Unprofitable Servant

Learning Lessons

abc books chalk chalkboard

I have it said before “If you stop learning, you’re dead.” I suppose that is true. Even if it is only little trivial things, we learn something new each day. It never ceases to amaze me how God will work with His children to teach them. This is done by the Holy Spirit in a variety of ways.

“Wow!” You might say, “Are you telling me God audible speaks to you?”

My answer is that the voice of God is more than audible. I don’t want to get onto a discussion of how God speaks in this article. I will save that for another. Here, I want to give you an example of how God was dealing with me about something he wanted to reinforce.

Pondering

analysis blackboard board bubble

I awoke Monday morning with two words on my brain –“unprofitable servant.” I have to admit; I was scratching my head as my mind focused from sleep. Was God calling me this? Was there a lesson to learn? Was he reinforcing something I had learned? I mean, I had been reading the book of James, and I didn’t remember coming across that term or concept there.

As I went about my morning routine, the words would not go away. I poured a cup of coffee. I asked the Lord what he was trying to tell me because I was clueless. No answer. Well, ok. I went out to feed our animals. After everything had been fed, and still getting no answer to my musing, I just stopped and thought about what the phrase could mean. Not that my chickens had an answer. They are worse theologians than conversationalists.

I did what any modern-day Bible scholar would do – I googled it. The scripture passage Luke 17:7-10 came up in the search engine. In this passage, Jesus is speaking to his disciples and explains when a servant should come in from the field, the master would not tell him to sit at the table and be served. Rather, the master would instruct the servant to get cleaned up and serve the master. The master will not thank the servant for doing what his duty is – this is expected service. Jesus tells the disciples to be like the servant and do their duty because it is expected. Oh, and by the way, they shouldn’t expect anything more and to call themselves “unprofitable servants.”

“Okay, Lord.” I said, “Seems a little harsh, but I am still not sure where this is going. Was I expecting more from a situation than I should have?” As with any good study of any Bible passage, I looked at the scripture before and after. Before: Jesus is talking to the disciples about extending forgiveness. After: Luke tells the story of ten lepers who Jesus healed and only one came back to thank Jesus.

I read a few commentaries on the passage to get another view. The fog began to clear as I read on. Jesus told the disciples to extend forgiveness even if the person came to ask forgiveness seven times. The disciples responded with “increase our faith.” Jesus answered that they could do miraculous things like move mountains if they had the faith of a mustard seed.

In short, Jesus was saying “Guys it has nothing to do with faith. It has everything to do with obedience. You call yourselves servants of God (Christians)? To extend forgiveness is just your basic duty. This doesn’t require some great act of faith. It is part of the job. And you shouldn’t expect some great reward for doing it. That is true of this or anything else. In fact, your attitude should be such that it is a privilege and an honor to serve God. You should be grateful for the opportunity and recognize that without God you are unprofitable.”

The term unprofitable can also be translated as unworthy. When Jesus told the disciples to extend forgiveness, they responded as this was some lofty thing that they could only accomplish by great feats and faith, that surely only they could obtain. Jesus responded with the opposite extreme in an attempt to pull them to the middle.

In a sermon on this passage in Luke, Charles Spurgeon explains the reasonable duty of all Christians. He said that we are not to be too lofty or too lowly, but to stay in the middle. We are to be available to God to be used by God, and if we say we follow God, then we are his servants. Servants do their duty because that is part of the job and the servant shouldn’t expect anything beyond that. Christians likewise are obedient because they are servants and should have the attitude of a useful servant. When you enlist in God’s army, you are a soldier in that army and are to do what is your duty. End of story.

“Okay!” my flesh whined, “I get the point of the passage, but what has that to do with me? Was I being haughty or unworthy?”

I sat quietly – waiting.

Flashback

close up photography of woman in black long sleeved top

My mind wandered back to an incident the day before – Sunday. We had not gone to church that morning. We had been out of town and told folks we would probably not be back in time. My vehicle started to malfunction so we came back on Saturday night and Sunday morning, my daughter and I took my truck to drop it off at the shop for repair.

On the way home the sky looked stormy and threatened rain. A few miles from our house, the rain came in waves of water. My daughter slowed down, partly because of the rain and partly because we approached a truck with a camper attached sitting on the side of the road. The blown out tire in the middle of the road told the story.

“Should we stop and remove that from the road?” She asked. I paused. I knew we needed to extract the dead tire remnant safely, but I also wanted to offer assistance to the truck owners without endangering my daughter.

“Uh, yes,” I said. “Pull up, and I will get the tire. You stay in the car and out of the rain.” I don’t stop to help everyone, but I felt in my spirit this was a situation where I should offer help. As far as telling my daughter to stay in the car, the truth was, I used the rain to keep my daughter away from the truck and camper until I checked it out. Yes, I am a paranoid daddy. It’s my job. It’s what I do. Moving on.

I removed the blown out tread from the road and approached the truck. Inside was an elderly couple. She saw me first from the passenger side of the vehicle and motioned to her husband that I was at the window, which he rolled down. He had been looking at his phone.

“Do you need some help?” I asked.

“Well,” he answered, “We were trying to find someone to change the flat on the camper.”

“I’ll be right back,” I said and jogged to the car. I explained the situation to my daughter, and we obtained the scissor jack from her trunk.

Long story short – the jack barely lifted the camper. I had to strain to get it to work. Then I had to man-handle several of the lug nuts to get them off. They had obviously been put on with an air tool. Then all of them wouldn’t go back on, and I had to hand the gentleman one to have put on later. I did all this while kneeling on one of my flip-flops – in the rain; all the while knuckleheaded drivers whizzed by trying to avoid us and to pass others who were slowing down to either watch or be courteous.

When I stood up, the gentleman asked me what he owed me. I told him nothing and that I was sure someone would do the same for me someday. I put the dead tire in his truck. I cleaned up the jack and accessories, placing them in the trunk. I shook his hand and wished him well. He thanked me and then was on his way.

I was feeling pretty good as I sat down in the passenger seat of the car, except my back hurt. I thought about how our pastor had once said: “It’s okay to miss church if you are out being the church.” I was pretty pleased with myself and was wondering if this moment was a gold moment in my record. You know, the Apostle Paul said that the foundation of our Christian lives is Christ, but all that is built upon it (our actions) are wood, hay, stubble or gold, silver, or precious stones. I was jockeying for a gold moment here.

In the middle of remembering this moment from the day before, the Holy Spirit interrupted my thoughts. He tapped me on my spiritual shoulder (sometimes he thumps me in the spiritual forehead).

“Excuse me,” he said. “Weren’t you just being obedient in helping the couple? In fact, when your wife said you were a Good Samaritan, that’s what you told her.”

“Yeah, but wouldn’t you agree that was a gold moment? Maybe at least it gets a silver?”

“Or maybe ‘So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”

“I didn’t thank you for the opportunity, did I?”

“No.”

“Then when I thought I was being spiritual, I was really wanting extra and a pat on the back, wasn’t I?”

“Yep.”

“I was really wanting someone to notice my good deed and compliment me Matthew-chapter-five-style, wasn’t I?’

“Un-huh.”

“Man. Pride goes before a fall.”

“Yes, it does.”

“Will you forgive me for the wrong attitude I had toward helping that couple?”

“Seventy times seven.”

“Thanks, Lord for the lesson, your grace, mercy, and forgiveness.”

“Your welcome.”

“Do you still love me?”

“You have to ask?”

The Game – Guest Post by D.L. Strand

Every once in a while you come across a piece of writing that strikes a chord within you. When I read this short story, I immediately loved it. It touched, what I believe, every writer who has been at this craft for any length of time feels. I asked if I could share this story. You can find other writing from D.L. Strand here.

The Game

The old man sat at his desk, scanning the fresh-typed words. His Olympia Manual waited patiently. Silently. Eager to record any thoughts he felt like sharing.

The words wouldn’t flow as they once did. There was a time when the hammers struck sparks and the words exploded off the page for those who read them.

He pursued the revelation. The constant eureka. He didn’t know how the process worked. It just worked. Of course, some days were better than others.

Especially now.

This was the tragedy of age. He knew he wasn’t as fast as he once was. Not as sharp. The audience was smaller, many of them moved on, one way or another.

His fingers, like his back, grown bent and stiff with age, moved slow and ponderous on the keyboard. Still, like a well-worn hammer, they pounded out the words as they came.

Still, every morning he sat down at his well-worn chair – the one that leaned slightly to the right – and hunted.

There are those who think inspiration a gift. He knew better. He knew Inspiration as a fickle mistress, to be wooed, seduced, pampered. The more you romanced her, the more she’d flirt with you.

She never came on strong. Not at first. She’d lightly tease the fuzzy edges of his dreams. Stroke the embers of his imagination. Eventually, he’d lose himself in the seduction. The fire. Unaware of the world around him. Typing furiously. Images scorching the page. Fingers struggling to keep up with the drama playing out in his head.

Sometimes he chased her all day, it was true. Never catching a glimpse. But later, after he’d left his desk and put his labors behind him, she would tempt some half-formed dream out of his thoughts. It could be during the news, a movie, while drifting off to sleep, or in the shower.

It seemed, that sometimes, running water drew her to him. Obviously, it wasn’t his body. Not anymore. Not ever. He had after all, the frame of a writer, built through years of sitting – stooped over his typewriter – drinking black coffee, eating donuts or whatever his wife put in front of him. Some days, he was unaware that he had eaten at all. But the evidence was there. The empty cup, the smeared plate.

It wasn’t that life didn’t attract him. He loved his wife. He loved the mornings spent together over eggs and coffee. And he loved the children they’d raised together.

He knew that it hadn’t been easy. Artists are a selfish lot, after all. Everything takes a backseat to the muse.

He was committed to his muse. And why not? Had they not shared 1000 stories? Created people? Worlds? Gods? Had she not given him a life richer than any he’d hoped for, had he worked for a company or gotten a job?

Job! It should be a four letter word. Who cared if he ate. Art drove him. He could go days without eating, but never a day without his art. No, never that.

So he sat in the place where he knew, one day he would die, surrounded by his volumes of his work, and those his peers. His awards. A fan’s standout letter claiming his words changed her life. A  framed note from an old teacher insisting he had no talent. In many ways, that letter gave him more pleasure than any of the awards or acclamations.

Today, he sensed a slight difference in the air. In the pressure on his face. In his lungs. Was it the weather? The season? No, he thought to himself. Nothing so mundane as that.

He searched for the cause. Not with his eyes or nose, but with his fingers. His mind. He knew that the change was not external. And yet…

He asked his muse, what was the change? If he could gain the truth of it, he could express it.

He sensed a stirring at his back. A bony hand on his shoulder. It was The Call. The one he’d dreaded. No Muse reached out for him today. No, it was her cousin, come to steal his breath.

He felt the icy breath on his ear. “Your efforts are done. Cease your toils.”

He typed on as if his fingers could flee for him.

‘I won’t leave with another story in me.’ He pressed on, struggling to remain, to complete just one more tale. To share another small slice of his soul with a hungry world.

“Come. She’s no longer yours. Moved on to younger fingers – agile minds. Her faithless eyes gaze elsewhere.”

Bitter sweat racing down his neck, he hunkered down, and continued his pursuit. His fingers floundered here and there.

“Stop this folly. Let someone else have their turn. Step back. Stand up. Release your pain and be free.”

He leaned in all the harder. His brow furrowed – squeezing words out of his mind. It dripped slowly, like juice from a spent orange.

“Come.” Another bony hand grasped his shoulder. An ache clutched his chest.

“NO!” He shrugged off the clasping hands. Not while I have breath in my lungs. Life in my fingers. They flailed for the formless. The story. The song. Just one touch to scratch another tale out of the scaly mind that once gushed forth prose and song like a fountain of shimmering water.

The Presence leaned in. Weight bore down on his shoulders. The final kiss to end his tale.

His fingers began to falter, to stumble, to slow.

‘Wait!’ He thought. “What was death, but the ultimate inspiration?”

He inhaled deep and righted himself. Ripped out the spent page, replaced it, and began the race anew.

He recognized The Shade for what it was. Just an outfit. A costume.

His Muse loved him. Loved the chase. She tried one final time. “Have an end.” She whispered.

He smiled. “No.” He whispered back “Let’s dance.”

She smiled and kissed his head. Her man. Her writer. He’d just needed a little push after all.

The shot fired. The game was on.

D.L. Strands Websites:

http://dlstrand.com/

The Storyteller’s Pub

 

Enjoyable Short Stories

This blog is a little different in that I wanted to share some short stories that I have had the pleasure to read over the past several weeks. I believe you will find them interesting too. I have given you a short snippet of the story and then the website where you can find that story and more of the author’s writing. I think you will be entertained, challenged, led to ponder as I did.

The Whopper by David Rae

“Do you remember that time we caught that fish,” JJ asked Grampa.

“Remind me again,” Grampa replied.

“I think it was a dogfish.”

“Oh yes, I remember that. It was a spur-dog,” said Grampa. “That’s a kind of shark. It was pretty big; it kept thrashing about and trying to bite me. Didn’t we have to use live bait? You don’t catch fish like that using worms. You need something that will attract the shark. You need something that moves in the water. Did we use mackerel; the fish blood brings the sharks? ” Click here to continue reading

When the Music Died by Lina Wrangert

“Greg chewed down his bottom lip as he struggled with the entangled tie around his white shirt-collar. The thing around his neck was an impossible mess to get in order. He didn’t understand ties in the first place, but of course, he had to wear one during this type of occasion. You would think the immaculate shoes and black suit-coat would do without the irritable thing, swaying around his throat. After a few faltering attempts he let go of the tie with a huff and loosened its knot to let it dangle there instead. He sniffled and shoved his hands down his dark trouser pockets with a taunt directed to the pebbled pavement. He had never felt comfortable with dressing up. Formality in ones clothing always strengthened the funeral-feeling, unless you wore more colorful apparel or a sunny smile which his older brother always managed to pull, even in the dark and gloomy suit he was wearing when he sprinted up to tap Greg´s shoulder.” Click here to continue reading.

I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead by Jodi Elderton

“Sometimes I wish I was dead. No, I’m not suicidal. I just want to sleep. Figure that’s the only way I’m ever going to get some rest. I work night shift and every cell in my body is screaming for sleep. There’s not enough caffeine in the entire world to wake me. As I drag out of bed, it’s as if someone tied 2-ton weights to my limbs.

“Oh crap! I should have set two alarms!” I said to no one. I quickly dress and bolt to my car, hoping the traffic wouldn’t be too bad. I wipe the sleep from my eyes and chug some more coffee.

“Today, buddy!” The joker in front of me is oblivious to the green light. I bet he’s texting, the menace.” Click here to continue reading.

Blue by Erin Halden

“Pema tiptoed through the amber morning light as fast as she dared, her feet silent on the titanium ground panels. She clutched her shoes to her chest to contain her clanging heart and kept her head down, as if this would make the passageway stay empty. Her mother’s voice filled her head.

We’re starting on Field 4-1 today.

Something about a generator down. Routine Maintenance. Pema didn’t hear the rest. Didn’t ask questions. She couldn’t. Panic had gripped her throat too tight.” Click here to continue reading.

Tangled Lines by Judy Blackburn

“Abby watched her husband Mike drive off on his way fishing again. The sun’s rays warmed her through the living room window. Abby turned to go out the back door and caught a glimpse of the wicker picnic basket in the hall closet. She slammed the closet door shut. “Why doesn’t Mike want us to do anything together?” Abby muttered to herself as she went outside.” Click here to continue reading.

Remember

On water, land, and in flight, they answered the call,

Protectors of liberty and right, against evil and the wrong.

Marching to a different drum, they sang a different song.

Misunderstood by many, as to why they gave their all,

 

America, these are your daughters, these are your sons,

These are your warriors, who gave all when they gave.

We recount to the generations, the valor of the brave.

Now we are the watchers, we volunteer to be the ones.

 

Listen now, dear children, of our country’s warrior band,

Hear their stories, honor them, be proud of their fight.

How one could give their life in pursuit of the right.

Grasp what was given since the beginning of our land.

 

As the flags are lowered, and the lone bugle plays.

Turn your thoughts to heroes, and the sacrifices made.

To the guardians of freedom, and the high cost they paid.

To those with warrior hearts, who stepped into harm’s ways.

 

You are their legacy, the torch is passed down to you,

Hold high your heads, as Tap’s last note is played.

Hold tight to their memory, and never let it fade.

Salute, remember and give these heroes their due.

Memories Make the Best Gifts

The cool, crisp December breeze hinted of a cold winter around the corner, but it would never slow down high adrenaline children like us. With Christmas less than two weeks away, there was plenty to do during this break from school. My itinerary was full.

Halfway through the third grade, all I had on my mind was snowball fights, building igloos, and riding toboggans and trash can lids down our neighbors’ snow-covered hill. Though we never seemed to have enough snow to finish that igloo (it melted too quick), we always had enough for the fights and the sliding.

Today was a special day. Today we were going to find our Christmas tree. By we, I mean, my Mom, my nine-year-old, older brother Billy, my four-year-old, younger sister Shirleen, me, and Nicki, our Husky. This was our annual tradition.

“Tracy, hurry up!” Mom said.

“I’m coming. I can’t get my boot on. I think I have too many socks on,” I replied from within the house. Sitting on the floor, tugging on my boot, I was losing the struggle to get dressed.

“Then take one off!” She turned to Billy who was standing near her in the front yard. “See if you can help your brother. I don’t want Nicki taking off with the sled with your sister on it.”

“Ok, Mom.”

Billy ran into the house to help me or so was the pretense.

“What are you doing you, big baby? We’re waiting outside. Can’t you do anything right? Give me your foot?”

Billy took my foot and pulled off my half applied boot. He rolled his eyes when he saw I had four socks on that foot alone.

“Why do you have so many socks?”

“I didn’t want to get cold.”

“Take two of them off. Then put your boot on.”

“Will you help me?”

“For Pete’s sake. Do I have to do everything for you? You’re in the third grade.”

I poked out my bottom lip and fought back the tears.

“Give me your foot.” Billy peeled off two socks and shoved the boot onto my foot.

“Ouch! That hurt! You scrunched my toe!”

“C’mon. Mom’s waiting. Better put that lip in before you trip over it.”

I sniffed. Billy pulled me toward the door. I pulled back against him.

“Just stop. Okay? Listen, today we get to ride the sled with Nicki pulling it. Remember how we did that last year? How we went into the woods and got our Christmas tree? Remember how fun it was?”

“Boys?” Mom’s voice came, muffled through the door.

“Coming!” Billy shouted. He turned to me. “C’mon. I’m sorry. Okay? Let’s have fun. I’ll let you ride first with Shirleen.”

I rubbed my eye.

“Fine. Okay.” I said.

Billy pulled the jacket hood over my head and tied the drawstring.  He opened the door to let me through. I had so many layers of clothes on, I waddled out into the yard. Mom smiled at me, looked past me to Billy who shrugged his shoulders.

“Okay. Who’s riding first? You both have gotten so big, Nicki can’t pull all of you.”

“Billy said I could,” I said.

“Okay. Get on the sled behind your sister and hold onto her for me. I don’t want her falling off. Billy, thank you for letting your brother ride first.”

Billy smiled.

I hopped up onto the homemade, wooden sled, sat and grabbed my sister. Nicki licked my hand, and Shirleen squealed with delight.

adorable animal breed canine

Nicki, our blue-eyed, Siberian, fluffy, husky dog was our best friend. If mom had asked him to pull all three of us, he would have until he fell exhausted. He was attached to the sled with a rigged rope harness. Crude, but effective enough to pull the sled, given enough snow.

“Billy,” Mom said, “Would you like to lead Nicki?”

“Sure, Mom.” Billy picked up the rope and pulled on it. Nicki needed no more urging. The sled lunged forward. Shirleen and I lunged backward and almost rolled off the sled. Mom grabbed my arm and sat us upright. I think she anticipated this happening, because she was quick with the one-handed recovery, while she held the handsaw in the other.

Our movement was slow, but it was meant to be. Mom wanted us to enjoy the time and the beauty of our surroundings. Even through my eight-year-old eyes, I could see the beauty God displayed in those Cascade Mountains. The green firs and pines laden with snow, dotted the landscape as we searched for the right tree. In the distance, Mount Rainier covered in white, sported a cloud halo and seemed to smile its approval on our endeavor. A green carpet of evergreens lined its base.

Something caught my eye as I looked around in amazement at this winter wonderland. It scampered toward the wood line.

“Look! A rabbit!” I said. Nicki stopped and perked up at my exclamation. The little creature was in no hurry as he lopped along and disappeared into the brush.

“Easy, Nicki.” Mom said. “Not today buddy.” He wagged his tail in acknowledgment.

treesBilly tugged on the rope, and we plodded forward again, the snow crunched under the sled and his boots. We stopped a short distance away from a grove of Douglas firs of various sizes. The blue-green needles sparkled in the sunlight as the afternoon warmth had melted some of their frosty adornment.

“How about one of these?” Mom asked.

“Wow,” I said. “Which one should we get?”

“Billy, why don’t you and your brother see if you can find us one?”

Mom picked up Shirleen and stood her in the snow to play. She waddled up to Nicki to pet him. He licked her face in welcome. She pushed him away with her mittened hands.

“No!” she said in her tiny voice. “Bad dog. No.” Nicki licked her again. She stumbled and fell backward, landing face up in the snow. She, like us, had so many layers of clothes on that she couldn’t right herself. Mom pulled her back to her feet, and she headed for Nicki again.

“Okay. C’com let’s see what we can find.” Billy said to me, and we took off into the grove. The air was thick with the smell of the trees.

 

“Don’t go too far.” Came Mom’s voice.

“There’s so many, and they all look cool,” Billy shouted back.

“Can you find one near the edge that we can get?” Mom asked.

“Yeah, I think we can. C’mom, Tracy, let’s show mom the first one we looked at.”

We plodded out of the grove and stopped at a tree we passed on our way in. Mom led Nicki and the sled, while she carried Shirleen. She plopped Shirleen down and picked up the saw.

“Billy, you and Tracy think you can cut it down?”

Our eyes got wide. This was an honor. It would be our first time to cut down the Christmas tree.

“Sure!” We answered proudly. Mom handed Billy the saw and showed him where on the trunk to make the cut. With the first pass across the bark, I breathed in deeply the smell of the fresh cut wood. Billy cut at the tree until the saw became sticky with the sap. The fragrance of fir strengthened. I traded out with him. We took turns sawing between stripping off layers of clothes.

An eternity later, the tree swayed from the cutting. Mom held onto it and tilted it back so we could finish the cut. With the next to last cut, the tree fell over. Billy separated the last of the bark from the stump with a swipe from the saw.

“Tracy, watch your sister so Billy and I can tie the tree to the sled.”

I chased Shirleen through the snow, as she played a game of tag with Nicki. Mom and Billy lashed the treasured tree to the sled. Once secured, Mom grabbed a giggling Shirleen on one of her passes by Nicki and plopped her down next to the tree. She instructed her to hang on.

Billy took the rope and led Nicki and his cargo toward home. I triumphantly carried the saw as I pulled up the end of the parade. We were triumphant in our mission.

Mom led us in Christmas carols as we proceeded. Good thing. It kept my mind off my wobbly legs and rubbery arms. It’s tough work for a third grader to cut down his first tree. I am sure we were a sight as we marched victoriously into our yard.

Mom untied Nicki from the sled and removed his makeshift harness. He shook his coat with the freedom. He ran around the house and shot back to us. He didn’t seem too tired. We went in the back door and shed our boots, mittens, and layers of clothes and headed for the kitchen.

We all sat at the kitchen table and recounted our glorious adventure over hot cocoa while Mom stoked the fire in our Franklin wood stove in the living room. We laughed. We giggled and sang more Christmas carols. Mom rejoined us and joined in the merriment.

When we finished our cocoa, Mom and Billy attached a stand to the tree and brought it in the house while I watched Shirleen. They stood it up in the living room in front of the picture window. As I warmed myself at the Franklin stove, I breathed in the fresh fragrance of Douglas fir. I thought of what a fine looking tree we had obtained. I also noticed, past the tree, out the window, in the distance, haloed Mount Rainier smiled in agreement.

Even today, when I happen to smell the wonderful fragrance of fir, I think back to delightful memories of Christmas and thank the Lord for them. I also thank him for my Mom, who has shown me over the years that memories make the best gifts

I Wonder

It was a hot, humid day in early July. July 2nd, to be exact, 1862, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The intense summer sun reminded me of my boyhood days in Alabama. For a moment, I longed to be home, sitting on the porch or skipping rocks down at the creek.

I was crouched down between two large rocks when Tom slid next to me. He looked up the hill that lay before us. His sandy hair stuck out from under his cap like straw from a scarecrow. He turned and fixed his pale blue eyes on me. In his slow Southern drawl, he spoke.

“Jeb? What’s wrong with you? You haven’t fired a shot.”

I bowed my head.

Tom shook me.

“Jeb!” He growled in a hushed whisper. “What’s goin’ on?”

He shook me again.

I cleared my throat.

“I can’t – I just can’t.”

Tom looked around like he was looking to see who might be watching or listening.

“Can’t what?” He grabbed me by my arm. His voice cracked. “Jeb, don’t go squirrely on me. Ya, hear me.”

His whiskey and tobacco laden breath made me shudder. I blinked and looked into his wild eyes as they searched mine.

“Tom. I don’t know what’s goin’ on. You know me. I ain’t never had a moment’s hesitation to pull the trigger, but I just can’t.”

Tom looked down at my shaking hands, and then searched my face again.

“Whatcha mean, Jeb? Whatcha mean?” He let me go and then looked up the hill. He squinted, and then looked at me again.

“You mean – up there? Isn’t that a Yank officer up on that hill? Standing there, plain as day?”

“Yeah.”

He half-smiled.

“Since when can’t you shoot a Yank? You getting soft on us?”

I didn’t answer.

His smile faded. He got in my face again.

“Jeb, you the best we got. Ain’t no one a better shot in the 15th Alabama than you, and ain’t no one been more willin’ to take down a Yank.”

He spit. Tobacco juice spittled down his chin. He wiped it with his sleeve.

“I know, Tom, but not this one. There’s somethin’ – different about this one. I can’t. When I first saw him, I thought it a mighty good thing to put him out of the way. Tom, I had him, perfectly certain, several times and I just couldn’t pull the trigger. I just couldn’t. I tried, but I can’t.”

Tom shook me – hard.

“Jeb! You gotta understand. We need to take that hill. We done hit it twice and was pushed back. Many of us done fell. You gotta kill as many Yanks from a distance as you can. One less Yank means one less of us that dies. If you kill an officer – if you cut the head off the snake, the body dies. You’ve got do it. It’s your duty.”

“I can’t. Don’t you understand? I tried. I did. Every time I take aim at him, my hands shake, and something comes over me. I’m ashamed. I can’t pull the trigger.”

“You should be ashamed that you can’t kill a Yank! He ain’t nothin’ but a flea on nanny’s dog’s hind end.”

He spit.

“No! I’m ashamed to pull the trigger. I can’t explain it. I go to pull the trigger, and I’m ashamed. I’m ashamed to shoot him. He’s in plain sight. I’ve dropped deer further away than this without hesitation. But I’m ashamed to pull the trigger on this Yank.”

“Why? What is he? Something special? I heard Col. Oates talking to his brother earlier. He thinks that’s the 20th Maine up there. If that is true, then that could be Chamberlain, and he needs to be dropped like a Christmas turkey.”

“It is Chamberlain, and that is the 20th.”

“How do you know?”

“I just know. I can tell by the way he conducts his self with his men. I can also see his rank.”

“Listen to me, Jeb. We gotta take that hill. If we take that hill, then this could be our chance to end this God-forsaken war. We’ll be able to see the whole valley below, and we can rout the Yanks. We’ll split them in half and turn their own guns on them and then Lee can march into Washington and force Lincoln to stop this war. Jeb, are you hearing me? We gotta get up on top of Little Round Top.”

The steely look on Tom’s face faded. I could tell that he was convinced I couldn’t go through with shooting this Yankee officer. He shook me one more time and pushed me back against the boulder. He looked back up the hill, spit, looked at me, and then walked away, back to the remaining regiment.

I don’t know how long I sat there. It seemed like days. Ashamed that I was ashamed.

Before the sun went down that day, we were ordered up the hill one more time. As a sharpshooter, I maintained my position and supported my regiment. They fought valiantly, as they assaulted the hill with volley after volley. Men fell like swatted flies.

I took out several Yanks as they stood up to return fire. I felt redeemed. I had no problem now in the heat of battle to defend our cause and my fellow soldiers. I caught sight of Tom as he led his men over a little knoll right into a clod of Yanks. One had Tom dead to rights, but I made sure he didn’t fire.

Tom turned toward me. Our eyes locked. He nodded his thanks. I returned it.

I quickly reloaded my rifle to prepare for another shot. When I looked up, Tom was gone and so were his men. I’m not sure what happened next. I dropped one more Yank, and then they came over the breastworks with fixed bayonets. They were a wave of blue, yelling at the top of their lungs. Bugles blared the charge, and their flags flowed in the wind. They must have gotten reinforcements.

Our own buglers sounded retreat, and we fled. We weren’t taking Little Round Top, not today, not ever. It wasn’t meant to be. I grabbed my gear and headed out of there like the devil himself was after me. I heard later that Tom had fallen on that knoll. I stopped one Yank from killing him, but I couldn’t stop them all.

I’m still not sure why I could not shoot Col. Chamberlain. I heard that even one of our officers tried to shoot him during that bayonet attack and failed. He had a better chance than I. How could the officer’s revolver misfire just at the time it was aimed at Chamberlain’s head?

Chamberlain was hailed as a war hero. He even became governor of Maine. I wrote him a letter telling him how I had him in my sights twice, but could not pull the trigger. I recounted to him how each time some peculiar notion shut me right down, so I gave up his life to him. I also told him that I was glad of it and hoped he was as well.

I learned that he wrote me back, and invited me to visit him in Maine to see if I had made a good choice. I never received the letter, nor did I answer him. How could I? It was revealed to us that at that critical moment, on that critical mountain, he and his men had insufficient ammunition to defend another attempt by our forces. If we had pressed the moment, and taken that hill, Tom’s words may very well have rung true.

Looking back now, I gotta wonder. If I could have brought myself to drop Col. Chamberlain that day, on that hill, would have things been different? Would we have taken that hill? Would Tom have died as he did with my secret? Would we have split the Yanks, and taken Washington, like Tom said? Would Lee have ordered Pickett’s Charge the very next day in an all-out, last-ditch effort to win this battle and maybe the war? Would have fewer men, on both sides, have died?

I wonder if God Almighty had his hand on me to shame me not to kill Chamberlain because there was a higher power and purpose at work. I wonder.

What is “too big” for God?

The Question

pexels-photo-206448.jpeg  The question goes: “Can God create a rock too big for even Him to pick up?” Most folks usually ask this question trying to stump the religious or to get them off track of an ongoing discussion. Just like the Samaritan woman that Jesus encountered at the well. She tried to change the subject of the discussion by asking Jesus where the right place to worship was. So it is with the question at hand.

The Discussion

To properly answer questions like this I ask questions of my own. The discussions I have had in the past go something like this:

“Define ‘too big,’” I say.

“Well if God could not pick it up, then it is too big,” they answer.

“So it would have to be bigger than God Himself?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“So, how big is God?”

“I don’t know.”

“So how would you know if the rock was bigger than God if you don’t know how big God is?”

Head scratching.

“So you are asking a question that even if you saw the answer, you still would not know if the answer was correct?”

More head scratching.

“So, if God could make a rock too big for Him to pick up, why would He?”

A deer in the headlight look.

pexels-photo.jpg   “I think the focus of the question is wrong. Let’s say there is a reason why God would need or want to create this rock. Let’s say that all of humanity is doomed to an eternity away from God because they have rebelled against God. The only way for a man to be saved from this eternal separation from God is for God to create a rock too big for Him to pick up. Are you following me? Does that make sense?”

“Uh, yeah. I think so.”

“Based on what you know of God, can you kill God?”

“No.”

“It would be impossible to kill God or for Him to die, right?”

“Right.”

“Because He is God and there is no way to kill God?”

“Right.”

“Could God kill Himself?”

“I’m not sure.”

“Hmm. Did Jesus claim to be God?”

“Yes. The Son of God.”

“Ok, He is the Son of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, right?” Most people would agree at this point.

“Was Jesus killed? Did He die on the cross?”

“Yes.”

“Was He God?”

“Yes.”

“Then God was killed. He experienced death. He died.”

“I guess so.”

“So, the impossible was done?”

Blank look.

“It was. In fact, not only was the impossible done, it was done by God. He orchestrated the death of Himself. To ask the question if God could create a rock too big for Him to pick up is like asking if a virgin could have a baby or can someone be resurrected from the dead or can God die. The main question is why God would do the impossible? The answer would be because He knows it is the best way to accomplish something. God knew the only way for humanity to be saved from eternal separation from Him was for someone holy to die in man’s place, to take the penalty for his rebellion. So He became a man, born of a virgin, lived a perfect life, was crucified on a cross, was buried, and on the third day was resurrected again. He did these impossible things all on purpose. Why? Because He loves us and He knows it is the only way to save humanity from their fallen condition. There is one more part; each man has to believe that they are in a fallen condition and God did all this for them to save them. Each man has to ask God to save them.”

The Conclusion

Silence. I hope by now they are pondering what I am offering.

“So you tell me, can God create a rock too big for Him to pick up? Can God do the impossible or better yet, have you come to a point in your life that you have accepted what Jesus did for you so you can have this eternal life He offers?”

The Answer

Click on this link to find out what Jesus meant by “being born again.”