Chapter Seventeen (continued)

Pastor George had for months now set aside his planned series of sermons on the Book of Revelation in favor of more impromptu sermons delivered in reaction to fast-moving events. Now, with the return of some stability, he was thinking of resurrecting his old notes and resuming his discussion of the big picture behind the events they were experiencing. But this Sunday he had a more urgent call to deliver a warning to his flock.

“My dear fellow Christians,” he began, “I’ve been trying through Scripture to equip you to handle the circumstances that we find ourselves in. I’m doing the best I can, but because things are happening so rapidly I find that I’m simply not enough. Nor is your attendance on Sunday mornings enough. I’ve added Earl Cook to my deacon staff. He and Jim Preston agreed to help out Wednesday evenings with a beefed-up, in-depth Bible study catering to two age groups, both directed toward helping you cope with life as we now must face it. I expect attendance to grow dramatically as the world situation continues to worsen. Jim’s great with the kids, and is looking forward to working with them. Earl has enough familiarity with Scripture to handle the task for the adults. He also has some recent experience in conducting Bible studies, even to the point of assuming pastoral duties, so I’m certain that you’ll find that time with him will be well-spent. But you have to go beyond that too and make an effort to read Scripture on your own. It’s like exercise – the more you get into it, the more you can do. We need to exercise ourselves spiritually. I’m thinking of an hour a day for starters. There’s an urgent reason for this. We’ve been passive too long, not that I mean you should take up violence. But we’re in a time when you, as Christians, must show the light of Christ to a world that is entering the darkness of totalitarian control. You have to become so familiar with the Word of God that you can withstand the coming assault on your faith.”

He paused, frowning. “I’m not trying to scare you. The world outside our doors is doing a good job of that. I’m trying to make you understand just how bad it is out there, so you can deal with it effectively as Christians. The trial ahead is coming upon us with certainty. How do I know this? Because the events taking place here and around the world are fitting quite precisely into Biblical prophecy. As I said before, you can put away your guns for this battle. They aren’t necessary. It’s not that kind of war. As Paul told us, what we’re facing is spiritual wickedness, and our only true defense against that is our Lord Jesus, who acts upon our faith and obedience. I’ll read to you Paul’s commentary about this from Ephesians Chapter 6:

“’Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore, take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand, therefore, having your loins girded about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, with which ye shall be able to quench the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; and for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, as I ought to speak.’

“Pray that I, too, as well as you, may speak boldly, to open our mouths with full and unyielding commitment to our God to bring the light of Christ to a world descending into a hell on earth. That we take up the weapons, not of materialism, but spiritual, these being truth, righteousness, faith, love and the Gospel of Jesus Christ, submitting ourselves in love to the indwelling Holy Spirit.

“Most of you have been indoctrinated by the Clint Eastwood or Stephen Seagal kind of movies where the “hero” gets his own back in a variety of clever and wonderfully satisfying revenge scenarios. Shoot-‘em-ups like that are very entertaining – but they aren’t very Christian, and tactics like that have no place in our battle. It’s our lot instead, as Christians, to wage a much more difficult war than our friends Clint or Stephen ever had to face. We are called upon by Jesus to endure persecution with loving hearts – to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who treat us badly, to love indiscriminantly.”

Pastor George scanned the congregants and noted the irritated expressions on many faces. “To those who would shout Unfair! is it really? As I recall, my relationship with Jesus didn’t begin in a loving manner. I disliked Him for all kinds of perceived shortcomings, all of which were terribly false misconceptions. Actually, I refused to believe that He is God, or that God the Father or God the Holy Spirit even existed. Yet He loved me enough to die on my behalf. Can we do less than return this love in faith and obedience?”

The return of regular television programming brought a new element to the home screen: the demeaning of the religions of “the Book”, Judaism and Christianity. Sitcoms were offered that cast Christians as their antitypes: selfish, morally disgusting, ill-tempered, maladjusted, materialistic and, above all, hypocritical. This mockery, despite the coarseness and obvious falsehood of the presentations, succeeded in performing the desired social engineering function of forming a public consensus of angry superiority against Christians, who were increasingly cast in a subhuman light. Joyce turned on the television one evening after she had parked Cathy in front of it, and before she could change the channel, she was confronted with an angry fight in a Church aisle between two women who were in the process of yanking on each others’ hair. An altar with a cross was clearly visible in the background. A number of Churchgoers were avidly watching the event with obscene smiles on their faces. One woman was clapping her hands, yelling “Git ‘er, Sue!” Horrified, Joyce stood dumbfounded before the evil scene. Before she found the presence of mind to respond, a pink-nailed claw ripped the blouse of one of the fighters, exposing a breast. One of the men, lust on his face, moved in to cup the flesh with his hand. Joyce screamed and turned away. Earl came running into the room as the fight played out, one woman on top of the other, their nearly-naked bodies separated by remnants of blood-stained blouses. The pastor on-screen had come up and stood looking at them with ill-disguised interest. Earl picked up the clicker in haste and switched off the set. Cathy squirmed in discomfort.

“That’s not real, Cathy,” Earl told her. “It’s a lie, what some awful people are trying to make others think of Christians.

“Yeah, and it’s working, too,” Joyce said, attempting without much success to calm herself and Cathy.

This misinformation campaign worked quite well indeed, as indicated by the body language exhibited by the public when faced with the proximity of Christians, some of whom had responded to one pastor’s exhortation by wearing white armbands with cross insignias. The use of these armbands spread rapidly through the Christian community, crossing state lines and continuing coast-to-coast. Christians identified in this way increasingly were getting roughed up. Then they started dying.

Earl watched it happen as in slow motion. In the cafeteria at work the talk noticeably coarsened, with women often bearing the brunt of lewd jokes. Then the women began to respond in kind. At the same time, his personal interchange with co-workers cooled much as it did when he was put to the test with Pastor Wilson over his supposed blasphemy. Most noticeable at first was Patty, who avoided him when possible and was curt when forced to communicate with him. Gone was her light-hearted (and –headed) banter and her sassy friendliness with him. Next to make his displeasure with Earl most noticeable was his boss Walter, who, after having fired him and then apologetically turned around to re-hire him after the exposure of Pastor Wilson as a reactionary zealot, reverted to his old stance of calculated distance at the increasing popularity of the anti-Christian, anti-Jew mindset. When Earl spoke to Joyce of the darkening situation at work, she surprised him with a grin. “I think you should start looking around for new employment,” she encouraged, “and I know just what you should apply for.”

“What would that be?” he asked her.

“How about RRT?” The grin widened.

“RRT? What on earth is that?”

“Roadkill Removal Technician, of course. Or maybe Mole Depopulation Expert. She laughed ironically. We might as well face it, Earl, and see the humor in it. We’ve reached the social stratum of rodents, so we might as well capitalize on our kinship with the little fellas.”

“I love you more than you can imagine, Joyce. You’ve put our situation in the proper perspective and reminded me to keep my sights on Jesus and focus on the spiritual. Thanks.”

“You’re welcome. This material world just doesn’t matter any more. We might as well be happy with what we have and leave the driving to God.”

One evening Joyce had a chance to apply this developing attitude to another loved one – and to herself as well. “How’s your new marriage?” she asked brightly as she answered a phone call from her mother. She was very happy for them both.

“That’s wonderful,” Janet replied. “But there’s something else that’s been on my mind, Joyce,” she said. “I’d better tell you the real reason why we sped up the wedding. I was diagnosed with breast cancer two months ago. While I was assured at the time that with the many treatment options available the success rate was steadily growing, Henry and I decided not to take any chances with the time available to share our lives. I’m very glad we did that, because I may not be around much longer.”

“What do you mean, mom?” Joyce asked with a lump in her throat.

“I found out today that my health plan has denied coverage for treatment. They said that my age made me ineligible. It’s part of the revamped health coverage system. Nobody noticed it was there except the insurance companies. They didn’t bother telling the public. Now it’s too late to change it.”

“Oh, mom!” Joyce wailed. “All I can do is pray, but I’ll be doing a lot of that. Please come over this weekend. I want to have as much time with you as I can.”

“I’ll talk with Henry. I’m sure that he won’t mind.”

“We’ll be expecting you.” But Joyce suddenly remembered her conversation with Earl over the deteriorating conditions at his job. “Mom,” she added, “don’t let this get you down. Maybe even if the cancer is terminal, it’s for the best. Remember what Paul said in Romans 8. I’ll paraphrase it best I can as I remember it: ‘All things work together for good for those who love the Lord, who are the called according to His purpose.’ As a matter of fact, God may be doing you a big favor by letting you check out of this increasingly evil world. Just make the most of the time you have with Henry – and with us, too.”

“You’re probably right, dear. Thanks for putting this situation into a better light for me. We’ll be seeing you this weekend.”

Earl and Joyce continued to shelter Cathy in their home, refraining from travel with her except when it was absolutely necessary. When the other residents of the nursing home had been carted off to who-knows-where by the AIDE teams, they were particularly watchful for signs that the governmental bureaucracy had sorted out the difficulties brought on by the violence sufficiently to come looking for Cathy.


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