Forty years – I guess I can forgive someone for something that happened over forty years ago. That’s how long ago my dad said the Bible Baptist Church on North Beale Road stole our firewood.
The church had bought the property where my dad and I had been given permission by the previous owner to cut down old almond trees for firewood. When he called the church’s minister to get permission to remove the several cords of wood we had cut he informed my dad that the church had bought the property, lock, stock and barrel, and that the wood was theirs. When that pastor was warming himself in front of his fireplace, I do hope he was feeling some pangs of conscience.
I pull into the parking lot of that church and find it hard to believe how nervous I am. “It’s just another church”, I tell myself. Quickly my fears are calmed as I walk towards the sanctuary.
The property is well-kept with many outbuildings. I walk towards the main building, past the coffee kiosk, and into the sanctuary. I notice a book and CD table and look at what they have to offer. There’s nothing about cults or about how bad other churches or religions are, which is a good sign.
I pick a place to sit in the back row and think, where is everyone? Where is the choir? A young man starts singing a capella and a few people join in. Something’s odd; there are mostly older people sitting in the pews. The pastor walks in and asks everyone to open their Bibles. Luckily, I remembered to bring mine, but wonder if anyone will notice the small yin and yang decal I have stuck to the front. I soon realize I’m there for the Adult Sunday School and not the regular church service which starts in an hour. Oh well, it looks like I’ll get more church than I expected today. I open my Bible and join in the study.
The theme of the Bible study is how we need to be a living sacrifice. The pastor, Kerry Brown, quotes from Saint Paul where Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that he “dies daily” and that he is consumed with serving the Lord, not with his own desires. Again the pastor quotes Paul: “My desire is on the altar.” Pastor Brown explained that we need to give our all to God because we often only give God part of ourselves.
Once the Bible study is over and the regular church service begins, many more people come into the sanctuary. It’s a much younger and more unique crowd now, although the congregation is almost entirely Caucasian. There were no African-Americans in attendance.
Pastor Brown’s sermon continues with the theme of being a living sacrifice for God. He speaks about the prophet Jonah who tried to turn his back on God and how we are often like Jonah and that we often just want to do our own thing, and hope that God blesses it.
I thoroughly enjoyed the sermon and felt that it was a good message. To do our best to serve God and do His will. Of course, that’s easy to say, but doing it is another matter.
Pastor Brown ends his sermon and asks everyone to join him in prayer. I bow my head and after he’s finished praying and everyone says “Amen”, I keep my eyes closed. I think back to the time when I was working hard in that almond orchard where the Baptist Church now stands. I can see myself as a young man, piling the cut almond branches and I can almost smell the scent of fresh cut almond wood. A deep fog embraces the orchard as wild geese cry out overhead.
I open my eyes and look out on the congregation. It’s a mixed crowd now, old, middle-aged, young, some with tattoos, some not. I can see the butt-crack of a twenty-something man in front of me, but I don’t mind. I know he could be somewhere else on a Sunday morning.
I get a premonition, as if God is talking to me, “I love these people.”
“Even if they stole our firewood?” I protest.
“Even if they stole your firewood.”