“David, I really appreciate you and Rebecca giving me a ride to the airport,” said Jeffrey O’Neill, the Christian author and speaker who had come to Topeka for a conference on church growth and prayer ministries.
“You’re welcome Pastor Jeff,” David replied, “Glad we could help.”
“Oh, just call me Jeff, I don’t go in for a lot of formality you know. Jesus didn’t, so why should I?” he smiled.
Jeffrey O’Neill had worked for a long time to soften his strong Southern accent. It was fine, an asset in fact, when he was preaching in conservative Southern Baptist churches, leading revivals in the Bible Belt, or ministering to the good folk who would come to see him for advice. But times had changed. He was observant of the changing culture and had shifted his emphasis to reaching young people, those who would shape the future. His book on combining ministry with family life had actually done very well among those in the emerging church movement who wanted to be involved in dynamic ministry, yet also had a deep desire (or at least they had told themselves that) to maintain the traditional values of family. Now he was out speaking at churches and conferences for half the year while at the same time trying to get another book out to make sure the time lag from the last one was not too long so that he would attract his current readers and maintain name recognition. It was taking longer than he planned, and he was worried. He felt his agent was scheduling too many of these conferences leaving him too little time to write. He was confident, though, that God would help him through this time; afterall, he was doing it for Him. His wife was complaining about him being on the road so much too, and she knew that his audiences included a lot of single, young women. But she trusted him.
“Pastor…I mean, Jeff,” Rebecca smiled from the back seat, “I really want to thank you for everything you had to say to us this week. For our church to reach the people in this community, we needed to hear what you had to say.”
“Oh, Rebecca, it wasn’t me,” replied Pastor Jeff, “God has a message for all of us. I just came to deliver it. No, what you guys are doing is so important. It’s going to change this town, and the lives of those in it. I really mean that.”
After shaking hands, Pastor Jeff walked into the terminal and Rebecca got in passenger’s seat of the car.
“He was so great,” she said as David climbed in behind the wheel and closed the door. “I wish I could have faith like that.”
“Like him?” asked David.
“Yes, he’s so full of the love of the Lord. He has committed his life to God and is doing His work. I wish I could have that courage.”
As they pulled away from the airport, David was silent, thinking.
Finally he said, “Yeah, well, for me, I would be happy to know that the only person he was sleeping with was his wife. That would give me some confidence, but these days, you don’t really know.”
She looked at him with surprise, “Are you serious? Not him!”
“C’mon, it seems like every few months one of these guys is in trouble for something, and it’s usually sex.”
“No, David, he has a great wife and family,” Rebecca protested, “Haven’t you read his book? And did you notice that his promotional picture has him standing behind his wife? I think that demonstrates something.”
“Happy family,” David nodded, as he rolled his eyes.
“David, they’re not all like that, it’s just news when one of them screws up. You don’t hear anything about the vast majority.”
“I’ll give you that,” David relented, “But why do we need people like him in the first place?”
“What do you mean? Didn’t you think he was great? I’m really excited about what he had to say.”
“I know you are,” David said softly, “and will you still feel that way in a week or two? You, and all of the others are going to get together with your notes and the materials from his ministry at some coffeeshop and figure out how you’re going to change things. Everything will be new; a brand new day. You will make all sorts of plans and talk about how relevant you are to the culture because of how hip and cool you think you are and how you will make others think religion is cool. And you know what? …. Wait for it…99% of the people here will not give a damn and will never hear about what happened this week. It was a show to make us feel good; it was all about us. Not them.”
“Why are you even a part of this if that’s the way you think?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” David continued, “I know you and the others mean well. Really. But…it seems so…fake.”
“Fake?! This is True, this is real, I believe it. What do you believe in?”
“I know what I don’t believe in,” David responded.
“Becky, what do you love?” David asked.
Rebecca began her list: “God, my family, my friends….”
“If you love something, shouldn’t you know it?”
“I know them,” Rebecca said firmly.
“You know God? How?”
“I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ….”
“What?” asked Rebecca.
“I don’t want you to rattle off what you have heard repeated a million times by a bunch of bleating sheep who are only saying it because they have been told that that is what they should believe and say. Becky, tell me about the God you know.”
“Well,” Rebecca began slowly, “I know about God from reading the Bible, and He speaks to me when I pray.”
“He speaks to you? You hear him?” David asked searchingly.
“Well no David, obviously not audibly.”
“Why not? He’s God, right? He could speak to you audibly if He wanted to”
“That’s where Faith comes in David.”
“Oh, so he’s testing you…us, I should say.”
Rebecca was silent. And getting angry. “David, listen, of course there is doubt, everyone experiences that. But we have this history, all of these people who have believed, for generations. I take comfort in that.”
“But you say you love God, and if you love, shouldn’t you know what you love?” asked David.
“I try. Every day. Why are you being so critical?”
“I’m just asking. How do you know God? From what people like Pastor Jeff tells you? What makes him such an expert? From the Bible? What do you know about that?”
“I read it,” she said.
“Do you know what you’re reading? Do you know where it came from? Do you know about the Johannine and Pauline schools, and the works that Christians read that no one reads anymore and how things got selected to go in it? Do you know what you’re reading?”
“Don’t you believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God?” she asked, looking intently at him.
“I do.” David responded matter-of-factly.
“Okay,” replied Rebecca as she took a deep breath and turned to look out the window at the remnants of corn stalks in the winter field flashing by.
After a few moments, David continued, “Of course, I also believe that my dog is inspired by God when I throw him a ball and he runs after it and then plays keep-away from me.”
She glared at him.
He smiled as he looked straight ahead at the road. “I really do,” he added in a calm and sincere voice, giving her a glance and slight smile.
She shook her head, crossed her arms, and stared straight ahead. She thought to herself, “How did he ever get to be a small group leader?”
“I’ll be your mirror,” David said after a while.
“Your mirror. I will reflect back to you what you can’t see. The hypocrisy, the falsity, the stuff that they tell you and that you refuse to question, the stuff you take all in and spit right back out.”
“No thanks. You’re weird and I think you should talk to someone. Because I don’t know who you are anymore or what you believe,” she said calmly.
“You want to know what I believe?”
“Yes! I want to know what you believe!” she said in frustration.
“Okay.” And with that, David swerved the car onto the shoulder of the road, put it in park, opened his door, walked around to Rebecca’s side of the car, and proceeded to open her door. She looked at him untrustingly and slowly got out, never taking her eyes off of him.
“What are you doing?” she asked with great concern.
David turned toward the snow-covered field of cut wheat and with arms stretched out wide he yelled at the top of his lungs, “I – believe – in this!” The words lingered just for a moment. And then he turned smilingly back to Rebecca, walked up to her, held her shoulders in his hands, and quietly said to her, “And this,” as he kissed her directly, intentionally, and quickly on the lips; not so quick that it was merely a peck and not so long that the shock would wear off and she could protest. And then he bent down to the ground grabbed a handful of snow, grass and dirt. “And this,” he quietly said to himself, while Rebecca remained standing still with eyes wide and mouth agape. David then stood back up saying simply, “and this,” at which point he said in a clear, steady, singing voice, “Glória in excélsis Deo et in terra pax homínibus bonae voluntátis.”
They both sat in silence looking straight ahead as they barreled down the road, cars speeding past in the other direction and the occasional farmhouse breaking up the stretches of barren fields. After a few minutes, Rebecca looked down and quietly said, “You know I will have to tell Pastor Rob about this.”