A collection of fictional short stories based in the small town of Cardinal City.
©2011 Aaron M. Fugate

Wednesday, March 23, 2011



“Good morning, Pastor,” Todd Newhelm announced as he entered the 15th Street Biblical Church on a clear, bright Sunday morning in September in Cardinal City.
Middle-aged Pastor Brooks greeted him and shook the elderly member’s hand. “It’s good to see you today, Todd. Have you been feeling poorly lately? We’ve missed you around here.”
 “Oh, I was in bed with the flu last week. The week before, I was traveling to Texas to see my son and daughter-in-law.”
“You went to Texas? You never told me about that. How was it?”
“It was good to see a lot of my family again. I must’ve forgotten to tell you, though.” Todd paused. “You know, even with health problems and failing memory, it still gives me joy to come into the house of the Lord.”
“That’s good to hear, Todd,” Pastor replied, and smiles broke out on both their faces.
 After the congregational singing, Pastor Brooks went to the pulpit to deliver his sermon. He preached on the eschatological meaning of Ezekiel 38. After the final prayer, he went to the back of the church to shake the attendees’ hands.
Todd came nearly last of all the people and complimented Pastor on his message. “You make everything seem so clear. That’s a tough passage, and you got through just fine, and I was able to understand it all. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Todd. Honestly, I worry about how hard it’s going to be for people to catch the concepts in some of my messages,” Pastor Brooks replied.
“Well, I’ll probably see you next week.” Todd did not attend evening services because he liked to be in bed by eight o’clock at night.
“Yes. Have a good week.” Pastor smiled and waved as Todd exited the old small-town church, which had existed for over one hundred and fifty years in Cardinal City.


That night, Todd was watching the evening cable news when the phone rang. He picked it up and heard Pastor Brooks’ voice on the other end of the line.
“Todd,” Pastor began, “are you busy?”
“No,” Todd answered, “I’m just watching the news. Oh, for the good ol’ days with Walter Cronkite,” he grinned.
Pastor chuckled, and then asked, “Can I have a talk with you about something tomorrow morning?”
“Sure,” Todd responded. “Did you want to meet somewhere?”
“Yes, preferably. How about Jane’s Coffeehouse at seven-forty-five?”
“Sounds good. I’ll see you then.”

                When Todd walked up to the counter at Jane’s Coffeehouse the next morning, Terry Cole, the proprietor, gave him a broad smile and asked, “How may I help you?”
                Todd ordered a bagel and a mug of freshly-brewed coffee. He paid for his meal, and soon Pastor walked in, greeted Todd and Terry, and ordered a donut and a mug of hot chocolate, and prepared to pay for his order.
                “Put that wallet away, Pastor,” Todd ordered, “I’ll pay for this.”
                “No, that’s all right; I can pay for my own meal,” Pastor argued.
                “No, I insist.”
                “Am I gonna get paid for this or not?” Terry Cole grinned. “I have to make a living somehow, you know.”
                “All, right, Todd, you can cover it,” Pastor Brooks finally relented.
                The two sat down after receiving their food, and quickly commenced a conversation. “Uh, Todd,” Pastor began, “I don’t know exactly how to say this, but somehow I feel there’s something wrong with the way I’m leading my congregation.”
                “What do you mean?” Todd asked.
                “Well, I don’t know, I guess I just don’t see people getting enough out of my messages anymore.”
“Could you give me an example?”
“Well, last Sunday morning, I gave a sermon on the eschatological concepts found in Ezekiel thirty-eight. On Sunday night, actually, after I called you, I gave a quiz to test how much people remembered from the message. Only a very few people got more than a couple questions right! You yourself said that I’d explained the passage well, but no one seemed to really take anything away from it. What am I doing wrong, Todd?”
“Pastor, I have an idea what your problem might be. However, I also have an idea on how I can pinpoint it for sure.”
“Well, next Sunday, give a sermon on Psalm twenty-three. Mention how it has impacted your life, and give encouragement about how it can apply to any Christian’s life. Don’t focus on the meaning of each Hebrew word, focus on what the Lord is saying in the chapter and try to emphasize the power of the Lord’s protection that’s found in verse four.”
“Well, it doesn’t seem like much of a challenge to a preacher, but I’ll give it a try.”
“That’s what I wanted to hear! Now you’ll need to give a quiz on Psalm twenty-three on Sunday evening. Meet me right here, next Monday, and tell me how it went.”


                Pastor Brooks was at the coffeehouse early on the following Monday, and nearly beat Todd. When the time came for Todd to pick up his tab, Pastor smiled and said, “Now, Todd, I’ll pay for that.”
                “Well! It’s nice to see you have some compassion on an old man like me, instead of making me pay for everything like you did last time!” Todd Newhelm joked.
                Pastor rolled his eyes. “I just had to wait till you were finished ordering, or you might have splurged on me!” he retorted.
                When their food was served, Pastor sat down with a glow in his eyes. “Todd, the most amazing thing happened on Sunday!”
                “Really?” Todd grinned.
                “Yes! Everyone had something to say about my sermon. It seemed that there wasn’t a person there who didn’t take something away from the message. Todd, what did you do?”
                “It wasn’t anything I did. And, yes, I got a lot out of your message, too. Something seemed to be different about the way you preached.”
                “Todd, what was it? What did you do?” Pastor persisted.
                “Like I said, I didn’t do anything! You did it – you actually preached from your heart.”
                “What do you mean?”
                “All that doctrine, everything you preached on from Ezekiel thirty-eight – all of that came from your head. It was ‘head knowledge’, if you will. You knew it perfectly, and had great understanding, but it didn’t have any effect on your deeper emotions. But it’s different with Psalm twenty-three, isn’t it? When you read that first as a child, and then later as an adult, it’s etched into your heart. On the other hand, with a passage like Ezekiel thirty-eight, it’s just in your head, and hasn’t translated into your heart yet. Pastor, there’s nothing wrong with preaching on Ezekiel thirty-eight, but unless you familiarize yourself with something other than all the technical ideas and apply it to your life – and then preach that way, from your heart, then no one’s going to take away anything that they can apply to their life. You were so caught up in the intellectual aspect of the passage that you forgot the bigger picture. But Psalm twenty-three, well, as a child, when you learn that, you’re never concerned about anything technical, you simply find comfort because ‘His rod and his staff, they comfort’ you.”
                “I get it!” Pastor exclaimed; then he paused. “Todd, thank you so much. By the way, most everyone aced the quiz I gave in the evening.”
                “I’m not surprised.”
                “I guess there’re going to be a few changes at 15th Street Biblical Church from now on. I’ll try to put what you said into practice.”
                “Remember to pray about it, too.”
                “I’ll do that. You know. I’m very glad I called you up last Sunday evening.”
                “So am I – even if you did interrupt my watching the news,” Todd chuckled, and after groaning, Pastor joined in laughing.

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