Jacob Lowe had not been inside a church building in fifty years, and had no desire to begin now, sitting with all those hypocrites every Sunday morning. His Sundays consisted of sleeping until ten, walking his dog, Mabel, eating lunch at the Wayfarer Diner and taking a nice long nap in the afternoon. His life, he felt, was fulfilling, and he was satisfied he had contributed his share to society.
Jacob Lowe, as far as most people knew, had never worked a day in his life. Speculations were as many as there were gossipers. One said he was a member of the Mob, and killed for a living, a hitman. Others said his father left him an inheritance, but that could not be so as Jake's father was a farmer who worked fourteen hour days with little to show in the way of prosperity. The truth is Jake Lowe inherited money from an aunt who lived in Colorado. Jacob was her favorite nephew, and to prove it, she left him two hundred thousand dollars when he was only nineteen. He invested his windfall earnings in stock and was hugely successful. However, his frugality belied his appearance of prosperity.
Last week, while passing Bickford Community Church on his way to the hardware store to purchase a bag of peat moss for his rose garden, he read the sign out front. “Read the Bible, it will scare the hell out of you.” He was shocked. “How could a church display anything as vulgar as the lettering on their sign,” he said out loud.
The pastor’s Buick LeSabre was parked in the driveway. Jacob knew it was the pastor’s vehicle as he had seen him driving around town in the silver Buick. Jacob, feeling heated, knocked on the door of the church office.
“Good morning,” the tall man in denim jeans and a Tee that read; Jesus Is Lord emblazoned on the front said. “How can I help you?”
Jacob did not wait for the pastor to catch his breath. “You can take that awful sign off your front lawn. Don’t you know children and ladies walk by that...that sign every day? You ought to be ashamed of yourself beings you are a man of the cloth and all.”
“I am sorry if that sign offends you mister...”
“Lowe, Jacob Lowe,” Jake said. “I live up the street, and no, before you ask, I don’t belong to no church neither, but I’m a God fearin’ man.”
“I am Dexter Windham, Pastor of this church. Good to meet you, Mr Lowe.”
“I used to go to church years ago,” Jake said.
“That’s nice to know, Mr Lowe, want to come in and talk? I was just having a cup of coffee.”
“Haven’t you got a sermon to get ready for tomorrow?” Jake asked.
The pastor smiled and opened the door wider. “It can wait, come on in.” Jacob entered the church, for the first time in years.
“I can’t stay too long...got chores to do,” Jake felt uneasy.
“Sit down Mr Lowe.” The pastor pointed to an empty chair in the middle of the floor facing his desk. Jacob sat down, and the pastor handed him a cup of coffee, Jake took it with a nod of his head that passed as a thank you.
“Now Mr Lowe, just what is it about the sign that offends you?”
“Well for starters the word,” he hesitated to say the word. “You know H E double hockey sticks...I was taught to call it heck.”
“If I may say something in defence of the sign,” the pastor said. “Have you read the Bible through recently, Mr Lowe?” Jacob stammered and ahhhed. “Well if you have you know that the Bible teaches there is a heaven for those who accept God’s offer of His Son Jesus, to those who trust Him as Lord and Savior, but there is also a place called hell. Hell is a dark, lonely, hot stinking, rotten place to spend eternity, wouldn’t you agree Mr Lowe?”
“Yep I spose it wouldn’t be a place I’d want to spend eternity in.”
After a half hour of listening to the preacher’s defense of the Bible, and the plan of salvation Jacob Lowe left feeling he had done his civic duty. He did warn the pastor of his error in hanging such a sign on the front lawn of the church. He was not, however, ready to become a holy roller, a term his father made referring to anybody who attended any church, Pentecostal or not.
The pastor watched Jacob walk down the brick driveway; he said under his breath, and with a smile on his face, ‘Jacob Lowe, God’s got His eye on you.’
The chest pains had started again, this time it was more like his lungs were on fire. Jake did smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. He had cut down on his whiskey intake, down to half a pint a day from a full pint. Jacob was sixty nine years old, and he thought he was in fairly decent health. There was that nagging cough and shortness of breath which he blamed on his weight. Truthfully Jake Lowe was in poor shape for a man his age.
“Jake,” Doc Miller said. “You have got to stop smoking. I hear some rumbling down inside your chest. I am sending you over to the medical center for a chest x ray this afternoon.”
“I ain’t goin’ I hate hospitals, Doc.”
“If there is a problem Jake we can catch it early enough and chances are you will live a long life, but if not...well, you know the consequences of procrastination don’t you?”
“Then you will go?” Doc asked.
“Spose I have to.”
With the appointment made for two o’clock, and assured Doc would call him with the results tomorrow morning, Jacob Lowe left the office.
“What’s that spot on the x ray anyway, young lady?” Jacob asked the nurse.
“It’s nothing Mr Lowe, just air or something.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of...the somethin’ thing.” The entire process took less than ten minutes, but the waiting room time was an hour. Jake went home, had supper, and went to bed early.
“Jake, Doc Miller, you better come over to my office. We need to talk.” Knees buckled; the palms of his hands sweaty, and his heart racing faster than Al Unser’s race car’s engine Jake drove to Doc Miller’s house to hear the results of his x ray.
“What is it, Doc?” Jacob asked fearfully.
“It’s not good news, Jake. I don’t know how to say it delicately... you have got lung cancer...final stages...maybe you have four to six months.” Jacob was, for once in his life, unable to speak. “I have prescribed some pain medication you can pick up at Thompson’s Drugstore. It will help.”
Jacob left Doc Miller’s office in a state of shock as would you had you been given a death sentence by your family doctor. He went home, drank a couple of glasses of whiskey, smoked nearly a pack of cigarettes, and for the first time in fifty years, he prayed.
Maybe I shouldn’t have been so rough on that pastor last week; he thought. I did come on strong. I’ll make up for it. I’ll go to church Sunday morning...that’ll start the old tongues waggin’ for sure.
The alarm sounded. Jake stirred, rolled over and looked at the clock on his night stand, it said seven forty five. He stirred, stretched and got out of bed. He cleaned up, shaved, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, what hair he had, it was thinning at an alarming rate. He made coffee but was not hungry, he had butterflies in his stomach. It has been fifty years since he had darkened the door of any church. Just one small drink before I leave for church, he thought. No, it will only give them hypocrites more to jaw about.
Jacob had not worn his suit since Pearly Holt’s funeral four years ago at the Jackson Funeral Home. He was surprised, it was a little snug around the waist, but other than that, a perfect fit. His hands shook as he tied the wide blue striped tie he had bought at Goodwill for Pearly’s funeral. The spaghetti sauce stain, though pale from age, was still on the only white shirt he owned, right below the left pocket. He would keep his suit coat buttoned, and no one would notice the stain.
Arriving early he spotted several cars in the parking lot at the church. His watch said ten fifty three. He did not want to be too early, face all those Bible thumpers and listen to them tell him what a sinner he was. He did not want to be late either, didn’t want to make a spectacle of himself walking down the aisle knowing all eyes would be on him. He could hear them now, ‘Isn’t that the old sinner from down the street, the one who drinks and smokes too much?’ ‘It’s been so long since he’s been in church; we’d better watch the ceiling doesn’t cave in on us.’
The bell was ringing, calling all for the service to begin. He sat trying to decide rather it was a good idea, this church business and all. Then he remembered his death sentence and figured he had better go. He did not want to upset God right now; he would be seeing him soon enough, and after so many years of absence from the church God would not be all that happy to see him. Anything he could do to get on the good side of God would be a plus, and a good place to start was...in the Lord’s house.
He saw many people he knew, some by name while others by sight. He imagined they were all talking about him. ‘Why do you suppose old Jake decided to come to church?’ ‘Watch out the roof’s going to fall, it’s old Jake Lowe.’
“Good morning, Jacob.” It was Elsie Mayfield, his next door neighbor. She was not a bad person, in fact, she had always been pleasant, and had even baked him an apple pie a couple of times in the past. Jake, being the suspicious type, had taken her kindness to be a ruse.
“Mornin’,” he said a dour look on his face.
“Morning, Jacob.” It was John Timberlake the owner of the hardware store. “Welcome to Bickford Community Church, hope you enjoy the service.” What did these people want anyway, my money? Watch out for them, he told himself, they are too polite to me...makes me suspicious.
Jake looked up in time to see Pastor Windham coming down the center aisle, a smile on his face, walking toward him.
“Welcome, Mr Lowe, I am so very glad you made it this morning. Please stay for coffee after the service...downstairs in the fellowship hall,” the pastor said. Jake had no intention of staying for coffee.
The service started promptly at eleven. That was to Jake’s liking, the faster the start, the quicker the finish.
Jake looked around and the memories came rushing in. The smell of flowers filling the air, the stain glass windows reflecting the sun’s colorful rays causing brilliant patterns shining on the hardwood floors.
The hymns were familiar to Jacob. He remembered his mother singing them as she did her housework. One, he recalled was her favorite, the Old Rugged Cross. He enjoyed hearing it again this Sunday morning. It brought pleasant memories of his mother. He could see her mopping the kitchen floor singing, on a hill far away stood an old rugged cross... He smiled for the first time in a long time. He caught himself, and hoped to God no one saw him smiling.
Like a true Back Row Baptist, he sat in the last row of the center aisle, so he could make a quick exit after the service. He did not want to hang around and hob nob with those hypocrites who, tomorrow, would be back at their old tricks again, their Sunday lessons soon forgotten.
Before he could get away, the pastor stopped him. “Please Mr Lowe join us downstairs.” The pastor seemed sincere enough, and he was hungry, been too nervous to eat breakfast this morning. He nodded and walked down the flight of stairs to the fellowship hall. At first no one seemed to notice the new attendee, and it made him self conscientious. Then Sam Watson spotted him and came over.
“Hi there Jacob,” he said, “good to see you. How’d you like the service?”
Not wanting to express his true feelings just yet said, “it was all right.”
“Well, I want to say it is good to see you. Come over to my house Wednesday night for small group. We’re studying the Book of Acts.”
“We’ll see. I ain’t gonna make no promises,” Jacob said.
“Good enough, hope to see you there though.” Sam smiled and patted Jake on the shoulder.
The pastor came down, grabbed a cup of coffee and came over to where Jake was standing. “You don’t know how good it is to see you in church Mr Lowe. It does my heart good.”
“Well don’t get too used to it. I can’t promise I’ll make it every week, Jake retorted.”
“You are always welcome, and I hope you know that.”
Jake felt something tugging at his heart, a prodding by someone or something unknown to him, an urgency. He felt led to ask Pastor Windham for some time. He wanted to get some things off his chest. What better way to die than to die cleansed and ready to go.
“I’d like to talk to you sometime Reverend,” Jake said.
“Any time Mr Lowe, just say when.”
“How about now, I need to have some questions answered...like real quick.”
“Let’s go upstairs to my office where we can close the door and have some privacy.” They went upstairs, and the pastor closed the door after Jake sat down. Dexter wondered what could have happened since their meeting earlier in the week. Had his talk convinced the old timer to question his mortality, or was he still miffed about the sign?
Jake told him of his peril, and prognosis of the doctor. “It don’t look good for me. I got...maybe four to six months to live.”
The pastor listened without interrupting Jake, his expression one of sadness. “Oh, Mr Lowe I am so sorry. Can I pray for you?”
Jake figured it wouldn’t do any harm, probably more good seeing he had been given a death notice
by Doc Miller.
“I wanna know what it’s gonna be like...my death that is...”
“Let me ask you a question Mr Lowe. Do you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Savior and Lord? Do you know if you were to die right now where you would be?”
“In heaven, I hope,” Jake said.
“Do you want to know for sure that you will spend eternity with the Lord?”
“Well sure, I’d like to know I’m goin’ to heaven.”
The next half hour the pastor spent telling old Jacob Lowe about the love of the Lord Jesus. He gave his heart to the Lord that Sunday morning, and all the angels of heaven rejoiced and sang.
Tuesday morning Jake got a call from Doc Miller. He wanted to see him in his office. What could he want now? He drove over to the doctor’s office and went inside where Doc Miller was talking with his receptionist. He looked up as Jake entered.
“Jake I have some really good news for you,” Doc said.
“What is it?” Jake asked.
“The hospital mixed your x rays up with another patient. You do not have lung cancer; your lungs are clear as a bell.” Jake, dumbfounded, could not say a word for a minute.
“How did that happen?” He asked.
“Don’t know, the radiologist somehow mixed up the pictures and later he discovered his mistake and called me. You should celebrate, go out and get drunk.”
“I don’t drink no more, Doc. I am a Christian now.”
“You got religion when you found out you were going to die? Well, Jake you are not dying. You do not need religion anymore,” Doc said.
“Yes I do. Jesus saved me, and I trust in him now. I don’t need alcohol anymore... I am saved from sin.”
“Whatever Jake, just wanted you to know you are all right, and you can celebrate anyway you want as, for me, I’ll have a steak and a beer.”
It was hard for Jake, being a new Christian, to work up enough courage to speak to someone about the Lord, especially an old friend like Doc Miller. He decided the best way to do it was to jump right in with both feet.
“Doc, if you were to die right now, do you know where you’d spend eternity?”
The question took Doc by surprise. “I should hope heaven, but if it is hell, at least I’ll be there with all my friends. We can sit around and play cards for eternity; maybe I can win some of the money back they took from me on Friday nights.” He laughed.
“Doc, I don’t pretend to know a lot about the Bible, but I do know this much, if you go to hell you won’t be playin’ cards. You will be tortured and tormented for all eternity. It is a lake of fire. Think about it.” Jake thanked Doc, shook his hand and walked out the door. Doc stood; mouth open unable to produce a satisfactory comeback. What Jake said got him thinking about his eternal soul, something he had not done in a long time. Wonder if Jake is right, and I died today...would I go to hell? As quickly as Doc thought about hell he reasoned that Jake, an uneducated man, what could he possibly know that Doc would not know, a man with a medical degree and several other degrees behind his name? Doc laughed and walked into his office closing the door behind him.
Pastor Windham, sitting in his office, thought back to a week ago when Jake Lowe came to complain about the sign, upset that the word hell was so blatantly displayed. As he remembered that day, he had to smile. Jacob was not as tough as he would have one think. Underneath that rough hide beat the heart of a good man, a man of conviction. Who else, in town, had been brave enough to make their objection known to the pastor? Jacob was the only person in Bickford to confront the pastor, and for that, Dexter admired the man.
Dexter had wrestled with the idea of putting that sign on the front lawn; it was not an easy decision to make. It was one of those statements that was certainly controversial, could be taken either way. Read the Bible, it will scare the hell out of you. Doesn’t Jude say; “And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.?” Some will come in only by fear, and if one reads the New Testament without first being regenerated he will most certainly experience fear.
Out of sight, out of mind is the philosophy some people adhere to when placed in a situation that defies their beliefs, points out their error, or shows them the way to peace. It is their own stubbornness that bars them from accepting good over evil, life over death. If it is not part of my thought pattern, if I do not think about it, if I deny its existence, it will go. If we do not think about rain, will it never rain again? If we think there is no God, that He does not exist does it make it true? Of course not, you may believe that there was no George Washington and he was not the first president, but history refutes your beliefs just as history refutes the myth there was no such person as Jesus Christ of Nazereth. Not that the Bible needs to be confirmed by secular historians, it is none the less. The fact that Jesus Christ lived, died and rose again is a historical fact as much a fact as Washington’s life and death.
Jacob Lowe lived only four years after his conversion, but did more for Christ in that time than most Christians do in fifty years. He became a one man witnessing team, knocking on doors and spreading the Good News throughout the county. When time is no more, and the Lord calls us forth to receive our crowns, Jacob Lowe, the one time hermit and self proclaimed heathen, will accept his crowns. He will have a great big smile on his lips, and the converts he brought to Jesus will be there to see him receive his crown of life. Oh what a happy day that will be when Jacob Lowe humbly bows before the Lord and hears Jesus say; “Well done, good and faithful servant.”