God.” He chuckled again.

“LSD is a powerful drug, but this…oh, this…this was something neither of us had ever experienced in our short and impetuous lives. It was every bit like a Klieg light in total darkness. It was as if someone had snapped on a switch and suddenly we were in a different realm, you know?”

Of course I didn’t. There was no way I could, but I nodded and he continued. The strange thing is, I no longer thought him crazy. I should have, with a tale such as he was relating to me at the moment, but he was genuine in his belief that it had happened and, for some unknown and unexplainable reason, I could not disbelieve it either.

“God never takes away your personal moral agency, son. The question implied that night was, ‘is it revelation or is it hallucination?’ We both knew the answer to that one immediately. There was no denying that we both were experiencing the same event. No drug, no matter how powerful, does that. And this…..this was so much more powerful than the drug ever could have been. It eclipsed any drug-induced experience I or any man had ever had in the history of the world, I assure you. The feeling of pure and utter love was tangible, so thick you could cut it with a knife. It was like a big hug from someone you have a mutual love with.”

He stared off into space for a moment in private reverie before proceeding.

“The next several hours were spent in receiving revelation. If you have never felt pure intelligence pour into you, you have no concept of the exhilaration and joy that it brings. It was as if we were plugged into the great cosmic switchboard and suddenly knew things we had never even conceived of before. Just suddenly knew them to be true. And later they proved to be so, too.”

He went on to relate how he and his friend, Dan, had sat there at that same table for hours more, each being alternately used by the Holy Ghost as a mouthpiece to teach these principles to one another. Things they never knew were being taught to them even as they spoke the words. I have to admit that if anyone but this man had been telling me the story, that is all I would have thought it to be — a fanciful story, and nothing more. But this was not your average story, nor, it seemed, your average man.

“We then took a walk, as we were unable to sleep after such an event, as you can imagine. We saw the world in an entirely new and unique way that night. The snow on the ground and the ice that we stepped on. It was like the world was one huge ball of crystal and mankind was scratching and chipping it with his every step and movement…desecrating this Urim and Thummim the Lord had formed for our use.”

The terms were unfamiliar to me, but I did not interrupt. I would look them up later. Surely, they had to be in the Bible or a dictionary. He proceeded.

“And then we were led back to the apartment we had so recently departed from. That was when the most amazing thing happened.”

More amazing than anything yet? I did not interrupt this time. I didn’t want to hear my own voice intruding in the midst of such a wondrous tale as I was hearing.

“We had been listening to many LP records when we visited that apartment. Some we had heard many times, but I have to tell you, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, things can take on a totally different meaning than you think them to be. And that is what happened that night to Dan and I. The LP was by a group called FREE and the title was Fire And Water. Do you see the analogy in that? The sense of humor God has?”

He waited but a second for my reply and I nodded my agreement.

“Oh, yes, he has a wonderful sense of humor, but he loves his children, too, and he showed us that night the error of our ways and the right path. We were instructed to place the needle on the record…you knew that they didn’t always have CD’s, right?” He grinned as I smiled back at the thought.

“The song was Heavy Load. It had this plodding, sad and heavy piano back-beat that was, for all the world, reminiscent of a man under the weight of sin and grief, dragging himself along a lonely and dismal road, with no companion but God, to whom he makes his complaint that he can go no further down, recognizing he has taken the wrong road in his life. As the song opens, Dan and I are suddenly pressed down under the unseen weight of our own sins and find ourselves lieing on the floor, sobbing with great, heaving gasps. As the last strains die out, the weight lifts and we are again free of that crushing pressure. We are allowed a short time to discuss the experience and are instructed to again repeat the song, with the same result. And a third time we are told to do the same thing. Each time it is the same. The same crushing weight of sin, the same crying in desperation and sorrow for our shortcomings. The same grief over our choices in life.”

That this was not your average story was more than apparent now. It was the most engaging and intriguing story I had ever heard in my life. I could not help but believe it, regardless of how improbable and far-fetched it was. The man told it as any man would after living it personally. There was no denying the truth of it, even as a listener.

“I went from being missing from home a week or more at a time, to being home every night and reading the Bible. You can imagine how perplexed my parents must have been.” Again he grinned and chuckled.

“There had been a miraculous change in Dan and I. One minute neither of us knew if there was a God and the next minute, we couldn’t deny it. No, sir. Not for one second since that time. Personally, I believe God saved my life that night.”

I was suddenly aware that I was no longer shivering from the cold. It was as if a warm blanket, fresh from the dryer, had been laid over me.

“Son, I learned that winter that there were more important things about Christmas than getting stoned and ‘oooh-ing and ahhh-ing’ over the pretty lights or laughing about silly and un-fulfilling frivolities. I learned that the greatest gift of all was given by God himself. He knew we had to have a way to get back to him, that we were in a fallen and unworthy state, but he loves us so much that he made the ultimate sacrifice. His own son paid a price that only a God could pay — to buy us back from death and sin, if we would only accept the payment in our behalf and then live right.” At this point, the old man turned to me and looked into my eyes with an intensity that almost burned.

“How would you feel if you knew someone had given his own life to save yours?”

The question hit like a ton of bricks. I was speechless at the thought. If I had done something so wrong and so heinous as to be punishable by death, or if I were in such perils as to need rescuing, how would I feel if my rescuer lost his life in saving mine? I would be devastated, thinking that another family was altered forever because of me. I would want to reach out and take care of their every need, in gratitude, in a feeling of indebtedness for the gift I had been given of my own life. How could I waste it from then on in selfish pursuits? And that’s when it hit me; the true meaning of what the old man meant by his question. And that’s also when I began to cry, with that same sobbing he had spoken of – that sense of despair and feeling of unworthiness, knowing that the Son of God had been given as a sacrifice for me, for my measly and insignificant life. For my self-centered, egotistical and so far meaningless existence.

The old man put a hand on my shoulder to comfort me. I was still crying like a baby, face in hands. It seemed forever until I could regather my composure. And when I looked at him again, dusk had passed, the street lights had come on and there was what appeared to be a halo around the man. To this day, I would not doubt he was an angel. Maybe not in the supernatural sense, but a messenger from God, nonetheless.

“Here’s your bus, son. God bless you and have the best Christmas you ever had, alright?”

“Aren’t you waiting for the bus, too?”

“Nope. I was waiting for you. That’s my Christmas present.”

I didn’t know if he meant this had been his present to me or if sharing with me was like a present to him. It didn’t matter. I thanked him and made as if to shake his hand when, without warning, he gave me a big bear hug and said, “God bless you, son. I love you and your Father in Heaven loves you.”

I swear I knew at that moment that this total stranger truly loved me for who I was. I knew it was a pure love, even as God has for me – for all his children.

‘I remember the day as if it were just yesterday, although many years have passed.’

I find myself saying these same words to my children and grandchildren, even to total strangers, to this day. And I always smile when I think of the man who said them first to me. I know that God sent that man out on that cold winter night to fix a heart that was twisted and broken; to set a lost wanderer onto the right road again. I have been led by that same Spirit many times myself since then. It never ceases to amaze me or to bring joy to my heart when I follow those promptings and see the miraculous change in others, for I know that I am helping God to bring peace to the world, one person at a time – one child of God, one brother or sister of mine that I never knew before then. There is no greater love than that which Christ gave for mankind those two millennia ago; no greater sacrifice. It is indeed the greatest Christmas gift ever.
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God bless you all and may this Christmas be filled with the true meaning for you and your loved ones, that you may speak of it for years to come, as do I.

Here is a link to the song referred to in the story. Yes, it is a real song and it really was used by God to change my life. I hope you understand the message of it. I was like the prodigal son and so is the man in the song, except we never know if he is able to return from the choices he has made in life. Thanks to divine intervention, I was able to return to a Father who loves me.

The Guitar

Standard

The music was unlike any she had ever heard. It grabbed her by the heartstrings and pulled her physically to itself. The otherworldly strains came softly from the inner recesses of the undistinguished and quaint little shop that she had nearly missed in her private rush down the narrow cobblestone street, but she now stood transfixed as the sultry tones of the simple acoustic guitar beckoned to her from the darkness beyond the door.

One step at a time, slowly she marched forward, led by the intoxicating siren sound of an unseen master. Gradually, as her eyes became accustomed to the dim lighting of the room, the form took shape of a seated man bent over a guitar. His eyes were tightly closed, as though in deep meditation and his head subtly bobbed and weaved to the emotional melodies that so fluidly poured forth. His behavior suggested that he did not just play the music, but that he also experienced it, lived in it fully and passionately.

His fingers were now gentle and quivering, then again swift and light and she knew that the music that so deeply stirred her did not come alone from the fingers and mind of the musician, but from the very depths of his soul. His roughly handsome face changed with each phrase; soaring, now weeping and then flights of ecstasy and beyond. Tears flowed easily from her as the melodies played about her heart and feelings. She felt nearly captive and helpless in the grip of this master musician.

As she watched his two hands orchestrate their dance around the instrument he held, it occurred to her that the device he so masterfully expressed himself upon bore strong resemblance to her own feminine shape. She blushed as a warmth surprisingly surged through her and she instinctively knew that such hands as could express themselves in this spirit-touching manner must also know their way around the body of such a woman as she–nay, even her very soul.

Now nearly breathless, she lifted her gaze from the interplay of man and instrument, the dance between fret and soundboard, mesmerized by the now open, dark and penetrating eyes that seemed to search her inner depths. The soft smile on his lips assured her that any fears were in vain and she began to willingly open her heart and mind to this heavenly symphony that she had nearly lost in her desire to hurry to nowhere important.

The Guitar—© Steven G. O’Dell July 2005