Chapter 16

 Straight To The Heart

On Sunday morning, Ben arose early and set out on his long hike to the Jenkins’ place. He still wasn't sure why he
had accepted the invitation to their church. He wasn't at all sure about this God thing, even though his experience
with the mysterious visitor seemed convincing enough. He was not yet ready for religion.

He arrived at the boat dock as a few fishermen were launching into the river. They stared at him.  He heard one
say, "Hey, isn't that the guy that killed that girl?"

"Nah! I don't think so," the other one answered. "That guy had better never show his face around here. He'll be
sorry he did."

When Ben got to the church, Frank and a man in a suit, who Ben assumed was the pastor, were standing outside
by the front door talking.

"Hey, here comes our friend now," Frank said. He and the pastor walked out to meet Ben as he neared the

“Ben, glad you made it,” Frank said as he reached out for a handshake. “Ben, I want you to meet our pastor,
Reverend Wendell Bass.”

Reverend Bass was thirty-five years old. He had been married to Sarah for ten years. They had a seven year old
son, Luke, and a five year old daughter, Rachel. Wendell had served as pastor of LowCountry Community
Fellowship for six years. He had succeeded his father as pastor. John and Miriam Bass had resigned to become
missionaries. The church elected Wendell to become the pastor when his father left. The Senior Reverend Bass
was the founder of LowCountry church, and Wendell had grown up there. He moved away to attend Bible College,
where he met Sarah. They were married at the church right after graduation and had served as Youth Pastors in
Virginia until John resigned and Wendell was elected to take his place.

Pastor Bass extended his hand with a smile. “Hi, Ben.  Hmmm!  Ben doesn’t quite seem to fit you. You look more
like a Benjamin to me. Mind if I call you Benjamin?”

Ben gulped. Benjamin? He thought. Where did that come from?  “Uh, yeah ... I mean, no ... That’s fine.”

“Well, Benjamin, I am glad you came today.”

“Really?” Ben eyed him suspiciously.

“Benjamin, I know who you are. I know what you’ve done. But we are not here to pass judgment on you. You are
as welcome here as anyone else. God loves you, and we love you. I am sincerely glad that you have come here

“Thanks, Reverend,” Ben responded. The man seemed sincere. His eyes had the same loving look that Ben had
seen in Isaiah's eyes. There was something different – something deeper – something that seemed to radiate
from this man. Ben liked him.

“Oh, drop that Reverend stuff,” Bass said. “My name is Wendell, but everybody calls me Pastor. I’ve gone by that
for so long that it feels more like my name than my title.”

“Okay … Pastor ... Pastor Wendell.”

Bass laughed, “Good enough! Let’s go inside.”

They entered the sanctuary, and everyone greeted Ben with the same friendliness he had found in Pastor Bass
and the Jenkins’. He could tell that some recognized him, but that didn't seem to affect the way they treated him.
After a few lively songs and some extended and spirited prayer, the congregation settled in for the sermon. The
Pastor read his text from the book of Romans, chapter three, and verses ten through twenty-four:

"As it is written: "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks
God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.
Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths
are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way
of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the law says, it
says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable
to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we
become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the
Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.
There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus."

“My friends,” Pastor Bass began. “I want to ask you, what is it that you have done that is so bad that you will go to
hell for it? What is it that upsets God so badly? Is it stealing, or murder, or lying; is it smoking, or drinking, or sex
sins? Is it one or more of the Ten Commandments? No! I say emphatically, No! It is not those things that are the
problem. Those are just the symptoms of a deeper problem.

"The Bible says that we are all sinners. If you have broken one of God’s laws, then you are just as guilty as the
person who has broken them all. That means that everybody is guilty and everybody is going to hell under that

“There is one way to avoid hell and one way to insure hell. To avoid hell, you just have to accept the gift that
Jesus died to give you – eternal life. Jesus died for your sins. We’ve all got them. And Jesus died for them. All of
them. When God’s judgment was aimed at you, Jesus took it instead. He took your place.”

Those words struck a chord in Ben’s heart. It sounded familiar. It sounded personal. It sounded right. Isaiah's
dying words, "I done took your place." Ben tried to shut out the thoughts. But they persisted.

The pastor continued, “The way to insure going to hell is to reject God – to refuse his gift of life. God said in
Deuteronomy, chapter thirty, verse nineteen, ‘This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I
have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.’
Choose life! Choose life! Choose life! Choo…”

The words continued to echo through Ben’s mind. “Choose life!  Choose life!” He stood up and walked out of the
church. People noticed. People prayed.

Frank and Kate joined hands and Frank whispered a prayer. “Lord, please touch that young man. I know you are
calling him. Reach deep into his heart. Let him feel your love – your forgiveness – your restoring and renewing
power. Let your Holy Spirit hound him until he decides to accept you. Enlighten his mind that he may understand
your plan. Jesus, reveal yourself to him. Amen.”

“Aaaay – men!” Kate repeated as she squeezed Frank’s hand.

When the service dismissed, the Jenkins' found Ben sitting in their back yard on the picnic table.
"I'm sorry," he said as he saw them approach. "I had to get some air."

"That's okay, honey," Kate said. "I have to get up and move sometimes myself. And sometimes church services
can be long when you're not used to ...” She stopped short. She had said too much and hoped she didn't make
him feel small.

"Well," Otis jumped in, "come on in the house where it's air-conditioned. It's still too hot for me out here." It was
early September but it still felt like summer.

"Yeah," Frank said. "Let's go in and watch the game while Kate gets dinner ready. When will your parents be here,

"Probably about two o'clock I'm guessing," Ben answered.

"Good!" chimed in Kate. "They can join us for desert."

The guys gathered around the TV and found a ball game. Atlanta was playing against Philadelphia. The game
was in Atlanta. Of course, being southerners, they were all rooting for Atlanta.

Kate went into the kitchen and started frying chicken.

Ben sat staring at the television screen, but his mind was elsewhere. Frank and Otis were cheering, booing, and
screaming at the referees, at the players, at the coach. At times it felt like they were actually in the stadium. A few
times Frank jumped to his feet and stomped around the room.

"Ya'll settle down in there," Kate called out from the kitchen. "You're going to tear the house down."

Frank and Otis laughed. They left Ben alone with his thoughts. As they laughed and cheered over the game, they
continued to pray for the young man obviously struggling with the pastor's sermon.

Ben's mind was light years away from the ball game - light years away from this room. So many thoughts were
bombarding his mind - Isaiah's constant urging for him to "Surrender"; Otis' comment about God working with
scraps; the mysterious visitor's reference about wrestling with God; the pastor's challenge to "Choose life"; and
that name, "Benjamin". What did it all mean? He didn't even notice the smell of frying chicken wafting in from the

Frank and Otis, on the other hand, were deftly straddling three universes. The game had them in an emotional
frenzy. The chicken had them drooling. And their burden for the young man sitting beside them had them praying.