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Chapter One - New Beginnings

by Dennis R. Cook


Chapter One - New Beginnings

by Dennis R. Cook

It was an early Spring Sunday morning. The Palo Alto air was crisp, the sky blue. I found myself awaiting Reverend White's sermon, entitled, "Adam's Last Chance." There I was, a Duke University Theology Graduate, working as an executive for a Japanese corporate giant, sitting in church making every effort to imagine what Reverend White's sermon was going to be about. After all, hadn’t I been a Divinity student' Never mind the fact that Duke was also known for its research in Parapsychology, and its basketball, but not necessarily in that order, I had other things on my mind.

I felt like such a charlatan. I had been given all the tools for the ministry anyone could dream of. I had the finest training in Theology money could buy, and I wasn't using the talent or the education. I was too busy making money.

Now don't misread me. I don't believe there is anything wrong with money.., just that when you find yourself obsessed with the mind of God on matters, serving Him should be the only thing that matters.

Instead of thinking about my job evenings, I would lie awake and prepare sermons in my head. How ridiculous! And there I was on a Sunday morning just reveling in Reverend White's sermon, loving every minute of it, and the good reverend hadn't even approached the pulpit.

Honestly, I didn't wake from my daydream that Sunday until the sweet little lady sitting next to me in the pew stood with the rest of the congregation and began the praise portion of the service. That's when I realized I had missed all of Reverend White's sermon.

I was embarrassed! I had drifted off again...

Not even the newness of our recently completed worship center, with its lavish rock gardens and fountains set beneath cedar pews could hold my attention. T’was said, when one was in my condition, that he was too heavenly minded to do any earthly good. The shimmering glass that composed the exterior of the setting, although transparent, seemed to mock my ineffectiveness as a Christian. I felt so alone.

I balked when Reverend White shook my hand after church. I realized that I didn't know the man. Was he my Christian brother' What did his warm smile and handshake really mean' Why did I feel such a disassociation with the man' Where was the inter‑ connectedness that was supposed to bind me to him' It was time I found out.

I recoiled at the touch of the door handle to my silver BMW in the church parking lot. It struck me that its gleaming metal flake exterior exuded the glory of humanity. The soft, black, leather seats declared the heart. Why did I feel that I had to define myself, as Solomon would have said, with monuments to vanity'

My shoulders slumped as I opened the door to my spacious, lavishly decorated home. My home was my villa, my chalet. It was everything I wanted from life, it seemed. And a stately manor it was. Palm trees lined a semi‑circle drive. A split-level design opened to a patio and pool overlooking mountainside greenery which overflowed into the country meadow below. I had refused marriage several times in order to preserve my childless Yuppie lifestyle. It was starting to eat away at my gut. Know what I mean'

The spirit really had me under conviction. I was a mess, a complete contradiction of terms. I could flow in the spirit like a bird floating off a mountain top in a stream of pure air. I could pray in the spirit for hours and praise God until I thought I would melt away. But I could be so carnal in respect to worldly things it turned my stomach. I was a complete contradiction of terms; flesh against the spirit I suppose; immaturity; whatever.

That's why, when Reverend White knocked on my door that same Sunday afternoon I was shocked! The reverend needed help and had come to me for advice. He appeared terribly upset and wouldn't even sit down when I offered him a chair.

"I know you're surprised to see me, Joseph," Reverend White began, "but I've always thought of you as an honest Christian with his feet on the ground."

“Amazing how wealth can deceive,” I thought.

Reverend White was a tall, thin man, in his late forties with some graying hair. His eyes didn't betray years of stress, however, and I sensed it was rather unusual for the man to face a situation that unnerved him.

"I do the best I can," I assured the reverend, turning my head so he couldn’t see the guilt in my eyes. "What can I do for you'"

"Show me," was the reverend's reply, pacing while it seemed he was trying to form the right words. "Show me how I am supposed to compete with this,” he said, releasing his fingers to expose a rather striking red crystal.

The reverend’s anxiety perplexed me. I knew what the stone was and what it stood for in New Age circles, but I failed to understand why the gentleman felt I could help him compete against a New Age talisman, if that is what it was.

"Before I answer your question, Reverend… if you do not mind my asking, why have you chosen me to help you' Surely there are several ministers in the area who are imminently more qualified to give information about that crystal than I am."

"Hardly," the minister scoffed. "You are the only graduate of a school famed for its paranormal investigations that I know of in the area. With one exception, of course, that being that radical Steven I seldom see at church anymore."

I was going to suggest he check with the witch covens in the bay area, but realized he might take offense if I made light of...what seemed to him, at any rate, a predicament.

“There really isn't much I can tell you about the crystal phenomenon that might relate to your question. "Crystals are supposed to focus psychic energies. New Agers use crystals to channel spirit guides, read moods, gain wisdom, and heal. I still don't know how to answer your question, though, what do you mean, how are you supposed to compete'"

"I don't know," he began. "Perhaps I shouldn't have come. Maybe it's nothing, you know. Maybe it's burn out. I'm tired of competing. Christianity seemed so simple twenty years ago when I began the ministry. Now there's a new religion on every block and a new revelation every week. Half of them are pounding on church doors trying to gain acceptance. Some of them are getting in, and it's becoming harder all of the time to keep them out. Frankly, I don't know where to draw the line anymore. If we let them in the church as they are we violate the integrity of scripture. If we don't let them in we're criticized for either being too conservative or too intolerant. Quite a few of our youth ultimately wander off because they sense our confusion. If we don't know what is true, why should young people bother to listen to us'"

"I know it's a very serious situation you're confronted with," I interrupted, trying to be comforting. "Where did you find the crystal' And why is it upsetting you so much' I mean, can’t you just think of it as a rock and forget about it'"

“No, I can’t. Truth is paramount in my book. If I stop loving the truth I am finished as a man of God. Although at this point I am not sure that I want to continue. Anyway, not to digress, I found it under my podium after church.

"What preceded was uncanny. I had a vision. A spirit appeared and pointed to the base of my podium and then vanished.

"This was his second appearance. Both times that he has appeared I have been so shaken by the event that my mind has failed me! Joseph, we are not trained to understand this type of phenomena in divinity school!

Reverend White continued pacing, pausing briefly to glance at the purported talisman, then heavenward.

“I forced myself to look under the podium. This crystal is what I found. What does it mean' I need to know! Would that I had prayed more earnestly for the spirit of wisdom and knowledge!"

"I'm not sure," I balked, "but I know someone that might be able to help us if you have the time."

Reverend White hesitated, a look of consternation on his face.

"A wise man has many counselors," I chided.

"I'll make the time. There has to be a reason for all this madness. Someone must have the answer."

"Well, then let's go," I said, perhaps naively. It never crossed my mind that a real adventure was soon to begin. I didn't reveal our destination to Reverend White. I hated to traumatize him further. I only had one choice. And I hoped the good reverend would see fit to forgive me. After all, if one of his exalted elders could have helped him with their vast spiritual knowledge, he wouldn't have come to me. He needed an answer and I knew where to get it.

I hadn't seen Steven for a few months, but I had known him for years. We had met during our graduate studies at Duke University. How we had managed to settle in the same California community had always perplexed me. I was there for the big bucks. But Steven' I had to assume the Spirit had led him to the bay area. The only reason I knew he was back in Palo Alto was his phone call the night before.

God only knew what Steven had been up to, but he said he needed to see me. He wanted to talk about spiritual visions, voices, demons, and capturing faith. At that time I had no idea what he meant by the words, capturing faith. As well, visions, voices, and demons engendered some consternation within me. Those thoughts had quickly passed. But with the arrival of Reverend White, and a moment to reflect as we drove, I couldn’t help wonder if there wasn’t some damning connection between the two.

Steven was a brilliant Christian, albeit, with a somewhat abrasive personality. I didn't know anyone he didn't rub the wrong way. I was the exception. He had the knack for making the most religious authority figure feel spiritually challenged. Their handicap, he would argue with them, was not in their lack of knowledge, but rather in their lack of faith. He didn't mind letting seminary professors, (Steven called them cemetery professors), and church elders, who he argued, had gained their spiritual authority by secular means, know that he wasn't fooled by their false piety. He suspected the very objective of each was to advance his own cause, not the cause of Christianity, to act as cock of the walk and sit in the chief seat.

Steven was peculiar in many ways. He fiercely scorned spiritual superficiality, or liberality if you will. The few times we had class together at Duke were a riot. Anytime there was the faintest hint that someone was questioning the integrity of scripture, Steven would attack. Sometimes he would seem to preach for an hour.

Our classmates knew in short that Steven stood for the truth. His typical oration went something like this: "I'm not fooled by modern attempts to attain salvation for mankind through the science of invention or the beacon of education. I'm not ingratiated by the power of advancing knowledge. Knowledge does not dissuade me from believing the words of God. I believe that God heals by the laying on of hands. I'm not afraid to confess I'm blessed by the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus...I'm not afraid to declare Jesus Christ is my Lord. I don't place my faith in the science of invention or the beacon of education. I place my faith in God."

I worried that Reverend White would be afraid of Steven, but I liked Steven because he believed he led the life of a true apostle. Steven was bold, defiant, rebellious; a defender of the Truth against all odds; a risk taker, always ready to storm the gates of hell. Martin Luther King, Jr. would have loved him. Martin Luther would have saluted him. The sons of thunder would have adored him. Saint Peter wouldn't have loved him, but he would have liked him a lot...Ha!

As we neared Steven’s house, the sky had darkened somewhat. A light, spring-like breeze was blowing, and it had started to rain a little. We turned into Steven's driveway.

Reverend White's complexion paled as he recognized Steven's old beat up 4X4. He bristled as if to object, but it was too late for that.

Steven was standing on the porch of his small brownstone cottage. The cottage wasn't anything to get puffed up about, but its quaintness could have been enhanced by yard work such as hedge and rose bush trimming. Didn't figure that kind of work mattered much to Steven, though. The man didn't need the definition of apparent wealth. Allegiance to material wealth was my problem. Steven had something deeper, and he was distinguished by that, but not only that.

He also impressed with his stature. Not that six feet three inches was that tall, but his piercing blue eyes made him appear perceptive beyond his forty years. And one was, again I say, at once, struck by the depth of the man's character. The river ran slow, as the saying goes, but it ran deep.

Steven greeted us cheerfully, then politely led us down a narrow hallway to his den. A lively Christian melody filled the air. The smart sounds seemed to emanate from either bedroom or kitchen, I couldn't be sure, but while tuning in, my sense of smell brought me up short. Either Steven had a female companion, or Georgio was making air freshener.

A disheveled pile of newspapers occupied the couch where I assumed the good Reverend and I were to be seated.

Steven sensed my indecision.

"Make yourselves at home, gentlemen. Toss those papers on the floor and make yourselves comfortable. I've been catching up on basketball scores and game highlights of the past few weeks. Haven't had the time on the reservation."

"Oh, what reservation were you on'" Reverend White asked, eager to break the ice.

"I've been working north of Gallup in the New Mexico section of the Navajo Reservation," Steven said.

"I bet that has been interesting," Reverend White said. "What work have you been doing'"

"Well, I like to think of it as voluntary missions work. I'm helping an elderly Navajo build up his church. You know the Navajo,... a fascinating people."

"You will have to tell me all about your experiences out there some time. Perhaps you could even share them with our congregation some evening," Reverend White said.

"I'd like that very much," Steven said, "but, I'm afraid it will have to be another time. I am only going to be here a few more days."

"Another time, then," Reverend White said.

I could tell by the glint in the good reverend’s eye that he was pleased to have sewn a good seed with Steven.

Steven changed the subject.

"Joseph, how about those Duke Blue Devils' Looks like they might be in the championship game of the NCAA tournament again this year!"

"I wouldn't be surprised," I said. "I caught their game last week on CBS. Berringer had thirty points. That guy has been unconscious the past month."

“Ya’, he has been tough to say the least. Hope he keeps it together against Missouri Saturday.”

“Me too,” I said.

"Well," Steven sighed, leaning forward, "what's on your mind' I know you didn't drive all the way over here to talk basketball."

Reverend White didn’t waste time or words. He stood and reached deep into a pants pocket to retrieve the crystal he had shown me earlier.

"I found this stone underneath my podium this morning. I'm afraid it represents something I've been worrying about for a long time."

"And that is'" Steven said, locking eyes with the good reverend as the gem exchanged hands.

I've had a vision the last two Sunday's during church," the Reverend said. "Each time, a spirit being has appeared before me and pointed toward the bottom of my pulpit. I hate to admit it, but it hadn't dawned on me until this morning to look underneath the thing. Anyway, that gemstone is what I found. I am afraid my church is under siege by New Agers, a witch coven, or something."

Reverend White paused, reflected a moment, then continued. "Steven, I would like your opinion. What do you think is going on'"

Steven held the crystal to the light.

"Wow," Steven said with youthful childlike exuberance, "have you looked at this under the light' It's brilliant!"

"Why no," the good Reverend said. "May I'"

"Certainly," Steven said, moving aside so Reverend White could take full advantage of the light.

It does have a remarkable brilliance to it, doesn't it' Here, Joseph, take a look at the fire in this stone.

I couldn’t find any flaws in the gem. And the burned in my heart. I knew immediately that the Spirit of God was there in our midst. That crystal was a gift of some sort, I surmised, intuitively.

I returned the gem to Reverend White and awaited Steven’s analysis with much more interest.

"I do not believe your problem is as serious as you might think," Steven said, smiling. "I do have some thoughts on the matter...., let's see..., where to begin.. Oh yes, I see. Number one,...umm...angels must have permission from our Heavenly Father before they can speak to us. That leads me to believe the interpretation of the vision has already been given to you. Number two has to do with you, Reverend White...have you been thinking about leaving the ministry'"

"Well, eh, yes," Reverend White said, caught off guard by Steven's keen intuitive ability. "But how could you have known'"

Steven laughed.

"Relax, Reverend. I'm coming to that. You see, I'm not thrilled with the state of religious life in America either, and I suspect your fear of New Agers and the like has caused you to stumble upon some very important truths here. For example, the stone...I'd say a jeweler will appraise its value at several thousand dollars."

"That much'" Reverend White said. "But why would someone place such a valuable jewel under my podium'"

"My guess is someone placed that gemstone under your podium in faith, desiring their gift to the church to remain anonymous. You know, that is the real way we are supposed to give. Don't let the left hand see what the right hand is doing, as they say."

"So, it's just a gift and I have nothing to worry about' What a relief! Thank you Jesus for restoring my faith!”

"Well, wait just a minute, Reverend," Steven interrupted.

There's Steven again, I thought, showing little tact. "Reverend, I see three other things that might add quite a bit to your understanding.”

“Oh'” The good reverend said, seeming surprised he might need to know more.

"One, God wanted you to find the gemstone. Two, because the gem was beneath your podium, God is reminding you that you are to make your living there. And three, you were granted the vision in order to encourage you to stay in the ministry. Despite all the confusion you perceive in your role as a minister, you know only good can come if you persevere."

"Remarkable," the good reverend said. " Steven, you were the last person I would have conferred with about this matter. You are a hard one to get to know.

Joseph, thank you so very much for bringing me over here. Now I understand why you and Steven are such good friends.

Steven, I apologize for not taking the time to get to know you better."

"Apology accepted," Steven said, smiling, then turned toward me.

"Joseph, I believe you are here for a reason as well. You know you aren't exactly honoring your call to the ministry. What say you clean out your desk at Mammoto Corporation and join me in New Mexico'"

"Whoa! Hold on Steven," I balked. "People just do not give up high paying careers at the drop of a hat."

They do if they have the call of God on their lives. Joseph, I've known you for a long time. By now the Lord's hand has to be so heavy on you, you probably lie awake at night preparing sermons in your head."

He had me!

"Listen, Steven," I said, "I have 90 days vacation coming which I'm entitled to take all at once. I haven't had a vacation in four or five years. The people at Mammoto would probably be happy to get rid of me for a while, but I'm not making any promises."

"Fair enough," Steven said. "I'll see you tomorrow. Oh, by the way...I have a tape that I want you to listen to. See if you can find the time to squeeze it in before you get here."

"Do my best," I said, as Steven escorted us to the door.

Reverend White appeared tense. I knew it was because the past few weeks had been tough on his psyche, and his nerves were frazzled from lack of sleep most likely.

I wondered if he knew a jeweler he could see on Sunday afternoon. The money from that gem would calm my nerves. Ha!

As we drove over the rain washed avenues, Reverend White couldn't say enough nice things about Steven. “Awesome God,” I thought, as I pondered the miracle of Steven’s newfound congeniality.

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