Jeremiah Knight arrived at First Baptist Church of Ozark Falls around four o’clock in the afternoon. Appointments would keep him from getting home for dinner this evening, so he bought a sandwich on the way in. He planned on wolfing it down between appointments and getting prepared for the deacons’ meeting, which would begin promptly at 6:00 p.m.
Jeremiah had always felt that the Deacon Board was an important bunch. It was impossible for the pastors in any church to properly tend to all of the flock. The deacons were there to help minister to people and to help the pastors make decisions about the direction of the church. He quietly entered his office and sat behind his desk. Barbara Chambers, his secretary, brought him a stack of mail and messages. He put the hefty package at the side of his desk.
“Later,” he said.
Jeremiah felt fortunate about the deacons in his church. They were committed and serious men who never seemed to allow egos and pride to obstruct the mission. Over the years, he’d heard nightmares about deacon boards who couldn’t agree on anything and others that led to fist fights and church splits.
He was thankful for the levelheaded group in the First Baptist fold. They were a large part of the reason why the church had prospered greatly over the years. His one objection to the deacon situation was the length of the meetings. It didn’t matter what policy they attempted to put in place, they just couldn’t be held beneath four hours long.
He knew that he was a part of the problem. He needed every matter thoroughly briefed, discussed and prayed over. “The Lord deserves our best,” he would constantly tell his staff and volunteers.
An hour and a half later, he had eaten his sandwich and sorted the mail. He was making some notes for the upcoming meeting when Barbara announced Lincoln Snow. Jeremiah told Barbara to send him in. They were in the habit of meeting a few minutes before each meeting to iron out any wrinkles there may be. Jeremiah greeted him from behind the desk.
“Come on in Brother,” he said.
“Hi Jerry,” Lincoln replied.
Jeremiah went through a few pleasantries and then handed him the meeting agenda. “You got anything to add?”
Lincoln reviewed it slowly. “No sir looks like you got everything covered.”
“Alright then, I think I hear some of the men arriving next door. Why don’t we head into the meeting?”
“Uh, Reverend, do you mind if I close the door? I have a personal matter to discuss with you.”
After leaving Abby, Michael drove out to Lake Ozark to be alone and to think for a while. He parked under a tree and walked out to the lake bank. He’d always loved the big lake as a boy. He, David and their dad camped and fished there every summer for as far back as he could remember. He looked at the serene and beautiful water and the majestic trees stretching like a canopy in some parts, almost leaning into the lake.
“This ain’t Manhattan,” he said out loud.
He took out the acceptance letter and read it again, this time slower, both for his edification and verification. With the financial aid and the funds his parents had promised, he was going! He would, indeed, leave Ozark Falls and pursue his dreams.
For months he’d bottled up his desire like a powder keg. He felt like he was carrying around an unpleasant secret. Now it was coming out and he could feel the release. He could feel the shackles falling off of his spirit.
He had won the ultimate championship. This was bigger than anything he’d ever experienced. Spontaneously, Michael broke into a jig, jumping and dancing around the bank. He figured he was alone, but he didn’t care if anyone was watching. After wearing himself out he sat down by the bank. The dreaded conversation with Abby had gone much better than expected. He meant it when he told her they would make it. New York was far away, but he wouldn’t give up on them so easily. Six months from now, he hoped Abby would feel the same way.
“Let’s cross that bridge when we get to it,” he said, and sailed a stone across the lake.
The bigger issue right now was Jeremiah; and, to a lesser extent, David. He’d known for months about their conspiracy to draft him into the Bible Institute and youth ministry. He’d simply played dumb and just kept waiting.
The night after his winning catch, David had called to congratulate him on the win. They talked very little about football. David couldn’t wait to launch into a sermon about the terrific service he’d experienced at Morningside that very night and all the things that God was doing with the youth. Michael was glad to hear the news, but it was always like that with David. He sounded like the same broken record: “This is what God’s doing, little brother, and you better come get some of this action.”
“That’s awesome, David,” was all that he could say.
It wasn’t that Michael didn’t care about the movement of God or about the people’s lives that were being changed by the Lord for good. On the contrary, he’d always loved his Small Group responsibilities and had seen many kids respond to his leadership and teaching. He also loved and respected David greatly. He just hated the constant pounding and the feeling that someone else was in control of his life.
In particular, Michael was glad to hear that Ramon Sanchez’s mother, Elsie, had given her heart to the Lord. God knows that family needed some healing. Maybe this would also lead to the mending of Jeremiah’s relationship with Cindy. Who knows what will happen, he thought. Sometimes God seemed to have a sense of humor.
He threw his last stone and stood to his feet. He was going to New York. It was a done deal. Dad would be home late from his deacons’ meeting tonight. “Atta boy Michael,” he said out loud. “Hit him when he’s tired.”
He jumped into Harriet and started her up. He would go see David and break the news in person; then he would drop by Cindy’s as well. She would be easy after the conversation he anticipated having with David. She’d always encouraged him to follow his heart. Cindy; always the rebel. If nothing else, talking to her would encourage him and he still needed a little of that.
Dropping by would also give him a chance to check in on her. He didn’t like the way she looked the last time he saw her at the game. Sure, she looked upset over the Ramon and dad feud, but personally she didn’t look well. Like her brothers, she had dark hair and blue eyes. She was a striking beauty. On that day, her hair looked frazzled and her clothes; cheap. It seemed as if Ramon’s GI money and her social worker’s salary weren’t making the grade. He spoke to Kathryn about it. She politely told him to butt out.
That was fine, but Cindy was his sister. Unlike most of his friends, he could see the good in Ramon. But he was no fool, beneath the surface, he knew there was also lots of bad. Cindy would enjoy the spontaneous visit. David, he had better call in advance.
He drove out of the park and dialed David’s home telephone number on his cell. Tara answered and pointed him to the church. Michael drove there and parked beside David’s Aerostar. With two kids and one on the way, it was starting to look a little small.
“One day,” he said and entered the Ozark College modular building that doubled as Morningside Community Church. David was working with a couple of guys stacking foldable chairs in a corner. He turned at the sound of Michael closing the door.
“Hey Little Bro. Tara told me you were dropping by. To what do I owe this dubious honor? You know my salary, go ask Dad,” he said smiling.
“David, I took Logic this past semester. I think there are a few other places that I would go if I needed money.”
“When little brothers show up out of the blue, there’s always a money motive.”
“Aw, keep your filthy lucre.”
They both started laughing. “You’re a real comedian Michael . . . not! Don’t quit the day job, alright. Unless, of course, you’d like to apply at Morningside Community. We’re in desperate need for a youth pastor—”
“You get your subtlety training from Dad.”
“You get your preaching gift—”
“OK, OK, OK—”
“What is it with you? Every time I mention anything about the ministry, you give me the ‘OK, OK, OK’ treatment. Dude, it’s December. What are you planning to do with yourself?”
Normally, this is where the conversation would break down and Michael would sigh and leave the room. It just wasn’t worth the argument. This time it was different. This time Michael felt a strange confidence standing before his imposing older brother. He was holding all of the cards.
“The answer to your question arrived in the mail today.”
David gave him a “what are you talking about” look and said, “Alright, enlighten me.”
Michael spilled out the words. “I was accepted to New York University Law School—”
“New York?” David replied.
That was all people from Ozark Falls seemed to hear whenever the name of his law school was mentioned.
“New York?” he said again.
Slumping his shoulders and relaxing his stance, David looked stunned. He stared at the ground and his whole attitude softened.
Michael lost his defensiveness. He muttered on, “They’re also giving me a financial aid—”
David looked up with hurt in his eyes. He was, sort of, smiling.
Michael finished the sentence. “At a low interest rate.”
David walked over and hugged him. “I’m sorry, Little Bro. I know I’ve been a little hard on you.” David continued, “I’m not going to lie, I am surprised, and maybe a little disappointed.” Michael nodded assent. “But I respect your decision, Michael, and I’m on your side. I’ll be there for you Bro, if you need me.”
Michael looked at his brother with a newfound respect. David straightened up and put the jocular, big brother posture back on.
“With your speaking gifts and brains, Michael, you’ll make a great lawyer. Plus, clients will be attracted to you like a magnet.”
“With the smell of that fresh Ozark Falls manure on your boots, I’m sure you won’t be able to keep them away from you in ‘ol Manhattan.”
They both exploded into laughter. They were brothers again. Everything would be okay.
“Well, I’d better get back to my chairs. Listen, you and me will have to sit down before you leave and go over some things, if you know what I’m saying.”
Michael was already walking out the door. “I’ve already seen the video, Love Doctor. Plus, dad has already fumbled that pass sufficiently, thank you very much.”
“Hey, I’m not kidding—”
“Hey, I know Preacher; that’s the scary part.” Michael let the door slam behind him and breezed into the parking lot.
Michael was halfway across the parking lot when the thought hit him: Dad! He had better tell David to clam up until tomorrow. He knew that they spoke several times per day. David would probably assume that Jeremiah already knew. He ran back into the building. David was talking to a worker. He motioned for David to come to the door.
“What is it now . . . you’re a CIA operative?” David said.
“Cute. I forgot to tell you. I haven’t spoken to Dad yet.”
“Well when do you plan on telling him Perry Mason—after your first trial?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Mom’s going to—”
“You put Mom up to this? Have you no—”
“You seem awfully concerned about my moral bearings, lately.”
“Someone has to be.”
“You heard me, clam up,” he said and closed the door behind him.
Michael jumped into Harriet and headed toward Cindy’s. Abby had been a breeze compared to David. He knew that David was wounded but making the best of it. Maybe it would help him. At least now the pressure was off. He could begin looking for a real youth pastor.
In a way, the Jeremiah and David conspiracy was a wonderful fantasy. He would intern with David under the watchful eye and mentorship of his dad. They would build up a great church and one day form other churches. Soon, their own sons would walk in their footsteps. The Knight clan would raise up a dynasty of righteousness in a dark world. Everything was in place; the vision, the gifts, the resources—the Hand of God.
It sure sounded good, except for one small ingredient, Michael Stephen Knight; soon to be prodigal son. He sighed. How did he become responsible for the fate of the world?
He looked forward to seeing Cindy. She would understand. She would encourage him and lift him out of this mood. He jumped on the main road and sped toward her apartment.