A battered street sign displaying ‘No U-turn’ creaked and swiveled in its base, contradicting the gospel message dispensed underneath by a nomadic streets-evangelist. The adjacent shoeshine stand from where the evangelist operated served a dual-purpose—an expedience to hoity-toity types polishing their image, and pulpit of expedience from which to dispense the gospel message.
“Sir,” the evangelist commented to the arriving customer, “I spotted you a block away before you got here. You turned up your nose when you spotted me. Why did you do that? Did the sun get in your eyes or does my clerical collar disturb you? Are you Christian?”
“What does what I do with my face have to do with anything?” the customer barked with a disapproving glare at the shoeshine guy, assigning him blame for a brewing clash with an idler at his stand. “And don’t you mean ‘a’ Christian?” he snapped, attempting to criticize his antagonist’s turn of phrase.
“I mean what I say,” the streets-evangelist replied, sizing him up with inquisition eyes. “Too many Christ followers claim being Christian despite their foul language and ugly mannerisms. Based on the way they live, their Christianity is lip service, meaning they do not take it seriously. They pose as upstanding models of Christian men and women, but consider contradictory behavior excusable because other Christians conduct themselves that way. I refer to them as culture Christians because they present an upright Christian facade, but can’t sustain it. Your snootiness causes me to wonder who I might be dealing with beneath your camouflage. Perhaps you should wonder too.”
Taking the bait, the customer fired back, “Is that so?”
“Was your question rhetorical? If you don’t want to talk, you shouldn’t end your conversation with an open-ended question. But since you asked, being ‘Christian’ brands you a twenty-four hours per day devotee and follower of Jesus in all coming and going. You dignify your behavior by devotion to Jesus through your relationships and associations... on good days and bad. If you are Christian, they might kill your body, but no one can kill what you are. It takes just a moment to become ‘a’ Christian, but it is more than a title, as living the Christian lifestyle is the work of a lifetime. It is work.”
“I never claimed being religious. You’re annoying me. Back off,” threatened the stranger.
“Gotcha! You feel violated, don’t you? Tell me. What are you?”
“That’s insulting. I’m a man. Isn’t that obvious?”
“Once upon a time it would have been a no-brainier to conclude that, but nowadays, on these boulevards, hasty determinations will get you hurt. A wrong presumption might give insult or create a scene. In your case, I’ll chance you are a man. You slouch like one. You seem a man. In fact, you’re more than a man, and that woman jogging over there inappropriately in a sundress, she’s more than some random woman.”
Somersaulting leaves, withered by scorching summer days, crackling and pinwheeling along the avenue, distracted the evangelist’s attention between words. Streetwise gospel harbingers pay attention to changing weather when canvassing in public. This afternoon, Zephyr, the so-called Greek god of the west wind, the gentlest wind, meekly defied the month long heat wave; the seasonal slide into autumn's embrace, postponed. Inclement weather would pose no threat today for the work of a monarch of summer intent on saving souls. The leafy cadavers scooting merrily along the gutters countermanded illusions of an extended summer, killjoys themselves of sanguine dreams. Inhospitable days approached, but no bother today, as weather and time would not be a hindrance. The situation merited an evangelist’s celebration, unhurried conversations. Someone, please pass the lemonade.
The stranger cursed his decision to drop in for a shoeshine. After an anxious glance at his watch and then at his shoes, he quipped, “What are you talking about? Never mind, you’ve already driven this conversation over a cliff. I don’t do religion.” He declared it menacingly, dismissive of any religious banter. The Zephyr flapped his tie, suddenly turning into an unbecoming gust. Flustered, one hand attempted to tame his naughty tie and the other frantically flicked off street debris slammed into the fabric of his expensive-looking business suit.
“It’s kinda hot out here for a suit. Don’t you think? remarked the evangelist.”
The stranger continued picking at the evangelist’s perceived imperfections. “You’re kinda judgmental, aren’t you? First, the woman jogging on her lunch break in a sundress, and now you have a problem with my suit.”
“You’re kinda astute. You seem quick on the uptake, sir… and very well coordinated,” the evangelist joked. “Step up. Sit down. I’m not talking religion… exactly.”
The evangelist head-motioned the man to ascend one giant step to the platform to sit where customers park for shoeshines. As he sat, the faux leather seat cushion squeaked and expelled air, prompting the evangelist to wonder where the hissing sound came from. “I don’t bite, but what I speak might nibble at you.”
Stymied for a hot moment, the stranger obliged, finding himself up close and personal, and eye to eye with his nemesis. By obliging, the stranger had unwittingly taken the bait again, making himself the unwary captive of a commandeered bootblack’s domain. The evangelist welcomed him into a holy lair. The bootblack didn’t mind. He beamed with approval, thankful for a paying customer.
“Er… don’t mind me, I live here,” the shine guy chirped, his alibi for eavesdropping.
The trapped customer smirked, miffed at being waylaid into a corner with a religious enthusiast. Surely, the impending conversation threatened to ruin his day. He attempted to short-circuit the conversation. “I didn’t come up here for you, just a quick shoeshine during my lunch break. Didn’t I make it clear I don’t do religion? Listen to me, and then we will nix discussion. Religion is essentially for crowd control. The ethics and teachings of Jesus have not advanced humanity. Quite the contrary, it’s brought us to a standstill. Everyone wants to fight. My girlfriend sleeps with her fists balled up. A peace loving society is doomed, always short-lived. Whenever one forms, outsiders swarm over the hill and ransack it.”
“If not for the teachings of Jesus, imagine how much worst the world would be,” pointed out the evangelist.
“It can’t get any worse,” the customer grumbled. “The 24-hour news cycle is more notorious than ever. It ages young reporters who can’t keep up with it. Breaking news is outdated the moment the news crawls across the screen. Global disasters make one gasp and weep. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve got no problem with historical Jesus. But, if I hear one more time that He, a dead man, rose from being dead, I’ll probably hurl in your face. Societies breastfeed on that implausible fantasy.”
The evangelist scolded. “He’s much more than an historical figure. He is God and humanity’s Savior; a God knowing we could never save ourselves from our devilish ways, so He saved us Himself incarnating as Christ Jesus. He paid off His own debt. Through His atoning death and resurrection, He forged a path for redemption of our sins. I digress. You really should understand who He is and what He did for you.”
Fidgeting, the customer fumed, “And full disclosure, I don’t believe in your type either…”
“Oh? What type am I?”
Ignoring the interruption, the customer raged on. “… or hell. You religionist threaten hellfire to extort tithes and offerings from people who feel guilty over all the dirt they’ve done. I came up here for quiet and relaxation while catching up on the cryptocurrency market and my 401k. Why don’t we let the brother down there work his magic, popping his enchanted shine cloth to manifest one of his Olympian shines? I need to get back to my career. That’s why I showed up here today.”
The evangelist coaxed, “Please don’t get cocky, young man. If all you’ve got is a job, you ain’t got much. Lose it and what’s left? Or, from my point of view, who’s there for you to turn to? Okay, I get it, you’re no Christian. You have yet to answer my other question. What are you? Hellfire has nothing to do with it. If you believe the accounts of near-death experiencers, hellfire is not a made up scare tactic. It actually exists.”
“Are you still talking? Nothing to do with it, huh?”
Setting his electronic tablet aside, the young executive braced for the unavoidable oratory coming his way, “Well, get it over with. I’ll listen.” Addressing the shoeshine guy, he commanded, “Give me your best shine. Got to make a deal soon with a client. Understand?”
Eager to comply, the despised streets-evangelist shifted into teacher mode and began waxing eloquently attempting to curtail hostility. “Some truths are self-evident. I hope someone at your station in life wonders ‘Who am I?’ Certainly, a mover and shaker like yourself will occasionally self-assesses to figure out who you are and what type of person you’ve become. Right? There is another question probably too deep for your understanding right now, and that question is this: Whose am I? But, let’s concentrate on the first two—Who and what am I? Do you give any thought to what blinks your eyes or moves your arm to reposition your shifting tablet?”
The wannabe business tycoon clutched at his tablet while the evangelist waxed on.
“What is in you that makes you do the things you do? It’s not an unreasonable ask. It’s more of a philosophical question, a forensic examination of your reality. The answer is a revelation exposing your spiritual nature. Is there a stately version of ‘you’ around which is wrapped your flesh and blood body; a spiritual edition of you, your residual essence, your ‘you,’ even your spirit-self, accompanying you through life?”
“That was a mouth full, Rev.”
“My point, sir, asks whether you ever ponder your consciousness observing the world through corporeal eyes? When you look into a mirror, do you even care that you are looking at a physical shell within which lives the unpretentious ‘you?’”
“What are you talking about? I don’t have patience for this, church person!”
“Sometimes, it’s too deep for me too, but let me complete the narrative. Do you ever fear what might release upon the world should your subconscious—the alter ego you suppress—ever escape? You know…a vile, malicious, lustful, and violent corruption of your ‘you?’ Your hatreds…nightmares…fears…horrors…your darkest motives all coalescing to run amuck in society. Thankfully, most people do not surrender to their multiplicity; their light refuses to be dimmed, and the ungodly darkness surrounding their light can’t break through. Good intentions survive to fight another day. Even though you aspire to a benign life, in a moment of passion, your gremlins might get loose. Should they ever take over, your spirit and soul will face a terrible fate.
You’re smartly dressed. Is it an accurate reflection of the ‘you’ inside? Or are you an impostor? Pinch your arm; it jerks. That’s your autonomic physicality. When you sniff the aroma of a baking peach cobbler, ‘you’ already taste it because your ‘you’ covets deliciousness. When your soul resonates with an infant’s giggle, it touches ‘you,’ enlisting an obligatory emotional response to joy. Or pGet a clue, your visible physical form is not all there is to ‘you.’ You are more than a biological entity. Your real identity results from God exhaling His divine essence into a corporeal container. The real ‘you’ inside is a spirit of consciousness, sourced from God, carried through life by a flesh and blood receptacle. Prove me wrong if you dare. Each human being is a soul-carrying spirit-being, born into sin and yet innocent of corruption. Battered by the vicissitudes of life, you mature through urges, attitudes, and behaviors. Those elements forge your soul, and from your soul erupts your personality. How badly is yours corrupted? Unless that soul becomes cleansed of transgressions against its creator, your body receives burial and your soul dies stained, your spirit presenting it to God. It’s disastrous. Friend, don’t overlook your three-fold existence—your involuntary physicality, your mind-soul-personality connection, and your spirit. Why not commit to returning to your creator unblemished by sin? Be thankful that even before God created you, He knew your soul would need an escape plan.”
“Whatever! It sounds confusing, chaplain.”
“I’m not a chaplain. Hang on and you’ll soon understand. You were born innocent, but your grownup arrogance disregards God’s good intentions for you. All your young life knows is life, so you think you will live forever. As a result, haughtiness covers ‘you.’ Somehow, your ‘you,’ the inner you, dismissed God’s concern for your destiny. As a result, immorality and waywardness own both your ‘yous’, driving a wedge between you and your creator. Follow? Haven’t you ever wondered what it’s like to be who ‘you’ were born to end up as, to experience the bliss of being the fully actualized you—divinely blended, so brilliant and talented you can’t be denied, your innermost being as pure as driven snow and free of shame? When you intuit your true beingness, it obliges you to succumb to your creator’s brilliant solution for gathering you back to Him unscathed. By that pissy look on your face, I presume you consider this nonsense, preferring to ignore me.”
“I’m trying, but those chirping songbirds aren’t loud enough, God-botherer.”
“The good news,” skewered back the evangelist, “is that despite being pathetic, you are redeemable. Your creator desires ‘you’ returned to His good graces. An all-mighty, all-knowing, always present Heavenly Father desires to redeem you into eternal life with Him as one of His own. Don’t ask why God puts up with disbelievers like you. In due time, I suppose I will find out. Er...actually, I already know. Foolish me! It’s all about His love for us...each one of us. But, in your current, soiled condition, your ‘you’ is reprehensible because God does not tolerate filthiness. I don’t care that it insults you. Better insulted for good reason than live a denigrating life of delusion. Living for the sake of being alive means nothing; your days on earth are but a disappearing vapor. It’s my duty to tell you when ‘you’ puts on Jesus, He becomes your righteousness in God’s eyes and absolves you of your filthiness. It’s a concept many find too challenging to understand. But the purpose of a challenge is to meet it.”
“Wait! I thought you were going to un-confuse me, sky pilot.”
“Really? You still don’t get it?” bemused the evangelist. “I repeat. Inside physical you is spiritual ‘you.’ Physical ‘you’ is your reflection when you look in the mirror. There is more to you than a reflecting image of yourself. Spiritual ‘you’ exists in your mortal body and moves around with you. When your body lusts for ungodly gratification, inner ‘you’ is designed to launch a tsunami of godly thoughts and countermeasures. When all pistons fire, deplorable ‘you’ gets outclassed by wholly actualized ‘you,’ guided by the divine Sovereign who created it.”
The stranger’s face tensed as he nudged the shine guy. “Are you munching this granola?”
The evangelist doubled-down. “Don’t glare at me like you want to shoot me. I thrive on lighting spiritual fires under types like you to save them from condemnation when their life on earth ends. I think, given the chance, every dying person considers it way too soon. Back to my analogy. Each belief awards a symbolic badge to the bearer which enhances relationship with his creator. This is probably the only instance when something that good is earned and not stolen. Let’s pin a belief badge to your spiritual chest to start a collection of beliefs signifying a ‘yes’ for salvation.”
“And what would that belief badge represent?”
“It would acknowledge your inner spirit. And not only that, it represents your understanding that, as things stand now, you could use a cleansing.”
“See what I mean? You’re trying to intimidate our pseudo-relationship, to manipulate and dominate me. Are you some sort of wizard? Out to get to me and my wallet, preacher?”
The evangelist heaved a disgusted sigh. “Not at all. Think of yourself as a spiritual child of God transcending your physicality. Think of your beliefs as legal tender toward passage through heaven’s gate. The teaching of man as a spiritual being is found throughout Christian canon. The most supreme belief badge, excelled above all the others, vitalizes the others with more significance. It secures your place in eternity. I would love to teach more on this, but it’s best to take this one step at a time for your type. I’ll just mention that although you were born alone, you don’t have to die alone. Your Lord and Savior awaits ‘you’ at heaven’s gate. Until then, stay alive.”
“Are you finished?”
“Not yet. I suspect your self-dependence leaves you exposed and alone when trouble strikes. Examine yourself. Sense…‘you.’ You are ‘you,’ and ‘you’ is you. Your existential history explains your connection to God: “Your eyes saw me unformed, yet in Your book all my days were written, before any of them came into being.” MEVLet me explain. ‘You’ is the ‘you’ of old, existing before you can recall, although God knew you way back then. It makes one wonder just how beyond understanding and magnificent is God almighty. This is not New Age speak, it’s Bible teaching. As we learned in school, energy is neither created nor destroyed, only changed from one form to another. It seems God knows you inside and outside because He formed every bone in your body. He knows your construction bit by bit because He sculpted you bodily in His image from conception to birth. God foreknows all the stages of your life and His will for ‘you’ is to survive them. Yes, the days of your life were all known before you ever drew a breath. Uh-oh, I keep mentioning God. No apology this time.
Suffice it to say we’re talking about the ‘you’ that peers out from inside your flesh and blood body when you look in a mirror. It is ‘you’ looking through recessed eyes, and it is ‘you,’ a dream wrangler attempting to assign meaning to dream theatrics playing out in your sleep. You are the ‘you’ no one else can be, the ‘you’ no one else truly knows, and your ego screams, ‘I am.’ When poised for a fight, ‘you’ screams, ‘survive!’ The ‘I am’ declaration is not original. Before you ever conceived the notion, God declared, ‘I am that I am.’ It resonates throughout generations unheard by ears shut to God and undetected by rascally intellectuals. Until you come to terms with your ‘you,’ you will mistakenly think Jesus included someone like you as recorded at John 10:34 when He quoted Psalm 82:6, saying, “Is it not written in your law,” “I said, ‘You are gods?’” (John 10:34 NKJV).
“Since you did not create yourself, humor me, allowing that God created you. He created your left arm, your right arm, your two legs, your torso, your head, your heart circulating the blood of life, for blood is life. Have you ever been amused that your arms are just long enough to reach your genitals? I’m not getting earthy; it is a purely anatomical observation. Neither did your brain assemble random cerebral lobes to facilitate a consciousness. Accept being designed in the full image of God, a marvelous imprint meant to live with Him forever. In effect, you are God’s less powerful mini-me, yet empowered to receive the incredible benefits of a faith-filled life relying on His faithfulness towards ‘you.’ I believe your type squanders such power because you lack faith; again, faith meaning faith in God and the truthfulness of His Holy Word.”
The stranger dragged out his words, unwilling to debate. “I’ve heard that faith expression more than once. It’s wearing thin, emissary.”
“Examine what you’ve done with your God-given ‘you.’ If it’s not asking too much, think about your life. Accept your innate nobility, your essence, which John 1:4 identifies as the light of humanity. Imagine every person you meet as a spiritual being, no matter their station in life or physical appearance. Do you accept that people journey through life same as you? Why not honor that kinship and welcome opportunities to show compassion and understanding? When people are on one accord, there are no enemies. Our meet-up today is by God’s providence, not blind coincidence. I believe perfectly timed synchronicity is never an accident.
Your morality, young man, is not good enough? Do you reject the idea that your life is accountable to a divine source? Think again. If you perish the thought of eventual, harsh judgment by God, wake up! Morality, however much a worthy aim, does not answer four menacing questions about existence: How did ‘you’ come to be? What gives your life meaning? Are you the ultimate authority who determines right and wrong? Is the ‘you’ headed anywhere after you die? These are existential questions addressing your origin and ultimate destiny. The ‘you,’ should not avoid these questions.”
“Regardless of whatever you say, televangelist, I am pretty much in touch with myself. Doesn’t my ‘you,’ as you call it, deserve some credit for not losing touch with itself?” taunted the antagonized conscript.
“Let us see,” harrumphed the evangelist. “It appears you accept the plausibility of your ‘you.’ Let us see how far down the rabbit hole you are prepared to venture.” The evangelist paused. “There’s no judgment. Just answer these questions for yourself.” Then, in rapid-fire succession, the clergyman fired off a series of questions, a trial of sorts. “Do you consider yourself the ultimate source of your happiness? Do you misuse the name of God when angered? How about damning someone or something in God’s name? Do you ever reject wrongdoing in favor of what’s right in the sight of God? Have you ever killed someone’s reputation by accusations? How about lying or giving a false testimony? Ever committed adultery against your spouse or with another man’s wife? Have you ever embezzled from others? Have you secreted away some of your company’s intellectual property for use when you depart ways? Do you ever extend worship to God?”
“Stop! You’re prying.”
“You’re a disgrace!” accused the evangelist. “Are you darkness or light, my friend? From which of those realms do you operate? Does life’s poetry offend you because you are dark? Darkness cannot tolerate light. Shine light and the surrounding darkness evaporates. In whichever realm you operate, so shine more light for sake of the righteousness-seeking ‘you.’ The poetry of life adores ‘you.’ After you die, don’t awaken clueless on the other side in astonishment that your sense of being was the true…inevitable ‘you.’ Create your spiritual bond with God now which never dissolves. The Bible teaches that when spiritual ‘you’ is absent from your body, it returns to the Lord. Uh-oh! Only God knows whether that applies to just Christians, or whether your ‘you’ goes straight to hell without a belated plea for salvation. Perhaps your fate gets decided for you—go to heaven to spend eternity with God and His angels, or ipso facto, sink straight into the pit of hell. I won’t say it should frighten you, but doesn’t it give ‘you’ pause?”
The religious outlier scrutinized progress of his shoeshine, seeming to speak directly to them as he looked toward them; but directed his comment to the evangelist, shunning eye contact. “So now, my inscrutable interrogator, you’re a prognosticator? You sure love your rabbit hole.”
“No. I am your forecaster. There is serendipity in our meeting. You seem misled, distracted, and ill-informed, but you are not a fool. Only a fool says there is no God.”
The evangelist paused for dramatic effect before charging ahead. “My friend, I encounter hoity-toity types like you all day. It’s an occupational hazard. Pompous…that’s the word I’m searching for. You disparage, mock, and denigrate types like me concerned for the ultimate destination of your soul. You weren’t born knowing all you will ever need to know. Listen to me. If you are a fool, heaven help us both because there is a proverb instructing me, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him.” (Proverbs 26:4 NKJV). But then again, as the poor will always be with us, so shall be the fool.”
“Enough! You’re getting on my nerves! You don’t know me, sermonizer.”
“Correct. I don’t know you. First responders don’t need to know the people they rescue.”
The evangelist twisted in the seat, intentionally violating the stranger’s personal comfort zone. “While I still have your attention, indulge me in this rabbit hole.”
The forlorn, cornered stranger grimaced, having no avenue of escape.
The evangelist fired another volley. “I’ll add some whimsy to lighten your mood. We all begin life as a pilgrim making life’s journey to an undisclosed destination. Most of us don’t know where we belong or where we are going. As I told you a minute ago, since all we’ve ever known is life, we assume we will live forever and never die.”
“Die? What’s that? ridiculed the stranger.
The evangelist ignored it. “But, life teaches lessons. People die. Everyone dies. Many deliberately ignore the inconvenient truth that at life’s dead end is an immaterial terminal between death and more life. They lack an answer to, ‘You’re dead! Now what?’”
The stranger bleated, “I’m not concerned about your hypothetical. For now, too much living to do. I am well paid and my career keeps me hustling. I’ll get my life… my whole life… together soon enough.” He glanced at his Rolex watch and realized he could not make it to his appointment on time. He covered the dial and brooded. In his irritated state, he would no longer tolerate idle conversation. However, non-verbal body language communicated to the wandering ecclesiastic that tireless efforts were about to be rewarded—a perk of the job. Ignoring the risk, the evangelist fired another broadside. “I noticed your Rolex. Did you know that everything you have is on loan from God? It’s yours now, but later on, He might send it on into the hands of someone else in need of an intimidating status symbol. Such trinkets, for example, can serve as catalysts for starting a dialogue between a perceptive streets-evangelist and candidates for evangelizing. If ever you lose your belongings, don’t fret. Assume that God had other plans for His property, and you played your part to move it along. Ever see that famous painting by Warner Sallman, ‘Christ at Heart’s Door?’”
“It’s hanging on a wall in my mother’s living room. What about it?”
“Well, it pictures Jesus Christ knocking at a shut door, waiting for someone inside to open to Him. The verse inspiring it reads: ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me’ Revelation 3:20NKJV). You never see who is on the other side of that door, but I indict you… your heedless ‘you.’ Oops! I should apologize.”
“Finally! Apologize for which one of your attacks on my character?”
The evangelist feigned an apology, “No sir, I apologize because I keep getting religious on you. As a minister, I can’t help it. My pastor instructed me to get to Jesus as quickly as possible whenever conversing with a heathen. My bad.”
The caustic retort surprised even the evangelist, but it slipped off the tongue gleefully. Even for a streets-evangelist, sometimes the end justifies the means, as an apology later negates asking permission.
“I get it,” pooh-poohed the evangelist, “religious naysayers prefer to surf life and party hardy. I once knew someone whose mantra was to live fast, die young, and be a pretty corpse. He was like you, but managed to survive the wild days of his youth...and his middle years. I think he sensed his inevitable comeuppance and sought a faith he could believe in and follow. I pray that for you too.”
Tight-lipped, the stranger hissed, “You don’t scare me, pastor.”
“I am not your pastor. If I were, your attitude would present a born again type of ‘you.’ Right now, I am your evangelist and forecaster of your fate. Consequences and decisions dance the same tango…so dramatic on the same tightrope. After we depart, remember today’s conversation. Should you grow old and retain your memories, recall today’s conversation. For a born again Christian, even with foggy memories in old age, there is no dis-remembering God; but woe to anyone who never knew Him.”
The petulant stranger rolled his eyes and this time, he mooed. “Pontiff, you almost had me, but you religionist don’t faze me. You con people. I was too young to do anything about it, but you guys conned my mom out of her meager income every Sunday.” With a dismissive shrug, he wheezed, “tithe and offering, my behind! As though that wasn’t enough, in my neighborhood, you come around a second time relying on your gift of gab for even more spoils. You prey—with an ‘e,’ not an ‘a’—on fear and uncertainty. You compensate for your meager education and misguided career choice by claiming an unseen God called you to preach. Hasn’t that played out? These are modern times—sensible folk know better than to fall for all that kind of pitch. Fewer people are religious nowadays. I choose to remain deaf and blind to your spiel; too many sham ministers get exposed as lecherous and immoral. What does it mean to walk by faith, anyway? Explain that to me, huh? Come on, preacher! Frankly, too many of you all are too old to change your line of work for something more honorable and certainly less lucrative. Without shame, you guys coddle beguiled followers for unjustified adoration and then lord it over them. Frankly, a lot of your admirers are better than you. It’s a strange sorcery you practice, preying on intellectual slowness, somehow obtaining commitment to follow you without objection!”
The evangelist’s jaw clinched, fighting off an imperative to denounce the slander. “You’re trying to distract me. Distraction must be how you fight off things you don’t care to hear. I imagine it’s etched into your pedigree. You are wrong on so many levels,” complained the evangelist. “Gift of gab, huh? Who is the gift giver? There are gifts and there are presents, or don’t you know there is a difference?”
“I know lots of stuff, apostle, most of it beyond your comprehension. Remember, smart is my business. When I look in the mirror, I see me, nothing more. That old time religion stuff doesn’t work on me. I’m fine as I am. So, leave me be.”
The stranger swiped at his left shoulder as though brushing off a bug.
Still clinching teeth, the evangelist sweet-talked. “Please call me minister. Don’t get mad. I’m here to help you. You protest too loudly. Let’s go back to that gift of gab thing you mentioned. Do you know the difference between a gift and a present?”
“Is there a difference? Who cares?”
“You should care. Which do you want to hear about first, a gift, or a present?”
“You still here? Surprise me.”
Addressing the shoeshine guy, the customer lifted his right foot to assess whether the shine was glossy enough to impress. He approved. “Nice job.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The evangelist resumed. This time more calmed down. “A present is something you desired but did not get for yourself. Another party got it and presented it to you as a surprise because you wanted it.”
“You don’t say?”
“A gift is an item that’s given to you because some other party wanted you to have it. You got it because of the giver’s generosity and benevolence toward you. The gift came to you from out of nowhere, unexpected.”
“Well, la-di-da, clergy person. Either way, no one’s expected to pay for it, right?”
The evangelist emphasized, “My title is Reverend, or Minister, and not those other names you keep calling me. Show some respect. There is a verse underscoring my talk with you today: ‘Thus says the Lord, the One who stretches out the heavens and establishes the earth and forms the spirit of man within him…’ Zechariah 12:1 MEV). Did you catch it? The Lord forms the spirit of man within him.”
The stranger scowled and intoned rhythmically, “You-are-getting-religious-on-me-again.”
“No, I’m getting factual. There are presents and there are gifts. To receive either is a blessing. Your divine creator—essential because you did not create yourself—breathed the gift of life into your human chassis while in your mother’s womb. ‘You,’ your beingness, is God’s gift. In return, your praise, your trust, your faith, your faithfulness, and your ‘you’ are what you present as a present to God, though not mandated. Your loving Him, too, is a sufficient thank you in reciprocation and a first step in the right direction. God’s gift of life is a benevolence to you, and your willful, unselfish adoration is your present back to Him. If you confess your sins, repent of your sins, and accept the sacrifice of Jesus’s life for your ‘you,’ ‘you’ receive assurance of redemption back to God washed white as snow. It is the greatest thing you can do for your ‘you,’ and God’s reward is eternal life with Him in His Kingdom. Since you don’t have a kingdom of your own, I extend a hand to you, my friend, because you would be wise to take a better path than the one currently. Why keep confirming your foolhardiness? None of us deserves God’s gift of grace. He offers it freely. You save your ‘you’ by an act of commission, which is accepting the sacrifice of Jesus’s life for ‘you.’ Reject salvation and it is an act of omission because you failed to accept His sacrifice for your benefit. It will be an irrevocable decision when later called to be accountable for your life, and you will miss out on Jesus dying as atonement for your sins on Calvary’s cross. Young man, your clock doesn’t tick forward, it ticks backward in a countdown.”
“Wow, a new perspective. That’s surprising.”
“It’s my gift to you. And, regarding that gift of gab you slammed, evangelism is my gift. It might not seem like much to you, but it’s all I have to give back to my God.”
“Preacher, don’t get ahead of yourself. A new perspective does not imply full acceptance.”
“It’s a beginning. There is more to hear. We teach what I’m telling you in free classes at the Evangelists Ministry Incubator at Alpha-Omega Boulevard and Mount Calvary Avenue. Our motto: We’re not a church, we teach before others preach; we sow into the world and reap a choir.”
“Shine guy! Hurry, please, got another client scheduled.”
The shine-guy didn’t mind. He winked at the evangelist to keep engaging. Their conversation attracted bystanders, which meant paying customers.
The evangelist caught the hint, smiled politely, and resumed. “Man is a multidimensional creature. It’s our starting point for understanding what it means to be a spiritual being occupying a flesh and blood body. No one can deny himself. As the quote goes, ‘Cogito, ergo sum,’ which means, ‘I think, therefore, I am.’ No person can deny his physicality, soul, and spirit—all three necessary components for an intact, created human being, wholly animated, birthed, and a sentient creation of God. Whether you agree, everyone is born with an awareness of a divine creator called, God. It’s an inbred sense.”
“You mentioned soul. I have ‘soul,’ meaning I feel the thrill of being alive. And another thing, my libido governs my personality. I’m not too proud to boast, but I recreate myself for every woman I get involved with.”
“Sir, focus. You sound unstable. Do you know the prime reason for your human spirit?”
“I’m glad you asked. The human spirit is a pipeline between ‘you’ and your divine creator. It is your spirit-to-Spirit communications channel to God.”
“There you go, getting religious, again. I drift off when you talk like that.”
“I cannot promise it, but I’ll try to temper my outbursts. Sometimes I sense God has a message for someone. I’m getting that sense for you right now. When the Lord gives me a message, I must deliver it. I don’t interpret it, just deliver it.”
“Wonder of wonders, rabbi,” he said.
“Please don’t call me that; call me Minister, or Reverend.”
The upstart brushed it off derisively. “For me? A divine word for me? This IS getting good, parson, or whatever your moniker. Mom used to talk like that to the church people who gathered in our backyard after Sunday services. Church folk from all around our neighborhood would line up to buy her fried chicken dinners and sweet potato pies. That money the preachers didn’t talk her out of helped our survival. Sometimes, she’d prophesy a supposed word from God and someone else claiming the ability would interpret. Such events highlighted Sunday after-church festivities. She had a good head for finances and sold her dinners with a slight mark-up over her usual profit to cover the cost of the free dinners she provided to people who said they didn’t have enough money to partake. No one suspected. One night, after all the people had left, I asked why she didn’t charge the people to whom she prophesied. Care to know her answer?”
The evangelist flashed a smile, gratified to see a crack in the natty professional’s armor. “I can imagine, but tell me anyway.”
“Mom said it’s not right to charge someone for her word of knowledge because it is a gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The evangelist agreed. “Your mom was kindhearted. But Scripture allows it. ‘The Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.’ I CorintKJV). Prophesying is not THE gospel unless pertaining to the teaching or revelation of Jesus Christ. But what happened to you, my friend? What knocked you off salvation trail?”
“I’m not talking about me. My question is, why give away something people value for simple gratitude and a smile? your holiness.”
“You’re proving my point about giving gifts.” Then, the evangelist repeated, “Respect who I am. Call… me… a minister of God, please, or I’ll be done with you!”
In a huff, the evangelist muttered, “Sir, you are becoming the bane of my existence out here today.”
The eavesdropping shine guy forewarned. “Uh-oh. Fire and brimstone about to erupt out here!”
The evangelist assured him everything was under control. “I was venting. Most people pay scant attention they are spiritual beings, preferring to focus on the material world. They squander the spiritual link to their divine creator. When the channel is opened, thoughts speak to God; when not open, nothing but static. Spiritual communion is a real thing and you want it with your Heavenly Father, if you have the heart for it.”
The young man agitated on his cushion and squeezed out a whine of air, stared down at his feet, and cut a side-eyed peek at the evangelist and muttered grimly, “There are other spirits, you know. You can’t be so holier-than-thou it escapes you.”
“Of course not. I know of other spirits accessed through occult practices, hallucinogens, magic mushrooms, and other means. Curiosity seekers get ensnared by it and practitioners of the dark arts put out welcome mats. Satanic worship is on the rise. The Bible acknowledges spiritual principalities, heinous powers, surreptitious rulers of the darkness of this world, and wicked influences in high places. Don’t let ignorance or arrogance misled you into believing humanity exists in its own bubble of existence. Scripture tells us we live within an even larger bubble, even though we are blinded to it. These days, the paranormal seems bolder, no longer hiding. Reason enough to protect the spiritual ‘you.’ Holy Scripture doesn’t deny evil’s existence; it instructs us to not mess with it. This includes well-intentioned Christians, innocently thinking God honors loopholes in His decrees, who should not mingle with it, even peripherally. Mess with it and you may find yourself caught up in it. It is a wise saying that prevention is always the best medicine. Obedience to God trumps regret.”
“You sound like my mother. I cry for you, so won over by the ultimate control system—theological dogma and philosophy.”
“Cry for yourself, sir. Oh, brother-so-sure-of-himself, admirer of his magnificence, is there anything in your reasoning that explains you? I’m talking about the complete you, your multidimensional you, which is undeniable. If you know, say so now.”
The snapping shine cloth split the air, creating an electrostatic charge in the air, business as usual for the accomplished master of the shine cloth.
The evangelist noticed and joked, “Was that a sonic boom I heard?”
The shine guy responded appreciably, “That’s nothing. Want me to call down fire?”
The stranger frowned, displeased by their jovial tête-à-tête, considering their congeniality sabotage. He complained, “Thanks, minister. Your compliment obligated me to a bigger tip. You should pay it.”
Assuming time spent together granted a license for familiarity, the evangelist chanced an opinion. “You seem smart. Do you know from where you get your smarts? Don’t struggle, I’ll answer it for you. The Book of Job reads: ‘But there is a spirit in man, And the breath of the Almighty gives him understanding.’ (NKJV). That’s Bible-speak to intellectuals stuck on themselves.”
The indignant stranger defended, “My thoughts churn up on their own. I’ve always been brilliant. Ask my teachers. Thoughts come and go even before they become clear to me. Smarts are my business.”
“Says your foolish ego,” retaliated the evangelist. “I’m nearly finished here. I believe I have bench-marked you for our next encounter should it ever again occur. We’ve established you are not Christian and therefore weighed down by an unpardoned, sinful nature. And you seem unwilling to change your attitude about it. Your blissful ignorance doesn’t bother you and you are content to remain that way until your expiration date, at which time you will face an immutable determination of where you will spend eternity. But, you’re willing to chance it. The punctuation to all this is that without a U-turn toward God, you will die in your unforgiven sins. But that’s all right with you too, because your philosophy does not allow for a Divine Being to whom the inner ‘you’ is accountable. That sums it up. Our encounter today, despite your rejection of He who gifted you your ‘you,’ is by God’s providence. Consider that you are not so off base that God cannot redeem ‘you’ back to Him. With that said, I’ve done my job. I implore you to fix things by getting onto salvation trail. Belief badges along the path will identify ‘you’ as one of God’s own.”
“Salvation trail? What’s that? Wait! Never mind! You almost hooked me. Let me just say that whether one follows salvation road or some other ideological path, all roads lead to the same dead end. What’s that expression you Christians say… dust to dust? Uh-oh, I almost referred to dying as passing. But there is no passing on, just dying and a sorrowful dirge.”
The evangelist frowned, grown accustomed to frowning consistently throughout their dialogue. “Unplug your ears, my friend. Take what I tell you to heart. If you don’t trust me, trust your mother. To repudiate knowledge of ‘you’ is like murdering ‘you’ because you take away all that you are or might become. My Bible—the one you have no use for—teaches that the body is dead without a spirit. It also teaches that life is in the blood. The blood referred to is the shed, sacrificial blood of Jesus Christ, who sacrificed Himself to save your ‘you’ from utter finality. That dust to dust reference you screwed up goes like this: ‘Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, And the spirit will return to God who gave it.’ Ecclesiastes 12:7 . You didn’t catch that, did you? The teaching is that even though the physical body decomposes when placed into the grave, the human spirit returns to God, the one who gave it initially. Despite your smarts, you cannot argue against having a human spirit. If you did, you’d be arguing against yourself. If you believe reported near-death experiences, they testify of out-of-body existence after dying. Brother, do you have a name? I really should address you by name. Aren’t we past those awkward first few minutes when strangers meet? We’re friends now.”
“I guess you’re right. Call me Russell.”
“My name isn’t important. Call me Evangelist-teacher.”
The shine guy tapped the toe of Russell’s shoe to signal mission accomplished. Russell scrutinized the results, then begrudged a generous tip. Murmuring indistinctly, Russell tucked his computer tablet under his armpit, said his goodbyes, and turned to leave. Then, an inexplicable non-event happened. His legs stuck in place and his remarkably glossy shoes disobeyed instructions to step off. Bewildered, Russell gulped. “You are a minister! I get you now.”
Evangelist-teacher returned a blank stare, surprised by the proclamation. “I caught that! You get me?”
“I guess so. It’s like this… I remember the anguish on my mother’s face, with tears streaming down her cheeks. I remember mom telling me, ‘Boy, nothing worth the breath to say it would ever inform my ignorance.’ Sobbing, she prophesied over me that if I ever hear anything beneficial, it would come from someone else genuinely concerned for my well-being.”
“Thank God your dear mother cherished her own gift, a gift of prophesy. Listening turns lives around. What about me do you get?”
“Genuine concern. You want life for me. I get it.”
Russell no longer concerned himself with time, actually ignoring his fancy watch. He extracted his mobile phone from its holster. “I’m rescheduling my meeting.” Then, he phoned in a lie.
Oblivious to the shame of it, he backtracked to the shoeshine shanty and confessed, “I’m willing to listen a little longer. Take your best shot.”
Evangelist-teacher resisted an urge to rebuke Russell for lying, but imagined angels applauding a breakthrough… at long last!
“Russell,” Evangelist-teacher began, “People need me like summer needs the rain. You did not surprise me wanting to hear more. Let’s resolve that unasked question.”
“Which is what, Evangelist-teacher?”
“Which is… where will you spend eternity? We’ve established your ‘you-ism’ and next time we’ll discuss the God-ism. Now, if I have won you over, and you believe you are a spiritual being, you’ve just received your first belief badge. Pin it to your chest, let it soak into your heart, and let your light shine.”
But Russell balked, demanding to know why it did not surprise Evangelist-teacher he would want to hear more.
“Russell, my friend, faith is my business.”
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