No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
“For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not.”
A rising pastor has fallen. Pastor Kirby Rollins of Ninth Street Baptist Church has been placed in police custody for allegedly having sex with a minor and for embezzling funds from the church to use as hush money. Please stay with us for further updates.
Jonathan, Monica, and their parents listened to the disheartening report of the rise and fall of Kirby Rollins, senior pastor of Ninth Street Baptist Church where Jonathan served as associate pastor. I just cannot believe it, Jonathan thought over and over shaking his head as he pondered the fate and possible demise of the growing ministry the Lord had been using his old college friend to build. After talking things over with Pastor Richardson, his father, and Brother Montague, he had Monica to try to reach Kristy Rollins on her cell phone. There was still no answer. They finally got in touch with Carmen, the church’s secretary, after several attempts.
“I tell you, Brother Jonathan, I started not to answer. The church members have been calling the church phone and my cell phone all evening long. I had no idea so many people knew my cell number. Some people I did not even recognize by name. It got so bad I started telling them not to call me on my cell to discuss church business,” Carmen said. “I had planned on spending a quiet evening at the church after services to get caught up on some work, but the constantly ringing phone just drove me home.”
Jonathan chuckled. It was hard for him to picture Carmen being abrupt with anyone. She was normally as sweet as could be.
“You just hang in there,” Jonathan said. “My wife and I will be cutting our Thanksgiving vacation short. If nothing happens I should be in the office early tomorrow.”
“Are you sure you want to return?” Carmen said with a chuckle. “The local TV station and someone from the newspaper office are waiting in the church parking lot. At least they were when I was leaving.”
“Exactly what happened, Carmen?” Jonathan asked. “I hope you didn’t tell anyone about the confrontation between Kirby and Cam.”
“Oh, no, Brother Jonathan. My lips have been sealed. I have not said a word to anyone.”
“I didn’t think you did,” Jonathan said. “Did the police arrest him at the church? How did it all go down?”
“Pastor Kirby called me around ten on last night and said he’d be in the pulpit this morning. He told me to meet him there by six-thirty to put together a new worship service program. I showed up and waited for over two hours. About twenty minutes till eleven, Deacon Travis told me that he would be delivering the message and not Pastor Kirby,” Carmen said. “He told me Pastor Kirby called him around four in the morning informing him that he had been arrested and asked him to fill in for him.”
“Do you have any idea how the news media found out about his arrest? It’s all across the nation by now,” Jonathan said. “I saw it on TV down here. You don’t think Deacon Travis said anything, do you?”
“Oh, no, he would never do that,” Carmen assured him. “Pastor Kirby is like a son to him. My guess is someone from the police department leaked the information, or whoever knows about his relations with the under-aged girl got tired of keeping quiet and decided to tell it all for whatever reason.”
“Okay, Carmen. Thanks for everything. We’ll talk more when I get there. Go ahead and turn your phone off and get some rest. By the way, have you heard from Kristy?”
“I have not heard from her,” Carmen said.
Jonathan called Deacon Travis after saying goodbye to Carmen. Deacon Travis was in his late sixties, and had seen the Ninth Street Baptist Church grow from the ground up. His brown eyes shone with godly wisdom, and whenever he looked at someone it was as though he was looking into the depth of their soul. Pastor Kirby often called on him for advice and Jonathan knew how valuable he was to the ministry. Even though he was about twenty years older than Jonathan and Kirby, he showed them the utmost respect whenever he interacted with them.
“Yes, Brother Jonathan. I don’t know how Pastor Kirby’s arrest leaked out to the media. I drove by the church this evening about two hours after worship services and saw TV-One parked by the church office. I guess they thought we were having evening services. Anyway, when I pulled into the parking lot, they were trying to get info out of Carmen. I overheard Carmen telling them if they did not leave her alone, she’d be calling the police and suing them for harassment. I stepped in and told them to leave her alone. The cameraman kept filming away. Don’t be surprised if you see that on the news.”
“The media will stop at nothing to get some negative news,” Jonathan sighed.
“You got that right. Anyway, Pastor Kirby called me around four this morning saying the police came to his house, arrested him, and charged him with having sex with a minor. He asked me to fill in for him,” Deacon Travis said. “Now you know I don’t believe that. He’s got a lovely wife. Why would he start fooling around with some child and risk ruining his reputation? Anyway, I’ll be going down there early in the morning to pay his bond. ”
Jonathan remained silent before asking, “Did he say anything about his wife?”
“No, he sure didn’t. I’ll get my wife to call over at the house and tell her we’ll be getting him out … Hold on, Brother Jonathan … another update on the news.”
“I knew it,” Deacon Travis said when he returned to the phone. “There’s a picture of me and Carmen in the church parking lot with the news reporter, Jessica Simmons. She was telling the listeners that they have received no further updates but was wondering why Carmen would threaten to call the police or sue them if the allegation leading to Pastor Kirby’s arrest was not true. She ended with, ‘We aim to get to the bottom of this because it’s terrible to hear about what’s happening at this church.’ How ironic.”
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
It was almost eleven when Jonathan and Monica pulled out of the Montague’s driveway to head back to Oklahoma. They prayed several times in the six hours it took to reach their destination.
“I don’t know what’s going to meet us once we get to the church in the morning, so be prepared for anything,” Jonathan told Monica.
After Friday’s incident with Cam and Kirby in Kirby’s office, Jonathan had encouraged Kirby to go home and tell Kristy everything that had ever taken place between him and Sandy.
“Or any other woman,” Jonathan said looking him in the eyes. “Is she the only one?”
Kirby nodded. His face winced as the pain vibrated through his head. Leaning his head against the back of his chair he closed his eyes.
“Are you sure?” Jonathan asked.
Kirby shifted the ice pack down to his cheek.
“Kirby, I’ll stand with you as long as you come clean and confess not just to your wife, but to the entire church. You’ve kept this a secret for too long; you have got to come clean before the entire church. If I were you, I’d do it before Cam blows it all up. And believe me I do not put that past him. I saw a desire for revenge in his eyes.”
After about an hour they parted ways. Kirby drove home slowly with much trepidation. Kristy greeted him at the door as he fumbled with the lock.
“What happened to you?” she asked reaching out to help him into the house.
“Put the kids in their room then meet me in the bedroom,” Kirby said trudging past her.
By the time Kristy got to the bedroom Kirby was reclining on the bed with his legs crossed at the ankles. His eyes were closed. An open aspirin bottle lay next to him. Kristy offered him the glass of apple juice she brought up for him.
“Thanks. Just set it on the table.”
Without opening his eyes he continued speaking slowly and deliberately.
“Your speculations about me and another woman are true. Whoever left the message on the answering machine about Sandy was telling the truth. I have had an on-going relationship with Sandy for over a year now. I did see her the weekend of the ladies’ conference. Anyway, we got involved with each other more than a year ago, and she gave birth to a baby boy, my son, Solomon. Only Cam knows about it. That’s the reason Cam took his family and left the church.”
“Wait a minute,” Kristy said. “I do not understand the words ‘got involved with each other.’ I understand ‘had sex with each other’ better. Is that what you are trying to tell me?”
“I see,” Kristy said bitterly.
“Let me finish,” Kirby said with his eyes still closed. “I have been paying Cam to keep quiet. As far as I know, Mitzie knows nothing about it.”
“Where have you been getting the money from to pay Cam? I have not noticed a dip in our bank account.”
Kirby pursed his lips together. “I have asked the deacons in private for more money to be placed in our special projects fund under the pretense that since our ministries are growing, we need more funds. They also gave me a raise, which I never told you about …”
“…and I also opened up a separate bank account which the extra money from the raise goes into by direct deposit so you would know nothing about it.”
“I see. Now how does that explain that mess on your face? I mean, who did this to you?”
“Cam. He had told me to leave Sandy alone—never to come near her at all and that if I did, I would pay severely. I thought the money would keep him quiet, so I kept on seeing Sandy. Last Christmas when I told you I had a meeting in Texas, I did not have a meeting; I spent a couple days with Sandy. Anyway, Cam found out I was still seeing Sandy and he paid me a visit…”
“Seems like he paid you more than a visit,” Kristy smirked. Kristy stared at him for a full minute. “How could you, Kirby? What is it in our marriage that is so bad you could not keep our bed undefiled? Open your eyes and look at me, Kirby.”
When Kirby opened his eyes, Kristy was standing over him. Her arms were folded across her chest.
“Why couldn’t you have just stayed in your own bed, Kirby?” Kristy asked. “As distasteful as this marriage has been over the past few years, I have not hopped into someone else’s bed. So why could you not do the same?”
The corner of Kirby’s mouth twitched.
“I knew something was going on. I could not say with who. The sad thing about this is I don’t believe Sandy instigated it; I believe you initiated this whole mess. Now look at your face. Where’s your dignity? Where’s your self-esteem? What kind of man of God are you?”
Kristy let out a dry chuckle.
“What makes this whole thing worse is how you get in the pulpit and preach against adultery, preach against husbands and wives not getting along, preach on how we ought to stay true to our marital vows, and you preach with such fervency against these things, and yet, you have succumbed to every one of those things you were preaching against. Did you try preaching to yourself before preaching to the people?”
Kirby opened his mouth to respond.
“Shut up,” Kristy said. “I’m preaching now. How could you do this to me? To the church? To our children? You’ve been living a lie all along. Why did you have to drag your behind out there and mess with a minor? Don’t tell me I am already too old for you.”
Kristy’s angry frank words surprised him.
“Your age has nothing to do with it, Kristy,” he said lamely.
“Then what is it? Ten years is not enough time for you to settle down in the marriage? I never thought I would live to see the day you’d tell me you had sex with another woman—no, not another woman—a little girl.”
Kristy continued, careful not to let her voice rise so that the children wouldn’t overhear.
“I tried to be a good wife. I sacrificed so you could get this church going. I put up with a lot of disrespect from jealous women in the church. But you threw all that back in my face.”
“Don’t talk like that, Kristy.”
“Then how am I supposed to talk? I did not want this for my children. I did not want this scar on my marriage.” Kristy shouted. “Now you want to drag your pitiful looking self in here and tell me ‘don’t talk like that’.”
“It was time for you to know,” Kirby said sitting up on the bed.
“No, Kirby. It’s past time for me to know. It should have never happened. Just remember, I’m no fool,” Kristy said taking a couple steps back. “I. Am. No. Fool. You think it’s time for me to know because you got busted. You are being forced to tell me before I hear from someone else. Cam was right to beat you up. The only thing is, I wish he had beaten you to within an inch of your life.”
Kristy walked out the door and began to cry.
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”
It was two in the morning when Kirby dragged himself out of the bed. He trudged into the kitchen to get something to drink and something to eat. The hunger pangs hurt almost as badly as his head. He fixed a bowl of the chicken, broccoli, and rice Kristy had prepared the previous day. After placing it in the microwave, he took the glass of grape juice he had poured himself and walked into the living room. He was surprised to see his wife curled up on one corner of the couch with the remote control in her hand. The television was on mute. Kirby cautiously sat down on the other end of the couch. The beeping from the microwave broke the silence.
“Kristy, we can handle this… we can make it … we can talk and…”
Kristy did not take her eyes off the television as she forcefully punched the buttons on the remote control. “Oh, so now it is ‘we’? Where was ‘we’ when you were so-called counseling that underage girl? Where was ‘we’ when you didn’t spend Christmas with your own children, and instead spent Christmas with her? Where was ‘we’ when you were in bed with her?”
Kirby tried to respond.
“I do not want to hear it, Kirby,” Kristy said. “’We’ should have been in our bed when you got the urge. But no-o you had to go rob the cradle. Tell me, is she that much better than me?”
“No, Kristy. She’s … just … a temptation the devil threw my way. It’s my weakness as I’ve already shared with you. The devil knows that… and … well, he just threw it at me again and again, and …”
“The devil, my foot! We give the devil too much credit for our own foolishness. That’s an excuse. Be a man and take responsibility for all of it. Now, you had better get out of my sight before I blow my top,” Kristy said.
“I thought your top was already blown,” Kirby said.
“On second thought,” she said rising from the couch, “no, I’m not going to blow my top. You spend the night on the couch. I’m not going to let you put me out of my bed. Or is it ‘our’ bed?”
Kristy tossed the remote control on the couch and strode towards the door.
“You know,” she said pausing at the door, “the strange thing about this confession is, you never once said, ‘I’m sorry.’ You never once tried to ask for my forgiveness. But that’s all right.”
She hurried on to the bedroom leaving her husband speechless.
The following morning when Kirby awakened, Kristy and the children were gone. It’s not even nine o’clock yet, he thought as he glanced around the undisturbed kitchen. How did they leave without my hearing them?
He placed a call to Carlita, their baby-sitter, to see if Kristy may have left the children with her wanting to spend some time to herself. But the children weren’t there. He checked the closets in the Master bedroom as well as those in the children’s rooms. Well, at least I know she hasn’t left for good, he sighed after seeing the suitcases in place and the clothes undisturbed.
As he stood before the mirror over the bathroom sink he took a good look at himself. His face was still swollen and tender.
“You blew it,” he said to himself. “You really blew it. Why couldn’t you have left well enough alone? Why couldn’t you have just left Sandy alone? You can hide the evil you’ve done from people, but you can’t hide it from God. You of all people ought to know that; you’ve preached it from the pulpit multiple times: ‘your sins will find you out.’ Your sin has surely found you out.”
As he splashed cold water on his face his cell phone rang. Thinking it was his wife, he hurried to answer it. “Kristy, where are you?”
“It’s Jonathan, Kirby. You don’t know where Kristy is?”
“Hey, Jonathan. No, I don’t know where she is. I told her everything last night. When I got up this morning she and the kids were gone. By any chance, has your wife heard from her?”
“No,” Jonathan said. “You have no idea where she might be?”
“I know she’s in town because she did not take any clothes or anything else with her,” Kirby said.
“She may not want to face you this morning,” Jonathan said. “Give her until this evening to get over the initial shock. So how are you feeling otherwise?”
“Not good physically, nor spiritually,” Kirby sighed. “I don’t know where to go from here. I’m confused.”
“Look, Kirby, as your friend, I’m not going to spare you,” Jonathan said. “what you did was just plain stupid. I never thought you would do such a thing. I knew you were a womanizer in college, but this is just incomprehensible. Sex with someone your age—maybe; but a minor? No. What is most disturbing is your covering it up. When did you plan on coming clean about it? Don’t bother to answer that. You need to be prepared to tell on yourself on this Sunday, or the Sunday after Thanksgiving seeing the offices will be closed on Wednesday. If I were you, I’d do it quickly before someone else does it. And I mean someone like Cam.”
“Yeah, I know I ought to,” Kirby said.
“Do you want Monica to keep the children while you and Kristy take a few days off, go to a hotel somewhere away from here and talk things over, pray and if need be get some counseling? We’d be more than happy to do that for you.”
“Thanks, Jonathan. That would be a big help. I’m sure Kristy would love that. I tried calling her on her cell, but I keep getting her voice mail. I don’t know if she’s ignoring my call or what. Maybe Monica would have better success at reaching her, and talking to her about that arrangement. That would really help at this time.”
“I’ll ask Monica to call her right away. We’ll be praying for you and your family. There is nothing that God cannot fix. In fact, let me pray with you before I go.”
Kirby was unsuccessful in reaching his wife by phone throughout the day. She could not have gone to her mother or even to my mother. It was almost five when Kristy returned home with three exhausted children. She shuffled them up the stairs to their bedrooms past him as they exchanged greetings with their father. “Get ready to take your showers, children. I have something important to talk with your father about.”
“I was worried about you and the children. Why didn’t you answer the phone?” Kirby said once she returned downstairs.
“Did you really think I wanted to talk with you?” Kristy said. “Anyway, I spoke with Monica, and, no, she will not be keeping the children for us. Yes, we will take a vacation which will end with Thanksgiving at my parents. I have already called them and they are looking forward to having us and seeing their grandchildren. I’m sure you won’t mind driving us up there, will you? I’m doing this for the children—not for us. By the way, I went ahead and called the hotels. We have to pull out by five in the morning, so I am going to give the children their baths and put them to bed. Good night, Kirby. Sleeping arrangements remain the same as last night. I’ll let you know the first hotel we’ll be going to in the morning. By the way,” she said stopping at the top of the stairs, “you may want to spend the rest of the night holding an ice pack on your face, or think of a lie you may want to tell my parents about your bruises. You’re good at lying.”
Kirby stood aghast as she shut the bedroom door.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
With the exception of the children talking, the eight hour drive from Oklahoma to Arkansas to spend Thanksgiving with Kristy’s parents was a quiet one.
Shortly after they pulled out of their driveway, Kristy told her husband, “I’m only going because I need time away from Oklahoma, time away from the church, and from the house. The children also need some time away. Don’t expect much conversation from me. You just spend time thinking because I’m sure you have a lot to think about.”
Thanksgiving at her parents’ home was pleasant and uneventful. Neither of Kristy’s parents knew of Kirby’s unfaithfulness. On Friday after they retired for bed, Kristy said to Kirby, “Thanks for bringing us here, but I want to let you know that the children and I will be staying here.”
“What do you mean, you and the children will be staying here? Don’t I have a say in that?”
“Ha,” Kristy said dryly. “You lost your say when you slept with an underage girl. You will be returning to Oklahoma by yourself for several reasons: One, you have to preach on Sunday, don’t you? You don’t expect Jonathan to come off his break with his family to preach for you, do you?”
“I’ll be there, and you’ll be in your position by my side.” Kirby tried to sound firm though his voice faltered.
“You weren’t so adamant about me being in my position by your side when you were having sex with that girl. Now were you?” Kristy’s words pierced Kirby like a dagger.
“Look, I’m already sorry for what I did,” he said. “I’ve tried talking to you to get it fixed. I let you plan this vacation without interfering. Is this how I get treated for confessing?” Kirby knew his attitude was wrong, but refused to drop his whining.
Kristy rolled her eyes. “As I was saying: Two, I do not want to be around when the police pick you up. You do know you are at risk of getting arrested, don’t you? And, three, I want to save you the embarrassment when I tell my parents. Good night, Kirby. By the way, your suitcase is already packed and waiting by the door.”
Kristy turned away from her husband. “Also, since you’re so concerned about what others think about you, I’ve already told Mom and Dad you’ll be returning to Oklahoma by yourself. I have not told them why, but rest assured, I will let them know the real reason once you get on the road. Good night.”
As Kirby rode back to Oklahoma he thought, I may call Carmen and have her email the church family informing them that services will be canceled for Sunday. More guilt immediately hit him. “No. I have to face up to my stupidity,” he quietly reprimanded himself. “And I call myself a man of God.”
Kirby tried to pray, but the words would not come. What will I tell the church? What will my deacons think? Will I lose everything I’ve worked so hard for? He pulled off the highway at one of the exits to put gas in his car. His heart sank when he saw a family—father, mother, a boy, and a girl—exit the convenience store. That could have been my family, he thought. Kristy had not answered the two phone calls he had placed to her earlier.
Maybe we do need some time apart, he thought. Their time together in the hotel and at his in-laws house had not helped ease the tension between them. He made one final call to his wife as he watched the family enter their van and drive out of the gas station. He left a message on her voicemail: “Kristy, I’m very sorry for what I did. I’m asking you to please forgive me. I know you don’t want any advice from me, but I suggest we fast and pray during this separation. I have no plans on leaving you for Sandy or for any other woman. You’re the one I pledged to stay married to for life; I want to stay married to you. You’re a good woman. Give my love to the children.”
It was around ten at night when Kirby arrived home. After calling Carmen to assure her he’d be in the pulpit on Sunday, he stumbled into bed, physically, mentally, and spiritually worn out from the weight of guilt and time spent praying to God for mercy. The ringing of the doorbell along with firm knocks on the door awakened him a few hours later.
“Who is it?” he asked once he got to the door.
“Open up! It’s the police.”
“Oh, no,” he said. Taking a deep breath, he did as he was commanded.
“We have a warrant for the arrest of Kirby Rollins. Are you Kirby Rollins?”
“Yes. I am. If you don’t mind, may I please make one phone call?” Kirby asked the officers who followed him into the living room. He picked up the receiver and quickly dialed a number.
“Deacon Travis,” he said, “this is Pastor Kirby.”
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one.”
Brother Cam, his wife, Mitzie, and his niece, Sandy, with her baby Solomon, were relaxing in their living room enjoying the afterglow of the Thanksgiving Sunday services earlier that day. Conversation was light as they listened intermittently to the news.
“You’d expect the news to be more encouraging considering it’s Thanksgiving weekend,” Mitzie said with a sigh. “Can’t we turn to Hallmark?”
“We could, but I’ve had enough of that feel-good Thanksgiving stuff at church. I want to see what’s happening in the real world.” Cam switched from the national news to the local station. “There’s my girl,” he said pointing the remote control towards the screen. Jessica Simmons was giving a report.
Sandy rose to go to her room when Jessica’s words stopped her in her tracks. There has been an unconfirmed report that the pastor of Ninth Street Baptist Church was arrested late last night. We are awaiting confirmation from the police. Stay tuned for updates.
Sandy sat back down staring at the television screen. Mitzie looked at her husband. Cam returned her look with a smug smile. “This is why I told you to leave him alone,” he said turning to Sandy.
Fifteen minutes later, Jessica was back on the screen with another update: It has been confirmed by the police department that Pastor Kirby Rollins of the Ninth Street Baptist Church was arrested around one o’clock this morning for allegedly having sex with a minor. We will not release her name due to her age when the alleged offense occurred. The arrest would have been made earlier in the week, but Pastor Rollins and his family were away for the holiday. As always, we’ll be sure to keep you posted.
“I’m going to bed,” Sandy said leaving the room.
“Did you have anything to do with this?” Mitzie asked her husband after she heard Sandy’s bedroom door close.
“What if I did? He had it coming,” Cam said.
“How could you do such a thing!” Mitzie said. “Isn’t it enough he was paying you to keep quiet? And what about Sandy? Her name’s going to be scandalized too. The whole family’s going to end up in the news.”
“You don’t need to worry about that. I got it all under control.” Cam flipped to another news channel and listened for a while. “Kirby brought all this mess on himself.”
“May God help us,” Mitzie said staring at her husband. “I believe you have lost your mind. Cam, I beg you, please leave the matter alone. Sandy’s hurting enough. And think of Kristy and their little children. They’re gonna need their father. I mean, how long will they hold him in jail? And what about the church?”
“Yes, may God help us,” Cam said. “Don’t worry about a thing. Kristy and the children will survive this. As for the church… I’ve got plans for it. Remember, I used to be the assistant pastor. A whole lot of people still look up to me at the church.”
“Exactly what are you saying?” Mitzie asked. “You’re not planning on taking over the church, are you?”
Cam laughed. “How can I? I love Brother Jonathan. He’s a good young man… but then I said the same about Kirby. These young pastors of today cannot handle notoriety. Let’s say I’ll just offer my pastoral expertise to young Jonathan.”
“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
Jonathan’s adrenaline was working overtime as he anticipated what lay ahead. He drove the seven hours home without stopping. After catching a nap, he drove out to the church to find the doors leading to the main office locked and Carmen at her wit’s end trying to keep up with the influx of phone calls.
“Thank God you’re here, Brother Jonathan. It’s only a little after nine and church members, non-church members, the press, the local television station — basically all of Oklahoma City — have been calling to find out if it’s true what they heard about their ‘beloved pastor’,” Carmen said. “When I came in at eight, TV crews were already parked outside. They tried to talk me into letting them inside to get a report. Listen to this.” She pressed the play button on the answering machine. Jonathan listened.
“I don’t believe that mess. Pastor Kirby is a true man of God.”
“All I know is, the higher they climb the harder they fall.”
“That’s not true about our beloved pastor. Someone is trying to bring him down. Someone is jealous of his success.”
“Mmm. I don’t know. Never trust a young, handsome, fiery minister around your daughters.”
“What do you expect? He’s young and hot-blooded.”
“As soon as I delete one message it seems like there’s two more to replace it,” Carmen said. “Have you heard from Pastor Kirby?”
“No. My wife has been trying to get in touch with Kristy but nothing so far.”
“Well, the church’s email box is full. You can read the messages if you want. I don’t want to read anymore. I’ve already wasted an hour doing nothing but getting more and more discouraged.”
“Have you heard from Deacon Travis?” Jonathan asked. “See if you can get him on the phone.”
Jonathan and Deacon Travis were talking within seconds.
“Yes, I made it in safely,” Jonathan said. “Were you able to get Pastor Kirby out of jail?”
“Yes, I went down this morning and paid for his bond. I told him to look me in my eyes and tell me the truth. He told me it was all true … He’s like a son to me,” Deacon Travis said. “I was one of his first members. I helped him build this church. I was thrilled when he asked me to head the deacon board. When he and I are by ourselves, he calls me ‘Pops’.”
Jonathan heard a sigh from the other end of the phone.
“I did not spare my words with him. I told him how disappointed I was; but I also told him, I’ll stand with him if he confesses before the church this Sunday, and that he cannot afford to wait any longer.”
“How was his spirit?” Jonathan asked.
“He’s seems broken, Jonathan. I asked about Kristy and the children. He says they are at her parents’ house where they spent Thanksgiving. He did not want to go into any details and says just to pray for their marriage. I also stopped by his house. Please stop by and encourage him. He needs it,” Deacon Travis said.
After Jonathan said goodbye to Deacon Travis, he placed a call to Kirby. Conversation was light. The free spirit that normally existed between them took on a more serious tone.
“Me and the deacons will be at your house each evening this week except Wednesday to pray with you. My advice to you is to stay home and not open the door for anyone—at least not until after Sunday. The media is searching for answers; they want you to clarify things. I read some of the emails that came in and some of them are threats.”
After leaving the church office for home, Jonathan was stopped in the parking lot by reporter Jessica Simmons wanting an update on Pastor Kirby’s whereabouts.
“All is well. We are looking into the matter,” Jonathan said as he walked towards his car. “No more comments, and please do not harass the church members, and …,” Jonathan added as he got in his car, “don’t follow me. I’m headed to my own house to have lunch with my wife and children. Have a blessed day.”
By the time Jonathan got home, his short exchange with Jessica was already airing.
“These people will go through any means for a piece of juicy news,” Monica said as they sat down for lunch. “By the way, I got in touch with Kristy. Things are not looking good for their marriage and I’m afraid I was not much of an encouragement to her.”
“Don’t worry. There’s not much encouragement you can give in this early stage,” Jonathan said. “Let’s just continue to pray for them.”
“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” —John 3:15
Wednesday night prayer services brought the largest crowd that Jonathan could recall at Ninth Street. A spirit of curiosity settled over the parishioners as he took the podium. “You must keep the main thing the main thing,” Pastor Richardson had told him over the phone earlier that day. “Don’t let the people’s desire for gossip cause you to lose focus, then you spend an entire hour or two discussing Pastor Kirby’s situation and everyone comes away from the church service not any more spiritually encouraged than when they first got there.” Taking Pastor Richardson’s advice, Jonathan proceeded with the prayer service as scheduled.
Jonathan closed out the prayer time with the following statement: “Let’s continue to pray for Pastor Kirby and his family that God’s will would be done. I’m sure you’ve heard the news reports so there’s no need to waste time talking about it. I ask you to pray for him and his family as this is a very difficult time for them.”
“Where is he now?” someone shouted as whispers floated across the auditorium.
“Will he be back by Sunday?” another asked.
“I can’t give you anything definite,” Jonathan said. He looked over the crowd. Brother Cam was sitting close to the middle aisle glancing around with a pleased look on his face. Their eyes met. A look of distrust passed between them. I don’t doubt that you incited some of the people to ask questions, Jonathan thought looking away.
“As I said, let’s just continue to pray for the Rollins family. I won’t answer any more questions about that situation until I find out more about the matter. Good night, everyone.” He left the podium and walked to his office where Monica, Deacon Travis, and two other deacons—Deacon Shaw and Deacon Yancy—met with him. A knock on his office door interrupted their conversation. Jonathan opened the door. It was Cam.
“What do you mean, where’s Kirby? I thought he was in jail. You haven’t heard the news?” Jonathan said.
“Yeah. I heard it,” Cam said. “But I also heard someone paid his bond. I called down to the jail myself to check to see if he was still down there; that’s when they told me someone paid his bond. I stopped by his house, but no one answered the door.”
“I guess he has contacts we don’t know about,” Jonathan said.
“Are you sure you had nothing to do with him getting out?”Cam asked.
“Let me put it this way,” Jonathan said. “I didn’t pay his bond.”
“Well, it ain’t over ’till I say it’s over,” Cam said walking away.
Jonathan looked at Deacon Travis and the other deacons. “I sense nothing but trouble from him,” he told them.
“You know he used to be assistant pastor here,” Deacon Shaw said.
“Yes, I found that out in an unusual way,” Jonathan replied as he told them about the fight he had to break up between Kirby and Cam.
There was another knock on his office door. “Brother Jonathan, it’s me, Carmen,” she said with urgency in her voice.
“Come in, Carmen,” Jonathan said. “What’s the matter?”
“You may want to come out to the auditorium right away. Jessica Simmons from the television station is out there talking to church members about Pastor Kirby. She was talking to Cam who told her Pastor Kirby was no longer in jail, and that someone paid for him to get out. He’s telling her Pastor Kirby needs to do the time since he committed the crime.”
“Thank you, Carmen,” Jonathan said. “Travis, you come with me.”
Once in the auditorium, the men approached Jessica who was still talking with Cam. Members were buzzing around them.
“Excuse me, Ms. Simmons,” Jonathan said, “but you cannot interview people inside the church building or on church property without permission. You know that. I’m kindly asking you to leave.”
Pointing the mic at Jonathan, Jessica said in one breath, “Hi, Pastor Jonathan. We met on Monday. Mr. Cam gave us permission as former assistant pastor. Just one more question which I’ll direct to you as the current pastor: It seems like Pastor Kirby is in hiding. Do you know where he is?”
“Ms. Simmons, I am asking you to leave the building before I call the police and have you and your cameraman thrown out. Stop taping,” Jonathan said firmly.
“Will do. Do you have that, Mike?” Jessica said to her cameraman. “Okay, that’s a wrap. We’ll finish outside.”
“Outside and off the church property,” Jonathan called after them.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” —John 3:16
“How long do you plan on hiding Kirby?” Monica asked her husband on the way home.
“I’m not hiding him. He’s at his house. He’s free to come and go as he pleases. I’m just not saying anything to the press or to anyone for that matter. I want him in one piece when he apologizes to the church family. He wants to do it only by email, but I told him that was not going to have the same effect; he needs to do it in person.”
“Cam is sure out to get him,” Monica said. “I may be wrong, but I think Cam’s out to get the church as well. That would be his ultimate payback.”
Jonathan looked across at his wife. “Do you really think so?”
“Yep,” she replied. “I believe he’s been planning this all along. For him, getting hush money is not enough especially when Kirby refused to stop seeing Sandy. I also believe someone at the church is in communication with him, so you be careful who you talk to.”
“How did you come up with all that?”
“Just intuition,” Monica said. “Remember my speculations about Kirby’s character and about his and Kristy’s marriage turned out to be true.”
Later that evening, after helping to put the children to bed, Jonathan gave Kirby a call.
“Cam found out you’ve been released from jail, and he’s not too pleased about it. He tried to get me to tell who paid your bond,” Jonathan informed him.
“He’s got a lot of bitterness in his heart toward me,” Kirby said. “Someone’s been calling here all day on my cell as well as on the house phone. Even the news people stopped by earlier.”
“Now I don’t know what’s going to happen to you after Sunday, but as a minister of God you’re going to have to face up to the consequences,” Jonathan said.
“I know,” Kirby sighed. “And I want to thank you for standing by me. You’ve been a true friend. And I’m sorry for doing this to you. Again, please forgive me. And if this is where our friendship ends, I’ll understand.”
“Stop talking nonsense,” Jonathan said. “I can’t throw away our friendship because you made this stupid mistake. You need a friend now more than ever.”
“Thanks a lot. By the way, has your wife heard from my wife?” Kirby asked. “She has not been answering my calls.”
Jonathan sighed. “They spoke on Monday and Kristy’s not talking like I know you want her to talk, but give her some time. The wound’s still fresh. Just pray it through and be willing to accept whatever God has in store for you.”
“That’s all I can do,” Kirby said. “Hold on a minute, let me turn the television up. Jessica Simmons is on… Is that Cam with her? Looks like they’re in the church’s parking lot.”
“Let me tune in,” Jonathan said hurrying to the den.
He listened grimly.
“This is Jessica Simmons giving you an update on Pastor Kirby Rollins. Church members are still in shock. Some are disappointed and others are doubtful as to the truth of the accusations against their pastor. Assistant pastor, Jonathan Reynolds, declined to comment further on the situation. At their Wednesday night services, prayers were offered for Pastor Rollins and his family. The former assistant pastor, Cameron, who’s standing next to me here in the church’s parking lot informed us that Pastor Rollins has been released from jail. He believes the deacons and assistant pastor know where he is, but are remaining silent. Any more comments?”
She placed the mic in front of Brother Cam. “He shouldn’t be out of jail,” Cam said. “He committed the crime; it’s only fair that he does the time.”
“He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” —John 3:18
Mitzie was listening to the news when her husband walked through the door.
“Cam,” Mitzie said, “why can’t you leave well-enough alone? Why did you have to go over there and stir up trouble? Haven’t you swindled enough money out of Pastor Kirby and the church already?”
“Yes. And if swindled is not the word, then extort might be a better word because that’s what you were doing,” Mitzie said.
“He was just paying me my due. You know I helped him build up that church; plus, I told him to stop seeing Sandy,” Cam said throwing his hat on the couch while loosening his tie. He turned his attention to the television.
“Cam, we joined the church almost one year after Kirby started it. He hired you on as assistant pastor because you had some business acumen and he needed someone to handle the money, and also because you filled in as pastor when our former church lost its pastor. So you came with a little pastoral experience,” Mitzie said. “And might I add, he paid you more than enough. We did not even miss the money when you left the church. You were making enough working with Aetna.”
“Mitzie, he has to learn he cannot take advantage of my niece or anyone else and get away with it. He has to pay.”
“Well, you’re not God,” Mitzie said. “Now you have Sandy all nervous. She’s scared people will find out she’s the person he fooled around with.”
“She doesn’t have to worry about that. Kirby won’t tell and because she was under-age when it happened, her name will not be released to the public. And I’m sure you won’t tell either,” Cam said keeping his eyes on the television as Jessica signed off. A sly smile crossed his face.
“That’s nothing to smile about,” Mitzie said. “Have you forgotten the verse that says ‘do not rejoice when your enemy falls’? If I were you, I’d leave Kirby alone, I’d leave Ninth Street Baptist Church alone, and I wouldn’t mess with Brother Jonathan either…”
“I’m not messing with them. I’m just bringing things to the light and to help the world see you can’t do wrong, hide it, and expect to get away with it. I’m going to watch the news a bit longer. You go on to bed.”
On her way to her bedroom, Mitzie saw light under Sandy’s bedroom door. She knocked on the door.
“It’s open,” Sandy said.
“I’m just checking on you before I turn in for the night,” Mitzie said as she entered the room.
Sandy took her ear plugs out her ears. She looked at her aunt, her face displaying grief and guilt.
“Aunt Mitzie, I’m sorry I lied to you. I was never raped. Pastor Kirby did not force himself on me. I consented. I knew what I was doing. I knew it was wrong having sex with him. I… I wanted to do it at the time.”
Mitzie stood by the door in shock. “Why did you lie to me?” she asked. “Why didn’t you just tell me the truth? Things could have worked out better, I think.”
“Uncle Cam told me to keep quiet about it. He told me not to tell you. He said that you couldn’t handle it,” Sandy said. She reached over and stroked Solomon’s back as he slept on the bed beside her.
Mitzie sat down slowly on the bed. “Sandy, you cannot hide sin, especially if you are a Christian. Even if people around you never find out the truth, God will always know the truth and will constantly convict you about it until you get it right. You may be feeling bad right now, but deep down, don’t you feel good that the truth is out—that you no longer have to hide it?”
“I guess you’re right, Auntie,” Sandy sighed. She shrugged. “Maybe I’ll feel better soon. I’ve just been miserable since the day I started lying about it. Now, Pastor Kirby’s in trouble and I’m getting away free. I need to apologize to him and to Kristy for letting this happen. Kristy treated me like a daughter and I did this to her.”
Mitzie reached over to hug her niece. “Just pray for God to work it out, and in the meantime, you learn what you need to learn from all this.”
Anise Caverly kicked off her black stilettos while waiting for Leanne Rider to answer the phone. Thank God Melvin’s not home, she sighed. The less I see of him the better. I can talk without interruption. “Come on, answer the phone,” she said out loud.
“About time,” Anise said. “What took you so long to answer?”
“I had three bags of groceries in my arms, struggling to open the door when I heard the phone ringing. I thought I told you I was going to the grocery store,” Leanne said.
“I forgot,” Anise said. “Anyway, I hung around for a while longer at the church, and, lady, you should have been there. This mess about Pastor Kirby is going to get bigger.”
“What are you waiting on? Get to talking,” Leanne said.
“The television people were there interviewing the members about the allegations that put Kirby in jail and all that. I had to say my piece,” Anise said with a chuckle.
“What did you say?”
“Oh, the truth. I told that news lady, Jessica Simmons, that I believe there may be some truth to it, and that he flirted with me and made sexual advances towards me too; but I caught on to what he was doing and left him cold. I might be on television tonight. You better tune in.”
“Anise, how could you say such a thing about Pastor Kirby? And even if that were the truth, you should have kept your mouth shut. Are you trying to defame his name too?” Anise was surprised at Leanne’s response.
Without waiting for an answer, Leanne continued. “You know the world does not love pastors like Pastor Kirby who preach hard against their sin and evil. They will do anything to drag his name through the mud.”
“Maybe he should have preached more against his own sin and evil then,” Anise replied.
“Look, Anise, we can’t let one sin nullify all the good he’s done through the church over the past seven years, now can we? Look how many people have been saved and given new life because of him. I know my life has been changed and so has yours. You even said so yourself!”
“But we can’t have a pastor preaching against sin and he’s sinning himself. That’s hypocrisy,” Anise said quietly.
“Neither can we have women calling themselves Christians throwing themselves at pastors who are trying to live right,” Leanne said, “That is hypocrisy too.”
“Who are you talking about now?” Anise said cautiously.
“Anise, stop this game playing. You told me a few weeks back, how that Pastor Kirby was trying to flirt with you in his office, and you just told me you mentioned to the TV people — ”
“S-o-o, that man was not trying to flirt with you, and if he did, you started it all. I see how you eye the men of the church. I see how you’re always up in Pastor Kirby’s face after every service while his poor wife is back in the nursery with their little children, and with the other little children whose parents don’t want to be bothered with them during services.”
“Now, Leanne — ”
“Now Leanne, nothing!” Leanne said. “You remember Brother Cam; he used to be assistant pastor at Ninth Street. Well, I still stay in touch with him and his wife. Cam told me he stopped by Pastor Kirby’s office one day, unexpectedly, and you were sitting on Pastor Kirby’s lap. The door was slightly open so he saw everything. So as not to embarrass you, he said he called out Pastor Kirby’s name real loud. When he called out, you jumped up and buttoned your blouse, smoothed your clothes down, and acted as though you were just leaving. Now, do you deny that?”
Anise swallowed hard.
“You can’t, can you?” Leanne said. “So I don’t want to hear you say one more negative thing, whether it is true or not, about Pastor Kirby.”
“Brother Cam may have gotten me mixed up with someone else,” Anise said quietly.
“Nope. He described you to a T; even down to the very blouse you were wearing, which, by the way, happens to be the same blouse you were wearing in church tonight.”
After not receiving a response from Anise, Leanne hung up the phone.
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.”
It was early Sunday morning when Jonathan received a call from Kirby asking him to meet him at the church. They both pulled into the church’s parking lot at the same time and parked in their normal places toward the back of the building by the church offices. As they got out of their cars, a silver Lexus with tinted windows drove up behind them, slowed down, then sped off.
“Do you recognize that car?” Jonathan asked Kirby as he unlocked the church door.
“No,” Kirby said.
Jonathan locked the door once they were inside. “I don’t want any surprise visits,” he said.
Once they settled down in Jonathan’s office, Kirby said, “I sent the email this morning to the church family apologizing for what I did. I think Friday would have been too early. Anyway, I think I need to apologize to Sandy and to her aunt. What do you think?”
“I believe Sandy already knows you’re sorry, and I do not think now is a good time to do that,” Jonathan said. “Cam is upset as it is. If you would like, my wife can speak to them and pass on your apology.”
Monica returned Jonathan’s phone call with an answer to his request.
“I spoke with Mitzie; she accepts his apology and says to let you know she’ll be praying for Pastor Kirby. She says not to worry about Sandy; she wants him to accept her apology also. She kind of hinted that you both should just avoid Cam for now.”
“Thank you, Monica,” Jonathan said. “If you don’t mind, could you please call Kristy’s mother and see if you can talk to Kristy? I love you, darling.”
“Are you sure the email apology won’t be enough?” Kirby asked Jonathan after he got off the phone.
“Absolutely not. It may have worked had this happened a week or two ago before the news leaked,” Jonathan said as he picked up the phone. He dialed Pastor Richardson’s number. “I want you to talk with Pastor Richardson of my former church in Texas. I don’t know if you remember him. He officiated at our wedding. He already knows about the situation and he’s been in the ministry for over forty years now so nothing surprises him. Just be honest with him.”
Once on the line, Pastor Richardson told Kirby, “There’s this verse in Philippians which says, ‘Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.’ God saved you to use you to do a great work at Ninth Street Baptist Church. From what Jonathan has been sharing with us, souls are being saved each week and Christians are being encouraged. I listen to you at times over the radio. Brother, you can’t give up. You may feel like this is the end of the road for you, but don’t give up. There is no telling what God will do with a man who truly repents.”
Kirby nodded as Pastor Richardson continued.
“Confess your sin and come before God with a truly broken and contrite heart, and God will bring you through this. And you never know, He may use you to do even greater things for His glory in the future. Remember, a righteous man falleth seven times but he rises up again. David sinned greatly, but once he confessed his sin and accepted his chastisement, God continued to bless him. Peter denied Christ, but once he repented, God used him to help turn the world upside down. Now, let me just say this to you, I do not believe you ought to continue plowing forward. I do believe you need to step down for two to three years and get your heart right with the Lord before you try to continue in the ministry. I know you don’t want to hear that, but that’s my advice to you.”
“Yes sir, that’s tough advice to take, but to be honest with you, Pastor Richardson,” Kirby said, “I don’t believe I’m as sorry as I should be. Even as we’re talking I’m still trying to figure out how I can avoid having to make a confession before the whole church in person.”
“Well, tell that to God. Ask Him to give you a truly repentant heart. Ask Him to break you. And ask Him to help you accept whatever chastisement He brings upon you and take a sabbatical,” Pastor Richardson said. “Whatever the case, remain faithful to God, and remember, we are praying for you down here at New Mt. Zion.”
“So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.”
A few minutes before Sunday services began, the deacons gathered in Jonathan’s office where they prayed for the services and especially for Pastor Kirby.
“This is the plan,” Jonathan said. “I’ll preach a short sermon, then as soon as I give the final Amen, you will all escort Pastor Kirby to the podium. I’ve decided that rather than leave him on the podium by himself, we’ll stand with him to support and encourage him, and protect him from any haters in the crowd. It’s a tough time for him. Are you all with me on that?”
The deacons nodded their heads.
Both the auditorium and overflow rooms were packed. Jonathan preached from John 8:3-11 focusing on the words: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” and “neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” He said, “Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, had every right to condemn the woman taken in adultery, but He, being a merciful Savior, forgave her of her sin setting an example for us,” Jonathan said. “Before we point a condemning finger at the sins of others, let us examine ourselves. Let us first point that condemning finger at ourselves and plead for God’s mercy. We should all join the Psalmist David and cry out to God: ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.’
“Many of us as Christians have a wrong view of ourselves. We think we don’t have any sin. It is always the other person’s sin that is so vile, so repugnant—but not our sin. But we must begin to see ourselves as God sees us — as people with wicked hearts. The Bible says there is nothing good within us. All our righteousness are as filthy rags in God’s sight.
“I challenge you to search your own heart, to examine your own heart, and fall on your knees before our holy and merciful Father confessing your sins, and seeking His forgiveness so we can be in right standing with Him. The altar is open for prayer.”
“That was nice of Monica to check up on Sandy,” Cam said as they made their way to the Wharton Hills Baptist Church where they had been attending.
“Yes. She’s as sweet as can be,” Mitzie said.
Cam pulled up before the main entrance leading into the auditorium.
“Aren’t you going to park?” Mitzie asked.
“No need to. You two go on ahead. I’ll be visiting Ninth Street Baptist this morning.”
“Cam, please stay away from there. You know this is a tough time for them. Why can’t you be content just praying for Pastor Kirby and the church?” Mitzie pleaded.
“I like to complete things,” Cam said.
Mitzie and Sandy watched him drive off the property. “I just hope he does not do anything he’ll regret,” Mitzie said.
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
After the invitation, Jonathan asked everyone to remain in their seats before leaving the podium. The deacons joined him as he hurried down the hallway to his office where Kirby was waiting.
“Kirby, everyone’s waiting,” he said.
Kirby seemed to have aged in the past few weeks. The men strode into the auditorium. Their entrance was met with hushed whispers. They took their places on the podium with Jonathan and Kirby in the front surrounded by the deacons.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I know you all have had some questions over the news about our pastor. Well, Pastor Kirby is here to give a statement,” Jonathan announced.
Kirby stepped before the microphone. He was visibly trembling.
As he looked across the auditorium at the group of people he had come to love, and who had come to love him, a cold shiver ran through his body as looks of disappointment, sadness, emptiness, and anticipation met him. Some threw angry glares at him. As his eyes locked with some of the congregants, the realization of how much he had disappointed them hit him. They had trusted him and he had broken their trust. Attempts to clear the lump in his throat failed.
“Brothers and sisters, I come before you with heaviness of heart because I have failed you as a pastor and as a Christian. I have been living a lie before you for almost two years now. Yes,” Kirby said, “the news reports are true … I did have sex with a minor.”
Jonathan who had been observing the congregants looked towards the double doors at the back of the auditorium as they opened. Oh, boy, he thought as Cam marched in with Jessica Simmons and a cameraman who immediately directed his camera towards them and started filming the confession.
Jonathan shook his head. He thought of asking them to leave, but changed his mind as phones began popping up into the air. Members were already snapping pictures and tweeting and texting. It’s going to get out anyway, he sighed. He joined the deacons in silent prayer.
“There is no excuse for my sin,” Kirby continued. “That’s what it is—a grave sin before God and before you all.” Kirby’s voice cracked. “Please forgive me for breaking your trust.”
Deacon Travis reached out and grabbed Kirby by the arm as Kirby’s knees buckled under him. Regaining his stance, Kirby’s shoulders started to tremble as he repeated his apology. “I’m sorry for breaking your trust. Please forgive me.” Tears trickled down his cheeks.
“I hear you’ve been paying someone to keep it quiet,” Cam said out loud as he made his way up closer to the front. “Have you been stealing money from the offering plate?”
Jonathan wanted so badly to punch Cam in the face.
“There goes the crib snatcher!” one lady muttered walking out in a huff.
“Leave him alone!” one man shouted. “He’s been a great pastor to us.”
Jonathan motioned to the deacons to escort Kirby to his office as he sensed possible pandemonium.
“Quiet! Order, please!” Jonathan said into the microphone. “Pastor Kirby will not answer any questions and neither will I. I would appreciate it if you all would head home and go do what Jesus would do, and that is to forgive Pastor Kirby and pray for him and his family. Have a great day.”
“What will happen to Pastor Kirby now?” someone shouted as Jonathan made his way off the podium. “He’s still my pastor,” another said.
Jonathan took Monica’s hand and they left the auditorium.
“How do you feel?” Jonathan asked Kirby once they got to his office.
“I feel somewhat relieved,” Kirby answered. “Thanks for standing by me. Thanks to all of you,” he said glancing around at each of the deacons.
“What are your plans going forward?” Deacon Travis asked Kirby.
“I plan on returning to Kristy and the children, getting some counseling, staying out of the pulpit for … I don’t know,” he sighed. “I need to get my marriage back together. That’s all that matters to me now. Please pray for us.”
“We will,” Deacon Travis said. “Keep me abreast of everything … son.”
Kirby did all he could to keep from crying. He knew he had hurt Deacon Travis—his father in the faith—deeply. The other deacons solemnly shook his hand.
“I’ll keep things going just as though you were here,” Jonathan said.
“Gentlemen, you’re dismissed,” Jonathan said to his deacons. He placed his arm around his wife and the two of them walked slowly out the back door behind the others. There were a few members still milling around. They all waited for Kirby to pull out of the parking lot.
Before shutting his car door, Kirby looked around at all God had blessed him to build up. I’ve destroyed it all. I’ve destroyed it all.
As Jonathan drove off the lot, he noticed the silver Lexus parked close to the main exit; Cam was leaning against it with a sly grin on his face.
Jonathan and Monica listened quietly to the evening news after putting the children to bed for the night. Jessica appeared on the screen after Pastor Kirby’s confession was broadcasted in full:
“Why would a pastor do such a thing knowing the consequences he would face? That will be our focus for this segment, and no doubt, we will revisit this issue in the next few weeks. To help us answer this question we have with us Mr. Cameron, former assistant pastor of Ninth Street Baptist Church where Pastor Kirby Rollins once served as its pastor.”
Jessica pointed the microphone towards Cam. “I believe it’s a combination of things,” Cam said, “including pride, ego, a feeling of invincibility. Some begin to think that because of their status they can get away with their sin. But the Bible says, ‘Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.’ It also says you can be sure your sins will find you out.”
“What do you think will happen to the Ninth Street Church family now?” Jessica asked.
“I’m sure you saw many of the members walking out. However, they have a very capable leader in Jonathan Reynolds who I’m hoping will do a very good job in picking up where Pastor Kirby left off. Of course, I’ll offer him my services and my advice and help him bring the church past this difficult time.”
“Thanks, Mr. Cameron. Tune in at six each evening for updates on this story. Thank you and have a great evening.”
“It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop, than with a brawling woman in a wide house.”
Anise walked into the living room from the kitchen where she was preparing a light meal for her and her husband, Melvin. He was home for a couple of days before he had to take off again to make deliveries. He was employed as a truck driver for Walmart. Melvin was often gone weeks at a time making deliveries in various states.
“You don’t need to listen to that,” Anise almost shouted at her husband as he turned the volume up to listen to the news of the fall of Pastor Kirby.
“Why are you so testy?” he said. “I know. He’s one handsome pastor, if I do say so myself. No wonder you’re always running out to the church. I’m just wondering, how much counseling have you gone to him for?”
“Melvin, be quiet with that mess,” Anise said. Why couldn’t you have just stayed on the road? she thought to herself.
“People’s reactions often tell what’s in their hearts,” her husband said. “Your pastor’s situation couldn’t have gotten you this upset … but then again, you’re always mad.”
“I told you to be quiet,” Anise said.
“Touché, touché, touché,” Melvin said.
“This is no business of yours,” Anise said. “You never wanted to go to church anyway.”
“Can you blame me? Look at how you’re acting? Mad and angry for no reason. This is what I have to put up with for the short time that I am home. You can at least be pleasant the few days I’m here. And don’t tell me you cannot do it, because I’ve seen you act all nice and lovey-dovey when you step into the church building. You want to know why I have not quit my trucking job to stay home more? Because of this,” Melvin said. “Because of your mean spirit and your nasty attitude. I may not go to church with you, but I grew up in the church and my Bible says women like you cause husbands to run to the corner of their housetop. Well, my corner of the housetop is my rig—I just hop in it and drive away to get as far away from you as I possibly can.”
Anise rolled her eyes.
“By the way,” Melvin said, “when I’m driving my rig, whatever city I end up in on a Sunday morning, I visit a church in that city. Whenever I’m driving, I listen to preachers on the radio. I even listen to your beloved Pastor Kirby. He’s good. I like his preaching. So there you have it. Now please go finish fixing me my dinner so I can watch this in peace.”
Anise stomped back into the kitchen. How dare he talk to me like that? He does not even know all that has taken place at Ninth Street. She snatched up a plate with Melvin’s two ham and cheese sandwiches and his bowl of pasta salad and placed them on his eating tray.
“You don’t have to do it in such an angry way. Step aside. 60 Minutes is about ready to come on.” As Anise turned to leave, Melvin said, “Hey, you forgot my napkin and my drink, if you don’t mind—”
“Be a true help-meet now. Pastor Kirby would love to hear how you’re practicing that at home,” Melvin said turning the volume up without taking his eyes off the television.
Anise clenched her fists, tightened her lips, turned abruptly and stomped off into the kitchen to meet his request. “Anything else?” she said after she set the things on his tray.
“That’s all. You can get whatever you’re going to eat and join me if you want to,” Melvin said. He bowed his head and thanked God for the food.
As if I want to join you, Anise thought as she entered the bedroom. I’ve just lost my appetite. She threw herself on the bed. I want to call Leanne so badly, but she’s acting just as nutty as Melvin. How could she say what she said? What kind of friend is she?
“Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.”
Monica called Kristy to inform her about Kirby’s public confession that Sunday.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Kristy said. “I wish you and Jonathan all the best as he takes over the church. I hope Kirby did not leave too much of a mess for you all to clean up.”
“Kirby’s truly sorry,” Monica said. “Do you want me to have Jonathan give him a message?”
“Umm. Just let him know that the children are doing well. And I do thank you for calling,” Kristy said.
“How do you feel being the new First Lady of Ninth Street Baptist?” Jonathan asked Monica as he kissed her goodbye before leaving for the church on the Monday after she spoke with Kristy.
“Please, no ‘First Lady.’ I’m just plain Monica—nothing more,” Monica said returning his kiss. “It’s sad how some people in the church get all huffy if they don’t have a title before their name.”
“Yes. That is something,” Jonathan said. “Lord willing, I’ll be back to take you and the children out for lunch around one before calling it a day. Bye, Mitch, Jerrilyn, Caleb, and Diana Joi,” he said giving each of the children a hug. “Love you all. Be good while I am gone.”
“We love you, Daddy!” the children shouted.
As Monica turned her attention to her children, the phone rang.
“I’ll get it,” Mitch said springing out of his chair. “Mommy, it’s Auntie Stacy.”
“Who’s she?” Caleb asked.
“Your Auntie,” Jerrilyn answered as she stuffed the last spoonful of her cereal into her mouth.
“I just had to give you a call,” Stacy said. “I saw the news about Pastor Kirby online. Tell me there’s no truth to it.”
“I wish I could, but it’s all true,” Monica said
The friends chatted for a while. Neither Stacy nor her husband had any new information about their missing daughter, Trelawny.
“We’re still praying for her safe return,” Monica assured her. “In my heart, I believe she’s safe.”
“Thank you, Monica. I can always count on you to keep my hopes up,” Stacy said.
As soon as Jonathan got to the church, he called Pastor Richardson. “It was a tough Sunday, but God brought us through. What advice do you have for me going forward?”
“My first advice is to pray and do as you feel the Lord is leading you; and I mean really pray. You are now senior pastor, whether you are ready for that role or not, and the people will be looking to you to guide them in a Godly manner. I’m curious, what was the attendance like?”
“We had a full house both Wednesday and yesterday. Both our overflow rooms were filled to capacity. To my surprise, not too many walked out. I guess they all wanted to see the outcome; but we’ll see how it is going forward,” Jonathan said.
“Don’t be too quick to get an outsider to fill in as assistant; make use of the deacons who have stood with Pastor Kirby and yourself,” Pastor Richardson said. “Let them step in as much as possible to help relieve you of some of the church responsibilities. I believe the devil has a special task force aimed at Ninth Street because of all the soul-winning and straightforward Bible teaching that you do. So you stay in the Word, pray without ceasing, and be obedient to what God wants you to do. And no matter what takes place, never stop telling folks about the Good News.”
“I won’t,” Jonathan said.
“Now, your weakness may not be other women, but whatever it is, you can rest assured that the devil knows about it, and he knows when and how to exploit that weakness,” Pastor Richardson said. “So remain sober at all times, and be encouraged: we here at New Mt. Zion are praying for you, your family, and the church.”
“Thank you, Pastor Richardson. How have you and Mrs. Richardson been doing health-wise?”
“I tell you, Jonathan. I never thought I would get old,” Pastor Richardson said with a laugh. “But these old bones are starting to tell on me. I can’t run like I used to. Some days I feel like I’m touching Heaven’s portals. But I say with Paul, ‘I’ve fought a good fight; I have finished my course; I have kept the faith.’ I am looking for my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, to return any day now. My only reason to live now is to preach the Gospel to any who will listen and to let them know all they have to do is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and they shall be saved. Hallelujah! I feel like having a shouting fit right now!”
Jonathan laughed. After a few more exchanges they both prayed and then said good bye.
“Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.”
Jonathan walked into Carmen’s office after making a few more phone calls.
“The phone calls and emails are still coming in,” Carmen informed him.
“I know this is not a pleasant job at this time,” Jonathan said. “We have to put all that behind us and move forward. I’ll be leaving at twelve, and you are more than welcome to leave earlier if you wish. You deserve it for hanging in there and holding the fort down during this tough time for the church.”
“Thank you, Pastor Jonathan. I’ll hang around until twelve in case you need anything.”
A few minutes before twelve as Jonathan was putting on his jacket, the phone rang.
“Cam, what do you want?” Jonathan asked.
“Brother Jonathan, it was such a busy day yesterday at Ninth Street, I felt for sure you’d take today off. I wasn’t expecting to get you; but I decided to try anyway.”
“Well, you barely caught me. I was just about to leave.”
“Well, let me be quick then,” Cam said. “I waited around after you all left the podium yesterday and many people were expressing their anger about the whole situation. Some even spoke with me about it. Many were saying that would be their last Sunday at Ninth Street. Others were saying they don’t know if they could trust another young pastor. I guess they were referring to you. I had some come to me in private asking me if I would fill in as senior pastor since I used to be assistant pastor there at Ninth Street.”
“Cam, what are you getting at?”
“I just wanted to let you know that I’ll be taking those who are disgruntled about this whole situation as well as those who do not want you to be the senior pastor with me and I’ll be starting another church with them. There’s no need to let them just hang out there like lost sheep. So if you begin to lose members, they are probably worshiping with me.”
Jonathan laughed. “Well, I do thank you for your honesty. Anything else?”
“Or,” Cam said, “I could come on board and help you through this tough time. Kirby and I had some great plans for this church.”
Well, look at the devil rearing up hisugly head, Jonathan thought with a slight smile.
“Are you still there?” Cam asked.
“Yes, I’m still here. I’ll think about it,” Jonathan said. “Anything else you want to inform me of, Cam?”
“No. Just think about my offer, and Carmen has my number. Give me a call real soon. Time is of the essence,” Cam said.
I’m sure it is, Jonathan thought as he hung up the phone.
“What do you think?” Jonathan asked Carmen as soon as he got off the phone.
“I overheard him and Pastor Kirby arguing a few times when he used to serve here. Seems like he wanted to preach more times than Pastor Kirby was allowing him to. I’m sure there’s more to it,” Carmen said. “I’d be careful in dealing with him.”
“Thanks, Carmen. Come on. Time for you to head on home. I won’t leave you here alone, because if you’re like my wife, you’ll find a hundred other things to do.”
“There’s a snake for you, sure enough,” Monica said after Jonathan told her about Cam’s phone call. “He did not even have the decency to wait for things to die down.”
“I guess he thought our losing members was going to cause me to jump and take him on board,” Jonathan said.
“I wonder what else he has up his sleeve?” Monica said.
And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee. —Psalm 39:7
After meeting with his staff and offering up prayers for Jonathan and the Ninth Street Church family, and returning a few phone calls, including solidifying his date for preaching at the upcoming preacher’s conference, Pastor Richardson left for home.
“It’s only 11:07. What brings you home so early?” his wife said as she greeted him at the front door.
“Hey, Wanda. I don’t feel well. I think I need some rest. I did get up early this morning,” Pastor Richardson said.
“You get up early every morning,” his wife said as she took his briefcase and helped him remove his jacket. “You’ve really been pushing it hard this past year and preaching like a machine.”
“Like I told Jonathan when I spoke with him yesterday, keep the Gospel as the center of his preaching, and I’m doing the same. People are living such messed up lives, we have to preach like crazy the urgency of salvation and Jesus’ soon return. Only Jesus can deliver them out of their messed up situations and give them that peace that we all desire in this chaotic world.”
Pastor Richardson suddenly reached up and grabbed his chest. He tried to keep an upright posture but was unsuccessful. The grimace on his face caused his wife to shout out, “Are you alright?”
She jumped to his side and quickly loosened his tie, placed her arms around his waist, and helped him to the couch.
“It’s probably just heartburn. I checked in with Dr. Gonzalez the end of last week; he did a thorough exam but couldn’t find anything wrong,” Pastor Richardson said.
“Fine time to tell me,” his wife said adjusting the cushions under his head.
Pastor Richardson waved his hand. “Oh, it’s nothing to worry about. People get heartburn all the time, plus, coupled with the stress of the ministry, and –”
“And people die of heart attacks all the time thinking it is heartburn,” his wife interjected. “Come on. Get up. Off to bed you go. Samuel and I would love to have you spend some more years with us … and I am sure the church family would too.”
“Like I told you, heartburn is nothing to worry about. It will soon go away as it always does,” Pastor Richardson said.
Wanda helped him to the bedroom.
“You’ll have to try harder to convince me that it’s heartburn,” his wife said pulling the sheet back as she helped him to sit down on their bed. “Look at you, huffing and puffing from just taking the few steps from the living room to the bedroom.”
She pulled his shoes and socks off and helped him take his shirt off.
“Like I’ve been telling you, we’re not getting any younger.” She helped him lift his legs up onto the bed and pulled the sheet over him. “Did Dr. Gonzalez give you anything for the pain?”
“He gave me some pills. They should be around here somewhere,” Pastor Richardson said adjusting his pillows behind his head. “I probably left it at the office.”
“Just like you—sick and won’t say a word. Don’t even pay attention to where you put things.”
“Why pay attention when I have such a good helpmeet?”
“This is no time for jokes,” Wanda said pushing things around in the bedside table drawer. “No medication here. There is nothing masculine about clamming up when you’re in pain. That’s just plain stupidity.” She poked around in the top dresser drawer where her husband kept his keys, watch, and other knick-knacks he emptied out of his pockets each evening. “Doctor gives you medication and you don’t know where you put it. I assume you have not taken it since he gave it to you. Don’t even bother to answer,” she said.
Wanda stood still for a minute wondering where her husband could have put his medication.
“What are you chuckling about? I don’t see anything funny here,” she said looking at her husband.
“You,” her husband said breaking out in laughter. “You should see yourself. You’re acting like a mother hen fussing over her chickens.”
Wanda smiled. “I can’t help it. You’re one rooster worth fussing over.”
“Come sit beside me,” her husband said.
Wanda cuddled up to her husband who wrapped his arms around her. “You don’t have to worry about losing me. God will provide for you and Samuel. He’s given us many blessed years together.”
“Yes, He certainly has. And, yes, I don’t want to lose you any time soon. You’ve been talking about death so much lately, I can’t help but to wonder is God getting ready to take you on home.”
Pastor Richardson hugged his wife tighter.
After a few minutes of silence, she released herself from his arms. “You stay right here in the bed. I’m going to bring you some cranberry juice, then I’m going to head on out to the church to search your office,” she said straightening the sheet and comforter over him.
Sister Richardson did a thorough search of her husband’s car before she drove out to the church to search his office. She did not find the medication. She swung by the school after deciding to pick her son, Samuel, up a little earlier than usual. Samuel was now ten years old. He was looking more and more like his father. My miracle baby, Sister Richardson thought as she gave him a hug.
“Your dad’s going to be relaxing for the rest of the day, Samuel, so after you say hello to him try not to disturb him for the rest of the day. Okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Samuel said.
They both searched his home office once they got in, but that proved futile as well. Sister Richardson almost tripped over her husband’s briefcase which was still in the living room where she had dropped it earlier. Now why didn’t I think of that, she chided herself as she retrieved the medication from the briefcase. “It was here all the time.”
After giving him the correct dosage, she searched the internet to read some more about the medication. For heart complications; to relax blood vessels and to stop chest pains.
“Lord, I’ll make sure he takes it,” she prayed. “But as far as the workload at the church, that’s in Your hands. You’ll have to slow him down because He is not going to listen to me, or Dr. Gonzalez, or anyone else. And, Lord, please give me and Samuel many more years with him. Amen.”
Withhold not thou thy tender mercies from me, O Lord: let thy lovingkindness and thy truth continually preserve me. –Psalm 40:11
Jonathan and Monica settled into their new role as senior pastor and first lady of Ninth Street Baptist Church. Wednesday’s Prayer Meeting immediately after Pastor Kirby’s confession the previous Sunday produced a full house, however, there were a few empty seats the following Sunday and even more empty seats the following two Sundays.
“This just goes to show you where some people’s hearts are,” Monica said. “They came expecting to have an update on Pastor Kirby’s situation.”
Anise sat a few seats towards the back glancing every now and then over towards the middle where Leanne sat most Sundays. She wanted to talk with Leanne so badly, but was still angry with her for what she said about her and Pastor Kirby. Cam probably didn’t even tell her anything. How can she even fix her mouth to accuse me of fooling around with Pastor Kirby? Who can trust Cam anyway? He was probably mad because he was no longer assistant pastor. Just look at her grinning. Probably gossiping with … now who in the world is she talking to? I have never seen her here before.
Anise stretched her neck until it hurt trying to get a good look at the lady Leanne was talking with during the Fellowship & Welcoming time. She kept an eye on them during the services.
“Hi, I’m Anise Caverly.” Anise said to the young lady who introduced herself as Karol Reels, immediately after the worship services. “Is this your first time here?”
“Yes,” Karol replied shaking Anise’s extended hand.
“Oh, yes,” Leanne said walking up to them. She had stepped away to greet some of the other congregants.
Now why did you have to turn up? Anise thought still holding her smile although she wanted badly to frown.
“I met her in the parking lot. We got to talking, so she officially became my guest,” Leanne said.
“Well, it was nice meeting you, Karol. I hope to see you again.” Anise turned to leave without looking at Leanne.
“Give me a call,” Leanne said with a smile.
Anise pretended not to hear. She glanced back when she got to the exit. I just hope she hasn’t been spreading those rumors about me and Kirby, she thought as she saw Leanne and Karol laughing with each other.
When Anise returned home her husband, Melvin, was not there. Goodbye to the trucker, Anise thought as she tossed her purse on the bed. I hope you’ll enjoy your two weeks in the corner of your house, she smirked. After fixing herself something to eat, she mustered up the courage to give Leanne a call—more out of curiosity to find out what she and Karol had been talking about and to find out whether or not she had said anything to anyone about what Cam told her.
“Hello, Leanne. Um … this is Anise. I figured since we hadn’t talked for a while, I’d give you a call.”
I’m sure you did, Leanne thought of saying, but she instead said, “Hey, there! For some strange reason I figured you’d give me a call this evening.”
Yeah right, Anise thought. “That was nice of you to invite Karol to sit with you. I saw you both laughing a lot. I take it she enjoyed the services.”
“She sure did. In fact, she says she will be coming again on next Sunday, and that she may make this her church home.”
“She looks pretty young. How old is she? Is she married?” Anise asked.
“Oh, she’s about your age. I never asked her was she married.”
“Whatever you all were talking about must have been good stuff,” Anise said quietly.
“Don’t worry. We weren’t talking about you,” Leanne said with a laugh. “No need to feel insecure. And if you’re still mad at me for what I said about you and Pastor Kirby as reported to me by Brother Cam, you don’t need to worry about that either; I have not mentioned it to anyone.”
Leanne chuckled as she heard Anise let out a deep sigh of relief.
“We’re Christians, so we don’t need to lower ourselves to gossiping about each other, especially if we are friends. Friends tell each other the truth even when it hurts.”
Anise pretended to cough.
“So how are things going between you and your husband? Did he make it home this weekend?” Leanne asked.
“Yes, he did, but things are the same. He was gone by the time I got in from church. Just continue to pray for us.”
“Will do,” Leanne said. She strongly believed Anise was more at fault in their marriage, but greatly restrained herself from saying so. “Hold on. Somebody’s trying to get me on the other line. … That was Karol. She wants to talk more about the church and about Pastor Reynolds and his vision for the church.”
“Tell her I say hello,” Anise said before hanging up the phone. I wonder what they are really going to be talking about, she wondered as she picked up her romance novel.
* * * *
“Good morning, Carmen,” Jonathan said as he entered the secretary’s office for another week’s work. “I trust the rush of phone calls and emails have died down and that things are back to normal,” he chuckled.
“Yes, Pastor. Two weeks of church drama is enough for me. It still amazes me how fast news travels. Even a pastor from all the way up in Canada called to inquire,” Carmen said. “Any way, only four phone calls came in this morning: Brother Cam, a woman named Karol Reels, and a man named Joshua Kessler who says he is a Public Relations personnel and would like for you to return his call ASAP. I left their numbers on your desk.”
“Thanks, Carmen. Who’s the fourth one, and did Cam say what he wanted?”
“That was Anise. She’s a member here. I don’t know if you remember her. Anyway she said Pastor Kirby was giving her some marital counseling before he left, but that she would give you a call later. Brother Cam just said to give him a call whenever you can.”
The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression. –Proverbs 19:11
Jonathan dialed Karol Reel’s number but got her voicemail. He hung up. He then dialed Joshua Kessler’s number.
“Yes, Pastor Jonathan, thank you for returning my call. I’m a certified Public Relations personnel, and I heard what happened to the former pastor there at Ninth Street. I visited your church these past two Sundays and noticed that there were quite a number of empty seats. I was there when Pastor Kirby made his confession. It’s sad what happened. He sought my advice when he first started Ninth Street.”
“Yes,” Jonathan said. “And we believe God will replace those who have left.”
“That’s where I’d like to offer my services,” Joshua said. “I have some proven strategies that if you implement will be sure to begin increasing your numbers again. I guess what I’m saying is, I’d like to join your staff there to help out. You can always release me once the job is done—and you decide when it’s done.”
“Why don’t you send me your résumé,” Jonathan said.
“I sure will. I’ve been visiting churches for several years now and have helped many of them increase their attendance. I’ve also helped many pastors build their personal ministry branding and expand their speaking platform. I believe I can help build back up your membership and improve your image to the community after this scandal.”
“You sound very excited about your work,” Jonathan said. “Seems like you’ve had a lot of successes.”
“God has blessed me to be successful. My motto is: ‘I bring them in; you give them the Gospel’,” Joshua said.
Jonathan and Joshua talked a bit longer. Jonathan seemed pleased with the information he gathered about Joshua.
“What do you men think?” Jonathan asked his deacons after having a meeting with them upon receiving Joshua’s resume.
“Seems legit to me,” Deacon Buchanan said after reading aloud the two letters of recommendation and glancing over Joshua’s resume.
“We can give him a try,” Deacon Yancey said.
Deacon Youngblood nodded in agreement.
Deacon Travis read the statement documenting Joshua’s salvation testimony. “He sounds real; but you get in touch with his references and let’s pray about it. We don’t want anyone to prey on our church. I’ll go along with whatever decision you make.”
Jonathan made another attempt at returning Karol Reels’ phone call. Her voice mail kicked in. He was about to leave a message when Carmen stopped him.
“I wouldn’t leave a message, Pastor Jonathan. Neither of us knows who she is. She’s not listed as a church member. And considering what we just went through, I do not want anyone scandalizing your name. So just let her keep calling until she gets you.”
“Thanks for looking out for me,” Jonathan said.
“She’s definitely looking out for you,” Monica said after Jonathan shared with her Carmen’s advice. “As for Anise, you can counsel her with the door wide open and with Carmen sitting at her desk looking in. If I hear otherwise, I’ll –”
“I sense jealousy,” Jonathan said with a laugh. “You’re not afraid of her, are you?”
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘afraid.’ You can’t blame me for being jealous, can you? Especially not when I have such a handsome husband,” Monica said tilting her head. “But I can show you how jealous I’d be later.”
“I’ll be ready,” Jonathan said with a grin. This is some woman I married, he thought as he cut into his roast.
Cam called the office throughout the week but Jonathan refused to accept his call asking Carmen to take a message each time. “I need to find out more about him,” Jonathan told her.
Late Friday evening, Leanne stopped by the church’s office to speak with Jonathan.
“Pastor Jonathan, I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I received a call from Brother Cam. He used to be our assistant pastor before you came. Anyway, he asked me did I want to join up with him at the new church he’s started. He said all those who left here are worshiping with him. He even asked me to be his secretary.”
“Now why would he do a thing like that?” Jonathan said.
“It seems to me like he’s disgruntled over something,” Leanne said. “Of course, I told him, no, and that I was quite happy right here at Ninth Street.”
“Do you know if he’s called anyone else?”
“Not that I know of. I thought you might want to know. He’s thinking of calling his church Ninth Street-North Baptist Church,” Leanne said. “He started to say some negative things about you, but I cut him off before he got started good.”
When Leanne got up to leave, a phone call came in.
“Hello, Brother Cam. I’ve been getting your messages, but you know how it is overseeing a church. By the way, how is Ninth Street-North coming along? I want to thank you for looking out for those who have left here. As I think about it, the best thing you did was to provide them an immediate place of worship.”
“So does that mean we can partner?” Cam said. “I’m sure you need an assistant pastor, or if you feel more comfortable in your former position, I would count it an honor to take senior pastor position. Like I shared with you before, I helped Kirby build Ninth Street so I know its heartbeat.”
“I appreciate the offer, but you do your thing there at Ninth Street-North, and I’ll do my thing here at the original Ninth Street,” Jonathan said. “Is there anything else you wanted to talk about?”
“No. Just expect to lose more members. They are calling me wanting to join with me. In fact, they are the reason I started Ninth Street-North. They begged me to start a church. Well, have a great weekend.”
“I smell nothing but trouble,” Carmen and Leanne said.
“He’s nothing but a snake in disguise,” Monica said. “You’d better discuss this with the deacons. I’m sure they could shed some more light on Cam’s character.”
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise.” —Proverbs 12:15
Jonathan’s monthly visits to the jail to visit Kirby provided him with the information he needed to wisely move forward in handling Cam.
“I believe the real reason he left was not because of what took place between me and Sandy. He wanted more recognition in the church. He really wanted to take over as senior pastor because he saw how fast it was growing,” Kirby told him. “He kept asking me to let him preach more and wanted to preach along with me at preachers’ conferences. He’s not as interested in the spirituality of the church as he is in its finances.”
Kirby seemed pleased when Jonathan mentioned Joshua Kessler.
“Yes, you take Joshua Kessler on board. He’ll be a great help to you. He was fresh out of college when he offered me his services,” Kirby said. “I decided to give him a chance and I was pleased with his work. He kind of left suddenly though, stating he had some personal matters to take care of. I never found out why. Have you heard from Kristy?”
“Monica spoke with her. She’s still upset, but Monica is trying to talk her out of filing for divorce.”
Kirby was silent for some seconds. “Could you or your wife kind of check in on Sandy and make sure my son is doing well?”
“I’ll have Monica or Carmen to talk with her if Cam will allow them to.”
* * * * *
“Cam is a fraud,” Deacon Travis told Jonathan when Jonathan sought his and the other deacons’ advice on moving forward with Cam. “I was so glad when he left the church. Every now and then he and Kirby would have it out.”
“He called me and asked me to come over and help him get his new church going and that I was free to come back here to Ninth Street once things got up and running,” Deacon Youngblood said. “I declined his offer.”
“He knows better than to call me,” Deacon Travis said. “Don’t trust him.”
* * * * *
Cam made a beeline to his computer after eating his dinner. With telephone in hand, he pulled up a list of names with email addresses, telephone numbers, and physical addresses.
Have I got something for you, Jonathan, he thought as he dialed the first number. I helped to build Ninth Street so I have a stake in it.
“Hello, Gary. This is Brother Cam. How are you, my brother? I’m calling to invite you to come join me as I build my new church—the sister church to Ninth Street Baptist. I have already spoken with your new pastor, so he knows about our new church. He fears with the scandal surrounding Pastor Kirby that Ninth Street is probably going to go down; we’re in a sense slowly but surely transferring the members over without making it public. You’ve probably noticed some empty seats already. So consider joining me now before you’re left without a church home.”
Mitzie and Sandy, who were cleaning up the kitchen, listened intently. They both glanced at each other as Cam dialed the second number. Running the faucet water as quietly as they could, they listened as Cam made his presentation to John Childress.
“Brother John, it’s been awhile since we spoke, but I am calling…”
Mitzie walked over to where Cam was seated and peered over his shoulders at the computer screen. The file read ‘Membership at Ninth Street.’
“I don’t believe this,” she muttered. As soon as Cam said goodbye to John Childress, Mitzie tapped him on his shoulder. “You can’t do that, Cam!”
“I can and I am,” Cam replied.
“How in the world did you get the phone numbers?”
“Remember, I used to be assistant pastor there. I could have been pastor if Kirby had just listened.”
“That’s no longer your church; it’s Jonathan’s. Whatever you’re still disgruntled about, don’t take it out on Jonathan,” Mitzie said balling up the dish towel in her hand.
“Who says I’m disgruntled,” Cam said. “I warned Kirby over and over but he would not listen; now he’s paying in more ways than one.”
Sandy stood aghast as she listened.
“Isn’t it enough you told on him? Isn’t it enough you brought the media in on it to help drag his name through the mud?”
“Correction. He dragged his own name in the mud. I only made the mud thicker. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have about eighteen more calls to make. I think twenty a day is good enough. Don’t you?” Cam dialed the next number. “Don’t interrupt me,” he said to his wife who stood glaring at him. “Finish off in the kitchen and … yes, Lanie, how are you this evening?”
Sandy rushed off to her room. Mitzie followed her. After some silence, Sandy said to her aunt, “I’ve made my decision. I’m returning to Texas—permanently. Please don’t tell Uncle Cam who I’ll be staying with,” Sandy said after sharing with her aunt the conversation she had with Monica. “I just can’t stay here anymore.”
“Uncle Cam,” Sandy said shortly after he got off the phone, “I can’t stay here any longer. I can’t go through this. I appreciate you keeping my name anonymous, but what you’re doing to the Ninth Street Church family is not right. You’re the one who’s trying to destroy that church.”
“He that speaketh truth sheweth forth righteousness: but a false witness deceit.” –Proverbs 12:15
The Montagues welcomed Sandy and Solomon into their home. Sandy picked up where she left off in her attendance at New Mt. Zion and in college at TCU. She said nothing to them about her uncle’s schemes against Ninth Street.
On her first Sunday back at New Mt. Zion, Pastor Richardson announced that he and some of the men would be at a Preacher-Leadership Conference in Oregon state for that entire week.
“Are you sure you’re up to it,” Sister Richardson asked, “especially with your health as it is?”
“They’ve had me scheduled to preach for about a year now; I can’t cancel at the last minute,” Pastor Richardson said.
Pastor Richardson, accompanied by a few of the men of New Mt. Zion, made it safely to the four-day meeting. They were richly blessed and encouraged to keep on serving God. When Jonathan was introduced as one of the speakers and as he took his place before the microphone, the men from New Mt. Zion were not only surprised, but elated.
“We’re surprised to meet up with you here,” Jonathan’s father said to him after Jonathan finished preaching his message entitled, “What to Do When You Don’t Know What to Do.”
“A timely message,” Pastor Richardson said. “The only thing you can do when you don’t know what to do is pray. I didn’t know you were scheduled to preach.”
“I didn’t know either until a month ago. Kirby was on the roster to preach. A letter came in the mail reminding him of the meeting. I called Pastor Necee and explained everything to him and he asked me to fill in.”
“I’m so glad he did,” Pastor Richardson said. “How is the family and church family doing?”
“Monica and the children are doing great,” Jonathan said. “By the way, this is Joshua Kessler. He specializes in doing PR work with churches. I hired him on staff to help us. You know we lost about a quarter of our members.”
“That’s what your dad told me. But that’s expected when a church undergoes something as serious as Ninth Street did. But you just hang in there and don’t hesitate to call us if we can be of help to you,” Pastor Richardson said.
“In fact, I need your advice on something,” Jonathan said. He shared with them Cam’s underhanded work.
“Talk about fleecing the flock,” Mr. Montague said. “That’s the devil for you.”
“Just do what you preached tonight—just pray,” Jonathan’s father, Brother Reynolds, advised him. “You stick to the Word and God will make even your enemies to be at peace with you.”
“I would tell the congregation what he’s up to and tell those who want to join him to go ahead and leave and not make a scene out of it, and those who wish to remain to keep on coming,” Pastor Richardson said. “There is nothing more frustrating than trying to minister to a group of people who sit in the pews—just waiting—waiting to see which direction the wind is going to blow. If it blows east they run to the east; if it blows west, they run to the west. Like Jesus, I hate these ‘straddle-the-fence’ Christians. Either jump on the bandwagon and stay on, or jump off and give me a lighter load to carry.”
The men all agreed.
They had a tremendous time of fellowship encouraging each other throughout the conference. On the way home, Pastor Richardson shared with Brother Montague and Brother Reynolds, “As you know I’ve been praying for the person the Lord would have to replace me at New Mt. Zion as I believe I’ll be checking out of here soon. Jonathan keeps coming to my mind. After how I heard him preach the other night, I’m believing more and more he’s the man. Since Brother Reynolds insists on remaining as assistant pastor, then I have to look somewhere else. Are you sure you don’t want that position?” he asked Brother Reynolds.
“No, no. I’m right where God wants me until I die. Plus, I just don’t feel worthy enough to fill your shoes.”
“No, brother. Only by the grace of God, have I accomplished what I have accomplished,” Pastor Richardson said. He then turned to Brother Montague.
“Don’t look at me,” Brother Montague chuckled. “I am quite at peace being the IT man of the church, and helping every now and then in Wednesday Prayer Meeting. I am staying in my calling.”
“Well, just pray about it with me,” Pastor Richardson said. “As I shared with my wife, I am ready to go; but I am willing to hang around a while longer to bring more people to Jesus.”
“And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.” –Psalm 39:7
On the plane ride back to Oklahoma, Joshua shared with Jonathan some of his plans for the growth of the church.
“The first thing is to get you to preach at as many conferences and churches as you can; I’m talking about mega-churches. I have contacts. We have to get your church’s web page updated. We also have to get you on major television stations. This means you will have to be away from your pulpit on some Sundays and away from home more often.” Joshua peered at Jonathan over the rim of his designer glasses for a few seconds. “Do you think your wife can handle that?” he asked.
“Woah! Handle what?” Jonathan asked. “I’m the pastor, not her.”
“Not that. I’m talking about you being away from home more,” Joshua said.
“I’m sure she will.”
“Now one of the things you want to implement right away,” Joshua said, “is to tone down your messages. People don’t want to hear messages about sin every Sunday. They cannot take it that often. But I’ll be speaking with you about message content later.”
“Well, if I don’t preach on sin what else can I preach on?” Jonathan said. “They are going to hell if they don’t repent.”
“Yes, but you don’t want to scare them away before they get a solid footing in the church,” Joshua said pushing his glasses up on his nose. “Church folk already know if they don’t live right they are not going to be blessed. But after being beaten up on all week long by bosses, spouses, and others, they want you as their pastor on Sunday mornings to comfort them, to put a band-aid on their bruises, to patch them up, to help them get their shout back. They do not want you adding salt to their wounds. You always mention hell whenever you preach; you have to cut that out; it’s just too much.”
“Well, that’s what is going to matter in the long run: Heaven or hell,” Jonathan said.
“I know, but you want their ride to Heaven to be as smooth as possible.”
“What about their ride to hell?” Jonathan asked.
Ignoring his question, Joshua continued speaking. “What I am saying is to water it down. You’re going to scare the people off if you beat them over the head with the Bible every Sunday. You won’t get any TV deals or many invitations to speak with that message. People cannot take that–”
Jonathan chuckled. “Any other suggestions?”
“Throughout the week, randomly call up some members and just say ‘hello, I’m thinking about you.’ They love that–”
“But that’s why I have a welcoming committee to do that kind of thing. I’m busy studying and preparing a dynamic sermon for them,” Jonathan said.
“You know that and I know that, but that’s what the members want you to do; they love for you as their pastor to do that.”
“Can’t my wife do that? Wouldn’t it produce the same effect?”
“I think you know the answer to that,” Joshua said.
The plane touched down in Oklahoma on Friday evening. Jonathan swung by the church to touch base with Carmen.
“Pastor Jonathan, I know you have to go home and get rested up for Sunday, but if you can at least get a phone call in to Anise. She’s been calling here everyday for you all week long. I kept telling her you won’t be back until Sunday. She even stopped by here twice. I guess she thought I was lying,” Carmen said.
“I might call her,” Jonathan said with a sigh. “I told her more than once I was not counseling her by herself and that her husband must come with her. If he won’t come, at least some other trusted woman needs to accompany her. I do not want her beating up on her husband without him being here to defend himself.”
Monica gave him the same message when he got home. “She keeps calling my cell phone asking for you, saying something about you coming over tonight and her husband coming home … and a bunch of babbling after that.”
“You sound frustrated,” Jonathan said stretching out on the bed beside her.
“With her calling,” Monica said. “She’s called my number everyday, sometimes twice a day and just keeps rambling on and on—not even a hello or anything … made me want to change my number. Then she insisted on having your cell number. When I wouldn’t give it to her, she suggested stopping by as that would save you a trip to her house as her husband refuses to come to the church for counseling, and so on and so on…. So how was your trip?”
“Without counsel purposes are disappointed: but in the multitude of counsellors they are established.”
Anise returned home to find her husband, Melvin, sound asleep on the couch.
What in the world is he doing here? I was not expecting him for another week. Now I’m going to have to cook for sure. She moved around as quietly as she could to prepare the meal. When the meal was done, she sat on the loveseat with a romance novel in her hand but kept fanning the pages as she stared at her husband. Why is he home a whole week early?? And he did not even call to let me know.
“The smell of the food must be tickling your nose,” Anise said to her husband as he awoke.
“Hey, Anise. Have I been asleep that long?” he said, glancing at his watch. He stood up and asked, “How about, ‘I’m surprised to see you home almost a week early, Melvin’?”
“I am surprised to see you home almost a week early, Melvin,” Anise said flatly. “Why?”
Melvin walked into the kitchen and took a plate out of the cabinet. “I put in for a new schedule — you know, something closer to home so I won’t be gone for more than two or three days at a time. Well, I got my new schedule starting on next Monday.” Melvin heaped two pieces of steaming broiled chicken on his plate. “Being away from each other for two to three weeks at a time is not helping our marriage. I pull out in the morning to make my last long delivery. Then I’ll be home more often and for longer periods.”
Melvin scooped up a spoonful of Spanish rice. “Just as I like it,” he said inhaling deeply. “So how do you like my new schedule?”
Anise swallowed. “I love it,” she said quietly.
“Your expression and tone of voice belie your words,” Melvin said. “I thought you wanted me to stay home more so we could at least go to church together. I’m eager to meet your new pastor.”
This man has messed up my plans, Anise thought. Then a half-smile came across her lips. Well, maybe not.
By morning when she said a ‘cheery’ goodbye to her husband, Anise had everything mapped out. Numerous phone calls to the church and to Pastor Jonathan’s wife should signal desperation, she thought as she dialed the church number on her way to her job.
* * * * *
Cam stopped by Ninth Street to have a word with Jonathan seeing that Jonathan had not returned his calls.
“He’s at the Leadership Conference in Oregon,” Carmen informed him.
“Seems like he’s been avoiding me, but you tell him I’ll stop by next week when he returns,” Cam said.
Cam tuned in to the live stream of the conference. “I need to get to some of those meetings and make my face known,” he said to his wife as he made his evening calls recruiting Ninth Street members to start attending his church. “Why don’t you make some of these calls for me during the day time? It will help take up some of your time, especially since you don’t have Solomon to babysit anymore.”
Mitzie gave him a look that, if it could, would have pierced through him. “You might feel comfortable being a pastor who steals members; but I refuse to be first lady of that mess,” Mitzie said. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Look, Mitzie, it’s only a matter of time before Jonathan succumbs to some woman—as handsome as he is. See, he’s over there trying to run the church by himself. I’ve offered him my help as assistant pastor, or even as pastor should he want to remain in the assistant pastor position, but he’s refused. When the stress sets in and some hot-trotting mama comes along, he’ll be seeking my help then.” Cam chuckled.
“Well, I’m sure the deacons are helping him,” Mitzie said. “There was a special update on the evening news. It went off a few minutes before you came in. It was Jessica Simmons giving an update on her series: What causes a rising pastor to risk everything and engage in that one sin he knows can pull him down? She says Pastor Jonathan seems to be pulling the church back together and is moving forward. One member, Anise, said that you can help a church recover by staying put and supporting whoever is left in charge.”
Anise. That name sounds familiar, Cam thought as he scrolled down the Ninth Street membership list.
“Say unto wisdom, Thou art my sister; and call understanding they kinswoman: That they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the stranger which flattereth with her words.”
The Reynolds family had settled down for an early night after Jonathan returned home that Friday when Monica’s cell phone rang.
“Anise Caverly,” she said glancing at the screen. “Do you want me to answer it?”
“No. Let the voice mail pick it up,” Jonathan said.
After a few minutes, Monica played the message from Anise: “Monica, I’m on the verge of going insane. Is Pastor in? I need to talk with him. Isn’t the conference over with yet? My husband has driven me to my limit. Next time you hear about me, I’ll be in Heaven. I have no more reason to live.”
Jonathan looked across to his wife. “What do you think?”
“I think she’s faking and she has something up her sleeve; but, for your peace of mind, you should probably go see her and I’ll go with you,” Monica said swinging her legs over the edge of the bed. “It’s only 9:43. I’m sure Doris won’t mind keeping an eye on the children for about an hour.”
After securing directions to Anise’s house and saying goodbye to Mitch who was still awake, Jonathan and Monica left.
“I appreciate your coming,” Jonathan said once they were on their way.
“You’re welcome. I would have stayed in with the children, but I remember something Sister Richardson shared with me shortly after you took over the church. She said, ‘I don’t know what it is about a preacher, but women are going to throw themselves at your husband. As soon as one leaves here comes another one. Make sure you have a tight relationship with your husband, and do not be buddy-buddy with the women of the church, especially those in your age group. Love them and encourage them, but maintain a respectful distance with them. Make your husband your best friend.’ Turn here at the light,” Monica said pointing to the right. “She said something about speaking into an intercom at the front door and then waiting for a buzzer.”
“Sounds like you don’t trust Anise,” Jonathan said.
“Nope. I do not trust her,” Monica said.
Jonathan slowed down before a modest two-bedroom house. He turned the headlights off just before turning into the driveway.
“How strange,” Monica said. “All the house lights, including the outside porch light, are off except for that one in the room upstairs. I’d think you’d light the house up if you’re expecting company.”
“Don’t slam the door,” Jonathan said. “I’ll do all the talking; you just listen.”
“You got it.”
They walked quietly to the front door. Jonathan rang the doorbell a couple times. Monica was almost sure she saw the curtain move in the upper window to the far right. What are we in for?, she thought as Anise’s voice came over the intercom outside the door.
“Who is it?” Anise asked.
“It’s Pastor Reynolds.”
“The door’s unlocked; just come in when you hear the chimes and lock it behind you. I’m in the last room upstairs to the right.”
Monica and Jonathan looked at each other.
“Sister Anise, I’m coming up,” Jonathan said upon entering through the front door. “How are you feeling?”
“Not so good. Come on up, Pastor Jonathan,” Anise said.
Jonathan signaled for his wife to stay hidden by the bedroom door. “Seems like you need some light on in this hallway, Sister Anise,” Jonathan said as he knocked on the door.
“Come on in,” Anise said spilling out a series of dry coughs. “You can close the door behind you. I think I feel a draft coming in.”
Jonathan was surprised but at the same time not too surprised at what he saw. Anise was laying in the bed with a thin sheet pulled up just a little over her breasts. Her shoulders were bare. The silhouette of her body was clearly visible under the sheet. It was clear she was naked. Oh, boy! Jonathan thought as he pushed the door up. “Don’t you think you need a thicker blanket to ward off that cold draft?”
“You can sit down, Pastor Jonathan,” Anise said ignoring his question.
Jonathan took a quick glance around the room. There wasn’t a chair, stool, or bench to sit on. He smiled. Taking a couple steps into the room, he said louder than normal, “You’re sounding much better than you did on the phone, sister.”
“Yes. I’m just glad you sacrificed and came over because I could use some comforting and a listening ear.” Signaling once again for him to sit, she said, “We’re no strangers; you don’t have to stand. You can sit on the edge of the bed, that way I won’t have to strain my voice when I talk.” She coughed a dry cough then cleared her throat.
“What’s on your mind? Have you heard from your husband?” Jonathan asked still standing.
“Oh, I don’t think I will hear from him any time soon, if at all. He’s not like you, Pastor,” Anise said softly.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, you’re caring.” Anise lowered her voice to a whisper. “Like tonight: even though you’re tired, you came to see me any way.” Clearing her throat again, Anise continued. “You know, Pastor Jonathan, as I sit listening to you preach Sunday after Sunday, even before this tragedy struck the church, I admit, my mind wanders and all I can think of is how I would love to lie in my bed with you, and how much pleasure we would have between my silk sheets.”
Jonathan remained standing and expressionless as Anise continued talking.
“All evening I’ve been thinking how we could bring it to pass right here, right now as I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.”
Monica leaned her head closer to the slightly opened door so as not to miss a word.
“I know the only way I can get this out of my mind is to make it a reality. Close the door all the way, Pastor Jonathan. I still feel a draft coming in,” Anise said going through another of her fake coughing spells.
“You need to take care of that cough before it gets worse,” Jonathan said.
Ignoring Jonathan’s words, Anise continued, “No one will ever know. I can really show you much better than I can tell you my feelings for you. You know you want me just as much as I want you. I can see it in your eyes.” Anise started to lift the sheet up. “There’s something under here for you. Come on and join me.”
“Wait a minute!” Jonathan said quickly. “I think I’ll take you up on your offer. Leave the sheet on for a minute and let me do the honors. Let me close the door first. I better lock it.” Reaching his hand out the door, he signaled for his wife to come into the room. “I’m sure you remember my wife, Monica. Her being a woman, I’m sure she can comfort you much better than I can.”
“Hello, Anise,” Monica said not knowing whether to cry, laugh, or get angry.
Anise’s eyes flew wide open. Her face turned red. “I thought…you told me…wha–”
Putting his arm around his wife, Jonathan said, “You seem to be doing well, so we’ll take our leave. No need to show us out the door. We’ll make sure we lock the door on our way out. I would love to meet your husband. Extend an invitation to him from me to visit the church when he’s back in town. You have a great night.”
“Good night, Anise,” Monica said. “I hope to see you in church on Sunday. Hopefully you’ll be over that cough by then.”
Jonathan and Monica had a laughing fit on their way home. “She’ll think twice before pulling that stunt again,” Jonathan said.
“You would think these women would leave the man of God alone and try to help him live a pure life,” Monica said. “But that’s not so. I know a large part of it is the devil trying to bring preachers down; but the other part is our wicked sinful flesh. All these women see is the spiritual side of the preacher and they want to see if he has an evil side. We just need to make sure we stay prayed up and keep our relationship tight.”
“But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jonathan’s sister, Janice, who chose to remain single, was now director of a school for children with special needs where she had been teaching since she obtained her doctoral degree in Special Education. His brother, James, now married, was still involved in missionary work overseas. Good things were happening at New Mt. Zion as well. New members were continually being added to the church, especially with the expansion of the school.
Matt and Trisha Gurber started attending New Mt. Zion Missionary Evangelical Church shortly after settling down in Texas. On their second Sunday, along with other visitors, they accepted the invitation for membership into the church based upon their profession of faith in Jesus Christ. They were placed in the care of Grace Wilmington.
“Thank you so much for choosing to join New Mt. Zion,” Sister Wilmington said as she handed them their welcome package. “Here’s my phone number and my email address should you have any questions. Let me give you a quick tour of the building. It will only take a few minutes.” Turning to the little girl holding on to Trisha Gurber’s hand, Sister Wilmington asked, “Is this your daughter?”
“Yes,” the Gurbers answered. “Her name is Shania.”
“Shania. That’s a beautiful name for a beautiful little girl,” Sister Wilmington said. “How old are you?”
“I’m five years old,” Shania said.
“Do you mind if I hold your hand as we walk through the building?”
Shania took Sister Wilmington’s hand as she led them on a tour of the church building. “I don’t know if you are aware of this or not, but we do have an elementary and a high school. If you’re looking for a school for Shania we have openings in our K-5 class if you’d be interested.”
“Yes, I did see the sign earlier this week,” Trisha said. “In fact, I stopped by the school on my way home from the job last Wednesday, but everyone had left for the day.”
“We close early on Wednesdays to allow our staff time to get some rest in preparation for our mid-week prayer services. We have no after-school activities on that day. But the rest of the week we’re like a bee hive up until six o’clock, or later if we have a game or some special function. We even have something going on on Saturdays. I’m not trying to get into your business or anything, but where do you both work?” Sister Wilmington asked.
“I work as a nurse; my husband works as an engineer,” Trisha said.
“Wonderful. Apart from the work I do here helping out at the church, I work as the school counselor,” Sister Wilmington said. “If you all are not in a hurry, I can give you a tour of the school as well. There’s an application for the school in your welcome package.”
“We’d love that,” Trisha said.
“If you’re interested in enrolling Shania into our program, you can come by and speak with Debbie Campbell. She’s our school director. Or you can ask for Sister Richardson, Pastor Richardson’s wife, or you can ask for Sister Reynolds, our assistant pastor’s wife. They’ll see that you are well taken care of.”
After they finished the tour, Matt and Trisha expressed how impressed they were with the facilities.
“How would you like to go to school here?” Trisha asked Shania.
“I would love to. I miss going to school,” she said.
“Where did she go to school?” Sister Wilmington asked.
“Oh, we just relocated here about a month ago. We felt we needed a change of pace and a change of scenery,” Trisha said.
“Well, I hope you enjoy living here in Texas. If you need anything or have any questions at all, do not hesitate to give me a call.”
“We sure will,” Trisha said. “If you’ll excuse us, I don’t mean to hurry off, but I have to be at work later this evening.”
“Don’t let me hold you up. And welcome to New Mt. Zion,” Sister Wilmington said as she gave Trisha and Shania a hug and shook Matt’s hand.
“Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.” Ecclesiastes 4:6
Anise felt a churning in her stomach all weekend, but she also felt a churning in her conscience as she dragged herself around the house all day on Saturday. To make matters worse, Leanne called her on the phone early Sunday morning before she could pull herself out of bed.
“Hey, Anise! Just calling to make sure you’re going to be in church this morning.”
“I don’t know if I’ll be there. I went to bed not feeling well, and I still don’t feel well this morning,” Anise said.
“Why don’t you go ahead and come on out. Sometimes a good dose of church will help you get to feeling better,” Leanne said. “In fact, you might be amazed at how much better you feel after worshipping God and hearing all of that great singing and preaching.”
“Not this time. But I do thank you for calling. Just pray for me.”
“Okay, I will. Want me to ask Pastor Jonathan to stop by?”
“Oh no, no, that will not be necessary. I’m sure I’ll be feeling better by tomorrow.”
“Alright then,” Leanne said. “I’m going to call Karol and encourage her to come on out.”
“You do that,” Anise said. Thank God she didn’t ask too many questions. Anise crawled out of bed and trudged to the bathroom.
After the morning worship services, which sent the congregants home with their spirits uplifted and a song in their hearts, Leanne walked with Karol to Jonathan’s office.
“I’ve been needing some advice on family matters,” Karol told Leanne.
“Come on in,” Jonathan said as Karol knocked on the slightly open door.
Once she got home, Leanne gave Anise a call. “You missed an uplifting service. People were just shouting and clapping and stomping their feet. I thought I was in a Pentecostal church. I wish you could have been there.”
“I wish I could have been there, too,” Anise said.
“You’re sounding better,” Leanne said.
“Yeah, a little.” Anise feigned weakness in her voice.
“How did Karol enjoy the services?” Anise asked.
“She enjoyed it tremendously. I walked her to Pastor Jonathan’s office after services. She said she needed some advice on family matters.”
Mmm. Advice in his office, Anise thought. “I thought he did not counsel people on Sundays,” she said. “At least that’s what he told me when I tried to get some counseling after church one Sunday.”
“That may be his policy; but he was waiting for her in his office when we got there,” Leanne said.
“Was there anyone in the office with them?” Anise asked.
Leanne sighed. “Anise, what’s that to us?”
“Well, when I tried to talk with him alone about me and Melvin, he was quite firm in telling me he only counseled females by themselves with the door open and with the secretary at her desk. He would only close the door if Melvin was with me or if his wife or another lady from the church was in the room.”
“There’s nothing wrong with his policy. However, I left, so maybe his wife was on her way there,” Leanne said.
“Well, you can’t trust people nowadays to keep your business private,” Anise said.
“You could have had me in there with you,” Leanne said. “Don’t you trust me?”
Ignoring Leanne’s question, Anise continued. “You said she went into his office and closed the door?”
“I said nothing about him closing the door, but if that’s so important to you, yes, he told her to close the door behind her. What are you so tied up in knots about, Anise? Who don’t you trust? Pastor Jonathan, Karol, or yourself?” After not receiving a response from Anise, Leanne hung up the phone.
Anise sat with a blank expression on her face. So that’s why he’s been ignoring me. That’s why he didn’t want to counsel me in his office with the door closed. He has something going on with Ms. High-Butt Karol Reels. I mean, who does she think she is just coming into the church and having the audacity to hit on my pastor. I will see how long she plans on running him down because I’ll stop her in her tracks.
To add to her woes, Anise received a disturbing phone call later that evening.
“Who are you again?” she asked after the caller identified himself.
“I used to be assistant pastor at Ninth Street with Pastor Kirby.”
“Yes. I believe you left when I was just coming into the church. Your name sounds familiar,” Anise said. “Now, how did you get my number? I don’t recall giving it to you.”
“Oh, I have my means,” Cam said laughing. “I’ll quickly state my business. I’m calling to invite you to move your membership from Ninth Street to the new Ninth Street North. All those who have left Ninth Street are over here with me. I know for a fact that Pastor Jonathan is going to end up like Pastor Kirby. I also know for a fact that one lady is already making a move on him.”
Anise’s mind immediately went to Karol. Well, he wouldn’t know that. Karol just started coming to the church.
“Cam, I don’t know what you are up to, but I am not interested in leaving Ninth Street,” Anise said.
“What if I make you a proposition?”
“Do you remember the evening you were in Kirby’s office with your blue blouse unbuttoned, and . . .”
Anise held her breath and closed her eyes. She felt lightheaded as Cam’s words bombarded every cell in her brain.
“. . . you don’t want me to tell your husband, do you? Or worse, yet, you don’t want it all over the six o’clock news, do you? Or worse, still: what if it gets worldwide coverage via the internet?”
“Exactly what do you want, Cam?” Anise’s voice was quiet.
“What I want is simple: just move your membership to my church. Here’s the address. I look forward to seeing you this Sunday.”
Searching for a way out, Anise asked, “What about my husband? What if he refuses to come with me? You know we’re supposed to be one.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” Cam said. “I’ll see you next Sunday. Have a great evening.”
“I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old.” Psalm 77:11
Joshua Kessler and Jonathan met regularly to discuss more strategies for growing the church.
“Pastor Jonathan, you might want to focus most of your attention on reaching the younger age groups—eighteen to forty. People that age, with their knowledge of technology, will help stabilize and move the church forward,” Joshua said. “I went inside the bank the other day—the first time in a long time as I normally go through the drive-thru, and I would say ninety-five percent of its employees were probably under forty-five, including those sitting in the offices. Even you’re young.”
“You implement new strategies to attract the younger crowd then you’ll always have people to preach to instead of worrying about whether or not you’ll be preaching to the pews the next Sunday. You don’t want a church filled with old folks with one foot on the earth and the other foot in the grave.”
“You have a point there,” Jonathan said. “So what do you suggest I do to keep the crowd we have?”
“To keep the crowd and to add to the crowd. I think we should get a Christian band or a Christian hip-hop artist and have them put on a concert here—maybe twice a year—one at the beginning of summer and another at the end of summer. You could call it a Youth Summer Fest. We’ll blanket the city with flyers, and make use of the internet and word of mouth. I have contacts in the music industry. I just need for you to give me the okay and I’ll set Ninth Street up big time.”
“Let me let you run this by the Deacon Board. I’m sure they’ll approve it,” Jonathan said. “They’re all for bringing new people into the church.”
“Are you telling me our young folks don’t like the old hymns anymore?” Deacon Yancy said. “It’s enough that we have the praise team getting us all worked up. Now you want hip-hop?”
“Brother Yancy,” thirty-five year old Deacon Youngblood said, “you have to go with the flow sometimes. The hymns have served their purpose. We are generations away from hymn singing. About two-thirds of our congregation is under forty-five. We want to keep them all and not run them off.”
“I can accept change,” Deacon Yancy said.
“As long as the words glorify God, I’m okay with it,” Deacon Travis said.
* * * * *
Anise had a rough week as she had a difficult time keeping her mind focused. I wonder if Pastor Jonathan and his wife have said anything to anyone? And Cam? Does he have cameras on me? She was startled to see Melvin asleep on the couch when she came in from work on Wednesday evening. Goodness, I forgot he was going to be home more. How am I going to explain why I’m not going to Bible study tonight?”
When Melvin awakened, Anise was asleep in bed.
“Anise, Anise,” he said gently shaking her. “It’s Wednesday and it’s 6:30. Aren’t you going to Bible study?”
Anise opened her eyes slightly. Melvin was dressed in a new black suit with a red silk tie. “I don’t feel too good. I’m going to stay in tonight.”
“Man! I was looking forward to going to church with you and meeting your new pastor,” Melvin said. “Well, I guess I have to go by myself then.”
“Can’t you please stay home with me?” Anise said.
“You’ll be alright,” Melvin said after placing a hand on her forehead and then on her neck. “You don’t have a fever. I stepped out and picked us up something to eat. Do you feel like eating?”
“No. Maybe some soup or something,” Anise said.
“You’re probably just tired. But don’t you worry. I’m home now so that should relieve you of some of the household burdens. One bowl of hot Campbell’s vegetable soup coming right up,” Melvin said.
Anise felt a little guilty when her husband placed the bowl of soup on the nightstand along with her Bible and her Christian romance novel. He kissed her, then hurried out the door. As he drove to the church, he prayed, “Lord, thank You for changing my schedule. My being on the road so often and for such lengths of time is not helping the marriage any. I pray that You would help me and my wife to have the marriage You desire for us to have. Amen.”
“That was an inspiring prayer time,” Melvin said to Jonathan after the services. “By the way, my name is Melvin Caverly. My wife, Anise, is a regular member here. She was not feeling well, so she stayed in tonight. I’ll be in the services more often now because of my new work schedule.”
“I am pleased to meet you,” Jonathan said shaking Melvin’s hand. “This is my wife, Monica. Tell your wife we said ‘hello’ and that we’ll be praying for her healing.”
“A likely story,” Monica said trying not to laugh as she and Jonathan walked down the hallway. “There is nothing wrong with Anise. She’s just embarrassed because she made a fool of herself on Friday night and she’s ashamed to face us. Plus, she does not know whether or not we’ve told anyone. Can you imagine having that hanging over your head?”
“She may not be feeling well,” Jonathan said.
“Yeah, she may not be feeling well in spirit because her conscience is bothering her and because her husband is back home,” Monica said. “From just meeting him tonight, I don’t believe he is as evil as Anise is portraying him to be. Let’s see how much counseling she’ll be needing now.”
They both chuckled as they walked out of the church building.
“And further, by these, my son, be admonished: of making many books there is no end; and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Ecclesiastes 12:12
“Pastor Jonathan, my team and I scheduled a book signing for a famous author who hired my services two Saturdays from today at the Barnes and Noble Bookstore. He knows of you and strongly requests your presence,” Joshua said to Jonathan one afternoon.
“Who is the author?” Jonathan asked.
“Oh, you know him quite well, but he wants it to be a surprise. In fact, he wants you to sit next to him with your family as you sign–” Joshua said.
“As I sign?” Jonathan asked.
“Oops! Slip of the tongue,” Joshua said with a grin. “Anyway, don’t forget: two Saturdays from today. I’ve already set it up with Carmen. And the following Sunday, after services, the same author will be signing books right here in our auditorium. We’ll take care of everything; you just focus on what you do best and that is greeting people and making them feel at home.”
“You’re the PR man,” Jonathan said. “Everything you’ve put your hands on has worked thus far.”
After Joshua left, Jonathan tried to squeeze more information out of Carmen but she refused to give him any more details.
Later that week, the mailman delivered a package to the Reynolds’ residence. Monica eagerly opened the box. She called Carmen to report the delivery. “It’s here. The mailman just dropped them off.”
“Go ahead and mail them to your family members and close friends. Don’t forget to tell them what we’ve discussed about it,” Carmen said.
“Don’t worry. I won’t,” Monica said.
* * * * *
When Jonathan and his family walked into Barnes & Noble, there were people milling all around the store.
“Come right this way, Pastor Jonathan,” Joshua said greeting them. He directed them to a long table covered with a white cloth. Books were piled on one end. Customers were already waiting in line whispering and nudging each other as Jonathan and his family walked by them. Jonathan did not recognize many who greeted him.
“The way these people are greeting me, you’d think I was the famous author. Where is this famous writer anyway?” Jonathan asked glancing at the one empty chair after he and his family were seated.
Joshua took one of the books and handed it to Jonathan with a pen. “Begin signing,” was all he said as he sat in the empty seat. “Monica, you just sit there and look pretty. Debbie, who works with me, will bring the children some coloring books and crayons and a few children’s books to occupy their time. And when they get a little antsy, she’ll take them to McDonald’s for you.”
“Begin signing?” Jonathan said with surprise as he flipped the book over to read the author’s bio. “Hey, that’s me,” he said to Monica as he pointed to the picture on the back cover.
“Surprise!” Monica said. “Don’t keep the people waiting.”
“Armed in the Power of God, by Jonathan E. Reynolds,” Jonathan read. “I didn’t write — ”
“Yes, you did, Jonathan,” Monica whispered to him. “Well, you preached it anyway. Speak to Joshua after everything’s over with. Right now, you just need to greet the people and sign your fingers off.”
“Listen to her,” Joshua said handing Jonathan another book as he greeted a customer. “How are you doing today, ma’am? Yes, that’s him: Pastor Jonathan Reynolds of the Ninth Street Baptist Church and his lovely wife and children. We’d like to invite you to visit his church on tomorrow or at your earliest convenience.”
“It feels so-o-o good to be married to a well-known pastor and author,” Monica said as she climbed into bed next to her husband later that night.
“I can’t believe everybody, even our family and friends, knew about this except me,” Jonathan said. “I had never even thought about publishing my sermons in a book.”
“Joshua and his team have placed that book in hundreds of bookstores across the nation. I guess I can tell you this part: they are also going to get it translated and make it available in other languages. Soon you’ll be known around the world.” Monica pulled the covers up over them. “They have also taken over your personal blog on the church’s website because you have neglected it. You may preach well, but you can’t write to save your life.”
“Is that so,” Jonathan said, rolling over to face his wife. “I may not have been a great English scholar, but there are some things I can do quite well as I am about to show you. Get on over here.”
“Jon, stop,” Monica said laughing.
* * * * *
“The book signing at the church was just as much a success as the one at the bookstore. We have other book signings scheduled for the next few weeks,” Joshua said to Jonathan the next day. “Our next promotional effort will be a Gospel album. I have some well known Christian artists lined up to come and sing with the church choir. I’ll just do my job, you do yours, and together we’ll bring glory to God.”
“And I find more bitter than death the woman, whose heart is snares and nets, and her hands as bands: whoso pleaseth God shall escape from her; but the sinner shall be taken by her.”
The rest of the week was not an upbeat one for Anise. To add to her already depressed spirit, Leanne delivered a message to her on Saturday that only added to her sorrows.
“Karol told me she had a couple more meetings with Pastor Jonathan,” Leanne said. “She says she has never met a young man with so much wisdom. She is just excited about worshiping here.”
“I’m sure she is,” Anise said.
“Anise, what’s wrong with you? Are you still mad from the last time we talked? I thought you’d be over that by now,” Leanne said.
“I just have so much going on—on the job and–”
“With Melvin home now, that will help stabilize you,” Leanne said.
“Good bye, Leanne. I’ll see you tomorrow—maybe,” Anise said hanging up the phone. I do not want to hear any more about Karol. And how am I going to avoid going to Ninth Street with Melvin here? Darn it. If it’s not one thing it’s another. Ms. Karol, I’ve got a plan for you.
Anise awakened early Sunday morning to the smell of bacon sizzling and coffee brewing.
“Breakfast in bed,” Melvin said, walking in with two plates of food. “Enjoy this, because I only do it once a year.” Pulling the sheets back, he sat on the bed next to his wife. “Remember we used to do this when we first got married?”
Anise bit into her French toast. She did not want those kinds of memories right now.
“I used to take a bite out of your toast,” Melvin said, reaching for a slice of his wife’s toast.
“That’s when we were young and too silly to know any better,” Anise said, putting her plate on the nightstand. Tossing the sheets aside and swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she said, “I got to go get showered and get on out to the church.”
“You have time to finish your food,” Melvin said, licking syrup off his fingers.
“Not this morning.”
He thoughtfully watched his wife hurry to the restroom. He finished his and his wife’s breakfast and then got dressed.
“Okay, let’s go,” he said after Anise got dressed. “Ninth Street, it’s good to be back.” Anise picked up her car keys. “You won’t need your keys. I’ll be driving,” Melvin said.
“Not today, Melvin. I forgot to tell you, a friend invited me to her church today. I promised I’d be there.”
“Well, we can go together.”
“You go on ahead to Ninth Street since you haven’t been there for a while, and I’ll drop by my friend’s church, then we’ll exchange notes afterward,” Anise suggested.
Melvin looked at his wife for a minute. “You have not been acting yourself since I’ve been back. Are you okay?” he said.
“Yes, I’m fine. I just have to get used to having you around twenty-four, seven.”
“Okay, then. I’ll let you go visit with your friend and I’ll go ahead on to Ninth Street…and we’ll compare notes.”
Whew! Glad I got out of that. Now what am I going to tell him next week? Anise thought tooting her car horn as she turned left and her husband turned right. I’ll think about that later. Right now, I have other things to take care of.
Anise greeted Cam when she got to Ninth Street North.
“I sure was looking forward to meeting your husband,” Cam said.
“Hopefully next week. He’s a trucker and he works weird hours,” Anise said. “If you don’t mind, I’ll have to leave early as I have some personal business to take care of.”
“Sure,” Cam said. “I’ll see you next week. I hope you enjoy the services.”
Leaving Ninth Street North after the services, Anise headed to Ninth Street Baptist. I hope Melvin does not see me, she thought as she waited by a side door that led to the auditorium. Thank God, people tend to sit in the same place each Sunday. She headed to the middle of the auditorium after the benediction was given and the crowd had begun to disperse. She tapped Karol on the shoulder and asked her to meet her in the ladies’ lounge.
“Hi, Anise. It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken with you. What have you been up to?” Karol asked once they got to the lounge.
“What have you been up to?” Anise said.
Karol took a step back, surprised at Anise’s sharp tone.
“You know what I’m talking about so don’t look at me like that,” Anise said. “Oh, you don’t know? Well, let me tell you. How come you’re getting so much counseling from Pastor Jonathan and you just started coming here? I can’t get him to see me at all,” Anise said.
Karol shrugged her shoulders.
“Don’t just stand there looking like a dummy. You know exactly what I’m talking about. You got some kind of special thing going on with my pastor?” Anise said, pointing her finger into Karol’s face.
“Excuse me?” Karol said. “You’d better take your finger out of my face before I break it, especially since I do not know what you are talking about.”
“Oh, so you still want to act as though you don’t know, huh?” Anise pushed Karol in the chest. “I want you to leave my pastor alone. No more private counseling with him.”
“Girl, I’m not going to stand here and let you shove me around over trumped up lies,” Karol said shoving Anise back. “You jealous or something? No, that’s not it. You’re feeling insecure.”
Anise shoved her more forcefully. “You are not special. You’re just getting on board, so you just sit back and keep quiet. You’re trying to get him interested in you, aren’t you?”
“I told you to leave me alone,” Karol said as she regained her balance.
“No, you leave Pastor Jonathan alone. You hear me!” Anise gave Karol a push that sent her sprawling on the couch behind her.
Anise jumped on Karol and slapped her face, dragging her nails down Karol’s cheeks. Karol kicked up her legs causing Anise to pitch forward. Grabbing Anise’s hair, Karol yanked Anise’s head back with one hand while digging the manicured nails of her other hand into Anise’s back.
“Ouch!” Anise yelled.
“If a fight is what you want, a fight is what you’ll get,” Karol said. She flipped over causing both her and Anise to roll on to the floor. “I may look meek and quiet on the outside, but don’t let that fool you.”
Anise grabbed wildly at Karol’s blouse at the neck and twisted it, nearly choking her. But Karol did not let that stop her as she pushed down on Anise’s neck.
Hearing the commotion, the few ladies who had gathered in the restroom after services, cautiously pushed the door to the ladies’ lounge open.
“Be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.”
“My Lord! Stop it, you two!” Leanne yelled. She reached down to pull Karol off of Anise but jumped back as Anise’s flailing legs kicked out at her. “Let me get some help before I get hurt myself. Move the table and chairs out of the way before they hurt themselves more,” she said to two of the ladies who had followed her into the lounge.
Hurrying down the hallway, she ran into Deacon Travis and Deacon Buchanan. “Come quick!” she said to them.
“You look like you just saw a ghost,” Deacon Buchanan said.
“I saw more than a ghost. I saw one devil fighting another devil. I need you to pull them apart,” Leanne said.
When they pushed the door open they were met with a brawl not becoming of Christian women.
“Get off me, you dumb butt!”
“You started this mess, and I’m going to help you finish it!”
Karol grabbed Anise’s hair and yanked her head to the side.
“Break it up! That’s enough!” Deacon Travis shouted as he and Deacon Buchanan reached down to separate the two women.
“You other ladies can go. This drama is over with,” Leanne told the ladies who had gathered around. “Leave now!” Turning to Anise and Karol she almost screamed at them. “What is wrong with you two?”
“Let me at her. I ain’t through with her yet,” Karol said struggling to get out of Deacon Travis’ grasp.
“Come on. I still got a lot of fighting left in me,” Anise said. “Let me go, Deacon, so I can finish her off.”
“We are going to stay right here until we get to the bottom of this,” Leanne said. “So you both can stop trying to get at each other.”
The deacons tried not to laugh.
In the middle of verbal confession (along with much flaring nostrils, deep breathing, and rolling of the eyes), Monica, accompanied by two other ladies, entered the room. “What’s going on in here?” she asked.
After everything was aired out, Deacon Travis walked Anise to her car while Deacon Buchanan walked Karol to her car. They watched as they both drove off the property. Both men returned to Jonathan’s office where his wife and Leanne were relating the whole scenario.
“I knew Anise had her eyes on you, Pastor Jonathan, and I tried to keep her at bay; but I had no idea it was this bad,” Leanne said.
They all had a hearty laugh before going their separate ways.
“Just don’t fall into the same trap that so many pastors are falling into,” Deacon Travis said to Jonathan as they walked out the door.
Anise pulled up into the Walmart parking lot. She fixed her hair and adjusted her clothes as best she could. I showed her, she thought as she checked to see whether or not there were any messages on her phone. There was one: Melvin. Just checking on you; you’re taking a mighty long time to get home.
How am I going to explain my torn blouse to him? Anise thought.
When she got to the house she closed the car door and the front door to the house as quietly as she could and made a beeline to the bathroom.
“Hey, baby. I thought you’d never come,” Melvin shouted from the living room where he was watching the game.
“When you have to go, you have to go,” Anise shouted back without looking in his direction.
“I guess when you have to go you just have to go,” Melvin said as she joined him in the living room. She had her house dress on and her hair in rollers.
Cam and Mitzie had just finished their evening meal and were relaxing. Mitzie was reading a Good Housekeeping magazine; Cam was flipping through U.S. News & World Report when his phone rang and he answered.
“Yes, Karol. What’s up?” Cam said, walking out of the room. He entered the kitchen and started running the water in the sink. “I’m private; you can talk.”
“Cam, I can’t go through with this anymore. It’s going to take a lot more than my trying to entice Pastor Jonathan to start a scandal on his name. He’s got too much character. He would not counsel me without his wife sitting in the office off in the corner of the room. At the first meeting, I started to protest and he said he wouldn’t counsel me at all. I caught him one day after lunch; his wife was not around, but he left his office door wide open so his secretary could not only look in but could overhear us talking. That man is protecting himself. Of course, I played along.”
“Just keep working on him. Invite him out to lunch. Have him to stop by your job. Find out where he lives and just pop up. Would an extra $500 help you be more innovative?” Cam asked.
“Cam, after what I went through today, no amount of money would let me continue this. I got a three-inch-long scratch on my face that’s going to take days to go away. No amount of make-up will cover it. I’ve had a headache since Sunday. Have you ever had someone try to pull your hair out of your head?” Karol said.
“How about $900?” Cam asked.
“No, Cam. I can’t risk getting killed. I just can’t go on with it any more. Sorry.”
“I’m curious, who put that three inch scratch on your face?” Cam asked.
“A lady named Anise. Anise Caverly.”
“Better is an handful with quietness, than both the hands full with travail and vexation of spirit.”
As the days flew by, Monica began noticing some subtle changes in Jonathan that disturbed her. He was no longer coming home for lunch whenever he was in town—a commitment he had made when they moved to Oklahoma. Although she had no problem with him preaching out at various meetings, she felt he was taking on too many outside engagements for a pastor. On top of that, he was becoming curt with her more often.
“You know, one of the complaints Kristy had about Kirby was that he stopped spending as much time with their children; he was always locked up in his office at the house, or constantly at the church, or off to some meeting,” Monica said one evening.
“So?” Jonathan said.
“So, I kind of see some of that behavior in you.”
“This is a growing church; the people need me to be available for them,” Jonathan said. “And I can’t help it if pastors are calling on me to preach at their meetings or in their churches.”
“I believe your children mind. Their names are Mitch, Jerrilyn, Caleb, and Diana Joi, lest you have forgotten.”
Jonathan smiled. “So now we’re getting sarcastic?” he said.
“Take it however you want, but I am not going to sit by quietly and watch you neglect these children,” Monica said. “Too many pastors’ children have gone astray because the pastor was too busy building a church and ignored his children in the process. Do you want me to begin naming names?”
“You’ve become a bit of a complainer,” Jonathan said.
“Nope. Not a complainer; just trying to practice preventative medicine than trying to patch things up later,” Monica said.
“You’re just over-reacting,” Jonathan said. “I think the stress of the ministry is getting to you. You might need to take a vacation.”
“I am not over-reacting,” Monica said. “Right is right and wrong is wrong. Just because you’re being called upon to preach at all these meetings, and just because you’re being called upon to address community issues, and just because you’re all over the internet, and you’re now becoming somewhat of a household name, that does not mean you forget where you’re coming from.”
“Exactly what is eating you up now?”
“As I was saying, just because you hit a home-run in putting on the biggest Christian concert this town has ever seen and have reaped more young people coming to the church now on a regular basis; and just because I’ve noticed you’re now seen as a bestselling author, and just because your church choir has a hot selling album, you’d better be careful because I’ve noticed that it seems like you’ve had your nose up in the air.”
“Oh, boy. Are you jealous because you’re home with the children all day and I’m out and about?” Jonathan said.
“No, Jonathan. That does not bother me at all; I’m glad to see you succeed. But it does bother me when Mitch complains to me how he hated it that you missed several of his practices and you also missed his Little League big play off because you suddenly had to counsel Karol Reels during the lunch hour when Mitch was scheduled to play.”
“So that’s it; you’re jealous over Karol Reels,”
Monica laughed. “Please, if you really think I am jealous over her, you’re sadly mistaken. She would be small potatoes for me to handle. My main concern is the children—our children. Remember, you asked me to quit my job so I could stay home with them. I know they are growing up, but that does not mean they don’t need you to be around just as much.”
An uneasy silence fell between them for the rest of the evening.
Later that night, Jonathan reached over to kiss Monica good night.
“Go kiss your books,” she said tossing her head to the side. She reached over and cut the bedside lamp off then slid under the covers.
The next morning when Jonathan awakened, Monica was already up and had breakfast cooking in the kitchen.
“Good morning, Monica. How was your night?”
“Go tell the children good morning,” she said as she flipped the pancakes on the griddle. “Mitch and Caleb are already up and are doing their devotions. It would be nice of you to join them. After all, you’ve missed some mornings praying with them. Jerrilyn’s doing hers as well. Diana Joi should still be asleep. It would be nice if you’d pray with them without me.”
“You’re burning those pancakes,” Jonathan said.
“I guess you’re not through with letting me have it, huh?”
“You said it,” Monica said reaching over the stove to scramble the eggs.
Jonathan walked off to check on the children. The past few months, he had been hurrying out the door to go to some meeting or just to go out to the office early, but their conversation the previous night slowed him down this morning.
Monica went upstairs to call the children down for breakfast after setting the table. She opened the door to the boys’ room. Her heart softened when she saw Jonathan kneeling with his arms around Mitch and Caleb. He was praying with them.
When she entered the girls’ room, Jerrilyn was helping Diana Joi get dressed. “Mommy, she won’t hold still.”
Monica smiled. “I’ll finish that. Thanks for helping your little sister.”
“Daddy picked my dress out for me,” Jerrilyn said.
“He did? He chose a pretty one,” Monica said. “Let’s go. We don’t want the boys to eat up all the pancakes.”
“Since your father is here this morning, I’m sure he won’t mind saying the blessing,” Monica said once they were all seated at the table. She continued, “After that, he has something very important to say to you children.”
“Daddy, your pancakes are burnt,” Caleb said.
“Very observant, my son,” Jonathan said with a smile while not taking his eyes off Monica who held a straight face.
“The children are waiting,” she said.
Clearing his throat, Jonathan apologized to the children for not being around more often, and he apologized to Mitch for missing his games; he also apologized to Monica and asked everyone for their forgiveness.
“Yes, Daddy, we forgive you,” the children said.
“Can we eat now?” Caleb asked picking up his fork after they had said grace.
Monica excused herself. When she returned, she had a plate in her hand stacked with five hot pancakes smothered with butter just as Jonathan liked them. She placed them before her husband and squeezed him on the shoulder as she removed the burnt ones.
“Children, I have a fun-filled day planned for you,” Monica said as she took her seat. “Daddy has volunteered to teach you all day. That includes cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast, fixing your lunch, unless you can succeed in talking him into taking you out for hamburgers and fries or whatever you please. You can go to the park after lunch and then to the library. They’re showing the Prince of Egypt at the theater at exactly 3:00. I’m sure he’ll be glad to take you to see it. But you must put in four hours of solid school work before you can do these fun things.”
“Yeah!” the children shouted.
“Are you coming with us, Mommy?” Jerrilyn asked.
“No, Jerri. While you all are having fun with Daddy,” Monica said, looking back at her husband who still held his fork in mid-air with a piece of pancake about to fall off its tip, “I’ll be having me some ‘Mommy time.’”
“What’s ‘Mommy time’?” Jerrilyn asked.
“That’s when I take a long-needed bubble bath; then I take the car and go shopping at different stores; I get my nails done; then I get my hair done; then I get something delicious to eat. I may call up a couple of the ladies of the church and have lunch with them. And while I am doing that, I will be talking with Auntie Stacy and Grandma and Grandpa.”
Jonathan could not resist a smile.
“For wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.”
Joshua Kessler reminded Jonathan each week to tone his messages down.
“People cannot take that hard preaching every week. They don’t want you preaching on their sins every Sunday. After being beat up on throughout the week, they want you to rub them down with the balm of Gilead; they want you to soothe their cuts and bruises—not rub the scabs off.”
“You bring in a visiting preacher—once, maybe twice—throughout the year and let him preach on their sins. That they can take. Your job is to comfort them,” Joshua continued.
“Alright. I got you,” Jonathan said.
“I spoke with the manager at the television station and he’s looking for new participants to begin the next season of their reality TV show called The Preachers Club. I told him about you and he’s interested in filming you, your family, and the church family in action.” Joshua reached into his briefcase and pulled out some papers. “I took advantage of it and went ahead and signed all the paperwork, and–”
“I just know you didn’t,” Jonathan said taking the signed contract from him.
“I’m your PR man; don’t you trust me anymore? Everything I’ve led you to do so far has worked out. You’ve been having a full house over the past months; even your overflow rooms are beginning to fill up again. You’d better begin looking into getting a bigger building,” Joshua said as Jonathan read over the contract. “Think numbers,” Joshua said.
Monica was not too thrilled when Jonathan shared Joshua’s next PR strategy with her. “Don’t you see how idiotic other preachers have made themselves look on that show? That show is a joke—the biggest joke the secular world has played on preachers. Even you and I have laughed at them saying how foolish and unreal they make themselves look. The pastors on that show have been an embarrassment to the name of Christ.”
“For us it will be different,” Jonathan said.
“We’ll be doing it to get people to come to the church—not just for entertainment. See, we’ll present the Gospel at the end of each program. That is something I have not seen the pastors on the previous programs do. Plus, I believe we’ll paint a great picture of a Christian family,” Jonathan said. “And we will be working with another preacher and his family.”
“Oh, no. Not me. You can make yourself look like an idiot if you want to, but I will not subject myself nor the children to such frivolity. And why do we have to work with another family? We will be a double laughing stock around here,” Monica said.
“No, Pastor Jonathan, we can’t present the Gospel during or after the show. We can flash the church address across the screen at the end, then when they visit the church that’s when you present the Gospel,” Joshua said as they discussed the Preachers Club in more detail.
Next Sunday, Jonathan announced to his congregation the plan for him and his family, and, of course, the church, to become the next participants on the Preachers Club Network. “So don’t be surprised if you turn around and find you’re on candid camera.” There was a unanimous raising of hands when asked for those in agreement with that decision. “This will be a great way to advertise the physical church and our internet church as well, and once the people visit the church, we’ll be able to share the Gospel with them. From this exposure we should be able to open up a few more campuses across the United States. This would also justify our desire to either purchase a bigger building or to have one built.”
At Joshua’s suggestion, Bishop Pyke, a well-known pentecostal preacher who was known for preaching half his sermons in tongues, was their guest speaker one Sunday. During their fellowship over dinner at the Reynolds’ house, Bishop Pyke somehow got Jonathan to thinking that one could not get saved unless one spoke in tongues. “On the day of Pentecost, they all spoke in tongues and over 3000 souls got saved,” Bishop Pyke told Jonathan. “Speaking in tongues seals your salvation.”
Monica listened with much reservation as the men spoke.
Jonathan traveled for a little over a month on this new road he was taking the church on before Deacon Travis and some of the other deacons expressed their concern.
“Pastor Jonathan, I respect you as pastor here, but we’ve noticed some things that we are not pleased with, and I’m going to point those things out to you,” Deacon Travis said to Jonathan one evening after morning services. “Your sermons just don’t have the power they used to have. You’re pulling the people in, but nobody’s getting saved. We’re starting to get a lot of shouting, but it seems so empty.”
“And,” Deacon Yancey said, “can’t nobody understand some of the words you be throwing into your sermons lately. I know I don’t.”
“That’s tongues, Deacon Yancey,” Jonathan said.
“Well, my Bible says not to bother preaching in tongues unless you have an interpreter. I know I needed an interpreter, but there was none. Your sermons have not been the same since you had Bishop Pyke to preach. He’s left you all twisted up in the mind. What led you to have him preach for us any way? You must have been drunk when you scheduled him.”
“Son, go back to the basics,” Deacon Travis said. “Forget about trying something new and trying to impress others. When you begin to lose focus, just go back to the basics.”
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.”
Monica was getting more and more disillusioned with Jonathan’s behavior. “He’s cocky and he doesn’t even see how self-centered he’s becoming. It’s not about the church growing, it’s about him,” she told Stacy one day over the phone.
“I’ll just keep praying for him. Do you think he needs a vacation, you know, to get away from it all for a while?” Stacy said.
“He needs something,” Monica said. “Thanks for trying to encourage me, but I smell the devil in all of this PR stuff. And guess what? Now he’s speaking in tongues.”
“I told him I don’t know which heaven he’s gone to, but he needs to float on back down to earth real soon because he’s going to begin losing the people. Two of his deacons have already threatened to leave. I can sense the discontent among the older members,” Monica said.
“He may want to get rid of this PR man,” Stacy said. “But then again, it may turn out for the greater good. Maybe he has pride in him and God is showing it up so he can get rid of it and God can use him for a greater work.”
“I never thought about that,” Monica said. “While you pray for him, pray for patience for me as well.”
“You know what the Bible says about praying for patience: Tribulation bringeth patience. So expect some tribulation,” Stacy said. “You keep praying for me too, we still haven’t found Trelawny and have no idea where she could be.”
“I will,” Monica promised.
Jonathan was scheduled to preach at the annual North East Preacher’s Conference to be held at the Northeast Temple in Maine. There was a packed house as many people wanted to hear him preach. The conference was being streamed live on the Internet.
“Something’s wrong here,” Pastor Richardson said to his wife as they watched his ‘son in the Lord’ deliver a message titled “Preaching the Whole Counsel of God.” “I don’t sense much power in his preaching like I used to. And almost every other sentence is strapped with ‘I’; I did this or I did that.”
Even though Pastor Richardson wanted to make that meeting, at the advice of his doctor, he remained home due to recurring health issues.
“Maybe pastoring Ninth Street is beginning to be too much for him. I don’t think they’ve found an assistant pastor yet,” his wife said.
“That could be a part of it,” Pastor Richardson said. “However, I think it’s more of a spiritual thing, though. You’ve heard me pray about him possibly taking over as pastor here at New Mt. Zion . . . but I don’t know now.”
“He’s still young and still has a lot to learning,” his wife said. “Give him more time.”
“I hope he does not disappoint me,” Pastor Richardson said.
Leanne gave Anise a call after Anise missed another Wednesday night Prayer service. Anise was surprised.
“What has been going on with you, Anise? Do you think you can just miss Prayer meeting because Melvin’s back?” Leanne said.
“Hey, Leanne. There’s just so much going on with me right now,” Anise said.
“Don’t worry. I’m not going to mention anything about Karol. But girl, you missed . . . what? Two, no three Sundays. A lot has been happening at the church. Pastor Jonathan is into the tongues thing. Now that always scared me. It is so spooky. And, girl, he’s doing the Reality TV thing under Preachers Club Network. He’s joining up with that big time pastor, Pastor Malone who comes on television and on the radio; the one who has the biggest choir. We big time now.”
“Yeah,” Anise said.
“Girl, what’s wrong with you? Your husband’s back home, but you sound like you lost a million dollars. Not coming to church will leave you depressed. If this is any comfort to you, Karol told me she’s going back to her old church, so you won’t have to worry about her.”
“Yeah, well, I got bigger problems than her,” Anise said.
“Anise, your voice is shaking and I can hardly hear you. Come on; it’s me, Leanne. You can tell me.”
“Well, I got this call from Cam telling me to join his new church. He said if I did not come join him, he would spill the beans on me.”
“Spill the beans?”
“Remember what he told you about me and Kirby. It’s all true. I know I denied it, but it’s all true,” Anise said. “On top of that, he told me on Sunday evening to try to entice Pastor Jonathan to have a relationship with me and that if I don’t he’ll tell all on me.”
“Is that why you and Karol had that fight?” Leanne asked.
“No . . . that’s something else,” Anise said. “What happened between Karol and myself is on me stemming from my own jealousy.”
“You finally admitted it! I tell you, that old devil is really working,” Leanne said. “You need to tell your husband before he starts getting suspicious; then you need to speak to Pastor Jonathan and his wife–”
“I can’t do that. I can’t let my husband know I’ve been fooling around while he’s been gone. That would ruin our marriage,” Anise said.
I thought you wanted to get out of your marriage, Leanne thought. Instead, she said, “Well, how do you plan on getting out of this? You can’t church hop because Melvin will definitely begin asking questions soon. And don’t let Cam jerk you around like a puppet while he schemes against Pastor Jonathan. He wants to take over Ninth Street. He’s calling his church Ninth Street North. He’s trying to bring Pastor Jonathan down just as he did Pastor Kirby with the intent to take over. He tried to get me to join up with him over there at his new church, but I just told him no. This just makes me so mad!”
Anise remained silent.
“I wonder did Karol fall into Cam’s trap? She came, sought a lot of counseling, then disappeared after you took care of her,” Leanne said more to herself.
“Beats me,” Anise said. “But that’s not gonna help me out of my situation.”
“You have to tell,” Leanne said. “I mean, I’ll come with you if you want me to. And if you’re that scared, talk with Monica first; she’s just as sweet and understanding as one can be. In the meantime, I’ll be praying for you.”
If you only knew why I can’t face Monica or Pastor Jonathan, Anise thought as they said goodbye. I’m being burnt from both ends. What a tangled web I’ve weaved!
“Forsake the foolish, and live; and go in the way of understanding.”
“I’m telling you, Jonathan, I want no parts of this,” Monica said to him after returning home from the grocery store one evening to find an AIRtv truck parked close to their home. “I do not like being watched like that.”
The church office was inundated with phone calls from members and non-members after the introductory airing of the Preachers Club expressing how good Pastor Jonathan, his wife, and the church looked. Joshua received a call from the station manager asking him to have Jonathan and his wife team up with Pastor Malone for future airing. This news only boosted Jonathan’s ego.
“Carmen, you’ve been quiet about our new venture. What do you think about it?” Jonathan asked after listening to several of the messages left by the callers and returning some of the calls.
“Pastor Jonathan, I really don’t think you should get entangled in all that worldly mess,” Carmen said.
That evening’s airing left Monica upset. It showed a beautifully dressed young lady pulling up into the church parking lot on the office side of the building, entering Carmen’s office, and then Jonathan’s office. Carmen was seated at her desk. For about five minutes the camera kept pointing to Jonathan’s open door. The reporter, Jessica Simmons, reported:
Here we are again in our series using the Ninth Street Baptist Church to answer our question: What causes a rising pastor to fall into that one sin that he knows can pull him down and nullifies all the great work he has done? Pastor Jonathan not only has the church on the right track, but he showed us that there are still some pastors with integrity. He has an open-door counseling policy and that is to counsel females with his office door wide open. Well, we took a chance and sent one of our employees to see if Pastor Jonathan would stay true to his policy. He did. Pastor Jonathan, hats off to you. You passed the test.
Jonathan looked across at his wife with a grin. She returned his look with a blank stare, but did not spare her words.
“You can just wipe that self-important grin off your face. Can’t you see they were trying to set you up for a fall? What if you had closed your door?? Your name, the church’s name, Christ’s name, my name would be dragged through the dirt. They’re not going to stop there. You just watch and see. I’ve been telling you to let this go, but you won’t listen.”
“Calm down. You’re getting all worked up over nothing. I’m doing this for God’s glory.”
“No. You’re doing it for your glory,” Monica said rising from her seat. “Anything goes from this point if you continue with this.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Jonathan asked.
“Oh, you’ll see.”
Unknown to Monica, Jonathan had already arranged for AIRtv to visit their home. He was not home when they arrived so she turned them away. She watched that evening’s airing out of curiosity. The show showed video reels of Jonathan and Monica entering and leaving the house, various pictures of them interacting with the church members, and pictures of Monica and the children at the playground as well as at other places.
“Did you commission them to follow me around without my knowledge?” Monica asked Jonathan.
“That’s part of the show. Impromptu filming. There’s nothing wrong with that if you’re not doing anything evil. By the way, for television purposes, I will be using the title ‘Reverend,’ and you will be using the title ‘First Lady Elect’.”
“Over my dead body. That smacks of pride and you know it. Why can’t I be plain old Monica or Mrs. Reynolds? Jonathan, you’re advertising my life before the whole world.”
“As pastor and husband I make whatever decision I deem best for the church,” Jonathan said. “I don’t think I have to consult with you.”
“You’re right. You don’t. But guess what, Mr. High and Mighty, I do not have to consult with you either to protect me and the children from what could possibly lower our reputation, especially if you make a wrong move.”
“Since I’m the head of this family, you have to.”
“Not when I see you possibly making a mockery of Jesus’ name and His church and this Christian family. I really don’t think you know what you are getting yourself into.”
“Just calm down and fall in place,” Jonathan said.
Monica watched her husband stand and stretch before walking towards his office. “I’m letting you know that if I see them filming me and the children you’ll be continuing without me by your side,” she said.
“Deliver me from all my transgressions: make me not the reproach of the foolish.”
Melvin could not understand why Anise had been acting so strangely ever since he had been back: one moment she was jittery and nervous; the next moment she was all loving and cuddly.
“I don’t understand why you don’t want to go to Ninth Street Baptist anymore. Something must have taken place there,” Melvin said.
“I just need a change, and I want to be a part of the building up of its daughter church—Ninth Street North. It took a lot for Brother Cam to take on the disgruntled members after all that has taken place,” Anise said.
“I guess I’ll visit this new church with you then,” her husband said.
Anise’s voice shook as she introduced her husband to Cam.
“So glad you could join us,” Cam said. “I hope you enjoy the services. By the way, Anise, did you take care of that little business yet?”
“I haven’t been able to,” Anise said throwing a sideways glance at her husband hoping Cam would get the message.
“Okay. Just let me know on tomorrow,” Cam said.
“What was that all about?” Melvin asked as they took their seats.
“Oh, nothing. He wanted someone to pick up something from the other church. I offered to do it. I guess I’ll do it tomorrow,” Anise said.
As the services proceeded, Karol hurried in and slipped into the empty space in the pew in front of Melvin and Anise.
“Are you alright?” Melvin asked his wife as she let out a gasp and almost dropped the songbook.
Anise nodded her head.
What in the world is she doing here? Anise thought.
“Now, turn and greet the person sitting beside you, in front of you, and behind you,” Cam said from the pulpit after the singing ended.
Anise swung around to greet those sitting in the pew behind her. Melvin, after shaking Karol’s hand and introducing himself, tapped Anise on the shoulder. “Turn around and shake Ms. Reels’ hand.” Anise turned like a robot. “Ms. Reels, this is my wife, Anise.”
Karol’s hand and smile froze as did Anise’s as their eyes met. “Pleased to meet you,” they said simultaneously dropping their hands to their sides. Karol grabbed her purse and went to sit on the other side of the auditorium.
Good riddance to you, Anise thought with a sigh.
“What was that all about between you and Ms. Reels?” Melvin asked as they walked to their car after the services.
“Who’s Ms. Reels?” Anise asked.
“You know, the lady I introduced you to during the fellowship time. She was sitting in front of us, but left after you two shook hands.”
“There’s nothing between us,” Anise said.
“Don’t play games with me, Anise. I know what I saw, and what I saw did not look right to me,” her husband said.
“Don’t worry about it. You’re always reading into things.”
“Well, I’m not satisfied with your answer and you know what that means. That means I am going to keep asking questions until I get a satisfactory answer. In fact, we’ll be going back to that church next week; we may even go there for our mid-week service so you can greet Ms. Reels in a more Christian way.”
Why did you have to come off the road? Anise silently moaned.
A phone call from Leanne later that evening only added to her stress.
“Karol told me you and your husband came to her church today. That was mighty nice of you. What church was that by the way?”
“Cam’s church,” Anise said.
“What? I thought she went to another church. Cam is certainly at work. I wonder if he stole her from her other church,” Leanne said. “Don’t tell me you decided to start going to Cam’s church.”
Anise swallowed. “I have to. I already told you what he’s going to do if I don’t go.”
“So I guess you haven’t said anything to Melvin,” Leanne said.
“No, not yet.”
“Listen, Anise, you’d better tell your husband what’s going on before Cam tightens his grip on you. I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. You can’t let him use you for his dirty work. If I were you, I’d call Pastor Jonathan and make an appointment to talk with him and his wife and have Melvin to come with you. Do you want me to call him for you?”
“I’ll take care of it,” Anise said.
To make matters worse, Cam called Anise that very evening. “You can start working on Pastor Jonathan this very week,” he told her.
“You must not have seen this past episode of The Preachers Club,” Anise said. “Women do not move him.”
“Six hundred dollars should move you though. You’re a woman, and women like you are innovative when it comes to certain things. Tell your husband I said hello.”
“Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.”
Mother Montague gave Monica a call to remind her of Leah’s wedding.
“We’ll be there, Mom . . . at least the children and I for sure.”
“What’s going on? Won’t Jonathan be coming?” Mother Montague asked.
“Are you two having problems?”
“Mom, if he does not get his act together we will be having more than problems. His rising fame is going to his head. He is starting to get full of pride so much so he does not even want to listen to the advice the deacons are giving him. I don’t remember if I told you this, but he had a pentecostal preacher to come preach for us some time back, now that preacher has him believing one cannot be fully saved unless one speaks in tongues.”
“Say what?” Mother Montague said. “Is he speaking in tongues now?”
“He’s throwing in some kind of monkey talk,” Monica said. “And I don’t say that to be funny either. I’ve overheard some of the ladies saying he does not have the fire anymore.”
“That’s not good at all,” Mother Montague said.
“The sad thing is: he’s so excited about these new changes. Mom, he’s going to tear the church apart if he does not get off the road he’s on,” Monica said. “But here’s what’s taking the cake for me: he’s signed us up for that reality TV show, the Preachers Club.”
“My soul. Now I stopped looking at that show after I saw how the preachers made not only themselves look like idiots before the world, but they brought shame to the Name of Christ.”
“That’s what I told him, and I also told him I wanted no part of it, and neither was I going to subject the children to that,” Monica said. “I mean, people are snapping pictures of me and the children and I do not even know about it until I see it on the show. I told him they are invading my privacy and that anything goes.”
“Meaning, I will go through a separation if–”
“Monica, you don’t really mean that.”
“I do. I am not going to be the laughing stock of the nation. They are setting him up.”
Monica told her mother of his open-door counseling policy and how the media tested him to see if he was for real.
“Well, thank God he passed that test,” Mother Montague said.
“I told him if he does not watch it, his pride is going to bring him down,” Monica said.
“I’ll talk with your father and see if he’ll talk with Jonathan. In the meantime, you stay prayed up and don’t do anything rash. We love you.”
The day before they were scheduled to leave for Leah’s wedding, Anise made an appointment for her and her husband to talk with Jonathan and Monica. It took a lot out of her, but through tears and fighting through her pride, Anise humbly told her husband of her past relationship with Pastor Kirby, and of the fight she had with Karol because she was jealous at the seemingly close relationship Karol was developing with Pastor Jonathan.
“And now, Cam is blackmailing me. He wants me to get Pastor Jonathan involved with me so he can bring him down… and I guess he plans on taking over Ninth Street Baptist,” Anise said. “Melvin, I apologize for carrying myself in a promiscuous way while you’ve been away. Please forgive me, and I’ll try to have a better attitude towards you.”
“I forgive you,” Melvin said. “But answer me this question: Did you have sex with Pastor Kirby, or any other man for that matter? Because if you did we need to air it out right now before Pastor Jonathan and his wife while we’re at it.”
Anise took a deep breath as she glanced from Monica to Jonathan back to her husband. “No, Melvin . . . and thanks to Pastor Jonathan for that not happening.”
“Do you have anything else to tell me?” Melvin asked.
“Yes,” Anise said meekly. “But I’d rather tell you in private. I’ll tell you everything and if you still have questions, you can ask Pastor Jonathan and his wife.”
Monica gave Anise a hug as they stood to leave. “Don’t worry. We haven’t said anything to anyone,” Monica whispered in Anise’s ear. “We love you.”
When Melvin saw that Anise poured out her heart to him, risking a violent response from him and, even worse, their marriage breaking up, he embraced her. “What else can I do? You could have continued keeping it quiet. For Pastor Jonathan to resist you says I can trust him because you’re a good looking woman.”
When he released Anise to go get ready for bed, Melvin gave Jonathan a call. “Pastor Jonathan, forgive me for calling so late, but I thought you might want to know all’s well between me and my wife. Thank you for being a man of integrity. If nothing happens, we’ll be in church for prayer meeting on Wednesday night.”
On their way home from prayer meeting, Melvin stopped by Ninth Street North.
“Stay put while I talk with Cam,” he told Anise.
When Melvin returned to the car, he was massaging his right wrist and fist. Anise noticed his slightly swollen bottom lip.
“He won’t be bothering you anymore.”
“Surely every man walketh in a vain show: surely they are disquieted in vain: he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them. And now, Lord, what wait I for? My hope is in thee.”
Jonathan, Monica, and the children pulled out after Wednesday night prayer meeting heading for Texas for Leah and Anthony’s wedding. They spent all day Thursday and Friday visiting friends and rehearsing for the wedding. Monica was her sister’s maid-of-honor.
While they were rehearsing on Thursday afternoon, Jonathan’s father had a serious talk with him.
“Son, you are going off course. Now you know that nowhere in the Bible does it teach that you have to speak in tongues to be saved, or even as evidence of your salvation. Did you speak in tongues when you asked Jesus to save you?”
“No, sir,” Jonathan said.
“It is set plainly in the Bible: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved. For by grace are ye saved, through faith.’”
“Dad, I’m not saying you have to speak in tongues to get saved; I’m saying after you get saved you ought to speak in tongues.”
“That’s a bunch of bull, and you know that,” Brother Reynolds said. “Do you have Bible to back that statement up? I have never spoken in tongues and I have no desire to speak in tongues, and guess what? I’m saved and on my way to Heaven. You believe you’re going to Heaven, don’t you?”
“I don’t know if you know this, but Pastor Richardson’s health is failing and he’ll be leaving us soon. Anyway, he shared with us more than once that he believes the Lord is leading him to have you take over the work here at New Mt. Zion. But after hearing about the direction you are taking Ninth Street in, he’s expressed some concern. He’s been listening to you online and he’s been keeping abreast of your engagements as best he can. He—none of us for that matter—like how things are going. It seems to us that you’re leaving the old landmarks and losing your vision.”
“I have a PR person who offered to help me keep the church going after that incident with Pastor Kirby and we’ve seen a great increase in attendance,” Jonathan said.
“A great increase in attendance, but how about a great increase in spiritual maturity? It’s okay to have the shouting and rejoicing and hand clapping and dancing, but you don’t want to have a full church talking the talk but not walking the walk.”
“Thanks for the advice, Dad,” Jonathan said.
“I’m sure Pastor Richardson will be talking with you before you leave,” his father said.
* * * * *
“You know, Jonathan,” Pastor Richardson said to Jonathan, “sometimes God just blesses us and blesses us and blesses us and we begin to expect Him to keep blessing us; we begin to presume upon God and the spirit of pride begins to seep in and we think God owes us. Then we begin to try to do things in our own strength. Pride and the Holy Spirit cannot live together.”
“I listened to you preach at the Northeast Pastor’s Conference in New York and it lacked the power I’m used to hearing you preach with. There was some power, but not at the degree I’m used to hearing you preach. You might want to listen to the tape. Too many I’s. Go back to the basics. Regain sight of the vision you once had.”
“Pastor Richardson, I have not lost sight of that vision,” Jonathan said.
“But you’re starting to make it a numbers game and not a souls game.”
* * * * *
The wedding went beautifully and Jonathan and his family headed home late Saturday evening.
“Monica, I do not appreciate your going behind my back and discussing our business with your family and my family. I’ll let them know what I want them to know,” Jonathan said.
“What are you talking about?” Monica asked.
“You went and blabbed your mouth to your parents about how I’m leading the church and how unhappy you are with it and refusing to cooperate with this great opportunity for greater publicity on television for the church. Lest you haven’t figured it out yet, I am going to lead the church in the direction I feel the Lord is leading me, and–”
“You’d better make sure the Lord is the one who’s leading you and not you leading you,” Monica said. “I may not be able to put my finger on exactly what the problem is, but I’m rarely wrong when my antennae goes up.”
“Your antennae is all twisted up and has been twisted for some months now, so keep your speculations to yourself, and I do not want you to discuss our family or church matters with either of our families.”
“There you go not wanting to even receive advice from your own family who has nothing but your best interest at heart. I know you’re beginning to think you’re important and the world won’t be able to continue on without you; but, if you’re not careful, you’re going to find out the world and your church can do quite well without you.” Monica pushed her seat back to a semi-reclining position. “If you don’t mind, I am tired and I would like some quiet so I can take a nap. Besides, we don’t need to be arguing in front of the children.”
After about forty-five minutes of driving in silence, they received a phone call from Monica’s father.
“Sure, Dad. He’s right here,” Monica said handing her cell phone to Jonathan.
“Hello, Brother Montague. How’s everything going?” Jonathan asked.
“Quite well, Jonathan. I tell you, nothing keeps you busy than preparing to give your daughter away in marriage. I wanted to talk with you before you all left but I couldn’t break away. I am calling because I am concerned about you and Monica and what’s happening up there at Ninth Street. Whatever is taking place, don’t let it drive a wedge between you and Monica. One thing is a must in the ministry and that is a husband and his wife must have a tight relationship. Otherwise, the devil will take advantage.”
“I don’t see Monica and myself distancing ourselves from each other over the changes being made at the church, but I do thank you for your concern,” Jonathan said.
“Learn from the fall of other pastors,” his father-in-law said. “We love you both and you’re in our prayers. Remember a weakness for women and a love of money are not the only things Satan uses to bring a pastor down.”
“Thank you, Brother Montague. I’ll keep that in mind.”
“Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things: for this is wellpleasing unto the Lord.” Colossians 3:18-20
“I tell you some in-laws are just nosy,” Jonathan said handing the phone to his wife.
“Are you talking about my father?” Monica asked.
“Don’t you ever say anything negative about my parents whenever you and I don’t see eye-to-eye,” Monica said.
“Well, he is nosy. You go blab to your mother, my in-law; she blabs to your father, my in-law; he calls a world-wide conference with Pastor Richardson and my father, your in-law; and they all come together trying to rain down the last verdict on me. I tell you the truth,” Jonathan said.
“Do you know what your problem has been lately? And I’ll say this as nicely as I can,” Monica said. “But you have become a self-centered egotistical, proud . . . I can’t even think of the right name.”
“Do you have a problem with what I have become?” Jonathan asked.
“Yes and no. You might want to read about King Rehoboam in I Kings chapters twelve and fourteen, and also in 2 Chronicles chapter ten. He only heeded the advice of the unwise, young, inexperienced men and turned a deaf ear to the advice of the older, experienced, wise men. And that is what you are doing. You’re forsaking the counsel of the old wise men God has placed in your life, and you are gravitating to the words of the young bucks.”
“So now you’re preaching at me. Why don’t you just go on to sleep and let’s have some peace,” Jonathan said.
“I am for peace,” Monica said. “But while we’re at it, if you plan on continuing with this Young Preacher Club show, even after you have been advised against it, you risk losing your family.”
“Oh please, you’re not going anywhere,” Jonathan said with a chuckled. “So you can just toss that idle threat aside.”
“That’s not an idle threat because you are woefully deceived if you think I can’t do without you. But I think I will take your advice and go on to sleep.” Monica pushed her seat back further and closed her eyes. “By the way, you may want to check out your PR man. I believe he has good intentions, but his latest strategies aren’t working too well for the soul-winning, Bible-believing, preaching-the-whole-counsel-of-God-without-compromise church that you’ve been called to build.”
“Just go on to sleep,” Jonathan said.
The family was able to snatch a few hours sleep once they got home before leaving for church. Jonathan went to his office to prepare the message. Curiosity led him to turn to I Kings chapters twelve and fourteen and to 2 Chronicles chapter ten. A few verses stood out to him:
But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him.
…and king Rehoboam forsook the counsel of the old men.
Jonathan thought on the advice from Deacons Travis and Yancy, his father, his father-in-law, Pastor Richardson, and a few of the older church members who expressed opposition when he had the Christian hip-hop group to perform at the church, and also when he announced doing the reality TV show:
“Go back to the basics.”
“Recapture the vision.”
“This is not a numbers game; it is a spiritual war for souls.”
“Pride goeth before a fall.”
The advice of the young men brought about King Rehoboam’s fall so much so that he had to find a place of refuge. Jonathan read I Kings 12:15:
Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying…
Jonathan used that verse to justify his decisions and actions. This church is of the Lord, its growth is of the Lord, and God has placed me here for such a time as this: to bring them through this mess Kirby left behind and to take them to greater heights. With those thoughts, he picked up the telephone and called Joshua.
“Yes, Joshua, I’m very pleased with how things have been going. We have become a household name. What’s our next step?”
“Yes. The home. The family. See, I observe the faces of the people as you preach and I take note of the spiritual temperature in the auditorium before you preach, while you preach, and after you preach, and that series you just finished on the home . . . it did not go over too well,” Joshua said.
“How so?” Jonathan asked. “I have received nothing but positive comments from the people.”
“Many of the women, including the single women, are mad. They do not want to hear about this submission stuff. They know it’s in the Bible, but they do not want you to preach on it. They’ll read it for themselves when they get ready.”
“Wait a minute, now,” Jonathan said. “You’re telling me to preach from the pulpit that wives are not to submit themselves to their husbands? That would directly oppose what the Bible says. You know the same Bible says if any man adds to or takes away from the Word of God, God’s wrath will be upon him.”
“No, no, Pastor Jonathan,” Joshua said. “I believe you should preach the whole counsel of God, but there’s a way to do it without offending the people. You’re not going to please all the people, but you can please most of the people. You get the women on your side and keep them on your side, you’ll sure ’nuff have a supporting team.”
“Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men.”
Cam sat before his computer. He stared at the screen. He was clicking through the pages of the Ninth Street Baptist Church website and randomly listening to videos of Jonathan’s sermons; he even listened to a few of Kirby’s sermons that were in the church archive.
You think you are unstoppable, Pastor Jonathan; but Ninth Street belongs to me more than it belongs to you. I was its first assistant pastor. I helped in its growth. Let’s see if there’s anyone new on staff, he thought as he clicked the ‘Meet Our Staff’ button.
“Carmen’s still there; some of the teachers are new; deacons are still the same except for one.”
“What’s got your attention so much you have to talk to yourself?” Mitzie asked peering over her husband’s shoulder. “Cam, are you still trying to interfere in what’s going on at that church? Our church will soon grow in numbers if you do it the right way.”
“Now, who is this?” Cam asked pointing the cursor on the picture of Joshua Kessler. “Public Relations personnel; church events program planner; helps pastor with outside preaching engagements,” he read. Turning to his wife, he asked, “Do we know him? He looks familiar.”
“Kessler. Kessler. If I recall accurately, he used to work with Pastor Kirby, but I believe he left. He helped get the church up and running. At least I believe that’s him.”
“Yeah, that’s him. He and I never got along,” Cam said after a few minutes in thought.
“You hardly get along with anyone,” Mitzie muttered.
“It says here that he’s on staff full-time,” Cam read. “I wonder what he’s been doing since he left Ninth Street. I could use his help over here.”
“You just said you and him never got along, so why are you going to bother him?” Mitzie said before leaving his side.
* * * * *
“Pastor Jonathan, you might want to listen to this message that Cam left on the answering machine last night,” Carmen said when Jonathan came in later that morning.
“What do you think?” Jonathan asked Carmen after listening to the message.
“I think it’s best if you spoke with Joshua about it,” Carmen said. “I believe he’s in his office.”
“Yes, Joshua,” Jonathan said after Joshua got on the phone, “Cam left a message on the church’s answering machine saying you were nothing but a scam artist and that it would be a matter of time before you begin stealing money from the church. He said you were only bringing people in to build up the church funds so that you can start stealing it. He also mentioned something about you being hooked up with some people in Africa who were running a scam ring and that some time back you swindled $40,000 from the church to send over to them for safe keeping. What is that all about?” Jonathan asked.
“When did he leave that message?” Joshua asked.
“Last night. Why don’t you meet me in Carmen’s office and we’ll play it so you can hear it for yourself,” Jonathan said.
Joshua smiled as the recording played. “That Cam never stops.”
When they were seated in Jonathan’s office, Joshua continued speaking. “I never told you this as I saw it for what it was, but Cam called me a couple days back and wanted me to come over to his church and help him build it up. At first, he acted like we had never met, but when he saw that I was not taking his bait, he suddenly remembered we used to work together under Kirby. He even offered to double what you were paying me.”
“How’s he going to do that? His church is not that big,” Jonathan said.
“Oh, he has his own business, and he informed me that it was doing quite well,” Joshua said. “But I declined and told him I was very comfortable where I was. Pastor Jonathan, if you don’t have any enemies, you’d better see him as your enemy.”
“Why do you say that?”
Joshua smiled. “Cam’s right and wrong at the same time,” he said. “Have you ever received an email from someone over in Africa inviting you to invest in the diamond mines over there with the promise of you becoming a millionnaire? I got an email like that and like a dummy I believed it. I mean, they put forth a convincing argument. Anyway, I had joined Ninth Street to offer my services since it was a fairly new church—less than ten years old—and so I shared the email with Kirby since he was thinking of renovating the church to twice its size. He had a wonderful vision for this church as you well know. Cam was the financial advisor and he held the bag so to speak. He was against it. Kirby over-rode him and okayed the signing of the check. We lost the money.”
“How much money did you lose?”
“Over $40,000,” Joshua said. “Cam was mad. He and Kirby never had a good relationship but it got worse. Cam hated my guts. I kind of disappeared after that because he kept threatening to have me thrown in jail for embezzling money from the church. Kirby saw it for what it was and he forgave me. In fact, he told me not to pay anything back as he was just as guilty. Anyway, I paid back all the money and Cam knows that. He left the church shortly after that.”
“I believe you,” Jonathan said. “What does Cam hope to get from bringing this up?”
“He’s after the church. Like I told you, he called me and asked me to quit working for you and come and join him. He brought up this same thing and called himself using it to threaten me to try to do as he asked.”
“That’s a snake for you, always conniving,” Jonathan said.
“Don’t you become friends with him,” Joshua said. “And don’t you worry about Cam. I’ll take care of him.”
* * * * *
“You don’t have to worry about Cam anymore,” Joshua said to Jonathan a week later.
“What did you do to him?”
“Let’s just say he’s in trouble with the IRS. Kirby, Cam, and myself went out to lunch one day. Cam was telling us about his business and he kept bragging about how he did not pay taxes and he was not going to pay taxes. He said Uncle Sam owed him every penny he made and more. That’s when Kirby started questioning whether or not he could trust him with the church funds. We couldn’t find any fraudulent activities with the church funds. Anyway, I put the IRS on him for not paying his taxes, and he’ll probably be in jail for a while—a long while.”
“If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.”
Monica answered a knock on their front door around 10:00 on Thursday morning. It was Rhea Montgomery with the cameraman, Mike, from the reality TV network.
“We have an appointment to come by and film how you and the children spend your days for the Young Preacher Club show,” Rhea said.
“I’m sorry. My husband’s out so you cannot come in. Besides, I did not know anything about your appointment,” Monica said.
“Your husband does not have to be here. This filming is on how you as the pastor’s wife spend your day,” Rhea said.
“Please turn the camera off,” Monica said to Mike who had begun to run the film. “You both have a great day,” she said closing the door.
“Jonathan, you really messed up this time,” Monica said when she got her husband on the phone. “Why didn’t you tell me the reality show people would be coming by here this morning to air to the whole world a typical day in the life of First Lady Monica Reynolds and her picture perfect children?” Monica said to Jonathan over the phone after turning away Rhea and Mike.
“Oh, man. I completely forgot. I am so sorry. Did you let them in?”
“Do you really want me to answer that?”
“Did you reschedule another day?” Jonathan asked.
“Do you really want me to answer that?” Monica said. “I don’t have time to get into it with you because you already know where I stand on this whole thing. Goodbye, Jonathan.”
Monica left the children at the table to continue working in their workbooks. She pulled out the travel bags. Within forty minutes she set three travel bags by the front door.
“I didn’t know we were going on a trip, Mommy,” Mitch said.
“A surprise trip. You’ll see once we get there,” she said to the children. “Right now, I need for you to put all your school books in your book bags and help me take everything out to the van.”
“Is Daddy coming with us?” Jerrilyn asked as she stuffed her books in her book bag.
“That’s part of the surprise,” Monica said.
As Monica and the two older children took the luggage and book bags out to the van, a camera was rolling across the street from behind the huge elm tree. Monica and the two older children returned to the house to get the younger children. Jonathan pulled up behind her as she was putting the seatbelt over Diana Joi.
“The appointment with the TV people completely slipped my mind,” Jonathan said as he stopped by the van. “Where are you going?” he asked.
“I’m sure it slipped your mind,” Monica said turning to face him. “As for where we are going, that’s for you to figure out.”
“What? I didn’t know we had any plans to travel anywhere,” Jonathan said.
“Just like I didn’t know of the TV people coming to film us,” Monica said. “And it is not ‘we’; just me and the children.”
“What? You don’t plan on driving all the way there by yourself, do you?”
“Looks like it to me.” Monica reached out to open the door on the driver’s side, but Jonathan pushed the door shut.
“You’re not going anywhere but into the house.”
“Try me,” Monica said. “I told you I wanted no part of this fake reality preacher show and you had the gall to give them permission to come to my house to film me and my children for the whole world to see. That’s an invasion of my privacy.”
“You don’t have anything to hide, do you?”
Monica rolled her eyes. “Just get out of the way,” she said pulling the door open. “You’re cutting into my travel time.” She slid behind the steering wheel. Before she could slam the door shut, Jonathan stuck his head inside the van. “Mitch, take your seat belt off and come inside the house right now,” he said.
“Stay right where you are, Mitch,” Monica said flipping the auto-lock on. “Look, Jonathan, I would advise you not to let things get ugly up in here. Now go move your car out the way so I can get on down the road.”
Jonathan grinned as he stood up to his full height. “You have no choice but to come in because I will not be moving the car. Now get your butt in the house,” he said gritting his teeth as he waved to their neighbor who had tooted her horn while backing out her driveway. “Get in the house, now!” he repeated.
Monica turned the key in the van’s ignition. Jonathan walked towards the front door with a smug look and pulled his house key out to unlock the door.
“Stay right here, children,” Monica said as she opened the door.
Jonathan unlocked the front door and stepped inside the house slamming the door behind him.
As Monica was getting out of the van, she happened to glance across the street to see the TV van parked by the huge elm tree. Oh, brother! How long have they been sitting there? Looks like they’re filming. Smiling, she went back into the van. Reality is what they want, reality is what they will get.
Monica called Jonathan on his cellphone while she pressed the remote to raise the garage door. The front door to the house swung open. “You don’t have to call,” Jonathan said out loud. “You didn’t need my help putting things in the van so you can take everything in by yourself.”
“Your friends from reality TV are parked across the street. You may want to come and greet them while I say goodbye to them—in real reality TV fashion,” Monica said.
“In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.”
Jonathan glanced across the lawn to see Rhea Montgomery and Mike the cameraman stepping on to his front lawn. Mike was filming. The soft rattling from the garage door caught his attention. He stepped out onto the patio with a sheepish grin on his face as he watched his wife drive the van into the garage.
“There you go,” he said to himself thinking she was parking the van inside the garage to avoid the TV crew. “Hey, Rhea,” he shouted as he waved to them. He shifted his attention back to the garage to see his wife skillfully maneuver the van at an angle while backing out of the garage and swinging it beside his car. What the heck is she doing? Monica stopped long enough to close the garage door and to give him a call on his cellphone which he pulled out of his shirt pocket.
Pulling out on to the street she said, “It is what it is. Now you explain that one to your friends on the Young Preachers Club,” she said taking the van out of reverse.
“Monica, you cannot do that. We signed a contract,” Jonathan said between gritted teeth with a forced smile still aware that the camera was going.
Putting the car in drive, Monica pressed on the gas pedal. “No, you signed a contract—not we.”
Click. Monica hung up and turned the phone off.
Monica dismissed the thought to check her phone as she stopped at McDonald’s to get her and the children something to eat. She allowed them time to play on the playground before continuing their journey. After about three hours of driving she decided to check into a hotel mainly to watch that evening’s report on the upcoming episodes of the Young Preachers Club show. I’m curious to see what they will air tonight, she thought as she paid for the room. After ordering pizza, breadsticks, and salad for delivery, they settled down in front of the television.
“This is Rhea Montgomery, host of the Young Preachers Club reality show. Pastor Jonathan Reynolds of the Ninth Street Baptist Church has allowed us to take a tour of his house to share with viewers a typical day for his wife and four children. I am sure tonight’s program will be of interest to you because we keep it real here on the Young Preachers Club.”
The program started with Jonathan giving an excuse for the absence of his wife and children.
“We’ve been very busy here at the church so I’m giving her some time away to get some rest. Being in the pastorate is not an easy profession as you can imagine.”
Excuses, excuses, lying excuses, Monica thought as she took a bite of her pizza. Man up and tell the truth.
They took viewers on a tour of the house and ended with the confrontation outside.
“Even pastors and their wives have tough days,” Rhea said. The program ended with Monica backing the van out of the garage and driving down the street. “Looks like they were having a confrontation to me. We’ll let you, our viewers, decide. Have a good night. This is Rhea Montgomery signing off.”
Looks like they were arguing to me, too, Monica thought as she and the children finished their meal. She turned her phone back on.
After cleaning up and readying her children for bed, Monica received another phone call from Jonathan.
“Did you make it safely to your parents’ house?”
“No. I haven’t gotten there yet.”
“What’s the hold-up?”
“Tell me you’re on your way back after realizing how ridiculously you acted on camera,” Jonathan said.
“I wish I could, but the children and I are relaxing in a hotel. I’m not playing, Jonathan. I’m very serious about this. By the way, I watched the show tonight and you let me down. You need to be a man and tell the truth. Real men tell the truth no matter what.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Listen carefully as I quote: We’ve been very busy here at the church, so I am giving her and the children some time away to get some rest. Being in the pastorate is not an easy profession. Need I say more?”
“Well, if you had just stayed put rather than trying to create a scene, this fiasco would have never taken place for the whole world to see,” Jonathan said.
“Oh, so now you’re blaming me for you choosing not to come clean to the American public as to why your wife was headed to her parents’ house? Come on now. I told you more than once that I wanted no part of it. I told you not to let them come by the house much less in the house, but the ‘young preacher’ would not listen—not to his wife, not to the older saints, not to the folks back home—’cause he’s big time now.”
“Don’t you talk to me like that!” Jonathan said. “You’re not a pastor. You don’t know what I am doing.”
“You know what? You’re so full of yourself it’s enough to make a person nauseous,” Monica said. “Anyway, say goodnight to the children and we’ll be heading to my parents on tomorrow.”
“What hotel are you in, and what time do you plan on arriving at your parents?”
“Don’t worry about the hotel and we’ll arrive some time tomorrow. I plan on sleeping in actually because I’m in no hurry to get there since we only have three more hours to get there. Here’s Mitch.” Monica handed the phone to her son.
“O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! Who hast set thy glory above the heavens.”
Monica and the children left the hotel late the next morning and had a leisurely drive to her parents’ house. Her phone rang after about two hours on the road.
“Hello, Stacy! It’s so good to hear from you. Have you heard anything new about Trelawny? We’ve been praying for her safety.”
“No, nothing new. We’re still hoping, praying, searching, and trying to hang in there,” Stacy said. “I’ve been trying to keep myself busy but not too busy to watch my best friend put on a great TV show. Girl, you’re a natural actress.”
“A natural actress? What are you talking about?” Monica asked.
“The Young Preachers Club Reality show that aired last night. You were good. No. I take that back. You were great!”
Monica grimaced. “You really think so?”
“Truthfully, Stacy, does it look like we were arguing? Did I show enough anger, and like I drove off in a huff—you know—spinning wheels and all?”
Stacy burst out laughing as Monica continued.
“. . . because if it showed all that then I hate to burst your bubble, but I was not acting.”
“Come off it, Monica. You had to be because I have never seen such earnestness in your eyes and I’ve been knowing you for a long time. You have a cool way of expressing your dissatisfaction over a matter,” Stacy said. “Your philosophy is: never let them see you sweat.”
Monica chuckled. “Well, girl, let me tell you something, I was not acting. That was for real. They want reality? Well, there it is.”
“Are you serious?” Stacy asked sobering up.
“Sure, I’m serious. Let me tell you about it. Do you have time?”
By the time Monica finished telling Stacy what had been taking place, Stacy expressed a more sober and sympathetic spirit.
“Monica, how could you all let that happen? I mean, I seriously don’t think you should leave. What about your marriage? What about the children?”
“I have to do what I have to do to let him know how serious I am,” Monica said. “This is something I do not want me nor my children to be a part of. I know I have laughed my head off at those pastors and their families who have been a part of that show. The cameraman knows how to catch you on the camera at the most embarrassing time. I told Jonathan he can go and hang himself out for all of America to scrutinize. One blunder, and he’ll be a laughing stock among Christians. I want no part of it.”
“Yeah, I guess I can see where you are coming from,” Stacy said. “I forgot you’re more of an introvert. Now, me? I’d do crazy stuff like that in a minute—just for fun even. Anyway, I really do hope you two sort things out. This is not permanent, is it?”
“No. I have no interest at all in getting a divorce. I just want to shake him up a little.”
“Well, don’t shake him up for too long,” Stacy said. “You know how those hoochie mamas are. How long do you plan on staying away?”
“Let me put it this way: the ball is in his court; how long I stay away is up to him. Hold on a minute; I have an incoming call . . .It’s Jonathan.”
“Ok, you answer that,” Stacy said saying goodbye.
“Hello,” Monica said.
“Where are you and what took you so long to answer the phone?” Jonathan asked.
“Oh, so now you’re going to tell me how fast to answer the phone,” Monica said.
“I was just concerned about you and the children. Is anything wrong with that? Are you at your mother’s yet?” Jonathan said.
“Not yet. I should be there in a couple of hours. Hold on. The children want to talk with you.”
After the children finished talking with their father, Monica got back on the line and said, “You know where to get me if you need me. Bye.”
“Wait a minute! What am I supposed to tell the church family on Sunday as to why you’re not there?”
“You’re the famous ‘young preacher.’ I am sure you’ll come up with something. But in case you get stumped, you can tell them the same lie you told the viewers of the reality show: We’ve been very busy here at the church so I’m giving her some time away to get rested up. And you said some other things. Bye, Jonathan.”
“Do all things without murmurings and disputings.”
“Pastor, you and your wife certainly put on one classy act on the last episode of Young Preachers Club,” Leanne Rider said as she shook Jonathan’s hand after services. “Is everything alright with you two?”
Jonathan chuckled uncomfortably.
“When will Monica be back?” Anise asked as she and her husband walked up behind Leanne.
“I kind of left it up to her,” Jonathan said. “I told her to take as long a rest as she needs to. She deserves it.”
“She sure does. I was thinking of giving her a call, but I’ll just let her rest,” Leanne said. “You all have a blessed evening.”
After most of the members had left, Jonathan headed to his office to pick up a few books to aid in his study that week. Lord, forgive me for not coming clean with the people; but she’s going to have to learn that she can’t have things to always go her way when it comes to the ministry.
Guilt immediately fell upon him. Your wife has never demanded her way, and the few times she did it’s been for the well-being of the family. She’s sacrificed her time, energy, and even her career for the good of the family.
Jonathan cast the chiding voice aside as Joshua, who had been waiting for him by his office, greeted him.
“Pastor Jonathan, things are looking great: ever increasing crowd; great reality show; more pastors inviting you to preach at their church meetings, conferences and so on. God is blessing.”
“He sure is,” Jonathan said as he unlocked his office door and invited Joshua in.
“You and your wife need to put on more scenes of conflict like you did for your last show. We had quite a number of visitors today and I believe that had something to do with the show. I eavesdropped on some of the conversations after church and those ladies loved it. As you know, conflict and drama is what it’s all about. When others see how you come through your conflict, it gives them hope for whatever they may be going through,” Joshua said.
“You’re right,” Jonathan said absentmindedly.
“Is everything alright, pastor? You seem depressed especially after preaching such a dynamic sermon.”
“Oh, nothing. Just thinking. How long is this contract with the Young Preachers Club show?”
“Six months. Are you ready to sign another one? That can be easily arranged,” Joshua said with a grin.
“Oh, no, no. Not yet. Six months is fine for the first time.”
“Well, I’m going to let you go. You look beat. Don’t forget you have another conference in about two weeks,” Joshua said.
“Thank you, Joshua. Keep up the good work you’re doing for the Lord.”
Drama. Conflict. Classy act. I wish that’s all it was. I’d do anything for a home-cooked meal right now, he thought as he parked in front of the Chinese food restaurant for the fourth time that week. I wonder what Monica and the children are up to. Separation. This is one thing I never thought would happen to our family.
* * * * *
Mrs. Montague was surprised when she opened her front door to see her daughter and grandchildren standing before her. She was even more surprised when Monica left to go retrieve the suitcases from the van along with the children’s book bags.
“I know there’s an interesting story behind those suitcases,” she said after helping Monica place them in one of the bedrooms. “For you to drive six hours—just you and the children—and without calling ahead to let us know you were coming, I hope you have a valid explanation.”
The house phone rang while mother and daughter were preparing a late lunch and conversing.
“Hello . . . Yes, Jonathan, they made it in safely about thirty minutes ago . . . No, we haven’t had time to talk, but don’t worry, we’ll keep them here until you two smooth things out . . . I’ll have her to give you a call later once they settle down. Bye. We love you,” Mrs. Montague said.
Sitting down to eat with the children, Monica related to her mother all that had been taking place. “I refuse to subject the children and myself to that. It’s an embarrassing show that does not glorify God at all.”
“Don’t you think you’re overreacting?” her mother said with a smile. “Seriously now. What’s wrong with him advertising the church via a television show like that? We ought to use every medium possible to share the Gospel. If he humbly stands for what he believes, it should be a success spiritually speaking.”
“Mother, I understand that. It’s just that every pastor who’s been on that show has made himself, his family, and thus the cause of Christ look foolish,” Monica said. “Even I have had some good laughs at their stupidity. It seems to me that their wives get caught up in the so-called ‘glory’ of being on television, but realize it is too late for them to pull out when it gets stale; so they put on an act to help save face. People are not stupid; you can tell some of them are not even into it. I’m not going to put myself or the children through that.”
Brother Montague was disappointed to hear that his daughter and Jonathan were having problems. “Are you sure it was just the show?”
“Well, there’s more to it,” Monica admitted. “It’s a building up of things. He’s trying to attract the younger crowd—our age group—so he’s watered down his sermons to attract them and to keep them.”
“Is he still emphasizing this speaking in tongues as evidence of salvation?” Brother Montague asked.
“Thank God he toned that down,” Monica said. “The deacons gave him a tongue-lashing about that along with some other things. They can tell him what to do; he just needs to listen.”
“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
II Timothy 4:2
Brother and Sister Montague listened as Monica shared with them Jonathan’s confrontation with the deacons.
“It happened about a month ago after services. I picked the children up from children’s church and we went to his office. Jonathan’s office door was partially open. We heard voices coming from his office so we decided to wait in Carmen’s office. I overheard the deacons getting on his case, especially Deacon Travis. I don’t know if you remember him,” Monica said.
* * * * *
“Pastor Jonathan, I’m sixty years old and I have been in many churches. I’ve been in the old church where emotionalism ruled. If you did not run and jump over a pew or two, if you did not do the ‘holy dance’, if you could not call out Jesus’ name five thousand times non-stop you were not saved,” Deacon Travis said. “I’ve helped rock the choir many times, and I’ve paid so many ‘dues’ I’ve lost count. I’ve heard the social gospel preacher, the political gospel preacher, the good works preacher—I’ve heard them all, but with all that preaching, I was never at peace. I was still searching.”
“Amen. I know where you’re coming from,” Deacon Oliver said.
“It was not until I met Pastor Kirby that I understood that if I believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, not only would I be saved and on my way to Heaven, but I would have the peace that I was searching for.”
“Amen. I know where you’re going now,” Deacon Oliver said.
“Before, you were preaching strong that the only way of salvation is through Jesus Christ, but lately you have not been preaching on that much. What in the world is ‘the doors of the church are open’? We don’t do that here,” Deacon Travis said.
“Explain that to us because I thought your goal was to get people saved,” Deacon Buchanan said.
“I’m just trying to bring more people to the church,” Jonathan said. “They don’t want to hear about hell fire and brimstone every Sunday; that will scare them away.”
“Well, where are you going to scare them to? Hell number one or hell number two?” Deacon Yancey said. “It took a sermon on hell to scare me off the broad road on to the narrow road to Heaven, so I do not buy that reasoning. The truth is found only in Jesus and, to my knowledge, hell is still in the Bible.”
“We have been talking it over, and we don’t like the direction you’re taking the church,” Deacon Travis said. “First, you bring in some kind of ‘Christian’ musician singing songs that seemed to worship a person more than the Lord. Then you start this cacophony about speaking in tongues being an evidence of salvation. I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover and I have not read anything like that. This is a soul-winning church –”
“Precisely,” Jonathan said. “The man we hired to help promote our church, Joshua Kessler, said to tone down some of that and get the people in, then –”
“That’s a bunch of hogwash!” Deacon Travis said.
“You have to preach the Word strongly whether people want to hear it or not,” Deacon Shaw said. “The Bible says to preach the Word in season and out of season. It also says evil men and seducers will wax worse, deceiving and being deceived. Do you want to be in the group of deceivers? People who have itching ears are going to go chasing after preachers who tell them what they want to hear. But what they want to hear will not get them saved. If you are going to be one of those preachers who tells people what they want to hear, not only am I resigning my position here, but I’ll be worshipping at another church going forward.”
“I’ll be right behind you,” some of the other deacons voiced.
“You have got to go back to the basics,” Deacon Travis said.
“I appreciate your kind words,” Jonathan said, “and your concern, but these strategies that we’ve been implementing seem to be working; we have had a packed house every Sunday—even both overflow rooms have been filled to capacity.”
“You said the right words: ‘seem to be working.’ Give it time and it’s going to come crumbling down, and I don’t want to get stuck under any rubble,” Deacon Oliver said.
“We love you like a son, and we’d hate for anything bad to happen to you,” Deacon Yancey said. “You may not want to hear this: but I see some pride building up in you. If you can’t handle your rising fame then my advice is to give it up—turn this church over to another pastor.”
“To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
“There’s been tension between him and the deacons since then,” Monica said.
“I’ll get Pastor Richardson to talk with him,” Brother Montague said. “In the meantime, you need to consider going back to your husband. Staying away from him is not going to help anything.”
“You married him for better or for worse; that means when he makes wise decisions as well as when he makes unwise decisions,” her mother said.
“Dad, Mom, I’m not interested in getting a divorce; that has never entered my mind. I just want him to know that I am serious about this,” Monica said.
“So you’re willing to jeopardize your marriage and family over something as frivolous as a reality TV show?” Mrs. Montague asked.
“Mom, that is not the only reason! That just brought things to a head. His increasing pride is the underlying cause.”
“Well, I’m sure you’re not thinking along these lines, but one reason why you should get back with him quickly is because your absence is setting Jonathan up for some other woman to move in on him,” Mrs. Montague said.
“Yeah, well, he can control himself if he wants to,” Monica said. “Another thing is, he’s not spending as much time with the children as he used to. He’s missing too many of Mitch’s baseball games, and the younger ones just miss him being around. I’ve explained to them he’s busy and just to give him more time to take care of things at the church. I understand that sometimes he’s busy and all that, but the kids can’t understand why he doesn’t spend time with them anymore. I just remember how much it meant to me when Dad came to just about all my school functions. I also remember being disappointed when he could not make it, for whatever reason.”
“And what would I tell you during those times?” her mother asked.
Monica smiled. “That life is full of disappointments, things are not going to always go the way you like for them to go, that we are not always going to get things when we want them, and that I need to learn to pray and trust God.”
Mother Montague smiled.
* * * * *
Jonathan took the time away from Monica to do a lot of soul-searching. He read and re-read the story of King Rehoboam in I Kings 12:6-33; 14:21-31 and again in II Chronicles 10:1-19. He saw himself as King Rehoboam getting advice from Joshua Kessler and the younger deacons.
They all mean well, but wisdom is telling me to lean more toward the older and wiser deacons who have been around and who have seen people come and go. Joshua means well, but he’s of a different generation and is using methods to reach the younger crowd, and that’s what we need so the church won’t die out. He hasn’t offered any suggestions that are just plain unscriptural.
Jonathan missed Monica and the children, but conversations with her were short. “It’s up to you how long we stay apart,” Monica said. “You drop this reality TV thing and we’ll come back.”
“Monica, I can’t just drop it; I signed a contract,” Jonathan said.
“You can annul any contract if you try hard enough. Pray about it. God will show you what to do,” she told him.
“Are you praying about just walking out on your husband with nothing biblical to stand behind it?” Jonathan said. I can’t let her know how much I miss her. She expects me to come begging her to come back. “How long do you plan on keeping my children away from me? Mitch and Jerri are telling me how much they miss me. How can you do this to the children?”
“Well, it’s not like you spent time with them anyway. Good bye, Jonathan,” Monica said. If he’s so concerned about the children he’ll get off the show, she consoled herself.
* * * * *
“Monica, I think you’re being selfish,” Stacy told her after Monica gave her an update on what had transpired since they last talked. “The children are at a critical age when they need to be around their father. You need to really think about what you are doing.”
“I’m just keeping the children from public embarrassment, plus they talk with him everyday,” Monica said.
“Talking by phone is not the same as talking in person,” Stacy said. “As young as they are they would not understand public embarrassment. Mitch and Jerri will just be excited to be on television. I think you’re the one who’s afraid of being embarrassed.”
Monica remained silent.
“And,” Stacy said, “don’t you miss him as much as the children miss him . . . maybe even more?”
“This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.”
Jonathan and Joshua took a one day trip to a leadership conference in northern Oklahoma. The whole day was overcast and rain accompanied them on their return trip home.
“When will your wife be back?” Joshua asked. “The network manager has been asking when can the viewers see you both in action again, and he’s looking for much more interaction between your family and the other pastor’s family.”
“I wish I could say for sure,” Jonathan said. “I didn’t want to say anything, but the Young Preachers Club reality show is costing me my marriage. My wife doesn’t want to have anything to do with it. That scene with us arguing, it was not acting; we were arguing for real about being on the show. Just between us, she’s at her parents’ house right now, and she says she’s not coming back unless I annul the contract.”
“Oh, man! Oh, man! I’m sorry, Pastor Jonathan. I had no idea–”
“No need to be sorry. You’re just doing your job. Plus, you didn’t know this would happen, just as I did not know this would happen. She’s always been in my corner.” Jonathan sighed. “Just pray for us, and we’d better pray right now that we make it home safely before this rain gets worse.”
Traveling mercies were granted them as they made it to their individual homes before the huge downfall. I have not seen a storm this bad in a long time, Jonathan thought as he double checked all doors and activated the security system. As he was getting ready to pull the covers over him, frantic knocks on the door and the ringing of the doorbell drew him out of bed.
Eleven o’clock. Now who could be out in this kind of weather, he thought as he tossed the covers back. Slipping into his robe he glanced through the window. He did not see a vehicle parked in the driveway.
“Who is it?” He looked through the peephole and saw a female drenched from the rain. He halfway opened the door. “How can I help you?”
“Please, my car just gave out on me a few yards up and my phone went dead. May I please use your phone to call my sister? She doesn’t live far from here. Please?” the woman said frantically.
Jonathan hesitated before letting her in. He glanced around outside before allowing her in.
“My name’s Melissa Hunter. I was on my way from Michigan to visit my sister and her family here in Oklahoma City. I thought I could beat the rain; anyway, my car gave out on me, and my phone went dead,” Melissa said pulling her phone out of her pocket. “May I please use your phone to call and arrange for them to come pick me up? I don’t have much further to go.”
Melissa crossed her arms over her chest rubbing her arms.
“Exactly where are you going?” Jonathan asked.
“Nowhere in this thunderstorm for sure,” she said. “My sister lives in Chackle Woods Neighborhood District. If my GPS is correct and I made the right exit, it should be around here somewhere.”
“Well, not quite. There are two Chackle Woods Neighborhoods: the old Chackle Woods and the newer, more developed Chackle Woods. It’s easy to get turned around if you’re not familiar with the area,” Jonathan said. “The highway separates the two. Come on in the kitchen. You can use the phone in there.”
“Thank you so much,” Melissa said as she followed Jonathan into the kitchen. “You have a beautiful home.”
“Thank you. Let me get you a couple towels. My wife and children are visiting her parents. The phone’s over there. Would you like some tea to help warm you up?”
“The gentleman’s back, Carla,” Jonathan heard Melissa say when he returned to the kitchen. He handed her the towels. “Thank you,” Melissa said. “Excuse me, sir, but I don’t think I got your name.”
“Jonathan Reynolds. Pastor Jonathan Reynolds.”
“His name’s Pastor Jonathan Reynolds . . . Okay.” Handing the phone to Jonathan, Melissa said, “My brother-in-law, Marlo, wants to talk with you.”
“Hello, Marlo. How are you, sir? . . . Like I told her it’s easy to get turned around if you’re not familiar with the area . . . the rain does not seem to be letting up any. There’s already some flooding and I passed by a real bad car accident on my trip back from a conference . . . Like I told Melissa, my wife and children are away visiting her parents; it would be kind of awkward, but she’s welcome to use our guest bedroom. She would be downstairs; it’s a separate self-contained living area.”
Both men exchanged addresses and phone numbers before saying good night. “You won’t be going anywhere tonight,” Jonathan said to Melissa after hanging up the phone. “Let me show you the guest area so you can get out of these wet clothes. My wife has everything you may need back there. There are herbal teas and canned soups in the cupboard if you think you may need something to help warm you up.”
Stopping by one of the bedrooms, Jonathan said, “This is where you’ll be staying. Check the closet and the drawers; you should find some things in there. The washing machine and dryer are in the room back there,” Jonathan said pointing to the door they had passed by. Jonathan pulled a sliding door out of the wall. “ You can lock this for more privacy. Well, you’re on your own. Have a good night.”
Jonathan stretched out on his bed. He felt his muscles begin to relax. Whew! I didn’t realize how tired I was. He glanced at his wife’s picture on the bedside table as he reached up to cut the lamp light off. A sudden longing for her came over him—not just emotionally, but physically as well. He fought the urge to call her considering the hour. Different thoughts kept bombarding his mind preventing sleep from settling in.
“The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.”
Jonathan, Joshua, Deacon Travis, and a few other men from Ninth Street Baptist drove together in one of the church vans to the Louisiana Christian Leadership Conference.
“You preach it up now!” Deacon Travis said giving Jonathan a slap on his shoulder when he was called to the podium.
The Montague family, the Reynolds family, and Pastor and Sister Richardson gathered in their respective homes to view the meeting. As Jonathan delivered his message, Monica listened aghast. That is not the preaching machine husband I know. He seems lost and unsure of himself. The power is not there.
* * * * *
“Wanda,” Pastor Richardson said, “I really want to offer him the pastoral position here at New Mt. Zion, but after tonight’s preaching, I don’t know if I can justify that decision. I wanted a young man full of fire and who has some spiritual maturity about him, and one who will be here for a long time. Jonathan and his father would work well together; but that pride has gotten a hold of him. Did you count the number of times he used the word ‘I,’ and ‘me’?”
“Give him time,” his wife said. “God’s still working on him. Sometimes God has to bring us down into the pit before He can raise us to greater heights. Give Jonathan some more time. The best you can do for him right now is to continue to pray for him.”
* * * *
Jonathan’s parents looked at each other. “He’s at the top of the success ladder. He’s a young man preaching alongside preachers twenty-thirty years older than he is. He has lost focus of the main thing. God is kicking the rugs out from under his feet one by one,” Brother Reynolds said.
“You’ve got to talk to him,” his wife said. “We can’t stand by and watch him bring about his own destruction.”
* * * * *
Although the men, with the exception of Deacon Travis, congratulated Jonathan as they returned to the hotel, Jonathan felt discouraged. He had to face up to the fact: Something was missing from his preaching tonight.
“I don’t know where the power went,” he confided in Deacon Travis.
“I think you know,” Deacon Travis said. “I think you know.”
Jonathan spoke with Joshua the next morning. “I want out of the Young Preachers reality show contract. I know it’s going to be hard considering we’re supposed to be working with another pastor and his family; but I’m sure they can continue on without me.”
“You are at your peak, Pastor Jonathan. Why the sudden change?”
“Like I shared with you before, it’s costing me my marriage. I can’t risk that anymore. My wife is not coming back until I get out of it. This is how serious it has gotten: she is normally rallying for me. She may not like something, but she’ll go with the flow without a problem. But when she is strongly convicted about something she will stand her ground. She was never for us being a part of the Young Preachers Club in the first place, but I thought once we got into it she would settle down. She is dead set against it. And another thing: I have not told anyone the real reason she’s with her parents. I do not want the members to begin speculating, and then gossiping, wondering how long she’s going to be gone. Before long their speculations will begin to hit the internet, and then we will have an even bigger mess on our hands.”
“If you’re sure about it, I’ll call the network manager right away,” Joshua said. “This is not worth losing your marriage, your peace, and your power over.”
“I’m very sure. When you get married you’ll understand better what I’m going through,” Jonathan said. I’m not returning to an empty house, he thought as Joshua made the phone call. I chose not to listen to sound advice from those who love me most. I’m just like King Rehoboam.
Joshua got off the phone. “The manager says he can’t just cancel the show,” he told Jonathan. “They promised the network four months of episodes, and he has to keep his word to them.”
Jonathan’s only response was a tired faraway look in his eyes and slumped shoulders.
“I’ll keep trying, Pastor Jonathan,” Joshua said. “I feel responsible for it.”
“No, Joshua. No need to blame yourself. You didn’t know things would turn out this way. Plus, you were just doing your job.”
“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”
On the return trip home to Oklahoma, Jonathan expressed his wish to Deacon Travis and Joshua. “If you all don’t mind, could we take a detour through Dallas and stop by my in-laws so I can pick my wife and children up?”
“Sure,” Deacon Travis said.
“I’m thinking of staying for a day or two, then we’ll drive up in our van so you all don’t have to wait on me,” Jonathan said.
Monica was surprised to see her husband as was everyone else.
“What happened to you at the meeting? You were dead. You sounded like you were searching your way through, trying to pick the right words; it was choppy,” Monica said once they were alone.
“You’re right; it was choppy. I feel choppy right now. Monica, we can’t go on like this. The marriage. The children. The church. The ladies are beginning to ask when will you be back. They really miss you. I really miss you. I stopped by to take you home,” Jonathan said.
As much as Monica wanted to rush into his arms and say “Yes, yes, I’ll come home with you,” she restrained herself. “Have you been released from the contract yet?” she asked.
“Joshua’s working on it. Can’t you ride back with me while he works on it? Look at what’s at stake?” Jonathan said.
Jonathan spent the night with plans to pull out early the next morning and drive the family van back to Oklahoma City. While kissing the children good bye his cell phone rang. It was Carmen.
“Pastor Jonathan, sorry to disturb you, but I was checking the church’s emails and there’s a rather disturbing email. It was sent to the church family, I believe. I know you’re probably on your way back from the conference, but I felt you should know right away.”
Using his wife’s laptop, he checked the email. It read:
Dear Ninth Street Church Family,
Some of you may have been wondering how long First Lady Monica Reynolds is going to be away on her so-called vacation. Her and her husband, Pastor Jonathan Reynolds, are on the verge of getting a divorce. Her so-called needed vacation is a cover-up. Give them another week or so and he’ll be bringing it to your attention; that is, if it’s not confirmed by others before then.
A Concerned Former Member
“Now who would do such a thing as that?” Monica said more to herself after Jonathan showed her the email.
Jonathan shrugged his shoulders. “I do not know what’s going on,” he said as they shared the email with his in-laws.
“One thing I do know,” Mother Montague said, “and that is, you two need to get yourselves together and get back together. That is the only thing that is going to squelch this. We’ll keep the children for you.”
Monica hurried upstairs to pack her things.
“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”
“Do you see what’s happening?” Brother Montague said to Jonathan as they waited on Monica. “God has allowed you to rise to the top and at a young age and within a short period of time, and God wants you to stay at the top. You’re seen as a leader among preachers; they look up to you even though some are older than you. Do you know how many preachers would like to get just one book out there? And you have two books? All this attention has inflated your ego, and pride has set in to the point where you’re starting to compromise. The sad thing is you don’t even realize it. I’ll just mention this speaking in tongues as the proof of salvation. I could go on, but I don’t think I need to.”
Jonathan smiled shaking his head at the absurdity of his behavior and his unwise decisions these past months.
“God has been trying to get your attention. First through Monica, then through your deacons, then through us and Pastor Richardson; but you have refused to listen. Rather than let you destroy yourself, God in His mercy has sent others to block your path to destruction, because as you know, pride goeth before a fall. Things are beginning to unravel in your life to point you back to a state of humility. First, some person named Cam threatening to take over your church; second, Monica leaving with her mind strongly made up to stay away as long as she deems necessary; third, that awful preaching at the conference; fourth, this divorce email. So what are you going to do? Humble yourself and go back to the basics? Or are your going to continue on in the same vein?”
“I got the message,” Jonathan said.
Before he and Monica pulled off, Brother Montague gave him a CD with one of Pastor Richardson’s messages titled Humility. “Listen to this on your drive home and don’t worry about Pastor Richardson. I’ll tell him what’s taken place. He’ll be happy to know you two are back together.”
* * * * *
News was flying back and forth among the church members.
“What do you think about that email?” Leanne asked Anise.
“I don’t know what to think,” Anise said. “I mean, it’s strange how she left so suddenly. Normally, the pastor announces beforehand their plans for vacation, conferences, guest speakers coming in, special events, and such things. Whether they like it or not, we are indirectly a part of the Reynolds family.”
“When you think about it,” Leanne said, “announcing it via the reality show was a unique way of letting us know.”
Anise chuckled. “The more I think about it, the more I am inclined not to believe they were acting.”
“Of course they were. This reality show is all pretense,” Leanne said.
“I think the TV crew caught them at a bad time and they played it off. Plus, Monica chose a fine time to vacation with her parents. We’ve heard nothing about her or from her since she’s been gone. I believe there might be some truth to this email.”
“Well, let’s just pray for them to stay together. They have a beautiful family and they are doing a great work for the Lord,” Leanne said. “I’d hate to lose them as our pastor and first lady.”
“Me, too,” Anise said.
* * * * *
“Who do you think sent that email?” Monica asked shortly after they pulled out en route to Oklahoma City.
“I don’t know for sure. But I think it’s Cam.”
“Cam? I thought he was in jail,” Monica said.
“I believe he contacted someone outside and set it all up,” Jonathan said shaking his head.
“Jon,” Monica said softly.
“I feel responsible for this happening. If I had just stayed put this would not have happened. I could have handled it better.”
“Don’t beat up on yourself. We don’t know for sure this email would not have been sent either way,” Jonathan said reaching over to squeeze her hand. “And if I had not been acting so stupid you would not have left. That’s behind us now.”
“Why are we stopping?” Monica asked as Jonathan pulled the van over to the side of the road.
“Just want to show you how much I missed you and to say thanks for everything.’”
“I missed you, too,” Monica said as her husband reached over to kiss her.
“Okay, enough,” Monica said. “All this romance is not going to solve what we have to face once we get back.”
“Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.”
I Peter 5:5
“Here. Listen to this,” Jonathan said placing the CD Mr. Montague had given him into the CD player. He and Monica where on their way back to Oklahoma with their children. “Your father gave me a real talking to while we were waiting on you,” he said.
Jonathan pushed the play button and Pastor Johnson’s voice sounded from the speakers.
“Humility not only marks the start of the Christian life, it is the start of everything godly in the Christian life. Not too many people practice the art of humility. Not too many people possess this virtue. In fact, humility is foreign to our self-assertive, me-myself-and-I society. I would venture to say that none of us, after realizing our wretched sinful state and how that we were on the road to hell, should have a problem humbling ourselves enough to ask Jesus to be our Savior.
“For Christians, the problem occurs even after we get saved. We refuse to accept the fact that God wants us to have the same spirit of humility after we ask Him to save us as we did when we asked Him to save us. He wants us to humbly seek Him to live the Christian life each day. He wants us to be totally dependent on Him, seeking His leading, His guidance, and His direction in everything we do, in any decision we have to make. But most of us just want to use God to get us saved, but we don’t want to use Him to keep us saved; that is, we don’t want to use Him to help us do good works unto salvation.
“Colossians 2:6 says, ‘As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him.’
“In First Peter 5:5, we read, ‘Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.’
“How does God humble us? Let me give you four ways I gathered from Jim Berg’s book: Changed Into His Image.
“One, God can and will send a problem, a thorn in the flesh, that we cannot handle to expose our helplessness.
This email about our divorce, Jonathan thought. Cam’s constant threats to take over the church. He has certainly been a thorn to me.
“Two,” Pastor Johnson continued, “God can give us a command we refuse to obey to expose our self-centeredness.”
Me not listening to the advice of the deacons, my wife, our parents, and Pastor Richardson, Jonathan thought.
“Three, God can arrange an outcome we can’t control to expose our sinfulness.”
My wife leaving, Jonathan thought, and that terrible sermon.
“And, four,” Pastor Johnson went on, “God will do things in a way we cannot comprehend to show us our finiteness.
“I’ll leave you with this thought: God does not mind making you look ugly so that He can bring about a change in you. God does not mind letting you fall and grovel in the dirt to help change you into His image. Pride will bring you down every time. I’ll leave you with these words I found somewhere, and that is: Great power reveals weaknesses in men that they never knew existed.”
“Amen,” Monica said softly.
“Let’s pray,” Jonathan said after a while. “Heavenly Father, thank You for this message. Thank You for not leaving me to myself. Yes, Lord, You are right. I am full of pride. Thank You for sending people in my life to point that out to me. I pray that You would help me get back to the basics and to simply keep the main thing the main thing. I humbly ask that You would fix all that we’ll face once we return home. In Jesus’ Name I pray. Amen.”
“And, Lord Jesus,” Monica continued, “thank You for taking my spiritual blinders off as well and showing me how selfish I’ve been and not trusting You to work things out. Please increase my faith in You. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.”
Later that evening, Jonathan received a call from Joshua.
“The producer says the only way he’ll feel justified in terminating the contract is if you make a public statement as to why you cannot continue,” Joshua said. “He says our viewers are expecting to see you and your family and church family for at least six months so it would be unfair to our viewers not to offer them a valid explanation. He feels it’s best for you to give it some sense of closure rather than leave abruptly and especially since you are supposed to be working with another pastor and his family, which has not worked out as planned. The other family is willing to go on.”
“Okay. Thank you, Joshua. I’ll get back with you as soon as we get back,” Jonathan said. “I thought for sure the producer would just let us go and continue on with whoever is next in line after I explained everything to him,” he told Monica.
“Are you sure your real reason is not because you don’t want to be further embarrassed?” Monica asked with a smile. “God wants us to be completely humble, and there’s nothing like an embarrassing moment to humble us.”
“You’re right. So are you going to stand next to me when I apologize to our viewers?” Jonathan asked. “It would put a stop to whoever sent this email and to whatever they hope to gain from it.”
“Of course, Jonathan. Anything to save my marriage and family,” Monica said.
“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”
Great power reveals weaknesses in men that they never knew existed. Those words became etched in Jonathan’s mind and served to remind him of his near fall from pride. The church family welcomed them with open arms. Before preaching, Jonathan called Monica to the podium.
“I wish to put to rest the message sent via email that my wife and I were headed for a divorce. There is no truth to that. I have told those of you who asked about her welfare that she was taking a short vacation at her parents. I’ll admit that was not entirely true, and I apologize for lying to you all.”
Monica slipped her arm around her husband’s waist as he spoke.
“The airing of the Young Preachers’ Club episode in which it looked as though my wife and I were arguing was not staged. We were arguing. My wife never wanted me to put our family out there for public viewing, but I went ahead with the show because, to be honest, I was looking at the fame it would bring to myself and to the church as a whole. I did not think about the wellbeing of our family. That’s what that was all about. To show me how serious she was about this decision, she left to stay with her parents. I admit I was embarrassed and I made it seem like it was no big deal. Anyway, everything worked out well as God used that situation to show us some negative things within us that He wanted changed so that we can better serve the church family at Ninth Street Baptist. Even though we are your pastor and first lady, we are not perfect. So dismiss that email and know that we could use your prayers more than any gossip. Amen?”
“Amen!” the people shouted as they burst out into a round of applause followed by whistling as Jonathan and Monica exchanged a lingering kiss.
“That’s some love right there,” Deacon Travis shouted.
“I told you they were not acting,” Leanne said to Anise over the phone later that evening.
“I was the one who told you that,” Anise said with a laugh.
“I’m just glad it was nothing but gossip. That’s one family I want to see succeed,” Leanne said. “We ought to do something to show them how much we appreciate them. They’re for real.”
“Why don’t we plan a Pastor/First Lady Appreciation Sunday followed by a dinner?” Anise suggested.
That week was a busy one for Jonathan and the deacons. Forty applications had come in from people seeking to fill the position of assistant pastor. Jonathan chuckled as he scanned the pages of one of the applications. “We can toss this one,” he said handing it to Deacon Travis. “That Cam is something else. He’s poking his head through every door imaginable to get into this church.”
The other thirty-nine applicants were lined up for an interview with Jonathan and the deacons via Skype. After prayer and by process of elimination, they settled on a Pastor Mooney to come preach for them first.
“Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.”
Having heard nothing new about their daughter’s whereabouts, Stacy and Robert decided to take a two-week vacation in Texas at her parents’ house to get away from the familiar and now painful surroundings of New York. It pained them to wake up each day to things that reminded them of their missing daughter. Every now and then, Stacy found herself going through her daughter’s clothes that were hanging in her closet. She would just sit on her bed and reminisce on the few years she had had with Trelawny. Not a week went by when she did not drive by the school hoping her daughter would be there. Every now and then, she would drive up and down the streets close to their residence, visit the parks she often took her children to, stop by the Burger King where they had often dined, looking and hoping to see some sign of her daughter. Tears came to her more often.
“I think we need a vacation,” Robert said to Stacy one evening after bringing to her attention for probably the fifth time since their daughter went missing that she was setting an extra plate at the dinner table.
“Robert, I feel like I’m going crazy sometimes. I don’t know how much longer I can take it. I can’t stop thinking about where she may be.”
“For Trevon’s sake, we have to remain strong,” Robert said. “Like I said, until I hear otherwise, I’m trusting God that she is alive.”
“But what if our trust gets shattered and she turns up dead? What then? I don’t think I could live with myself after that. If only I had gotten to the school sooner,” Stacy said.
“Stacy, stop blaming yourself. You had no way of knowing they would be doing work on the road and that that would make you run late. All we can do is continue to pray and ask God to prepare us for whatever lays ahead,” Robert said.
“Don’t you think I’m trying to do that!” Stacy said. “But why us? What have I done that is so bad to bring this on?”
“Why not us?” Robert said.
Brother and Sister Wilmington welcomed their daughter, son-in-law, and grand-son with open arms. Their conversation turned toward Trelawny their first night at the dinner table.
“I sure wish Trelawny was here,” Brother Wilmington said. “You all haven’t heard anything new from the police as to her whereabouts?”
“Nothing at all,” Robert said, sighing. “They are speculating that whoever abducted her may have fled the state. The search for her, as you know, has gone nationwide. Her picture has been sent to just about every school in New York and in the surrounding states. We are doing the only thing we know to do and that is to pray for her safe return . . . and asking the Lord to prepare us for the worse.”
“Only God can give you the grace to handle something like this,” Sister Wilmington said.
“Yes. We just try to keep ourselves busy, and try not to dwell on it too much,” Stacy said. “Speaking of keeping busy, I remember you sharing with us a while back that the church has expanded its outreach ministry and is not only holding breakfast and dinner meals here on the grounds on Saturdays, but is delivering baskets to those who are unable to make it out to the church. I’d love to help with that while I’m here.”
“Of course you’re welcome to help and Trevon can come along if he wants to, unless he’d rather spend the day with his dad,” Sister Wilmington said.
Stacy and her family received a warm welcome on their first Sunday worshipping at New Mt. Zion. It felt good to be back among familiar faces.
“Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth.”
On their second Sunday as she was greeting and fellowshipping with some of the members after services, Stacy shook hands with Trisha Gurber. As she bent down to greet Trisha’s daughter she almost jerked back at how familiar she looked. Shenia was staring at her with curious brown eyes. Trelawny! Stacy almost blurted out. Regaining her composure she spoke with Trisha Gurber directing a few of her questions to Shenia who, except for answering her questions, otherwise was quiet. When it was time to say goodbye, Shenia and Stacy seemingly exchanged a long familiar stare; Stacy gave her a hug that felt warm and familiar. She watched thoughtfully as the Gurber family exited the auditorium.
Stacy was in deep thought on their ride home from church. She could not hide her speculation as she questioned her mother about the Gurber family.
“Mom, Dad, Robert, I say this without any fear of successful contradiction, but the Gurbers’ little girl, Shenia, is Trelawny. I have no doubt about that, and I believe that Shenia recognized me. The initial stare she gave me was a look of surprised recognition and the way she kept looking at me while I talked with Trisha Gurber. Her eyes are the splitting image of Trelawny’s—brown and curious. I hugged her and I know that hug. I asked her her age and what grade she was in, as well as her birthday. Everything matches up to Trelawny.”
“Are you sure you’re not jumping to a false conclusion because you want Trelawny back so badly?” her mother asked. “Remember you shared with me on at least two occasions that almost every five-year-old girl you saw not only looked like Trelawny but acted like her. You might be speculating out of your hurt. The Gurbers have been coming here for about three months now, and—”
“Look, Mom, I know my daughter,” Stacy said. “Personal questions that I directed at her which may have given away her identity, her mother quickly and without any reservation answered for her. Questions like: Do you have any brothers or sisters? What’s your favorite animal? Trelawny always expressed her desire for a large shaggy dog. We were going to get her one for her birthday,” Stacy said closing her eyes tightly.
Robert placed his arm around his wife’s shoulders as her voice cracked. He looked at his in-laws. “Stacy, are you sure? We don’t want to rashly go and accuse them of kidnapping.”
“Robert, I know my child,” Stacy said adamantly. “If you had met her, you would be in agreement with me.”
“Stacy, are you sure about this?” her father asked.
“Shenia goes to school at New Mt. Zion Christian Academy. I can speak with Pastor and Mrs. Richardson and meet with Shenia to see what information I can get from her. I can speak with her teacher to see if she has noticed any questionable behavior in her,” Sister Wilmington said.
“I appreciate it, Mom. At least give me a chance to prove myself wrong . . . if I am wrong. I’d hate to return to New York with this on my mind,” Stacy said. “May I come out to the school with you on tomorrow when you talk with her?”
“That might be a good idea. We’ll see how she responds to you,” Sister Wilmington said. “Let me call Pastor Richardson and let him know about this.”
The following morning, shortly after Trisha Gurber dropped off Shenia, Shenia met with Pastor and Sister Richardson and Sister Wilmington in his office where they asked her some personal questions. Shenia hesitantly answered the questions and ended with, “Please, my mommy told me not to tell anyone that I was from New York or that I have a brother. Please don’t tell her I told you.”
“Don’t worry. We won’t,” Sister Wilmington said. “We were asking you those questions because I have three people I want you to meet.” She opened the door and signaled for Stacy, Robert, and Trevon to come into the office.
“There she is. That’s my real mommy and daddy!” Trelawny said rushing into their arms. “I knew it was you when I saw you yesterday; you smell nice like my mommy always smells. Trevon!” Trelawny shouted as she hugged her brother.
The Gurbers were arrested later that evening when Trisha came to pick Trelawny up from school. Stacy and Robert decided not to press charges after hearing the Gurbers’ sad story at a meeting in Pastor Richardson’s office with police chief Petralas present.
“I can’t have any children,” Trisha Gurber said amidst tears. “I wanted one so badly it got to the point where I was having physical symptoms; I was getting sick. I told my husband I was going to kill myself if I didn’t have a little girl soon. We stopped by playgrounds and schools and would observe the children. Shenia, I mean, Trelawny and her brother were easy targets as they always stood away from the other children. We watched them for about two weeks before taking her.” Between sniffles and wiping of the eyes, Trisha and Matt apologized profusely to the family.
“Please forgive us for the worry we caused you,” Matt said. “I just hated to see my wife sink into such a deep depression; and when she threatened suicide, I felt I had no choice but to do something quickly. I’m willing to serve jail time, but, please let my wife go. As you see, we took good care of Trelawny. It was never our intent to hurt her in any way.”
Stacy was touched. She knew the joys of motherhood. Being that they took such good care of Trelawny they decided not to press charges under one condition: that they remain there at New Mt. Zion and that they keep in touch with them.
“We’ll help you start the adoption process for a little girl,” Sister Richardson said. “I understand what you’re going through. I thought I would never have a child, and I fretted and worried and became depressed. It took an emotional toll on me. But God blessed us with a son in my late years. So you never know what God has in store for you.”
It was a sad but sweet reunion for Trelawny. She was glad to be going home with her parents, but she would miss the Gurbers because they had treated her as though she was their own child.
“You keep in touch and I’m still going to get you your dog for Christmas,” Matt told her as she hugged them both for maybe the last time.
On their ride back to New York, Stacy and Robert took a detour through Oklahoma to visit Monica and Jonathan. It was a time of rejoicing as they caught up on old times.
“Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart.”
Within less than a week after returning to Oklahoma, Joshua arranged a meeting with himself, Jonathan, and Mr. Dublin, the station manager at the television station.
“Now, Pastor Jonathan, I’m sure you understand this is a matter of keeping our word to our listeners, but I’m a family man and I don’t want this to cause a rift between you and your wife. So what we’ll do is arrange for your last airing to be an interview and you’ll share with our listeners your dreams and goals for your church, then you can ease right into an apology for cutting the program shorter than scheduled.”
“That sounds good to me,” Jonathan said, “but my wife suggested something I think may go over better with our viewers. Her idea is to stage an argument on the show and then end the show with its resolution.”
“Hey, that’s going to work even better,” Mr. Dublin said after Jonathan shared Monica’s idea with him. “We can do it at your house say on Tuesday after lunch.”
The last airing of the Young Preachers Club Network reality show with Jonathan and his family was a hit.
“And believe it or not,” Jonathan said to his family back home in Texas, “that last show probably brought more visitors to the church than any other previous airing.”
“That’s how God sometimes works,” his father told him. “What you think will be an absolute disaster, as long as you are being obedient to Him, He will turn it around and make good come out of it. Just stay focused and keep the vision of the Great Commission before you and walk in humble obedience.”
“The important thing is you saw where you were wrong, finally accepted the rebuke, changed, and was willing to lose some notoriety so God’s name could be lifted up,” his mother said.
“Don’t you feel better now that you were there by his side?” Mother Montague said to Monica.
“Yes, I do,” Monica admitted. “And I also learned selfishness is close to pride and it only covers your blind spots more and prevents you from seeing how you contribute to a problem.”
Pastor Richardson placed a call to Brother Montague and Brother Reynolds after viewing the interview and last airing. “I saw a truly humble man tonight. I’m ready to place the offer to Jonathan now. God’s got his attention and I feel in my spirit he’ll think twice before taking another detour off the straight and narrow path.”
“What about Ninth Street Baptist?” Brother Montague asked. “Who will oversee that great work there? You know they are still looking for an assistant pastor.”
“I believe God will provide someone to take over the church there,” Pastor Richardson said. “God placed Jonathan upon my heart after he preached his first trial sermon here. I never shared that with anyone; I’ve just been praying about it, and I’ve had my eyes and ears on him and Monica. I’ll be sharing that with the deacons at our next meeting.”
“That sounds good to me,” Jonathan’s father said. He then added with a chuckle, “Pastor Richardson, I’ve had a grand time serving God under you, but I tell you, I’m sure looking forward to serving under my son here at New Mt. Zion.”
“When you walk faithfully with God, He blesses you even in ways you could never imagine,” Pastor Richardson said. “Let me draw up the letter to send to Jonathan as I feel time is of the essence now.”
* * * * *
Pastor Mooney, coming highly recommended from his former church in Washington State, preached a fiery, but simple message titled “Living the Simple Christian Life.” He and his wife and children hit it off immediately with Jonathan and Monica; they all felt a kindred spirit as they fellowshipped together after services. He shared a similar vision for the church should he become its assistant pastor as Jonathan had for Ninth Street Baptist.
“We just love him and his family,” Leanne and Anise shared with Jonathan as did other members. “We don’t need to have anyone else preach for us; we want Pastor Mooney.”
“They’re for real.”
“I can tell he and his wife are one.”
“I have never seen such well-behaved children.”
The deacons voted unanimously to have Pastor Mooney join their team there as assistant pastor.
“He will preach again for us within another two weeks and then we’ll help him and his family as they take up residence here within a month’s time,” Jonathan shared with the church family. “Be in fervent prayer for things to go smoothly.”
“Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”
Upon returning home the Sunday following Pastor Mooney’s preaching at Ninth Street, Jonathan and Monica received a disturbing call from both their parents: Pastor Richardson had had a massive heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital.
“It does not look like he’s going to pull through this one,” Brother Montague shared with them. “Please pray for Sister Richardson and their son, Samuel.”
Jonathan assured them that the Ninth Street family would be in fervent prayer for them.
Later that week Jonathan received the letter of invitation from Pastor Richardson. It read:
My Dear Brother Jonathan:
I trust this short letter finds you doing well.
I have watched you ever since your family joined us here at New Mt. Zion. It was then that I started praying for the right man to take over this great work that the Lord has allowed me to carry out here at New Mt. Zion. The Lord placed you upon my heart ever since you preached your first trial sermon here. I have been praying about this for years and now I am ready to pass the Gospel baton down to you.
Jonathan Reynolds, I am writing to humbly ask you to take over as senior pastor here at New Mt. Zion Evangelical Missionary Church, effective immediately. I would count it an honor if you would accept as I believe it is in God’s perfect will.
Jonathan read and re-read the letter. His eyes got watery and a lump built up in his throat. God, You’re just too great. This would be more than an honor, and to think I almost lost out on this great blessing—the blessing of a lifetime. He placed the letter on his desk and, reclining back in his chair, became lost in his thoughts.
Towards the end of the week, he gave his father a call about the letter.
“Yes, son, Pastor Richardson shared this with me and the deacons. We have been in fervent prayer for some months now that God would prepare you to slide right into this position.”
“What about Ninth Street? You know I can’t just leave them like that. We just now found someone to fill in as assistant pastor. The deacons and church family voted unanimously for Pastor Mooney from Washington State to fill that position,” Jonathan said.
“I wouldn’t worry about a thing. It’s all in God’s hands. He’ll send someone to fill that position as soon as you accept the senior pastor position here,” his father said.
Jonathan thought about Pastor Mooney and how the Ninth Street family loved, not only his preaching, but also his family. Is it coincidental that his application came in at this time, or is it in God’s will? It’s unusual for even the deacons to want him to fill that position without even hearing or meeting another candidate for that position—even Deacon Travis voted for him without reservation. He smiled as Deacon Travis’ words came into his thoughts: “We are a praying church, and when you have a praying church and some praying deacons and pastor, when God sends us the right man, we’ll know immediately that he is the man.”
“Dad, I’ll have to pray about this. I feel I’m too young and inadequate to pick up and carry on from where Pastor Richardson is leaving off. I feel you should fill that position; you’re the assistant pastor and you have worked alongside Pastor Richardson for these many years. Anyway, I’ll pray about it.”
Brother Reynolds chuckled. “We’ve prayed enough about it; God has already given us the answer. We’re just waiting for you to accept.”
“I see the big picture now,” Jonathan shared with his wife after he showed her the letter. “God has been preparing me all this time, chipping away at the rough edges and polishing me. Coming to Ninth Street was not coincidental; it was all in God’s plan.”
“Are you going to accept it?” Monica asked with much eagerness.
“I have to pray about this some more. I don’t feel comfortable leaving Ninth Street just yet. I still have great plans for this church,” he said.
“Stacy, I hope he accepts,” Monica told her friend. “It would be good to serve God from our hometown.”
“I am so happy for you, and guess what? Robert is talking about possibly moving down to Texas. The economic situation up here is terrible, not to mention the increasing crime. He’s been checking around and so far Texas seems to offer the best economic situation for us. So we are praying about that,” Stacy said. “We just don’t feel safe here anymore since Trelawny’s abduction; not that it couldn’t have happened anywhere else.”
“Is this a mere coincidence or what?” Monica said laughing.
“Wouldn’t that be something,” Stacy said, “for us to move back to our old stomping ground?”
“God is good all the time,” Monica said.
“And all the time God is good,” they both finished.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Monica said as they were wrapping up their conversation, “please be in earnest prayer for Pastor and Sister Richardson. The last time I spoke with Mom she said the heart attack left Pastor Richardson confined to a wheelchair and it left him paralyzed on one side of his body.”
“That’s what Mom and Dad shared with me,” Stacy said. “We are definitely praying for them. I hope he gets back to good health before we move down there. It would be good to see them again.”
“Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”
I Corinthians 15:51-55
It was 3:03 A.M. when Monica and Jonathan received phone calls from both sets of parents right behind each other. Pastor Richardson had passed away in his sleep. It was a sad time as plans were made to attend the funeral. It was a very sober but touching home-going service as Brother Reynolds delivered the eulogy. The auditorium was filled to capacity, the overflow rooms were filled. Monitors were installed in some of the classrooms to accommodate family, friends, visitors, and well-wishers to this sad yet happy occasion as they celebrated the home-going of a great man of God.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” Brother Reynolds began, “this was Pastor Richardson’s final request for his funeral, and that is, that I cut through all the platitudes and share God’s simple plan of salvation. That was his life’s work and ministry: sharing with the lost how they can gain eternal life. He is now resting in Heaven, and he says if you wish to see him again at your time of death, which will come, then listen to these words from God that I am about to share with you, and do what these words tell you to do:
“First, accept the fact that you are a sinner. Ecclesiastes 7:20 says: ‘For there is not a just man upon earth that sinneth not.’ Romans 3:23 says: ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’
“Second, accept the fact that there is a penalty for sin. The Bible states in Romans 6:23: ‘For the wages of sin is death…’
“Third, accept the fact that you are on the road to hell. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 10:28: ‘And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.’
“Fourth, accept the fact that you cannot do anything to save yourself. The Bible states in Ephesians 2:8 and 9: ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.’
“Fifth, accept the fact that God loves you more than you love yourself and He wants to save you from hell. John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.’
“God wants you to repent of your sins, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and pray and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to come into your heart and save you this very moment. Romans 10:9 and 13 says: ‘That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.’ ‘For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“And I end with these words: Death can be the entrance to the reunion of family and friends for eternity in Heaven, or it can be the exit to the separation of family and friends for all eternity in hell. If you wish to see Pastor Richardson and other family and friends who have gone on home to Heaven to be with the Lord then believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. You can seal that belief by praying the following prayer:
“Heavenly Father, I acknowledge that I am a sinner and that I have sinned against You by breaking Your commandments. For Jesus Christ’s sake, please forgive me of my sins as I now believe with all my heart that Jesus Christ died for my sins, was buried, and rose so that I could have the victory over death and have eternal life in Heaven with God. Lord Jesus, please come into my life and save my soul from sin and from the punishment of sin which is hell. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and help me to repent of my sins and to turn away from my old life and to follow you in the new life. Amen.”
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time.”
I Peter 5:6
Jonathan and Monica spent a few days with their families. Although it was a sad occasion, it was great to see Stacy and her family who had traveled down for the funeral. Matt and Trisha Gurber were pleased to announce Trisha’s pregnancy. Sandy was moving full steam ahead in completing her course of study at TCU; Solomon was growing healthy and strong. Sister Mills and Brother Harold were still going strong. The New Mt. Zion Christian Academy’s school body had grown in number; plans were being made for the expansion of the building or to move the high school to another area close by.
Jonathan spent much of his time with his father as they looked back on the wonderful days spent with Pastor Richardson.
“I tell you, he was like a father to me,” Brother Reynolds said. “He had a genuine love for all people and you felt that love.”
“He was the epitome of humility,” Jonathan said. “I just don’t feel worthy to fill his pulpit.”
“None of us should ever feel we are worthy to fill any position in our service to God. I believe that’s where God wants to bring each of us: to that point where we honestly don’t feel we are worthy to do anything for Him, and that whatever little we do accomplish for Him is all because of Him working in and through us. That, to me, is true humility.”
“You’re right,” Jonathan said. “I’ve been praying about it. I don’t know if I told you this or not, but Pastor Mooney will be coming on staff within another two weeks as assistant pastor. We’re solidifying his housing. I can’t leave him like that.”
After thinking, his father said, “Why don’t you just turn the senior pastor position over to him and give your most trusted deacon the assistant pastor position?”
“That’s a thought. I haven’t said anything to anyone about taking over the pastorate here except for Monica. It’s going to come as a shock to the church. I’ll probably have to take leave within a month’s time.”
“We haven’t said anything to the church family here yet,” Brother Reynolds said. “But don’t you worry about a thing. Brother Montague, myself, and the deacons will hold the fort down until you get here. A young man like you will get the energy going here what with all the young people we have attending.”
Jonathan and Monica joined in the Wednesday night Prayer meeting at New Mt. Zion. They sensed the people’s loss and at the same time listened as the congregants expressed curiosity as to who would replace their beloved pastor.
“All I know is whoever replaces him has to be the real deal,” one member said.
“He also has to be a preaching machine,” another said.
“He cannot be a compromising, ear-tickling, back-scratching preacher,” another said.
“He can’t be a prosperity preacher, more concerned about money than souls,” someone else said.
“Definitely one who has his wife and children under control,” another church member added.
“Seems to me like you fit the bill,” Monica said to her husband in the privacy of their bedroom.
Long after his wife fell asleep, Jonathan lay awake praying and thinking.
Lord, I have some great plans for Ninth Street. I’ve come to love the people there. If I leave them now, I’ll feel like I’m leaving a job unfinished.
‘I’ll send someone to pick up where you left off,’ he felt God was saying to him.
You’re asking me to fill a tall order here at New Mt. Zion. I don’t believe anyone can fill Pastor Richardson’s shoes—especially not me.
‘I’m not calling you to fill his shoes. I’m calling you to humbly continue the work there and take the church in the direction I want you to take it in. You keep your eyes on Me and step out in faith.’
Lord, I just don’t have the firepower Pastor Richardson had. The people are used to his preaching.
‘I’m not asking you to preach like Pastor Richardson. The same Holy Spirit that gave him that fire power is the same Holy Spirit that will give you an equal amount or more fire power.’
Oh, Lord, I pray even as Elisha prayed when Elijah was taken up into Heaven, ‘let a double portion of the Spirit that was upon Pastor Richardson be upon me.’ I humbly present myself for Your service.
“Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.”
“I’ll give you a call with an answer,” Jonathan told his father while saying goodbye as he and his family prepared to head back to Oklahoma.
After about three hours of driving, he gave Pastor Mooney a call.
“Hello, Pastor Mooney, I have a proposition for you. Instead of filling in as assistant pastor at Ninth Street, how about filling in as senior pastor at Ninth Street. You don’t have to give me an answer right now, but the position is open . . . I’m not joking . . . Oh, no, no. Nothing’s happened. I don’t know if you know Pastor Richardson of New Mt. Zion Evangelical Missionary Church. That’s my home church.”
Jonathan shared everything with Pastor Mooney.
“In fact, my family and I are on our way back from his funeral and spending a couple days with both our families. It was a blessing; it was more of a praise and worship service than your typical funeral.”
After hanging up the phone he called Deacon Travis next. He glanced across at his wife; she had a big smile on her face and a twinkle in her eyes.
“Hello, Deacon Travis. How are you, sir?”
“I’m doing great. How did everything go?”
“Just great,” Jonathan said following with a report of the funeral. He launched into the new position awaiting him at New Mt. Zion should he accept.
“I’ve been praying about it for a while now, so forgive me for springing it on you. But I want you to pray about something. How about serving as assistant pastor of Ninth Street under Pastor Mooney?”
“Whoa, now, Pastor Jonathan! Did you pray about this?” Deacon Travis said. “I’m over the sixty years mark. That church needs someone young, someone full of energy.”
“That church also needs someone full of God’s wisdom, who has discernment and will not compromise. And yes, I have prayed about it, and God told me that you are the one to fill that position. You’d be a great help and encouragement to Pastor Mooney. God reminded me that you’ve been faithful down through the years and how that you’ve stood with two young men of God who were at times too bull-headed to listen to God, but how that you have uplifted them in prayer—however with much patience and biting of the tongue.”
Deacon Travis laughed.
“See it as God rewarding you for being faithful in serving Him since you claimed Him as your Savior. And I thank you for not being afraid to correct me when you saw me going astray. Are you still there? Deacon Travis?”
“I’m still here, my brother. This is just too much blessing for me. God is too good,” Deacon Travis said clearing his throat.
“Yes, God is very good. So are you going to pray about it?” Jonathan asked.
“There is nothing to pray about. You say God told you I’m the man, then I humbly accept. I’ve learned not to fight against God. And on top of that, I’d better fill it before ol’ Brother Cam tries to stick his head through the door again.”
Both men laughed.
“I’ve already spoken with Pastor Mooney. I believe he’s going to accept the senior pastor position. We’ll meet with the other deacons on Saturday, make an official announcement on Sunday, and it will all be in God’s hands going forward. We love you, my brother, and I’ll be talking with you when I get back. I’ll call Carmen right now and have her contact the other deacons about the meeting . . . God bless.”
“Just one more phone call,” Jonathan said to his wife as he punched in another set of numbers.
“Hello, Dad . . . Yes, everything is alright. We’re still on the road. I was calling to let you know I humbly accept the position as pastor of New Mt. Zion Evangelical Missionary Church. Give me a month to get things squared away here at Ninth Street, then we’ll be back to continue that great work started by a great man of God . . . Dad, are you there?”
“I’m here, son. You don’t know how much this means to us—to me. I count it an honor to work alongside my son in the Gospel ministry in pointing lost souls to Jesus.”
Monica could hardly contain herself as she waited for her husband to get off the phone. Before he could finish saying ‘good bye,’ she threw her arms around his neck and planted a kiss on his cheek. “I love you so much.”
“Hey, I’m driving! Give me a chance to at least preach one sermon at my new church.”
God used Jonathan with the help of his wife and his children as they grew older to continue the great work started at New Mt. Zion Evangelical Missionary Church. Thousands of lost souls were saved and lives changed and Christians strengthened all for the glory of God.
“He must increase, but I must decrease,” became Pastor Jonathan’s life verse and it was evident as he humbly carried out the Great Commission: “Go ye, therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, except for brief quotations included in a review of the book. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.