Prismatic shades of light trickled through one of the stately windows and stopped just short of Ian’s feet. Arms barred against his chest, he looked up and stared at the source of the light for a few moments. The stained glass image of a man with longish, brown hair and piercing eyes stared back, an open palm outstretched, as if beckoning him to come.
Ian turned away, rolling his eyes. Talk about creepy.
Everything about this place was foreign to him. He wouldn’t have been less comfortable in a Buddhist monastery, surrounded by robed monks with shaved heads. Although these people didn’t wear robes, he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was the only one who had no clue how things were done.
The rigid pew dug into his back and he squirmed. How do people put up with this torture every week? What he wouldn’t give for a good ol’ La-Z-boy.
“Ian! What’re you doing here?” Came an enthusiastic voice.
Excellent question. He wanted to say. He turned to see Jake Sanctus, a guy he only knew from studying at the library, standing in front of the pew with a grin that would make the Cheshire Cat jealous.
“I thought you said you didn’t do church?” Jake gave him a lighthearted smack on the shoulder.
“Well,” Ian remembered to play the “nice guy” role. “Thought I’d give it a shot since you and Jenny are always singing its praises.”
If it could have, Jake’s smile would have grown even bigger. “That’s great, man! Hey, ya wanna sit with us instead of by yourself?”
“Sure.” Ian abandoned his spot to follow Jake further down the rows of uncomfortable seats. Especially if I can sit by your sister.
Jake stopped by a pew where his parents were already seated.
“Hey, Mom ... Dad, this is that guy, Ian, I was telling you about. Ya know, the one who spends hours at the library almost every day?”
The couple smiled warmly and each shook his hand.
“It’s great to meet you, Ian.” Mr. Sanctus was a hefty man with a booming voice. “You must be an extremely dedicated student.”
“What do you study the most?” His petite wife asked.
Pretty librarians, hopeful dating tactics ...
“Science.” He responded. “And history.”
They nodded their approval.
“I never have any trouble finding reference material.” He proceeded cautiously. “Your daughter’s good at her job.”
As if on cue, the reason for Ian’s submitting himself to this torturous place appeared.
“Ian, what a surprise!” Jenny greeted him. “How awesome to see you here!”
Before he could say more than a quick “hi,” the singing began and everyone shuffled into their seats.
Ian ended up not sitting by Jenny, but between her father and brother.
Not quite what I expected, but close.
The music was unfamiliar, but Ian found himself enjoying it, especially as he caught glimpses of Jenny’s passionate singing.
When the preacher stepped up, Ian pledged to be the most interested-looking bored guy possible.
The preacher was quoting something about how people should think, “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely ...”
Lovely. I can do that. Focusing on lovely girls is my specialty.
“... how would you feel if the person next to you could hear your thoughts?”
Ian raised an eyebrow at the pastor’s words.
“I’ll bet you think your thoughts are safe from others, right?”
Well, I did ...
“Well, you thought wrong. There’s Someone Who can see straight through to your inner being and dissect the deepest secrets of your heart. When you fool everyone else, when you’ve got them swindled, He knows your real motives.”
Ian refused to glance at any of the family in the pew. His eyes were super-glued to the pastor.
“Jeremiah tells us that God searches our heart and tests our mind. And,” the pastor pointed to his chest and tapped it several times, “He will judge us by what He finds.”
He paused. Then continued, “But if we’ll cease from our deceptive and wicked thoughts, and turn to the Lord, He will ‘abundantly pardon’ us from any wayward inclinations. He will clean our minds and refresh them with whatever is pure, noble, and lovely.”
As the pastor wrapped up his sermon and everyone stood to sing again, Ian was no longer thinking about Jenny, pure and lovely as she was. He was thinking about the Man with the outstretched hand. With that beautiful light shining on his face, this time he didn’t turn away.
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