This is a short story I wrote for the SEA Scribblers Short Story Contest. The rules stipulated that I needed to use one or more of the three photo prompts in my story, and it had to have a Christmas/winter theme. This is my entry; however, it didn't win any place or an honorable mention. The narrator's growth through the story is written from first-hand experience, as I went through a very similar process.
With Truth and Grace by Jordan Jachim
“He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love.”
Isaac Watts’s carol Joy to the World had long been a favorite of mine. But as I stood singing it in church, my mind was disturbed by a paradox. How could these people be singing that Christ ruled the world with truth when they did not live like it? Some of the churchgoers voted for ungodly politicians who stole money and persecuted those who followed the Bible. Others did not interact with God’s children as they rushed out of church at the last “Amen” to watch a sports event. The few who did remain were not interested in discussing important spiritual matters but only the latest novel they were reading.
But the thoughts passed from my mind as soon as we were dismissed from church on Sunday afternoon. They only returned on the following Saturday evening while my sister practiced Joy to the World on the piano. I began thinking once again about the problems I saw in the church. First I enumerated them in a long list; then I thought about remedies. But every remedy that entered my head required a strong leader to carry it out. And who was better fitted to become that leader than me? In a few months I would graduate from high school and could then move on to leading a church. Under my leadership, it would flourish, modelling God’s uncompromising truth, and becoming a leading voice for reform in our country. I went to bed that Saturday night, hopeful of the grand changes I would initiate.
I seemed to be ascending into the sky, filled with hopeful and optimistic thoughts. The higher I climbed, the higher I wanted to climb. Finally I reached a height where I could look down on the earth. The orange sunset filled me with a sense of satisfaction as I contemplated the dark world below me. How high I had come! While I might not have attained the heights a few had reached, yet I was far above the world of darkness. Surveying my achievement, I realized with a start that I was not alone.
“It is good to see you.” The voice came from a woman in white with thick golden hair. Her eyes were kind but sad as she looked at me. “I have heard that you are discontented with your church.”
“How can I be content when they do not follow God’s ways?”
“Do you follow God’s ways?”
“I try my best, even if I sometimes fail,” I evaded. “But the others do not. If only I could lead them to living in God’s truth! They need a strong leader.”
“Living in God’s truth is the desire of every true Christian. But that desire cannot come from another person leading them. It must come from God.”
She sighed, and I thought it was a sigh of weariness. “You must follow me, for I will show you something.”
Without warning, she stepped forward. She fell towards the earth and after a few seconds of indecision, I followed. We passed the atmosphere, and continuing our course, landed softly at the corner of Washington and Lossberg.
“That’s my church,” I said incredulously. “Why were you sent to show me that?”
She made no answer, but opened the door and motioned for me to enter. Attendance was smaller than I remembered and something seemed different. Perhaps it was that no usher greeted me, or that no one smiled at me as I sat down. Everyone’s head was down, fixed on their Bibles, and each wore a grave face. Perhaps they were just being reverent, I mused.
But my thoughts were diverted when the minister opened a side door and walked onto the platform. I noticed his icy blue eyes, shaded by expressive eyebrows that moved up and down to emphasize his texts. His face was very somber, at least what was not hidden behind a black mask. Why did he wear a mask in church? But I had no time to ponder this since he began his sermon.
His sermon dealt with many of the same evils I had noticed in my church before. He thundered against money-thieving politicians and unjust laws. Next, he outlined the lack of spiritual community in his church. When he finished, the people filed out of the door until I was the only one left. The masked pastor came up to me and greeted me.
“I am glad that you came to our church. And you did not run out of the door after my last prayer.”
“I want to have fellowship and be edified by our conversation.”
His face broke into a smile. “I am glad that is the case for you. You will likely make an excellent addition to our church. But you need a few lessons from me first. After all, you voted for Ryan Jenkinson.”
“And why should I not?” I asked in surprise.
“His HB.5067b could strike against religious freedom in this country.”
“That bill—I read it—merely exempts churches from certain regulations pertaining to their tax-exempt status. There wasn’t a word about more regulation for churches.”
“I just finished Wolf’s Best Friend. It’s a novel about a man and a wolf who become friends.”
“Reading fiction is an ungodly and pernicious pastime. All orthodox church leaders have spoken out against it.”
“I agree that many novels should be used as fuel for bonfires, but this one was written from a Christian perspective. It was an allegory, filled with the beauty of God’s creation. Why,” I added, “I’ve even written several short stories to illustrate Christian truths in a—”
“All fiction is expressly designed to help the reader escape into fantasies rather than pursuing God’s kingdom.”
“What about John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress? That illustrates Christian truths and was written by an orthodox church leader.”
“If you hope to remain a part of this church,” the pastor’s eyebrows lowered, “you must not waste your time in these frivolous activities.”
“This is absurd! You are free to share your concerns, but you are attempting to claim lordship over my conscience with your rules. That is reserved for God alone.”
“I am not claiming lordship over your conscience. You are.”
“No, I am not,” I fired back. “I claim that for God alone.”
“In attacking me, you have attacked yourself.”
|Photo Prompt #3|
“Who am I?” he demanded.
My face froze as I contemplated the man sitting across from me. Now that the mask was removed, there could be no doubt of his identity.
“Yes,” he said, in answer to my baffled look. “I am you. I follow your rules; I implement them with your zeal. The only difference between us is that I have power! I am in the position of church leader. This is what you will become!”
I sank my face in my hands as the world seemed to whirl around me. When I finally raised my face, my guide stood before me. Of the pastor there was nothing.
“Why was I such a fool?” I groaned. I was now anxious to make atonement for my misguided zeal and made a promise that I would never hold convictions and tell them to others.
“One cannot compromise truth for peace if one is a believer in the word of God,” she said gently.
“Then how can I share my convictions without becoming like—like what I have seen?”
“What song brought this train of thought originally?”
This was an odd question, but it shifted the current of my thoughts and I replied, “Isaac Watts’s Joy to the World.”
“Yes. In the fourth verse, it is stated that Christ rules the world with truth and grace. These are the two virtues you need to interact with others. Because you believe in Christ and his word, you have truth. But it must be shared with grace. That is what Christ did to you before you believed in him. He blessed you with health, life, the love of your family and friends, while telling you of his free gift of eternal life. Follow Christ’s pattern.”
“Thank you,” I said with feeling. “Looking at it now, I see that I needed this lesson.”
“But do not compromise the truth under a guise of ‘grace.’ For that is not grace, but a license to sin. The apostle Paul writes well of it in the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans.”
“Thank you again.”
“You needn’t thank me,” she replied. “I am just a servant of God, as you are. May God bless you.”
As she turned to go, she looked at me, and said with a smile, “When sharing truth, you might start by telling others of truth and grace. Look in John chapter 1, verse 17.”
She, the church building, and finally my consciousness, slowly faded into blinding white light…
“It’s Sunday morning! Time to get up and get ready for church!” I heard my mother call cheerily.
So it was all a dream, I mused. But to me, this was unlike any dream I had ever had. The important truths and the vivid way they had been taught stayed with me. And I realized that it had been accurate. I had been too forceful when sharing my convictions with others. But God in his mercy had taught me this lesson: to share truth seasoned with grace. That was why Christ had come, so stated the Apostle John. The law was from Moses, but Jesus had brought truth and grace when he came to earth that first Christmas day. That Sunday morning I went to church with a new-found love of Christ’s love, determined to share it with others—with truth and grace.