From the CLAY “Story” Series
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4:4 NIV
In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth (4:4), written about 20 years after Jesus died, he warned them about unbelievers being so blinded by Satan that they were unable – or unwilling – to believe the gospel of Christ. It seems little or nothing has changed since then and the “god of this age” is no less busy today – if anything, he’s had almost 2000 years since Jesus’ message of salvation to learn what makes us tick; what will give us a false sense that all we need is ourselves; what will keep unbelievers as…unbelievers.
Even when we encounter an unsettling brush with reality…
• • •
“More coffee, hon?” Erin stuck her head through the door from the kitchen to the dining room where her husband Ryan sat reading his Bible at the table.
“Hmm? Oh, yea – thanks, sweetie.”
She topped off his cup. “Whatcha reading there?” There was that cheery tone in her voice she had begun using when she wanted to feign interest in his new life.
“First Thessalonians. My mid-week Bible group is studying Paul’s letters.”
“Yea? Sounds like fun.” She turned to take the coffee pot back to the kitchen.
“Hey – listen to this, Erin.” She stopped and turned to listen, her best “supportive wife” face on. He read: “‘For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.’ Isn’t that cool?” he said, looking up from his new study Bible.
“Really cool. That would make a great movie – science fiction is really popular these days.” She turned and continued to the kitchen.
Ryan raised his voice so she could hear him from the dining room. “Technically, it wouldn’t be science fiction.”
“Well, you know what I meant,” she yelled back. “It would have special effects and kind of a science fiction-y feel to it. Sort of like that movie with Nicholas Cage we saw.” Good save, she thought. She turned the water on in the sink to rinse their breakfast dishes. I’ll be glad when all this religion stuff blows over.
And it would; she was sure of it. Ryan was notorious for starting something and then losing interest. The garage was full of like-new camping equipment, a top-of-the-line mountain bike with less than a mountain’s worth of mileage on it, and a gym bag full of weight belts and other workout accoutrements. They were still paying monthly fees on an unused gym membership.
Granted, he had stuck with this Christianity kick longer than she had expected. He went to church and Bible study and spent time every day praying – for her, most likely. It’s getting harder and harder to live with a Jesus freak.
Ryan came into the kitchen with his breakfast dishes. “Hon?”
“Yea, babe?” she said, taking his plate and utensils to rinse.
“You think you would like to go with me to church tomorrow? Pastor Chris is starting a new sermon series about the end times. I think you’d enjoy it.”
“Tomorrow? I was thinking we could have breakfast with Jen and Dominic at that new little place downtown – the one we passed on the way home from the grocery store last week? Jen said they have incredible omelets. Stouffer’s or Strider’s – do you remember what it was called?”
“Schneider’s.” He opened the dishwasher to load the rinsed dishes. “We could go after church.”
“You couldn’t miss one Sunday? They only serve breakfast ‘til 11. My treat?”
“I don’t want to miss church. I like church – I’ve met some really nice people there. And the music’s good and the pastor’s interesting – sometimes he’s really funny. I think you’d like him.”
“I’m sure all of it is good. And I’m so glad you’ve found something that really makes you happy, but –“
“But it’s ‘just not your thing’?”
“That makes me sound like a 70s chick – but, yeah. I did my time in church when I was still living with my parents. I couldn’t wait to get out.”
“So that’s why it was so easy to get you to move in with me. All along I thought it was my irresistible charm.”
“It was – that and your dimples.” That made him laugh. “But if we hadn’t met I still would have ditched church as soon as I could.”
“Why? What was so bad about church?” he asked, loading the dishes as she handed them to him.
“All of it – dying on the cross, going to hell, ‘Amazing Grace,’ the whole rapture thing. I just couldn’t get into it. And the people were so fake with their ‘Jesus loves you’ attitude.”
“When we met I was like that, too,” he said. “I mean, I didn’t hate God or anything – I didn’t have any feelings about Him. I just didn’t think I needed Him – but I did. I did in the worst way. The Bible says we all need Him because we’ve all sinned.”
“You know what,” she said, “I disagree with that. You and I don’t cheat on our taxes, we both raised money for the cancer walk last year, we kept that foreign exchange student from…wherever she was from. We’re good people. We’re not ‘sinners’.”
“Not to keep throwing the Bible at you, but the verse I just memorized from First John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
She crossed her arms and leaned against the sink. “When have I sinned? When have you sinned?”
“We slept together before we got married.”
“So – everybody does it.”
“That doesn’t make it OK. The Bible says…”
“Let me guess – the Bible says it’s a sin. OK – so I sinned and the truth is not in me. But we loved each other – that’s got to count for something.” She reached out and took his hand. “Plus, I married you and totally made an honest man out of you.” She gave him a quick kiss and turned around to get more dishes from the sink.
“I’m serious, Erin. The only way to keep from paying for our own sins after we die is to accept the fact that Jesus has already paid for them.” He loaded the last of the dishes into the dishwasher. “Dying without His forgiveness… It’s too horrible to think about. I don’t want that to happen to you.”
“I know, Ryan, but what if this is like that gym membership or the mountain bike? What if you let religion turn our lives upside down and then lose interest?” His face flushed. He shut the dishwasher door – a little too hard. She knew she struck a nerve.
“I’m – I didn’t mean that.”
“No – it’s OK. You’re right. The only thing I’ve ever stuck with is you – until now. And now that I have you and Jesus I can’t seem to get you two together. What God did for me – forgiving me, saving me, making me a totally different person – He can do for you. You just have to let Him.”
“Erin – listen to me. All that stuff you said you couldn’t wait to get away from? It’s real – dying on the cross, hell, ‘Jesus loves you’ – all of it. And that part about Jesus coming back and Christians meeting Him in the air? That’s not just the plot of some movie; He is coming back. Maybe soon. I don’t want you to be left behind; but if you won’t even consider trusting Him, you will be, just like that movie. You’ll be left here alone – without me, without Jesus…without anything. Please promise me you’ll think about it.”
“I don’t have to think about it.” She turned around to rinse the sink out. “I’m happy for you, but you were right – it’s ‘not my thing.’ I’m sorry, babe.” She turned off the water and dried her hands. When she turned back around, he was gone.
Not exactly how I wanted to start the weekend…
Grabbing her phone off the counter, Erin stepped out the kitchen door and sat down on the top step. She absentmindedly picked at the herbs in the big terracotta pots next to the porch, dreading having to tell Jen they weren’t going to make it tomorrow.
She sighed. Why is this happening now? Things have been going so good for us.
Even before he got religious, Ryan was as fine a man as she had ever known. He was faithful and honest and she had never worried about someone coming between them.
…especially not Jesus.
Her phone beeped – it was a message from Jen.
> we still on for bfst tomorrow?
> Doesnt look like it
> y not?
> St Ryan wont miss a day of church
> seriously? whats up w him lately?
> Jesus, apparently
> whatcha gonna do?
> If I believed in prayer I might try it LOL
> haha whatev it takes girl!
> Right…Id probly do better with some chicken blood and a voodoo doll…sorry….talk to u later
Erin hated cancelling on Jen and Dom. They had been friends forever and she and Ryan enjoyed spending time with them. Sunday used to be their day to play. They’d pack a picnic and go to the park or all pile in Dom’s jeep and drive to the beach. Now Sunday was her day to wait for Ryan to get home from church.
Sitting there surrounded by the scent of rosemary and lavender would usually cheer her up, but not this time. She couldn’t get their conversation that morning off her mind. What if his whole life change isn’t just a phase? What if it’s for real? She shook her head. “It’s not real.” None of it is real. There is no supernatural power out there – and even if there was, he could care less about our stupid lives. And I’m not gonna waste time sitting in church with a bunch of Stepford Christians waiting for…nothing.
She swiped her phone. I’m never gonna win this sitting out here in the yard. She knew she would have to be the first to fold…
She hit “Send” and waited.
No response. Ryan wasn’t tied to his phone like some people, but he always kept it handy in case she needed to reach him.
She re-read the message she sent. Maybe a question…
> Still love me??
Again, no response. He definitely wasn’t the kind to sulk or be petty. She got up and headed back in the house.
“Ry-Ry,” she called, “you get my message?” Silence.
She walked through the dining room and down the hall and stuck her head out the garage door. His truck was still there.
“Ryan? Are you out here?” Nothing.
She checked the front yard and the back yard – no Ryan. She went down in the basement to see if he was in the “no girlƨ aloud” room. The whole place was dark.
She went upstairs to their bedroom. There in a pile on the floor were the jeans he had on at breakfast, his boxer shorts, and his t-shirt – laying there as if they had just fallen off him. His phone was on the floor nearby and his wallet and keys were on the dresser.
She picked up Ryan’s phone from the floor and sat on the edge of the bed to send a quick message to Jen:
> Heard from Ryan by any chance?
No response. “Really? Now she ignores me?” Even as she said it she knew better. Jen always answered immediately – she even slept with her phone. And she and Ryan never had any problems with their phone service. Could something have happened? Bad weather somewhere or a power outage?
She reached over and dug the remote from under his pillow. She pointed it at the TV and pressed the power button. All she got was static on every channel. She dropped the remote on the bed and went downstairs, both phones in her hand.
She tried the TV in the den – again, nothing but static. She heard a siren off in the distance.
Now I’m weirded out.
She went to the dining room where Ryan’s Bible was still open on the table. She found the part he had read to her earlier and skimmed through it. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven…we who are still alive and are left will be caught up…to meet the Lord in the air.
She flipped the page and read, For you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
Why did she suddenly feel uneasy? Ryan having seemingly disappeared, Jen gone silent, no phone service or TV reception – could something have happened?
“No. That’s overreacting,” she said to herself. It’s because of that stupid movie. I haven’t been ‘left behind’ because no one’s coming who’s gonna leave me behind. “NONE OF IT IS REAL!,” she said out loud, slamming the Bible shut.
She wheeled around. “Ryan!” He was standing there in his stretchy biking shorts and matching shirt – more wasted money. “Where have you been?”
“I went next door to Larry’s to see if he had a bicycle pump or an air compressor. I was going to dust off my bike and take a ride and, you know, think about stuff, but the tire was flat. I guess that happens when it sits around unused for a year or so…”
“I was worried to death – your clothes were in the floor like you just… Your wallet and keys were still on the dresser.”
“Not a lot of room in these shorts for keys.”
She handed him his phone. “This was laying in the bedroom floor.”
“Thanks – must have fallen out of my pants pocket.”
“You could have told me you were going out.”
“That’s what I’m doing right now.”
“I can’t get anything on TV but static.”
“OK. I’ll call the cable company. What are you trying to watch?”
“I was just going to check the news.”
“You could get the news on your phone.”
“There may be a problem with our service. I tried messaging Jen but she didn’t answer.”
“Jen not answering her phone? The world must be coming to an end.” He laughed – Erin just looked away. Ryan looked puzzled. “What’s wrong, Erin?”
She looked back at him. “Nothing. I –” She forced a smile. “Nothing.”
“Yea. I’m just… I’m sorry about what I said this morning.”
“No it’s not. I don’t like it when you’re upset.”
“I’m not upset – just so in love with you I want us to be together forever.”
“I want that, too.”
“Does this mean you’ll come with me to church tomorrow?”
“I don’t think so – I think I’m going to have breakfast with Jen. I hate to let her down.”
“OK. I’m not gonna stop asking you, you know.” She nodded. “When I get back you wanna grab some lunch?”
“Sounds good. Hurry back – and don’t think about stuff too much.”
“I won’t.” He leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. “I love you.”
“Love you, too.” Her phone beeped. “Hunh – I guess we have service… Go – get some wear out of those shorts. I don’t know where you’re gonna put your phone, though…”
He laughed. “I’ll be back soon.”
She sat down in one of the dining room chairs and checked her phone – it was a message from Jen.
> sorry… u find ryan?
> dom hid my phone while i was in teh shower…said it was tuff luv!
> LOL I was just a little worried
> bout what? whats wrong?
> Nothing…overactive imagination….still wanna have bkfst tomorw?
> hello…yes! i guess the voodoo doll worked…or did u pray?
> Neither….Ryans not comin….I’ll be alone
> yay! chick date! i make dom stay home
> pick u up at 9 in the jeep
> Cant wait…
She laid her phone on the table and chuckled. Cute hubby with dimples… Crazy girlfriend with a Jeep… All Sunday morning to play… What else could I possibly need?
She glanced at the closed Bible.