Jerome - Man of Vision
He was willing to die - Just a little
A story in Four Parts


1
Picnic

Jerome slid out of the front seat of his car carefully balancing a large container of potato salad in his free hand. He turned toward the sound of delighted laughter coming from the people gathered around the picnic tables and he smiled. He crossed the grass to the long table that that held a bountiful assortment of edibles and he added his potato salad to the collection.
     "Thank you, Jerome." Edna smiled as she began to remove the plastic cover. "I'll take care of this; you go and have a good time."
     He grinned back at her then he walked casually through the park, smiling at everyone as he went.
    "Good to see you, Jerome," Pastor Ferguson said. "Glad you could come. Isn't it a beautiful day?"
     "Yeah, sure is, the Lord seems to have answered our prayers for clear skies this afternoon."
     "Yes, He did. It’s gonna be a beautiful day. This is gonna be one of the best church picnics we've ever had!" The pastor shook Jerome’s hand vigorously before he finally set him free.

     Jerome continued walking past the small groups of his fellow church members and their families. Everyone seemed so relaxed and happy. Then why was he feeling so uncomfortable? He had an uneasy, restless feeling deep within his being and he didn’t know why it was there. He'd experienced it before, very often when he was among these same people and it bothered him.
     He continued walking until he came to the riverbank. Riley Park was a lovely place. He was glad they had chosen it for the picnic this year instead of the amusement park. He looked across the narrow ribbon of water that was weaving its way through the grass and he smiled as he spotted a rabbit watching him from the opposite bank. Its ears twitched as if it was adjusting them for better reception. Jerome laughed. Then he froze as he heard a thought race through his brain and declare, "All My words that I shall speak receive in your heart and hear with your ears" (Ezekiel 3:10).
     "Huh?" Jerome muttered. "Where did that come from?"
     Then the rushing of the water grew louder and Jerome found himself being drawn closer to the river's edge. The rabbit scampered away and the sound of the breeze began to mingle with the water's chorus. The wind continued to press Jerome toward the river and he felt as he was going to tumble in and he couldn't stop.

     As the water swirled and ebbed, he could feel the motion of the waves cresting within his being. And even though he was merely tottering on the shore, he felt as if he had become part of the river and it was flowing over him from the depths of his heart, like a waterfall suddenly freed from a rocky, mountainous prison. Jerome had become the vessel from which the waters were pouring and he could no longer see anything but the rapids. The sounds of the people around him were gone.
     Then thunder broke through the sky spilling light down onto the river igniting the water and heating the breeze. He could feel the air around him begin to expand and Jerome felt lighter than he had ever been. In fact, he felt himself begin to rise. Soon he was floating high above the picnic grounds. He could look down and see the people gathering around the tables, playing horseshoes and more of less preoccupied. No one seemed to notice that he had suddenly disappeared and was now floating around in the sky.
     "What's going on here?" he cried. It seemed to him that he should be afraid or something, but he wasn't being allowed to feel any terror. He actually felt very peaceful and that strange, uncomfortable feeling he had been harboring for so long had disappeared.

     He continued to sail upward in the wind's grasp until he found himself floating way up between the realm of heaven and earth. He glided though a portal that had the form of a human heart and its doors were in the shape of wings.
     "Where am I?" Jerome thought, and his words were heard out loud; and he wondered, "Is this You, Lord?"
     Then a Still Small Voice replied inside his head, "Of course, Jerome, I am answering your prayers."
     Then it hit him. He remembered all those months he had spent groaning in the back of the church for something more, all those times he sat in a pew pleading for God to fill the empty void he felt every time he went to church. He needed, he wanted a ministry; a divine purpose for his life. He'd always wanted to serve God and now it seemed that God was giving him the chance, thousand of miles in the air.
     God was indeed answering his prayers as the Spirit continued to draw him farther and farther into the heavenly realm.
     "This is awesome!" he breathed, and again his thoughts were heard out loud as he flew down a long hall lined with bookshelves.
     "So this is where the records are kept?" He was moving too fast to see the titles, although he assumed they were names. Then he wondered where his volume was kept; was it high up or near the floor? Was his book thick or thin? How many pages were there left to write? And would he like the way it ends?

     His thoughts were scattered as the current changed. Jerome was quickly propelled toward the light that was beckoning to him from the end of the long passageway. Then the realization struck that he was in the process of being ushered into the very presence of God. He was thrilled to realize that in seconds (if indeed time could actually be measured in such a place, or if it even existed there) that soon he would be staring directly into the Son and he wouldn't even blink! And how glorious was His light! It permeated everything. No flaw could escape His glance. Jerome trembled at the thought; yet he knew God’s love would sustain him.

     Then the Lord's Spirit Breath quickly inhaled him into the inner chamber and Jerome floated into a glorious, limitless space that was filled with lush music, light and rainbow colors that he had never seen before. There was a multitude of cherubim dancing around the Light that towered before him and he beheld The Son emerge from the unapproachable holy Light of the Father. Jerome could feel the Holy Spirit dancing within his being and he immediately began to experience the paradox of God being in front of him, behind him, above him and around him all at once. Jerome could sense that the Lord knew he was enjoying the sensation.

     Jesus laughed and Jerome saw Him shimmer while the whole hall glowed even brighter as the cherubim on either side of the Lord continued to dance.
     Then the Jesus’ mood began to change. The Light became more mellow and still. Jerome knew he was about to be told why he had been summoned to the Throne.
     "This is quite an honor," he stammered, realizing that this was not the normal way people are usually called. He certainly hadn't expected anything this dramatic.
     "Jerome," the Lord said, and His voice was like music and bells and thunder al at the same time. "Have you seen what men do in the chambers of their imagery? For they say the Lord sees us not. The Lord has forsaken the earth" (Ezekiel 8:12).
     "Aw, no, I wasn't aware...." Jerome muttered lamely.
     "Come close," the Lord said.

     Jesus inhaled and drew Jerome directly to the foot of the Throne. The dancing cherubim and several large creatures with lots of eyes suddenly surrounded him. The cherubim were giggling and it comforted him that giggling was permitted in heavenly places. Jerome was delighted that he was now close enough to the Lord to see that His cloak was covered with righteousness like millions of tiny pearls glimmering in the Light that radiated from His being.
     Then the Lord's voice turned him around and pointed him back to the heart-shaped portal through which he had come; but now it was lying on the floor by his feet and Jerome could look down through it toward the earth. The portal was throbbing around its edges and he could hear life like the wind rushing through the door wings. The force of it was so strong it was all he could do to keep from tumbling over the edge until he felt a Godly finger hook itself securely onto his belt.
     "Look, Jerome."

     Jerome peered down through the portal. He could see rooms, halls and passageways. Everything pulsated with the same living beat as he watched men praying to dead things. Women were weeping for lust. In every room there were dark objects hidden in dirty corners filled with mold and rust. He could hear hissing from an enemy that slithered in and around the gears and wheels of men's machinery as the men shouted praise to the things that their hands had made.

     Jerome's heart began to ache within him. "This is horrible!" He cried.
     As Jerome continued to stare down through the portal, he was shown a collage of human sin. Pride manifested itself in a horrendous odor that Jerome was only allowed to experience briefly for the stench of it would have made him pass out.
     The love of money was rampant among the beings he was watching and the people reflected the object of their heart's desire by becoming as cold as the coins and the gold they worshipped.
     Jerome began to weep. "It's worse than I thought!" He cried, “The world is lost!"

     “The world," the Lord repeated and the sorrow in His voice hung like a cloud in the Throne Room. "No, Jerome, I have not shown you the hearts of the men in the world, though they most assuredly are the same. These, Jerome, are the hearts of My own people."

     Suddenly, the view below changed and Jerome was staring down at the people that surrounded him every Sunday morning.
     Jerome was in shock. He didn't know what to say. "I don't understand, Lord," Jerome finally managed to stammer. "Everybody says they love You."

     “It’s very easy to say, Jerome," Jesus replied. "But so few of them love Me enough to let Me change them into the people I want them to be. I am not the Lord of their lives, of their beings. I am locked out of their lives by their own idolatry. And this is why I have called you, Jerome. Your heart is tender toward Me and you can hear My voice. I have chosen you to be one of many I am sending to give them a final warning. I am coming soon and I want them to be ready."
     "But they're not going to listen to me!" Jerome cried.
     "I know. Tell them anyway. And you need to do it quickly," Jesus said as Jerome felt his body drifting back down through the throbbing portal.
     “Jerome,” the Lord added solemnly, remind them again that I love them and use the words I give you to show them My wounds.”
     Jerome looked at the deep gashes in the Lord’s hands where He had brutally received the sins of all mankind.
     Jerome looked up at the Lord's face leaning over him from the edge of the opening as the overwhelming weight of his new calling began pulling him back down into the earthly atmosphere. In a few moments, Jerome found himself standing on the riverbank almost as if nothing unusual had happened, except that his eyes were having some difficulty adjusting to the lack of light.
     “Jerome!" Pastor Ferguson called, "Better hurry up and get something to eat. It looks like it may rain after all."
     Jerome turned around to look at his pastor as a heavy layer of dark clouds seemed to be gathering in the air above his head. Jerome hesitated a moment, then he opened his mouth and began his ministry.

2
The Pattern


    It had been a long day. Jerome wearily walked into his little rented room near the campus, closed the door behind him and put his study books on the desk beneath the room's only window. Then he plopped down on his bed, where he lay with his eyes closed and his mind racing.
     There was so much to learn. Even though he was in his last year of Bible school, he felt that he was only just beginning. There were so many more books to read, lectures to attend; there wouldn't be room enough in his lifetime to comprehend everything. His faith used to be so simple, now it seemed to be getting so complicated. Is this what becoming a pastor is all about?
     He had the nagging feeling he was missing something and he didn't know what it was. He decided to sleep on it. He said a silent prayer in his heart for direction. Then he rolled over on his side and quickly fell asleep.

     "Jerome;" the Holy Voice said. "I have something I want to show you."
     Jerome saw the Lord Jesus standing before him against a deep royal blue background. There were stars shimmering all around Him, and Jerome realized that he was now standing somewhere in outer space? He looked down and there was nothing beneath his feet except more blue and more stars. He looked back up at the Lord.
     "Am I dreaming?" he asked. “This is so real!"
     “Tell Me what you see, Jerome," The Lord said.
     Jerome saw that Jesus was holding a measuring cup in His hand. It was an ordinary glass measuring cup.
     "It's a measuring cup," Jerome replied. "And it's empty."
     Before he could ask what it meant, he somehow suddenly knew as a phrase popped into Jerome's mind, which he spoke out spontaneously. “The Lord's people are empty and they are not measuring up." He was startled that he had been given the answer so abruptly to a question he hadn't even had a chance to ask.
     The Lord smiled at him. "Very good, Jerome. If My people are not filling themselves with My word and My Spirit, they are indeed empty. It's nothing to feel guilty about, it's just something that needs to be done. Now follow Me."

     Jesus turned and walked across the starscape with Jerome scurrying behind Him in mid-air. A building suddenly appeared in the distance. It was a glorious structure. Jerome assumed it was a temple, a place of worship.
     They reached one of the entrances and Jerome noticed that the measuring cup that Jesus had been holding had changed into a measuring rod. Jesus began to measure the doorway, then Jerome followed Him inside the enormous building as the Lord continued to measure the passageways, the windows, the pillars, the walls and the staircases. Every detail was painstakingly measured.
     They continued walking upward through several levels. Then what Jerome thought was a large, intricate structure, was suddenly transformed miraculously, and he found himself standing on the pages of an enormous book. The measuring rod was now in his hands.
     Astonished, Jerome looked down at the text beneath his feet and realized that he was standing on the Word of God.

     “Jerome," the Lord said, “show My people the pattern so that they may see the error of their ways and repent. For they have not been measuring themselves according to the pattern in My Word. They have indeed become empty and they are not measuring up. For they have put their pillars next to My pillars, their thresholds next to My thresholds, their ways, their doctrines next to Mine (Ezekiel 43:10, 8).
     "Look, Jerome," the Lord continued, "Tell Me what you see now."
     Jerome looked in the direction where Jesus was pointing. There was a table with two men sitting together. One of the men suddenly reached into his mouth and withdrew a large pizza. Then he handed it to the other man to eat. Then slowly the vision dissolved into the sky.
     "Jerome, would you eat that pizza knowing where it came from?"
     Even though Jerome loved pizza, he had to answer, "Yuck, no!"
     "But this is what My people are doing, Jerome, when they take all their teaching from the mouths of men. What would happen to your body if all you ate was pizza?"
     Before Jerome could answer, Jesus said, "Come, I will show you one more thing."

     Jesus turned in the opposite direction. Jerome followed His gaze. In the distance he saw a woman surrounded by many children. The children were hungry, so she was feeding them all the cake, candy and ice cream they wanted. They seemed to love it, but as time in the vision progressed, Jerome could see that the children were becoming weak and sickly. Some were falling away from the lack of substance.
     As the vision began to fade, Jesus said, "She wants them to love her, this mother. And she thinks that by giving them what they want they will never leave her. And yet, she cannot see that her children are dying from malnutrition. Jerome, this is My church."
     Jerome was speechless.

     "Jerome, I have shown you the pattern. Tell My people to walk in it, to live in it. My words are boundaries for their protection. The only pattern for salvation is described within these walls. They must stay within its rooms, their only safety is within these gates, My thresholds. The design is perfect. The foundation is solid and secure. I will dwell with them there in the beauty of holiness. I will enclose them with My grace. I will walk with them through My corridors. We will climb towers together to behold My glorious view. As they explore My mansion with Me, they will grow into the people I want them to be, and the walls of their faith will be developed and made strong so that they will never be shaken and destroyed by the earthquakes of this temporal life.
     "Jerome, show them the visions. Call My people to repent."
     "We hardly hear that word anymore, Lord," Jerome replied. "I don't think they are going to like it very much."
     "I know. Tell them anyway. You are one of many I am calling to put repentance back into the vocabulary of My church. And do it quickly."
     "Because You're coming soon, right?"
     Jesus nodded solemnly.
     Then Jerome closed his eyes - and woke up! He was lying on his back staring up at a black, starless ceiling. He looked over at the desk. His Bible was lying open beneath the window, illuminated by the moonlight that was spilling onto its pages. Slowly, Jerome got up, walked over to the desk, sat down and turned on the lamp. He let his hands drift lovingly across the holy volume, and then he reverently began to thumb through its rooms.

3
Valley of Dry Bones


     His mouth was dry, his hands were shaking slightly. It was Jerome's first Sunday service as pastor of a congregation of at least one hundred people in a church just outside of Pittsburgh.
     He could hardly believe he was there waiting to take his place behind the pulpit. He had worked hard for this moment, and now he was feeling so inadequate for the task ahead; the enormous responsibility of shepherding all those precious souls.
     The last hymn had been sung and the people sat down which was Jerome's cue to rise. He walked to the pulpit as confidently as he could in order to conceal the fact that he was a tangled bundle of nerves. He looked out over the rows of faces. He smiled at them; some of them were even smiling back.
     "Good morning," Jerome said brightly.
     He was about to tell them all how privileged he felt to be there, when in an instant the faces before him suddenly were changed, and Jerome found himself beholding a sanctuary full of well dressed skeletons all sitting bolt upright in their pews.
     Then a Voice inside his head asked him, "Jerome, can these bones live?" (Ezekial 37:3).
     Startled, Jerome could only answer in his thoughts, "Only You know that, Lord. God help me..."
     "I will," was his answer. Then the vision of dry bones disappeared and Jerome was once again facing his congregation.
     "Uh," he stammered, "it is a good morning, isn't it?"
     Some of them nodded. Then Jerome proceeded with his sermon trying to act as if nothing unusual had happened.

     His first sermon was very well received and with new confidence Jerome returned to the parsonage that afternoon encouraged, but disturbed about the vision he had seen.
     "What does it mean, Lord?" he asked in his prayers. He was given no direct answer, which made him think that whatever he needed to know would be shown to him later.

     Several months passed without incident. The ministry was going well. Three new families had joined the church and the youth group was growing.
     Then one day Jerome received a visit from a committee in the church that he didn't even know existed. This committee had been formed by most of the long-term members of the church for the purpose of protecting the authority of the Holy Word. Jerome was politely informed that his choice of Bible translations was incorrect, and that he was aiding the spread of apostasy by incorporating quotations from said translation into his sermons.
     Jerome was very gracious in his response. He informed them that he used a modem translation specifically for the youth, as it was much easier for them to understand. He assured the solemn group that he would undertake a thorough study of the new translation to see if indeed it did corrupt the true meaning of the Word of God.
     Jerome kept his promise and did a complete comparison, making sure, among other things, that John 3:16 was intact within the new translation. When his study was finished, he met with "The Committee" and assured them that he could find nothing for them to worry about, that in every point the newer translation was accurate and did not "strew the soul's pathway to heaven with the slippery banana peels of destruction" as one of the committee members had insisted.
     Jerome's findings were met with staunch resistance. The committee members weren't even willing to read the results of Jerome's study for themselves. Instead, they stormed out of the room, leaving Jerome to ponder a volley of veiled threats - and his future.

     In the days that followed, Jerome received several messages across his desk informing him that unless he changed his policy various members of his congregation would soon be leaving. Rumors began to spread about Jerome's background, scandalous things that were not true. Several families left as a result. The petty backbiting continued against Jerome and other members of the church that had sided with him. Jerome was faced with the difficult task of overseeing what was swiftly becoming a civil war within his church.
     Late at night, Jerome fell on his knees before the Lord. "Why is this happening? I'm new at all this. I don't know how to handle these dissenters. It seems all they want to do is destroy this church. People aren't talking to each other. They're saying and doing terrible things behind my back, and they still show up here every Sunday to worship You. What can I say to them to turn this thing around? I don't want the church to split, but it looks like that's what's going to happen. You said You'd help me. I need it now!"

     Jerome suddenly looked up at the wall beyond the foot of his bed; the wall seemed to be melting down into the floor and Jerome could see a sunny village square. There were ancient looking buildings all around and Jerome realized that he was being shown a vision of another time. There were rows of tall stakes sticking up out of piles of dry timber placed at intervals, in a long row that seemed to drift off into infinity.
     Then Jerome heard voices and an angry mob began dragging people to the stakes where they were tied and the pyres were lighted. Jerome realized to his horror that he was being shown a vision of the early martyrs of the church, in a particular time when Christians were being persecuted by so called members of their own faith. As men pronounced their judgments on these innocent souls, the martyrs of God stared upward, unflinchingly toward heaven, boldly maintaining the integrity of their witness to the very end as the flames rose to consume their mortal flesh. Jerome could see the character that blazed through those flames and tears began to flow from his eyes.
     Then one of the women began to beg for her release. The authorities, thinking that they had one who was willing to recant, quickly set her free. The woman stepped down, and with a look of defiant triumph in her eyes, turned herself around and willingly threw herself back into the fire. Then the vision slowly began to fade as the Still Small Voice spoke softly to Jerome's heart.
     "Times haven’t changed very much have they Jerome? Innocent people are accused of heresy by others who claim to know Me but do not. I have commanded My people to love one another, and yet it is still so very hard for so many of them to do. There was a season when My people lived to die to their own selves to follow Me. Is it too great a thing to ask of My people that they be willing to die - just a little?"
     The vision had vanished, but the smell of the fires, and Jerome's tears still remained long after the vision had faded.

     Shortly afterward, the petty shots that had been fired randomly in the church erupted into a full scale civil war just as Jerome had feared. The original reason for the war had long since been replaced by new ones, some more ridiculous than others, including a vicious debate as to whether Adam had actually possessed a navel.
     In the middle of the conflict, Jerome realized that it was not a new war, just a new battle in a very old one that began when Cain took his first shot at Abel; when a "religious" man sought to destroy one who was truly spiritual.

     The inevitable finally happened. The church split like an earthquake in the heart. More families left, the church was decimated, leaving a remnant of less than fifty bewildered casualties. Those that remained were the ones who had been faithful to Jerome from the beginning. And though the pain of losing the others was very real, the young pastor was deeply grateful for the steadfast support of the ones who had chosen to stay.
     The church continued to function, although greatly crippled by the loss of funds. Those who had left had been the church's greatest financial contributors. Jerome was seriously seeking the Lord's guidance as to whether he should look for some part-time work, and at the same time he continued to question the Lord why all this happened in the first place.
     His answer came rather quietly in the early morning hours as he lay in his bed waiting for the sunrise. He began to receive a gentle confirmation in his spirit that it would not be necessary to seek additional employment.
     Then a simple phrase entered his being that said, "I have separated the goats from My sheep. Now you can build."
     Jerome smiled. "Thank You," he whispered in the stillness.

     In the days that followed new families were drawn into Jerome's fold, and the church began to grow again. God sent people who were gifted musicians and the worship services were greatly embellished by their talents.
     Jerome had a gift for recognizing and utilizing the various talents and skills within the members of his congregation and he encouraged them to contribute their abilities to the collective ministry of the church. Jerome was also willing to open his pulpit to many of them and the whole church was enriched as these individuals were allowed to share their gifts with the other members of the Lord's body.
     Eventually there came a time when the church's growth required more space. There was a need for more Sunday school rooms and a bigger sanctuary. A committee was formed to discuss the prospect of adding on, or constructing a whole new building. More than half of the committee was in favor of changing their location to a better part of town and building a new, much more impressive structure. Jerome and a handful of others were more inclined to try and stay out of debt as much as possible.
     "I think if we added onto the south side," Jerome said at one of the meetings, "that would give us the room we'd need for the bigger sanctuary. Then we could appropriate part of the old sanctuary to expand the Sunday school. I already talked to the owner of the field next door and he's agreed to sell us part of it at a very reasonable price so we can expand our parking. As I see it, this seems to be the most practical way to go, and the least expensive."
     Jerome's suggestion was met with disdain.
     "We have an opportunity here to really set ourselves apart from the other churches in this area," one of the men countered. "We need the prestige. Believe me, we can get people to come just to see the building."
     "But do we really need twenty marble columns across the front and hundred foot high glass walls?" Jerome answered. "'Think about it, guys. The ceilings you're talking about are so high - have you really given any thought about how much it's going to cost to heat and air condition a building like that? Think of all the money going to fuel bills that could be going to our missionaries instead."
     "If the church is as impressive as it needs to be, it will draw the people who can not only pay those bills, but will increase our missions work as well. It's all for the Lord anyway, isn't it?"
     The arguments seemed logical and Jerome found himself being drawn over to the other's way of thinking; and it was a bit titillating to think of himself as a pastor of a church like that. He began getting parallels about himself and King Solomon. People did come from al over the world to see what he had constructed for God.
     Jerome became so impressed with the concept, that he didn't even feel a need to consult the Lord about it, since everyone else seemed to be in agreement to go ahead with the enormous building project.

     Then one day Jerome was sitting in his office daydreaming about marble columns and chariots, when the Lord interrupted his thoughts. It was almost as if the Holy Spirit was standing behind him tapping him on the shoulder.
     "Jerome, may I have your attention?"
     Jerome came plummeting out of his reverie and sat bolt upright. "Yes, Lord! What is it?"
     "Jerome, I want to show you something. Come with Me."
     Jerome was suddenly out of his chair. He hadn't moved a muscle on his own, yet he found himself standing in the middle of the room. Then it was as if he was in the center of a kaleidoscope. There were colors swirling everywhere and the light obliterated his surroundings. He felt like he was standing in a cloud and he didn't know which way was up or down.
     Then he started to see pictures as the Lord began to form on the walls of this cloud a collage of human needs. Jesus did not explain what was being shown. Instead, Jerome was allowed to experience the needs he saw within the depths of his own being.
     He felt the loneliness of the elderly shut in - a deep, aching loneliness he'd never experienced in his young life. He felt the hopelessness of the street man as he watched him pick through a garbage can looking for something to eat. Jerome was suddenly hungry himself, as if he had not eaten for days. He experienced the despair of a family being evicted from their home as if he was the father who lost his job and didn't know where his wife and young son would spend the night. Jerome cried out and felt the pain of a cancer patient. He tried to doge the blows as he identified with a victim of domestic abuse who had nowhere to go. He felt the turmoil of an unwed, pregnant woman as she climbed the stairs of an abortion clinic. He saw tight, gray walls closing in around him as he stared at prison bars through the eyes of an inmate who chose crime as an occupation because an education was something he couldn't afford. He saw the drug addict slumped against a wall and began to writhe with him.

     Jerome never knew how long the vision really lasted, though it felt like a lifetime. When it was finally over, he found himself on his knees in the middle of his office. He remained there for a long time with his head bowed and the tears streaming down his face. He was crying now, partially because of the needs he had identified with so completely, but more for him, because he knew that from this moment to the end of his life nothing was ever going to be the same.

     Jerome met with the committee the following week. He knew that there would be no adequate way he could describe what he had felt, what he had seen, so he said very simply, "Something has happened. I can no longer agree to go along with this project. I'm afraid we have traded God's vision for one of our own. This money needs to be put into our community. There are needs that God has called us to meet -and we haven't been listening. Instead we've been preoccupied with marble columns, glass walls and a prestige that doesn't really have a thing to do with the Lord, no matter how much we pretend it does.
     "God's interested in one thing - reaching people with His gospel and so far we've been preaching with empty hands. If we meet the needs, then that's the only way anyone's going to know that what we believe is real. We need to build people- not buildings designed to impress who? God? He's not gonna buy it.
     "I'm sorry, but I feel so strongly about this that I'm willing to put my work here on the line. If you want me to continue being your pastor I'll stay. But the whole focus of this church has got to change. This is your choice. What's it going to be?"

     Jerome stood by his car in the parking lot. He had just handed the keys to the parsonage to one of the deacons moments earlier who left with a perfunctory, "Goodbye. Sorry things didn't work out."
     Now Jerome was alone looking back at the church that used to be part of him. He never felt so low on his life. But it's usually in the darkest moments when the Still Small Voice speaks the loudest.
     "They haven't rejected you, Jerome, they've rejected Me."
     It was as if a warm arm was being placed around his shoulder as the Spirit continued speaking.
     "Didn't I say it was a joyful thing to share in My sufferings? Rejoice, Jerome! It's not over. Your work for Me is just beginning."
     “That was one of the things I was going to ask You. What do I do now?"
     "I want you to go to Chicago, Jerome."
     "Why Chicago?"
     "Why not Chicago? I want you to go there and tell them to repent. You are going to be an evangelist. And after Chicago, I'll send you to Seattle, New York City, Los Angeles. Call your district superintendent. I've already prepared him.”
     "But, Lord, I don't want to do this! I never liked traveling, I can't..."
     "Jerome..." There was something about the way the Spirit said his name. He felt the love that possessed him and said without words – ‘'I'his child named Jerome is intimately Mine and always will be.’ This same loving Spirit Voice said, "Jerome, is it too much to ask you to die for me...just a little?"
     Jerome smiled as his eyes filled with tears. Then he turned to look at the road ahead prepared to face the flames.

4
The Journey

     The city of Chicago loomed before him like a gaping lion's mouth. As Jerome drove toward those formidable jaws, he tried to concentrate on his driving and leave the concerns for his ministry until a more appropriate time. Part of him trusted the Lord that all the details of this excursion would fall into place, but his flesh was harboring an assortment of doubts and insecurities that would periodically erupt to scatter his thoughts like screaming infants. He gripped the steering wheel and began to sing praise to God. The lullaby would always calm him until the wailing babes inside fell asleep.
     A few more miles and Jerome's car slid into the beast's mouth. He got lost several times, but he eventually located his hotel. The church he was speaking at that Sunday had thoughtfully sent a basket of fruit to his room to greet him upon his arrival. Jerome grinned when he saw it as he came into the room and set his suitcase on the floor. He was hungry and as he reached for an apple, he heard the Lord say, "What do you see there, Jerome?"
     "It's a basket of summer fruit, Lord."
     "Each piece of fruit you see represents a question you have you have been asking Me about the direction your ministry is about to take." Jerome stared at the apple in his hand wondering if it was safe to eat it.
     “Jerome, rest now, eat I will show you what you need to know later."
     Jerome heaved a weary sigh and collapsed onto the bed. He was to meet with the pastor later to discuss the upcoming service and he wanted to be ready.
     He ate his apple and took a nap. When he woke up it was almost time for his meeting. As he was about to leave the room, he looked back briefly at the basket of questions waiting to be answered upon his return.

     Pastor Kenton greeted Jerome warmly at the door. Then the pastor led him to his office where they sat to discuss the service.
     "I'm usually very cautious about who I allow to speak to my congregation," Pastor Kenton told him. "But you were very highly recommended by your district superintendent. I heard that you started out as a pastor before you became an evangelist. It's usually the other way around."
     "It wasn't my idea," Jerome answered smiling. "But when God gives the call it's best to obey Him. I know what happened to Jonah."
     Pastor Kenton laughed. The two men talked some more, then the pastor invited Jerome to see the sanctuary. As they got up and walked into the hall, Jerome was startled to see a tall, elegant woman standing near the door. Pastor Kenton walked right past her without acknowledging her at all. Jerome smiled at her as he walked by. She made no response. She just stared at him coldly. Unnerved, Jerome followed the pastor to the sanctuary.
     New carpeting had recently been installed of which the pastor seemed to be very proud. It was a lovely sanctuary, one of the prettiest Jerome had ever seen. As he looked across the podium where he would be speaking, he saw the woman again. She was standing in the doorway behind the piano, staring at him with that same malevolent gaze. Jerome wondered how she had gotten from the hall to the sanctuary so quickly .
     "Who is that woman?" Jerome asked the pastor.
     "What woman?"
     Pastor Kenton was staring directly at the spot where the woman was standing. She was wearing a brilliant red jacket and there was no way he could not see her.
     "Uh," Jerome stammered, "I must have seen a shadow back there. I guess I'm just a little tired. I'd better go back to my room and get some rest."
     "That's a good idea, Jerome. You've had a long drive to get here. How do you like Chicago so far?" he was asked as they started to walk back through the sanctuary.
     "Uh, it's big," Jerome glanced back over his shoulder at the strange woman who was looking at him as if she wanted to kill him.

     Jerome returned to his hotel room. He was shaking as he closed the door.
     "Lord, who was that woman? What am I getting myself into here?"
     He didn't even want to admit it himself, but he was experiencing a fear that had reached out to him from the cold stare that had followed him through the church.
     He walked over to the basket of fruit. When he had left it only a few hours ago, it was fresh and perfect. Now within that short period of time it had withered into rottenness. The fruit had become so foul, mold had already developed on the oranges.
     Then the basket began to waver and the Lord spoke gently, "Don't be afraid, Jerome, I am showing you what you need to know. Remember this; I have not made you a reprover of My people, but every word I put in your mouth, you shall speak."
     Then the basket dissolved completely into a city, an ancient city. Jerome recognized it as Jerusalem. The people were walking about doing their everyday business. He could see that the walls surrounding the city were holy. They were borders of protection that surrounded God's people. Then one of the gates swung open to allow a caravan of foreign merchants into the city. Their camels were loaded with goods. Jerome watched as the caravan came through the gates. The people suddenly stopped what they were doing and raced over to the caravan with delight. The camels dropped to their knees and the goods were unloaded. Jerome watched in horror as statues of demon gods fell into the street. God's people swept down on them and scooped them up. Then the statues dissolved into their beings. The people were ecstatic, crying for more. As the people continued to delight themselves in those unclean things, the holy walls that surrounded the city began to crumble until there was no longer any defense from enemy attack.
     Then the scene progressed and the same people who were delighting in those pagan abominations, preceded to the temple where they exuberantly began to worship God. The noise of their songs of praise grew louder; yet, Jerome could see that the presence of the Lord was going farther and farther away.

     Then the streets of the city surrounding the temple began to fill with others. Jerome could see the ragged clothes of these needy ones coming to beg at the doors of the temple. Some were starving, others were crippled. Some were tormented by demons. These people began to cry and plead for help, but the noise of the music inside was drowning them out. Jerome saw lips moving and empty hands reaching out to a closed door. Inside the temple the people were rejoicing, oblivious to the needs that were writhing in the street.
     Jerome watched as banquet tables loaded with food were carried into the sanctuary. Then the people began to feast on the sumptuous array, while the cries from the poor souls outside in the street went unheeded.
     Jerome noticed that one of the women in the temple was walking around the tables nodding her approval of the festivities. She looked up briefly at Jerome and smiled. It was the same woman he had seen in the church. Instantly Jerome knew who she was - "Jezebel," he whispered; the reigning queen of the compromised church. The apparition suddenly laughed and turned her back.

     Then Jerome saw lights begin to move among the needy ones in the street. After a little while, Jerome realized that the lights were really jewels, glorious rubies, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds. Gradually, the jewels were transformed and Jerome could see that they were people. Before he could ask who they were, the Lord answered.
     "There will always be a remnant."
     Jerome watched as those jewels began to minister to the needy. Some were pouring oil for their wounds, others were distributing food. One had knelt before a beggar and was tenderly washing his blistered feet.
     "Jerome," the Lord said, "These are the ones who will rebuild the ruins."
     The servant jewels worked tirelessly as the banqueting in the temple continued and the music grew more intense. Then whole scene began to fade into a dark cloud as the Lord spoke again.
     "Jerome, much of My church in this country is paralleling the spiritual condition of ancient Israel. The pagan deities that you saw dissolving into the beings of My people are the images of godless entertainment that so many of them are delighting in. I hate violence and yet they entertain themselves with its images and titillate themselves with images of impurity. I have called My people to separate themselves to Me, and yet they prefer the things of men above My word.
     “I have always permitted the Assyrians to be the chastening rod to bring My church back to Me, but you are in the last days, Jerome. Today the Assyrians have access to nuclear weapons."
     The cloud started to get darker and Jerome began to sense within it something so horrific he had to turn his head away. When he had the courage to look again, the entire vision had disappeared and he found himself staring at the bowl of rotten fruit.
     Then he heard the Lord whisper inside his head, "Come, Jerome, we're going to write your sermon."

     The worship service that morning was long and lively. As Jerome sang his praise to the Lord his eyes kept filling with tears. When the time came to take his place at the pulpit, he looked down at his notes and realized that no matter how this message was received, it was truly what the Lord wanted him to say. He looked up again at all the faces watching him expectantly. And once more he felt the love he had for people that enabled him to spend himself on their behalf. He opened his mouth and the words that had been given to him the night before began to spill out like a waterfall as the vision he had seen was translated into words they could see.
     He didn't really need to speak that long to get his point across. When the service was over, he stood near the door to meet the people as they were leaving. The majority of them filed by without speaking, but there were others, jewel-like people, who shook his hand and told him how much his words had meant to them. For many, Jerome's message had been a confirmation to what the Lord had been whispering in their ears. When it was all over, the pastor handed Jerome his honorarium.
     “It wasn't what I had expected," the pastor told him, somewhat coldly.
     "The Lord has been directing me, uh, He's been showing me His burden for His church at this time." Jerome replied. He's coming so soon, His people need to be prepared."
     "Oh," the pastor said flatly.
     As Jerome left, he felt that more than likely he would not be asked back at this church. The lady in the red jacket would see to that.

     The journey continued from city to city, and Jerome poured himself out for the Lord and His people. He experienced recurring bouts of oppression and depression, partly from spiritual warfare and partly from fatigue.
     One day in another lonely motel room, he lay on the bed and cried. He couldn't stop crying. "I don't want to do this anymore, Lord. Sometimes it feels like I'm preaching to walls of stone. If they don't care, then why should I?" He ranted on through his tears until he fell asleep.
     God was watching over him as he slept. A gentle, Spirit finger tenderly stroked his brow. "Jerome," the Holy Voice whispered. "I know, I know. My weary child, My faithful, humble Jerome; you're gathering treasure, My little one, every time you answer My call to try. How precious you are to Me, how valuable. Your obedience is My joy. I will strengthen thee, My weary soldier. Stay in the battle just a little while longer, just a little while..."
     Then God sang a lullaby to renew Jerome's spirit while he slept, as the night passed slowly and angels of comfort surrounded his bed.

     "A measure of conviction within the human heart is like a grain of sand in an oyster shell," Jerome told yet another congregation. "It is the necessary irritant that grows the pearl. How many of you want that pearl?"
     Most of the people raised their hands. He wondered how many of them meant it.
     "You know, I believe that much of the church today is like ancient Israel dancing around the golden calf of materialism, content to leave Moses on the mountain in intimate communion with God. We really can't afford to do that any more children. Instead of Moses coming down to us with a veil on his face, Jesus is coming instead, and there will be no veil. If we wince at the light of a candle, then how shall we stand before the Son?
     "The Bible was not written to make us happy. Does that surprise you? No, the Bible was written to help prepare us for the kingdom of God. Then as we prepare for this kingdom, we become happy. It's the `Seek ye first the kingdom of God' principle. In other words, put God's stuff first, put Him first, and He'll take care of everything else.
     "The church has in many ways, put the cart before the horse. As a result, the church has sort of fallen into a Laodicean stupor. We've been taught that God's purpose for our lives is for us to be happy and prosperous. So we've focused on these carnal things and become more materialistic, and from what I've seen, we're really not any happier.
     The true secret to happiness, prosperity, health, success, (God's version, not ours), is to simply follow Jesus, pick up His cross and be willing to die to self, remembering that there's always a resurrection after Calvary.
     "As we seek the kingdom of God, (His will, not ours), we will begin to desire the valuable assets of virtue and holy character. We can regain our perspective and begin to experience the abundant, water walking life Jesus promised.
     "Jesus said to the rich young ruler, `Let go.' In letting go of the things we so desperately hold onto for our happiness, we can truly begin to experience God's blessings in our lives. And what could be a greater blessing than knowing Him more intimately than we do now?
     “The question is, can we love Jesus enough to let Him change us into the people He wants us to be? So many of us are clinging to our old clay beads when God wants to replace them with diamonds. Don't be afraid to let go, children. He will never leave us empty.
     "Jesus was not concerned with being popular. He was more concerned with Truth. When surrounded by a large crowd of followers, He deliberately said something that He knew would cause the majority to leave. `Eat My flesh and drink My blood.' I'm it, guys. I'm everything you need.' He was calling them to an intimacy with God that has nothing to do with our concepts of "religion." He was calling them and us, to experience God in a way that will allow Him full control of our lives. After issuing this divine call, Jesus found Himself abandoned by all except a handful of dedicated disciples. My beloved brethren, will you choose to stay?"

     Jerome continued to minister in cities and towns across the country. In some of the churches he was amazed at the response to his message; altars packed full of kneeling, weeping souls. On one of these occasions when the spirit of repentance was flowing so heavily, he heard the Lord whisper to him softly, "I am lighting new candles, and I'm doing it with tears."
     Other times, the well was so dry he could feel the resistance to his words as if there was an icy wall between himself and the people. What was the barrier? Was it preferable for these souls to remain hiding behind their religious walls, than to allow themselves to be truly embraced by the Living God? Was intimacy with God that frightening a prospect? What was it they were really afraid of if they allowed the Lord full control - change?

     Then one day, Jerome received a letter from his district superintendent requesting a meeting. Jerome did not want to interrupt his ministry, but he felt the Lord urging him to comply. He soon found himself sitting in his superior's office.
     Before Jerome could ask why he had been summoned, he was told abruptly, "I've had too many complaints about your ministry, Jerome. I'm afraid I'm going to have to recommend that your credentials with us be revoked if you continue spreading false doctrine within our churches."
     "What?” Jerome shouted. He was in shock. "False doctrine? That's absurdl"
     "I have some accusations that you have been preaching heresy."
     "Who is saying these things? They're lies!"
     "I have a pile of letters in my file from pastors and various members of their congregations."
     The dry wells, Jerome thought. Then he said as calmly as he could, "I'm being slandered."
     “'T'hen if it wasn't true, Jerome, why so many complaints from so many different congregations?"
     Jerome could see her face, that woman in the red jacket sneering at him. How could he explain to this man who the enemy really was?
     "Spiritual warfare," Jerome answered simply, “The devil doesn't like what I'm doing: I'm bringing people to repentance. I'm getting them to take their walk with God seriously. I'm praying for people and helping them to break their bondages..."
     "That's another thing I'm concerned about, Jerome. It's been reported to me that you've, uh, been casting out demons. Some of our churches are opposed to that sort of thing."
     "We believe in healing, don't we?" Jerome countered. "Some people can't receive their healing unless demonic curses are broken. Jesus cast out devils. He told us, His disciples that is, to cast out devils. It seems to me the only ones who'd be upset about it would be the devils."
     Before his superior could respond, Jerome added, "What is it? What do you want the church to be - a comfortable social club? Jesus died so that we could become more than that. Aren't we supposed to be His representatives on this earth? How is the world going to see anything different if we're just like them? And how do you expect me to turn my back on what God has called me to do just to please men? Then I would be just like them!"
     "I'm going to give you one more chance, Jerome. Tone it down, that's all. You're ruffling too many feathers out there."
     Jerome wanted to say, `Let's skin the whole bird and cook it,' but he learned long ago to let the Holy Spirit have full control of his tongue so he remained silent with his heart pounding.
     "Jerome, I'm going to your next meeting. If what you are doing meets with my approval I will not recommend to have you removed from our denomination. I'm willing to give you one more chance..."
     To compromise ...The phrase popped into Jerome's mind and hovered there unspoken.

     Jerome arrived at the church late Saturday afternoon. The pastor's secretary greeted him warmly, and then led him to the small, homey apartment over the fellowship hall that would be his residence for the weekend.
     "We're really looking forward to your service with us this Sunday," she said cheerfully as she handed him the key.
     Jerome managed a weak smile, thinking to himself that it may be his last, for awhile, anyway. She left him, and he sat in the cozy living room looking out the window at the pretty field that bordered part of the church. He wanted to walk there and just look at the flowers, but he was tired from the trip. He made himself some dinner at the kitchenette, washed the dishes and went to bed early, all the while praying for direction.

     His soul was in turmoil and he really didn't think he would fall asleep very quickly. The minute his head hit the pillow he was dreaming.
     He was suddenly watching a civil war battlefield from a very great distance. As he moved closer, the scene became more detailed. The blue and the gray coats were in the midst of a fierce conflict. As bodies tumbled into the mud and blood tinted the air, Jerome could hear cries and sighing, but these sounds were not coming from the soldiers. He looked past the battle and in the distance he could see the slaves in chains crying out desperately for their freedom. All the while the war in the foreground increased in its fury.
     Jerome hated violence and it was hard for him to watch. Then the scene before him began to change. The muddy battlefield dissolved into a church, but the war was still raging superimposed over the sanctuary. Jerome could see that now the soldiers were no longer fighting each other, they were battling an enemy that was unseen. The tortured souls of the slaves in bondage were still there filling the pews of the church. Jerome watched as they struggled to free themselves. The chains that held them so tightly almost seemed to be alive and Jerome noticed demonic serpent-like creatures slithering around the links drawing them tighter. The captives wailed in agony as the battle in the sanctuary continued.
     Jerome strained to see who the soldiers were fighting. He saw a light glowing outside against the door of the church. As the light tried to enter, the soldiers inside would rush to thwart it. Then the presence in the light would draw back, wait, and then try again. Each time the army in the church would drive it back while the people in the chains continued to howl for their deliverance.
     Then Jerome realized that the light trying to enter the church was the Lord.
     Jerome cried out in his sleep, "It's God! Let Him in! Stop fighting!"
     Then he heard a roaring sound in the distance. He looked up and saw an enormous black cloud approaching the church. The cloud began to swirl and undulate. Then a great cone of darkness spilled down from the cloud churning the earth beneath it as the force of the wind it contained spun toward the sanctuary.
     Jerome began to yell again as he watched the gigantic mountain of wind begin its attack.
     "Stop fighting! It's God! Can't you see that? Let Him in, you're running out of time! It's God you're fighting, you've got to let Him in!"
     Jerome was screaming and crying hysterically as he watched the tornado bear down on the church. The walls began to crumble, but the soldiers kept battling their unseen enemy. The cries of the captives held in torment were drowned in the whirlwind's roar. Then the whole scene began to spin.
     Jerome awoke and sat bolt upright still screaming a warning that no one could hear.

     The next morning at daybreak, hours before his service was to begin, Jerome threw on his blue jeans and a sweatshirt, grabbed his Bible and walked out into the field behind the church. He was crying. He walked through the flowers looking at the delicate, gentle handiwork of the God he had dedicated his life to serve.
     "Help me," he whispered. "I can't fight these people. If they don't want You, Lord, there's nothing I can do. I'm not going to compromise. And they are going to destroy my ministry - our ministry. I've never felt so defeated in my life. Please, Lord, tell me what to do."
     "Look up, Jerome." The Holy Voice said brightly.
     At first Jerome thought it was just sort of a metaphor to cheer him, then he realized by the Spirit's urging, that the Lord really did want him to look up. As he raised his eyes to behold the sky, he suddenly felt the Holy Spirit bubble up inside him and he started to experience a bountiful, giddy feeling he had never felt before. The feeling intensified and he had to giggle. Then his giggle erupted like a spark and ignited into laughter, a hearty, jubilant laughter that Jerome could not stop.
     As the joyful sound burst from his being, the demons that had been hovering around him, shrouding him with despair, were abruptly blown back by the explosion of heaven sent joy, and depression vanished into the weeds. Then the brilliant blue sky above Jerome's head began to open out like a giant door, and Jerome thought that he was about to be shown another vision....

     It was five minutes to eleven. The service was about to begin and still there was no sign of Jerome. The district superintendent was sitting in the front pew. He looked at his watch as the pastor nervously asked one of the deacons to go look for their guest speaker.
     He checked the apartment first. He knocked. There was no answer. The door was unlocked so he stepped inside.
     "Jerome?" Silence.
     He checked the parking lot. Jerome's car was still there. The deacon reported back to the pastor. Then more deacons and several others were recruited to make a hasty search of the building as the choir began to sing the first hymn. The church was searched thoroughly from the closet in the sound room to the basement. Jerome was not in the church.
     Then eventually one of the deacons who was searching through the field, discovered a pile of clothes crumpled in the grass; Jerome's sneakers, his blue jeans and his Bible lying on his shirt where his heart had been.

copyright 2004 by H.D. Shively

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