Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Each in His Own Tongue

                L.M. Montgomery wrote many short stories set in the idyllic province of Prince Edward Island.  In one of them, Felix Moore, age twelve, is a gifted violinist being raised by his grandfather. This grandfather, Mr. Leonard, is a minister, deeply devoted to the son of his only daughter; however, he refuses to allow the boy to practice his gift, as it reminds him of the boy’s vagabond father, a fiddler of popular tunes who had stolen away the minister’s daughter and had broken her heart.  Mr. Leonard fondly hopes that his grandson will follow in his steps.  Felix laments to a sympathetic ear that, “Ministers are good things to be, but I’m afraid I can’t be a minister.”

                “Not a pulpit minster. There’s different kinds of ministers, and each must talk to men in his own tongue if he’s going to do ‘em any real good,” the friend replies.

                Ms. Montgomery wrote, “Mr. Leonard thought rightly that the highest work to which any man could be called was a life of service to his fellows; but he made the mistake of supposing the field of service much narrower than it is.” In a terrible moment, the minister exacts a promise from his grandson that the boy will never again touch a violin. The very soul of the child is his music, but he makes the promise out of love and respect.

                Ah, but Naomi Clark is dying. Naomi Clark is “an awful, wicked woman” who has “lived a life of shame” and “mocked and flouted” every effort of the minister to reclaim her from “the way that takes hold on hell.” But, she is dying, and she wants the preacher.  Mr. Leonard does his duty.

                “Can you help me? . . . I was skeered I’d die before you got here – die and go to hell. . . . I can’t go to God for help. Oh, I’m skeered of hell, but I’m skeereder still of God. I’m sorry for living wicked. I was driven on by the fiends of hell . . . but I was always sorry.” The woman’s voice is desperate.  The minister offers to her that all she must do is repent and God will forgive her; He is, after all, a God of love. Naomi, though, will have none of those truths.  To her, God is “wrath and justice and punishment,” and though she fears the outer darkness, she cannot let in His light.

                The minister, in great anguish of spirit, falls to his knees to pray for this sin-sick soul. “O God, our Father!  Help this woman!  Speak to her in a tongue which she can understand.” Naomi falls back on her deathbed in a spasm.

                My daughter and I were biking to her Tae Kwon Do class the other night when we passed a demonstration at the main intersection in our neighborhood.  Some church’s adherents were at every corner with signs proclaiming the Lordship of Jesus and the need of repentance.  This is an unusual sight in the Northwest in general, and our neighborhood in particular; however, I always admire those who put their convictions on the line and subject themselves to ridicule, violence, and indifference.  I mentioned the sight to my friend, Shirley, while our daughters took their class together.  She whispered thoughtfully, “Do you think that sort of thing ever really works to bring someone to God?”

                “Well, I don’t think it would have worked for me.  But,” and I paused a moment to choose my words carefully, “If it works to save just one soul . . . if it is that little nudge of consideration that starts one person onto the path of reconciliation and redemption, then it must be worth it.”

                I was reflecting upon this shortly afterward when we read over the second chapter of Acts in our family Bible study.  The apostles began to speak in tongues – known languages of the many nations of pilgrims in Jerusalem.  The people, of course, marveled at this wondrous thing in those days before Rosetta Stone and asked, “How is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?” Acts tells us that the apostles spoke “the wonderful works of God” in a way that left the people amazed and perplexed.  Are we, too, not left amazed and perplexed when we first hear the truth of God spoken in a way that moves our hearts toward Him, filled with awe that He would speak to us in our own tongue?

                Ever since I became a Christian, in all my thousands of prayers lifted to the heavens, there has been one constant one: that God would use me in some way to help bring at least one sinner to His salvation.  Just one.  And, who knows?  Maybe He has.  In teaching Sunday School, my great hope is that when one of my little Kindergartners is someday at that crossroads between the narrow way and the wide one, he might just remember his Sunday School teacher who long ago showed him Jesus’ love in a real way, and that memory will help him choose to seek the Holy One.

                Some people have a natural gift for walking unbelievers through every step toward a belief that culminates in complete and true redemption; how I admire those people.  That was not how I was saved.  The final work of my salvation was done very privately through God’s Holy Word and a heart long-prepared. You see, when I look back upon my life, to those days when I walked in foolishness and pride, I remember those who planted the seeds of faith.  My soil was not yet ready to bring forth harvest; but, I had faithful sowers who showed me God’s love in real ways. Three, in particular, come to mind: Robin Stapleton, Carolyn Pon, and Juan Barba.  I write their names as a benediction; they put the goodness of His Word into my life when I was a feckless, shallow teen.  They spoke to me in my own tongue, though not one of them knew it at the time. I can hardly wait to tell them when we meet again in the Kingdom. 

                Back to Naomi: Felix appears at the door, worried about his grandfather’s long absence in the raging seaside storm. Naomi, in a last burst of consciousness, asks Felix to play her something on her old fiddle, needing music at her final moments, because “there was always something in it for me I never found anywhere else.” Felix looks at his grandfather, who nods an ashamed assent. So, Felix plays for the dying woman. The tune winds its way from mirthful innocence to rapturous love to agonized despair to indescribable evil. Then, the tune changes again to a tortured repentance and rests at last upon “infinite forgiveness and all-comprehending love.” And Naomi whispers, “I understand now . . . God is a God of love . . . He sent you here tonight, boy to tell it to me in a way I could feel it.” By daybreak, she is dead, but no longer lost, because she has heard God’s truth in her own tongue.           


No comments: