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By Patricia Backora

Suppose the apostle Paul were to show up at the typical American megachurch to
check up on its fidelity to true Biblical doctrine. What would be his assessment of
the mess going on today in Jesus Name?
Paul shook his head to clear it. The journey across two thousand years had been a
bumpy ride, but here he was, sitting on the manicured green lawn of Golden Grace
Cathedral. Unsteadily Paul rose to his feet, clutching a few scrolls hed brought
What were those big bugs buzzing down the wide boulevard? People were sitting
inside those metallic monsters, but appeared unhurt. They must be horseless
chariots! How strangely dressed were all the people Paul could see! He felt like
scolding two teenage girls who slowed down to stare at him. Both wore short shorts
with skimpy tops which showed off look-alike snake tattoos on their upper arms.
Give him a quarter, Zoe, said Gina, the tall blond one.
Must be a wino from the park.

He looks awful hungry.

Zoe smiled condescendingly at Paul. She handed him two dollars and said, Here
you go, mister. Dont blow it on booze.
Paul couldnt understand her. He averted his eyes from her halter top and said
Thank you in Greek, which of course, Gina couldnt understand. But Zoe could.
Awesome! Zoe breathed. Hes talking Greek, Gina, just like my mom and dad do
at home. Do you savvy English, mister?

Paul said something back in Greek. Zoe asked him, in so-so Greek, if he was from
Greece, and how he managed to land in Victory Valley, California.
Paul told her hed been sent all the way from Galatia to check on the progress of
faraway churches. And, he wanted to know, what was that huge building he was
standing in front of?
Why, cant you read? Zoe said. It says right here on this big sign: Golden Grace
Cathedral. Man, its the richest church in Victory Valley.
Paul frowned. A church? Gods church is Gods people, Zoe. Are you and Gina
believers? Id tend to doubt it, judging from the way youre dressed.
Zoe laughed and told Gina what hed said. Believers? In what?
In Jesus Christ, Paul replied. Have you ever been told about the Savior Who died
for your sins?
Zoe stared dumbly at him. What are you, mister? A preacher? Judging from the
way YOURE dressed, you CANT be a preacher! If anybody looks like a preacher, its
that rich guy over there by the front door of the church. She pointed at the entry to
the vestibule.
Paul tried to say more to Zoe about Jesus, but she said shed heard enough religion
from TV preachers. The girls saw their boy friends down the street and ran away to
go meet them.
Paul approached a dignified character dressed in odd clothing hed never seen
before. The man looked down his nose at the much shorter Paul and asked,
Anything I can do for you, sir?
Paul, who spoke several ancient dialects, couldnt understand him. But Greek was
the universal languagesupposedly. So he greeted the man in that tongue, which
caused raised eyebrows.
Hey, are you a Bible scholar? the other man asked. But why is it necessary to
show it off, just because youre a seminarian whos fallen on hard times?
Paul did not address him in English, just spoke more Greek.
I gather you cant speak English, the man said at last in rusty Greek. You must
belong to one of the many Greek families who immigrated to our community. But I
truly am surprised to see you so poorly dressed, sir. Most of our Greek residents are
upwardly mobile, like Zoes family. Her dad attends this church, but, sadly, she and
her mother dont. Their family split up last year due to irreconcilable differences.
Have you anywhere to stay, sir?
Unfortunately, no, Paul replied. I have no certain dwellingplace. I was just
minding my own business walking down the dusty road praying that God would send
me to somebody who needed my help when I got caught up in a whirlwind and
ended up here in this strange place.

Sort of like Philip and the eunuch, I suppose, the man said, with an indulgent
chuckle. My name is Pastor Roberts. Im senior pastor of this church. We built it
just two years ago, back in 2014.
What does that number 2014 mean, may I ask? Paul replied.
The man must be loony, the preacher thought, but he ought to be humored. Two
thousand and fourteen years since the birth of our Saviorsupposedly. though the
precise date is debatable.
Jesus began to build His church almost two thousand years ago, Paul said. And
yet you say YOUR church just began to be built only two years ago?
Its a mere matter of semantics, said the pastor. Oh, I forgot to ask your name.
Paul, or Saul of Tarsus, whichever you prefer, the ragged visitor said.
What are those rolls of paper youre carrying? the Pastor wondered.
A few letters to some churches.
Mind if I see them?
Paul spread out the scrolls on a table in the front vestibule of the church . Pastor
Roberts grinned. Such wondrously reproduced replicas of original Holy Writ! What
treasures! Paul himself couldnt have told the difference!
But I AM Paul!
Sirare you feeling well? Brother Roberts asked. Ill take your word for it that
Paul is your name and you arent from around here, but I do know it must be a trial
sleeping outdoors in this blistery heat, but
Oh, Ive felt better, Paul admitted. I havent had a decent meal in two days.
The preachers mouth fell open. It was SO hot outside anybody could become
delusional if they had to live, and starve, on the streets. Never say we arent
hospitable toward the homeless, said the preacher. You MUST accompany me to
our food pantry in the Sunday School building. All we require is some personal ID
and a signature, and well get you fixed up with a sack of groceries in no time! If I
had my way though, wed dispense with all the ridiculous red tape.
Paul looked at the preacher like he was crazy. What was red tape? What was
personal ID? What did those things have to do with showing kindness and
compassion to the hungry?
When they entered the rear building Paul exclaimed, First it was hot, now Im cold!
How did you ever manage to turn the hot summer into winter?
Pastor Roberts winked.
Our Digital Frigital Central Air Processor. Latest in
atmospheric modification technology. And, boy, it sure did cost us plenty of tithe
money! He led Paul down a corridor till at last they reached a huge vast room full of

shelves of canned goods and boxes. There was a big deep freeze where perishable
goods were stored.
Tithes? Paul repeated several times, as if in disbelief. You mean to say you
resurrected the Old Testament tithe without Gods permission? And if you did, you
said something about tithe money?
Sure did, Paul! How else could we keep this sheep shed from baking in 104-degree
heat? And the laborer IS worthy of his wages. I sure as heck dont preach for the
fun of it.
Paul gave him a stern look. I NEVER take money or anything else from anybody in
the name of tithing! I preach for a far better reward! You mean to say you actually
CHARGE people to come and listen to you break the bread of Gods Word to them?
Not exactly, Paul, but I believe in proportional giving. Ten per cent of everyones
wages is a pretty fair deal for enjoying our services. My preaching is well worth
every penny people pay me. Besides, if I only took up freewill offerings, Id have to
shut my doors and auction off this property just to pay the tax bill.
Whatever happened to giving out of a liberal heart? Paul wondered.
LIBERAL? The preachers eyes widened in shock. Thats a dirty word around
here, Paul.
Ninety-five per cent of our people are conservative, right-wing
Republicans. That means we believe in suits and ties, fuss-free fracking, Manifest
Destiny from sea to shining sea, gas-guzzling SUVs, deer hunting, flag-waving,
Nascar Racing and keeping red meat on the table. Furthermore, we teach selfsufficiency and dont believe in government welfarethough we do look after our own
when the chips are down and people lose their jobs.
Paul looked baffled. Such futuristic concepts I can barely comprehend, and I am a
very highly educated man. But really and truly, sir, has the church of Jesus Christ
sunk to such a low level that tithes are collected today on money, when even our
own Law never demanded tithes from the wages of laborers? You mean to tell me
your people would not give liberallyuh.I mean freely, if some need arose, except
through fear of breaking your tithe law?
Brother Roberts rolled up his eyes. Youre living in a dream world, Paul!
wouldnt give me one solitary dime just out of the goodness of their hearts!


If some brother or sister is hungry, Paul said, and a man or woman has food to
share, or money to buy it with, but still refuses to help that needy one out of a heart
of love, then that person should examine themselves to see if they really DO belong
to Christ.
The preacher grinned. Ill agree with you there.
But on the other hand, said Paul, the Word clearly warns in Proverbs: He that
giveth to the rich shall surely come to want. Gods money must not be squandered
on foolish things.
I do believe thats in Proverbs 22:16, Pastor Roberts said, though admittedly I
dont preach on that verse very often. Ill level with you, Paul. If I didnt get tithe

money, running our Hands Extended food pantry program would be near
impossible. I need tithe money to run the lights, the fridges, the freezers, the
electronic fly-zappers
Then I cant accept your food, Paul said. I will eat nothing made possible through
that which is a stumbling-block before the brethren.
Pastor Roberts laid a hand on Pauls shoulder. Paul, look. Youve been roasting out
in that hot sun for who knows how long! If you wont let me fix you up a food box,
at least come over to my place for a meal and a shower. After that I can drive you to
the mens mission where there are plenty of free beds available and access to social
services and employment counseling.
On one condition, Paul said. If youll allow me to address your next gathering of
the saintsthrough an interpreter, if one is available.
Oh, I know just the man, Pastor Roberts said. A Greek colleague of mine whos
sharp as a tack and speaks nine languages like a pro. All I ask is that you wear a
sharp suit and look your best for the meeting. Lately Ive taken a lot of guff from my
parishioners over alleged bad stewardship of church funds. So I want everyone to
see what a good job our Hands Extended Ministry is doing to help the less
Paul raised his bushy eyebrows. Brother Roberts, I might be pitifully dressed and
look hungrier than you do, but I doubt Im the less fortunate one. If youre robbing
the saints of ten per cent of their wages, you ARE a bad steward of Gods Truth by
misrepresenting it and youre in deep trouble with God.
The pastor looked miffed, but said, Ill rise above that cheap shot. Its obvious to
me you dont know how the world operates.
Oh, but I thought the church was not OF the world, Pastor Roberts.
With a wry grin Pastor Roberts said, Maybe not, Paul, but it sure is IN the world.
The preacher decided to dispense with the paperwork. His guest was obviously in no
frame of mind to fill out forms.
Paul, I still want to give you that food box. You
dont have to take the perishable foods refrigerated with tithe money. But do please
take some of our canned goods, freeze-dried army rations, and stuff like that.
People donated those items through freewill offerings.
I do hope Im not being a burden on your church, Pastor. Id rather do some freelance tent-making than impose on anybody.
Pastor Roberts winked. Nonsense, Paul! Nobody uses tents around here except a
few campers, and they buy nylon zip-up tents made in China. Actually, youre doing
my people a favor, helping em clean out their cupboards. Have you checked the
dates on these cans and boxes? Anything I give you, Id advise you to finish eating
within six months.
I hope to be back in my own time long before then, Pastor Roberts. But if this is
where Im needed the most, then so be it.

Now, Paul, do you have any specific nutritional needs we should take account of as
we pick you out your groceries? Are you a vegetarian, for example?
Paul frowned. What sort of new religion is a vegetarian?
Someone who doesnt eat meat.
Why should I refuse meat? Was your meat offered to idols?
I dont think so, at least not our tuna, Spam and hot dogs. Spamoh, darn! I
forgot, you said youre Saul of Tarsus, so you must be a Jew and cant eat pork
He who is strong in the faith believes he can eat all things, for he gives God thanks
and the food is sanctified through prayer and thanksgiving, Paul said.
Okay, so you like your Spam, the Pastor said. And since you wont take any
refrigerated meat, you could use this bag of TVP meat substitute, which is
reconstituted by soaking in water. It would be great in Hamburger Helper, if you had
facilities to boil the noodles in the box.
Facilities? What kind?
Well, like a pot to boil water. A Coleman stove, maybe. Surely, even if you do live a
no-frills life in Paradise Park, you must have a few personal essentials stashed away
in a shopping cart.
Paul shook his head. Sir, I have nothing except the robe on my back. I possess all
things, yet I have nothing.
The guys bananas, the preacher thought. He rushed over to the lower shelf where
snack foods were kept. Here, Paul, a few carbs to keep your energy up. Heres
some cereal, dried milk, trail mix, army surplus MREs, raisinsIll even throw in
some plastic bowls and spoons. You just mix a bit of the dry milk powder with a lot
of water and itll help you swallow your cereal. Now to get you some crackers,
Twinkies and Oreos
Slow down! Paul cried. All I know is Greek, Hebrew, Aramaic and Latin! Youre
mixing avant-garde Greek with your own strange language!
Why hadnt the pastor thought of it before? If this man WAS more than a homeless
Greek immigrant, a few questions might prove his origin. Why not test Paul to see if
he really COULD read his own parchments? Better yet, why not test his linguistic
prowess with everyday objects? So Paul was given a pop quiz as various items were
pointed at and asked their name in the four Bible languages. Paul passed with flying
colors till Pastor Roberts pointed at the microwave oven. Not only that, Paul recited
bits of the Torah in Hebrew, some tractates of the Law in Aramaic, and a few lines of
Romans in Greek. Undoubtedly this homeless guy was a genius who couldnt find a
job to match his high qualifications.
Unless youre a religious scholar, a scientist, or a lawyer, the preacher said, nobody
bothers to learn those ancient languages anymore. Some of our nations richest
preachers dont even know a word of Spanish. But youre a real whiz at those dead

languagesersorry, what a dimwit I am! I forget Hebrew is spoken today in Israel,

and, of course, you lived among Greeks, even if you arent exactly Greek yourself,
Paul. Here I was, thinking you were just an unemployed guru living in the park
because youre dressed in a faded robe.
Wow, you actually talk better than I do in
those old languages! Paul, Im mighty impressed! You must come home with me to
spend the night. On Monday morning I could take you to see the Director of the
Regional Synod, Reverend R.V. Gristler. Chances are he can get you a position in our
college tutoring our students who are having difficulty with our Cold Turkey Bible
Languages course.
AhPaul, the preacher added, Sometimes things happen to us that hurt us and
cause memory to fade. Maybe you went through a traumatic divorce, or you fought
in the military
I never divorced anyone, Paul said. But I do fight every single day against the
devil. Every Christian is called to be a good soldier
Thats it! Pastor Roberts interrupted. Theres no shame in suffering post traumatic
stress disorder. Ive been through that myself, and believe me, its VERY hard to
stabilize your emotions once warfare has taken its toll on your soul. Ive interviewed
hundreds of people before for positions at our church and seminary, and I know a
theological expert when I meet one.
Whatever you suffered in the past, Paul, it in
no way reflects on your brilliant intellect!. Once we establish your true identity and
recover your ID documents, educational credentials and work resume, youll be on
your way!
Home, I hope, Paul said wearily. He took off one sandal and rubbed his foot.
Well get you some new shoes, Pastor Roberts said. Tell you what. Ill take you
shopping before we head on home and well stop by the pharmacy for some foot
pads too. Looks like sleeping outdoors didnt help your feet any. And dont worry
about what I spend on you. Thatll come out of our missionary fund.
Paul looked terrified as Pastor Roberts drove him in his new Lexus SUV.
suppose youve ever traveled so fast before, he said, to humor Paul.

I dont

Why do all the women go around with their heads uncovered? Paul asked. And
their garments cleave close to their skin, similar to the divided garment you wear.
This is a Western democracy, not a Muslim country, Paul. We do have a few Muslim
ladies in the neighborhood who wear all the paraphernalia that goes with their
religion, but their beliefs are different from ours.
A couple of exits later, Pastor Roberts pulled off the Beltway Road. Over there! he
pointed. The Millennium Mega-Mall.
Pauls eyes widened at the sight of the glitzy modern shopping complex, all the
shoppers heavy-laden with purchases and all the fancy cars crawling in and out of
the parking lot. He felt a sharp tug on his seat belt, heard the screech of tires.
You stupid %$*!!&! Pastor Roberts hollered. His head stuck out the window, he
shook his fist at a woman driver whod grabbed HIS parking space first, although he

had his turn signal on. Worse yet, her speeding RV had smashed into the car to the
right of the disputed space.
The woman climbed out of the vehicle. The bleached blond was big and powerfully
built, like a bull on steroids, the preacher thought. She wore too-tight shorts and a
tank top. Her massive arms were covered in weird tattoos. She yanked open his
door and seized him in a headlock.
Let go! Brother Roberts yelled. Im a preacher!
"Yeah, right! And Im Mother Teresa! You dirtbag, Im gonna tear your ears off for
Yeow! the preacher yelled as she yanked at his chin. Paul, help!
Suddenly the woman let Pastor Roberts go and clawed at the air, yelling: I cant see!
Somebody turned off the lights!
Paul, she almost killed us both. Pastor Roberts was shaking head to toe.
Tell the woman youre sorry, Pastor Roberts. I dont know your language, but I
know the gist of what you said to her, and you ought to know better, being a minister
of the Gospel.
Pastor Roberts gnashed his teeth. When heck freezes over.
Either you repent, Pastor Roberts, or the consequences will be dire, Paul warned.
The preacher coughed and said, barely audibly: Lady, Im sorry, that was no way for
a Christian preacher to act. Would you please forgive me?
When pigs fly! Her fumbling fist felt its way back to his head and gripped his hair.
She drew back her other arm to take a swing at him, only to have it seized by
another woman asking whose RV had smashed into her Toyota.
None of your &$%!!! business! the bigger woman yelled. Its your own %$
%!!! fault! You parked over the line so it was an accident!
Hey, there! the owner of the Toyota shouted. Look at me when you talk to me, or
are you blind or something?
Maybe I am, maybe I aint! the RV driver yelled back. I can still tear your tonsils
out with one arm tied behind my back!
By now a curious crowd was gathering. Paul said to Brother Roberts, Ive got work
to do and youre coming out here with me. Dont worry about the woman. Shes
blind as a bat and can do you no harm.
The blind woman flailed wildly at the air with her jackhammer fists. The other woman
stomped on her instep, collared her and flipped her over like a rag doll. Didnt
mention I was a black belt in karate, she said.

Two mall security guards, accompanied by a cop, rushed up to the defeated woman,
who was lying on the pavement rubbing her head.
The crowd grumbled. What are they saying? Paul asked the preacher.
Theyre cussing about not getting a good enough show. The fight didnt go on as
long as they wanted. Man, those people were out for blood, Paul.
Just like Romans gathering in the arena watching gladiators fight to the death, Paul
sighed. Human nature is so rotten it hasnt changed through the centuries. If
anything its gotten worse.
A police car showed up with sniffer dogs who quickly detected what the cops were
searching for. They ripped up the seat cushions and found a big stash of dope.
Yes, Hal, this IS Sylvia Stoner, one officer said. Her face matches her mugshot.
Looks like shes high on crack.
Pupils dilated, vision impaired, his colleague said, as he cuffed the woman to lead
her to the patrol car. Man, these crackheads never do learn, do they? Last time
Sylvia tripped out she saw green men on Mars. Now, nothing.
As the police filled out a report on the smashed Toyota Paul preached to the crowd.
Pastor Roberts translated.
A few sniggered when Paul preached the Great Redemption Story. Others yawned.
Paul grew angry, warning the people that the day would come when everything their
eyes could see would be burnt in the fires of Gods judgment, and only eternal things
would be of any lasting value.
A few catcalls from the edge of the crowd.
Roberts? Paul demanded.

What are they saying now, Pastor

Theyre poking fun at you for being a poor vagrant whos got nothing to burn up.
Youre just jealous of them, cause theyve got bags and bags of cool clothes and
fancy gadgets. So who are YOU to talk?
I may possess nothing now, but all things are MINE! Paul shouted. Pastor Roberts
was almost too embarrassed to translate.
The roar from the crowd was deafening. Hey, one kid shouted, Ive got a new
Saturn 5 Android Box AND a 3-D Andromeda Space Spinner!
Look at my Mutant Monster Mashers! a younger boy yelled.
Thats nothing! a preacher hollered. Look at my Ruby Rolex! It rocks! What kind
of a preacher ARE you, hobo Joe? Wheres your collection plate?
Pauls face reddened in indignation. Pastor Roberts reached in his hatchback and
pulled out two velvet offering bags attached to long poles.
Right here! he called. If you like this message, drop off your donation to the
Seaview Mens Mission! Feed hungry souls AND hungry tummies!

It aint even Christmas yet, one man mocked, and youre already takin up a
collection for that fleabag flophouse?
Dont knock it, Mister! Pastor Roberts called back. With this recession going on
you could lose your job next week, then what would you do for food and shelter?
A few nodded and griped about hard times and how they could only afford to look,
not buy, in the mall. They came and contributed what they could.
I appreciate your wanting to feed the hungry, Paul whispered to Pastor Roberts.
But these people need salvation. You must try to save as many souls as possible
from perishing.
Youre wasting your breath, Paul, the preacher replied. Jesus said to fish for men
but the fish arent biting. Dont cast your pearls before the swine.
After a few raw insults and other assorted mockery Paul was fed up. The crowd
dispersed, pointing at Paul and joking about his weird hippie threads. Then a twelveyear-old boy approached. He told Paul he was tired of all the peer pressure other
kids put on him to be cool, and at least Paul was a friend of the earth who reduced
his carbon footprint by recycling old bathrobes. The boy had often worried about his
soul but was afraid to admit that to the other kids. As the preacher translated Paul
led the boy to repentance and faith in Christ as Savior. Paul encouraged him to read
the Scriptures and find other sincere Christians to fellowship with.
It wasnt entirely fruitless, Paul said, as the two men walked across the parking lot.
I get a strong feeling that boy will win many to Christ. As tumultuous as it was,
that episode with the angry woman attracted the crowd in which there was one boy
willing to receive salvation.
Yeah, I guess, Paul, the preacher grimaced, rubbing himself. But my neck has a
crick in it. That she-devil almost broke it.
Dont you think you should pray for the Lords forgiveness for that outburst of
Pastor Roberts grimaced. Maybe later, Paul, when I say my bed time prayers.
Gods got His slot on my daily schedule. Oh, my, there goes my phone. He dug it
out of his coat pocket.
Yeah, Timmy, whatcha want now? the preacher sighed.
Dad, I stepped on my Wonder Widget and I cant play it no more.
So whats the prognosis?
Its smushed and cant fix it.
Well, Timmy, maybe youll be more careful with your things next time.
Go to Radio Shack and get me another one. I really need it, Dad.

Timmy, youre grown up enough to wait for your allowance and go buy your own.
I need it tonight! We got a party over at Rorys.
No, Timmy! Thats final
Well you just waitll I tell Mom you said she looked fat in that dress.
You dirty little rat! Pastor Roberts hissed. Okay, bud, you win this time, but Ill get
you back for that one.
Timmy told his dad the exact model he needed and signed off.
Pastor Roberts pocketed his slim phone.
sorcery! he cried.

Pauls mouth hung open. That must be

No, Paul, just the wizardry of the digital age.

where you come from, eh?

Guess you dont know cell phones

So you spoke with someone from afar off through a tiny little box? Paul asked,
wonderingly. I am in a different world.
Yeah, Paul, a wonderful world where children remember everything you said and tell
on you to the other parent. I said something to Timmy about his mother I shouldnt
have said and if I dont pay him off hell tell her and shell get mad at me. A no-win
situation at my house.
The tongue is a great world of mischief, Paul replied. You should always triumph
through the power of Christ. Thats not a very loving thing for your son to do to his
own father, to hold you to ransom for a gift. There, I see the entry to the great
palace ahead of us. Are you here to visit a great king?
Pastor Roberts laughed. Not really, Paul, unless youre talking about Burger King.
Lets go in and get out of this heat.
Paul was flabbergasted by the huge wonderland of flashing lights and busy
escalators. He followed Pastor Roberts onto one and the two men rose up to the
second floor, toward Radio Shack.
This place is a wonder! Paul cried, as he surveyed the vast aisles of gadgets and
gizmos, and looked at the wide TV monitors overhead.
There go more girls without sufficient clothing, Paul whispered to the pastor. That
woman over there with the children. Her arms and legs are naked. The shame of it
all! Does her husband not care?
Hardly, the pastor sighed. Nothing shocks anybody anymore. She could run
through this mall without any clothes on and hardly anybody would bat an eyelash.
Disgusting, Paul grumbled. If some man lusts after that mans wife, she will cause
him to commit adultery and lead his soul to hell.

Chances are, Pastor Roberts yawned, her old mans no better than she is and their
marriage will end in divorce like most do these days.
Abominable! Paul sputtered.
Ah, there it is, Pastor Roberts said. Just what the doctor ordered. If I buy this for
Timmy hell be my friend forever.
Paul frowned. To think your own son should subject you to financial hardship to
gratify his lusts for earthly things!
The preacher guffawed. Hardship? Ive got more money than I know what to do
with, Paul. Now if I werent one of the best-paid pastors in Victory Valley, then Id
worry about the price tag! He took Timmys toy through the checkout.
Again, Paul was stunned by the way the price was read by the cashiers scanner.
Indeed, it must be the last days, he said. Nothing man imagines to do will be out
of his reach. Guard your soul with all diligence, Pastor Roberts.
That I intend to do, Paul. So long as the church mortgage company doesnt put a
lien on it first.
They walked halfway down the promenade, dotted with cute little kiosks full of toys,
jewelry and refreshments.
Hey, Paul, Pastor Roberts pointed. Theres that store I told you about, The
Boardroom Bull. Lets go take a look, eh?
After an hour of hunting and trying on, the old apostle was supplied with a sharp new
suit and shiny shoes. They picked up a few more odds and ends, then the pastor
paid with plastic. The pair made a quick stop at the drug store before heading back
to the car.
If the mall, with its furturistic dcor and escalators had fascinated Paul, he was even
more impressed when he and Pastor Roberts got home.
Paul marveled at the
sprawling, ranch-style parsonage impeccably landscaped with rose trellises, flowering
shrubbery and petunia plots.
It is a palace fit for the Roman emperor! Paul cried. You must be a very eminent
man in this city!
Hardly, the preacher replied, retrieving his purchases from the back seat. I dont
always get treated as if Im of much significance.
Once again Paul noticed the temperature change from the outside desert air to the
coolness of modern interiors. My wife Kim went to an Inner Child Seminar for a few
days and dropped our two-year-old daughter off at her Moms, since Ill be too busy
to look after her, Brother Roberts said. Its the maids evening off. So itll just be us
three men tonight.
After being initiated in the mysteries of the Roberts guest bathroom, Paul took his
first shower. He needed some casual clothes to relax in for the evening. The pastor
was irked at himself for forgetting Paul needed something besides a suit and tie. So

he picked out a few garments belonging to 12-year-old Timmy. Paul was much
shorter (and thinner) than the preacher, so the boys clothes fit better than anything
in Pastor Roberts closet.
Paul did need to tighten his belt to keep Timmys
supersize jeans from falling off. Timmy didnt mind giving some of his stuff away. He
had gotten too big for his britches and his old duds were destined for the church
rummage sale anyway.
Weve got some jumbo T-bones in the freezer, the pastor said, wondering if this guy
had ever heard of such a luxury. Wouldnt take five minutes to thaw em out in the
Youre confusing me again, Paul said. If youre talking about dinner, just make me
something simple. I really dont wish to cause you any inconvenience.
No problem, Paul. Pastor Roberts opened his vast fridge and spotted something
else. Yesterdays leftover lunch would be good. What do you think, Timmy?
The boy scrunched his pug nose. But I hate leftovers! Why cant we have steaks,
Timmy, the pastor lied in plain English as Paul sat at the kitchen table, Paul said
his teeth hurt him. He hasnt been to a decent dentist in ages. I think steak would
be too much of a challenge for him.
Timmy made a face. Oh, all right!
The pastor heated dinner up. As the three dug into a pile of spaghetti Timmy rolled
up his eyes in disbelief. Paul acted like hed never eaten with a fork! And he didnt
know what to make of his odd-looking meal. They had ice cream for dessert. Paul
was fascinated by its cold, melty sweetness.
After they ate, Brother Roberts lingered with Paul at the table and told him all about
his churchs Personal Enrichment program.
We take the word rich literally at our church, Paul, the preacher said. We believe
heaven begins in the here and now, not just after you die.
I die daily, Paul said. My crown is laid up for me in heaven.
Paul was shown to the den where Timmy was lounging in an Easy-Boy recliner,
already engrossed in graphic murder and mayhem on TV.
Timmy, Brother Roberts said, give the clicker to Brother Paul. Hes our guest.
Buzz off, Timmy mumbled. I got here first.
Timmys dad got mad. He bopped Timmy with a couch pillow and ordered him to
vacate the room at once or hed have to mow the lawn tomorrow.
Timmy gave his dad a pudgy-faced scowl and flung the clicker on the couch where
Paul was sitting. The sulky teenager stormed off up to his room to watch the show on
his own wall-to-wall screen.

Whatd I do to deserve a brat like that, Pastor Roberts muttered in Greek.

Any man who cannot rule his own household well, how shall he take care of the
church of God? Paul replied.
Before the pastor could respond to that, Paul picked up the clicker and asked, What
is this? And who are those tiny people on that glassy surface, fighting and yelling
nonsense at each other?
Thats just an old police drama, Soul of Sin City, the preacher shrugged. Its all
pretend pictures moving on a plasma screen, and the blood is just ketchup.
It is MAGIC! Paul cried. Violent plays on a transparent screen without real people
in them. Pastor Roberts, do you usually corrupt your sons mind with wizardry?
Aw, hes used to it, and he doesnt want to be different than his friends at school.
They all watch stuff like that.
Is SATAN on your wall, Pastor?
Not exactly, Paul. The devils in the detail and Im no electronic whiz so I cant
explain how those little people appear on the screen. But I can tell you that little
babys a digital, ultra-thin, high-definition Smart-TV with a 100-inch plasma screen.
It has interactive Internet access and also serves as a 3-D game console. I can get
hundreds of channels on the thing. Shes a real beauty, aint she?
Pauls head wobbled from it all. Too many wonders in the space of one day, he
said, and your last words in Greek sounded like gobbledygook. But Im far more
concerned about your soul than the miracle of modern entertainment. Did you never
read my warnings in Scripture about how men would be inventors of evil things in
the Last Days?
The pastor grinned slyly. Evil? This old idiot box keeps Timmy off the street, doesnt
it? If that kid comes straight home after school and parks himself in front of the TV
at least I know where he is and what hes doing.
I just dont understand how that thing could possibly help your son run the race and
win the prize, Paul said. And what about teaching him to fight the good fight of
Oh, our Timothy does run, Pastor Roberts said. He runs up a hefty food bill. He
looks like a slow salamander but once allowance day rolls around he runs down those
stairs like a streak of lightning.
Paul got up and edged toward the door, brow knitted. Hey, wait, the preacher said.
Some Christians dont believe in watching anything but Christian stuff. Lets turn
Prey TV on. I think Brother Ben Buck just might be on at this time. Now, Paul, get
ready for some REAL spiritual food! Dont worry, Ill translate.
There Ben was, spiffed up in his Salvation Suit with its thousands of dazzling
diamond lights which were programmed by remote control to change color patterns
to match the mood of Bens message. Ben looked youthful for his forty-odd years.
His professionally styled feathered coiffure covered his ears. Bens mouth spread in

a pearly white smile. I once was a sinner but now Im a winner! he shouted. Can
ya shout amen, folks!
I do understand the word amen, Paul said in his classical Greek.
pronunciation leaves something to be desired.

But his bad

Plant a seed to meet your need! Ben cried, flashing a large bill.
That looks similar to the two pieces of papyrus those girls gave me, Paul said. Is
that what you use for money?
It certainly is, Pastor Roberts said. Now Ben is telling his worldwide audience to
keep on sowing when it gets rough going. Pay your tithe and your prayers will fly.
Vow right now with a joyful shout and God will cast old satan out. Whats Ben saying
now? When youre back is slammed against the wall, sow more seed from the hole
in the wall. Withdraw more wampum and give it all.
Paul frowned. Do you and your wife believe these strange doctrines?
Sure do. Where do you think all my blessings come from? I sure as heck dont
punch a time clock at some slave job. Now Brother Buck is pitching his miracle olive
oil from Jerusalem. It comes in four different flavors, depending on what kind of
miracle you need from God. Myrrh, cinnamon, mulberry, and cherry. The preacher
cackled and slapped Paul on his bony shoulder. Clever old devil, aint he? You and
me, we arent as dumb as those other yokels watching this carnie act. I bet Ben
buys a truckload of cheap cooking oil and mixes in a few fake flavors. Ben the
miracle man makes a big killing with that gimmick!
Ive heard enough! Paul cried, waving his hands. Make the magic go away! After I
preach tomorrow morning, I want to go home!
Back to the park? Brother Roberts frowned. You cant be serious.
Anything is better than remaining around this Latter Day confusion! You call some
lost woman a filthy name! You refuse to pray for forgiveness afterwards! Your wife
goes away for a few days to touch base with her inner child instead of pressing on
to maturity and putting away childish things. Your son has no manners. He
blackmails you into buying him an expensive gift.
But Paul, they were on sale
No more excuses, Pastor Roberts! That boy of yours disrespects you because youre
too slothful to train him up in the ways of the Lord like any faithful father would.
Today the church is the building, not the people. Preachers on magic screens sell
fake miracles in the Name of the Lord to rob the poor. And then theres your
unbelief. On the way home you told me that woman who attacked you went blind
because she was a crackhead, whatever that is. You couldnt accept the fact God
delivered you from having your head torn off by that crazy woman.
Brother Roberts blinked. Paul, Ive been a serious student of the Bible for most of
my life. I graduated with honors at Stonewall Seminary. I researched exhaustive
post-grad dissertations at Westchester Divinity College. I have it on good authority
that miracles may have taken place back in Bible days, because God had no other

option than to supernaturally intervene on behalf of primitive people who couldnt

create their own miracles in laboratories. But when all is said and done, miracles are
no longer necessary because of advances in science and technology.
Paul frowned. I warned young Timothy to be on his guard against the deceptions of
false science which opposes Gods Holy Word. He pointed at Pastor Roberts. Its
YOU, Pastor Roberts, who needs a miracle, deep down in your soul, to cause you to
see where youre going wrong. Youre headed for the ditch, Pastor Roberts, and
whats worse, youre leading others to the same spiritual downfall. Youve changed
the very MEANING of Christs Gospel to a false creed of greed. You live like a king
while others pay ten per cent of their wages to make it possible. You want more and
more toys like a spoiled child. Youre worse than your own son!
The pastor was stung. Thats a fine howdy-do! After the hospitality Ive shown you,
and that shopping trip. Oh, well, I ought to be used to ingratitude.
Paul stared at him with his steely cavernous eyes. So your kindness to me robs me
of the right to speak to you in truth like a brother in the Lotd? Unlike most people of
your generation, Pastor Roberts, I cant be bought. Ive ALREADY been bought with
a price by Christ Jesus and I MUST speak only the truth. If you want me to leave, I
Brother Roberts felt like slugging him, but then he got a sly grin on his face. Tell
you what, Paul. Maybe youre right, I can be too pig-headed for my own good.
America is a free country with freedom of speech. Youve got the right to your own
opinions and Ive got the right to mine. Please spend the night with us. You said
you wanted to preach to my congregation. But theres another church in a far worse
shape than mine. What say I make arrangements for you to speak at their service
tomorrow morning? All itd take is a few phone calls
The preacher held a grudge against a competing pastor across town. Dr. J.D.
Vanderbilt pastored the other fancy church in Victory Valley, Miracle Manna Worship
Center. Using his most conciliatory tone of voice, Pastor Roberts convinced the
gullible Pastor Vanderbilt to let bygones be bygones. He spoke of a certain Dr. Paul
Benjamin in glowing terms, explaining that he was a Greek-speaking immigrant who
was a decorated war hero, and the finest of Bible scholars with a post-doctorate in
theology and Biblical forensics. Would Dr. Vanderbilt please allow Dr. Benjamin to
address his congregation the following morning and share spiritual nuggets with
them, if an interpreter tagged along with him?
You mean the mans well-educated and he cant even speak English? Dr. Vanderbilt
demanded. Who ever heard of such a thing? Raymond Roberts, are you pulling my
Hes smart as a whip, Jack. Honest. Hes well-versed in all Bible languages, but he
just never got around to learning English.
Well, theres only so many hours in the day. I guess Dr. Benjamin just never got
around to it.
Well, wholl translate for him, then?

Theres a Greek immigrant in our congregation who learned English very well before
he and his family came over here. A very likable fellow named Aristotle Arachnid. If
you say yes to my proposition, Id be forever grateful for your doing this favor for a
minister who needs the positive publicity it could provide for him.
What did you say Dr. Benjamins nationality was?
Thats immaterial, but I think hes from some backwater region of the Phosphorous,
not far from the Taurus Mountains.
Oh, you must mean the Bosporus, Raymond. I hope your Dr. Benjamin doesnt
have something to hide if you cant even pinpoint where hes from.
Hes honest as an angel, honest. But you really would be doing this guy a favor by
letting him speak. Itd be great publicity for your church as well. For foreign
missions, that sort of thing.
Whered you say he studied?
He did his post grad in Athens, I believe.
Athens, Georgia? Haw haw haw!
No kidding, Jack, that guys been around. Hes such a Bible whiz hell have your
people spellbound and nobodyll go to sleep when he gives his talk. Honest Injun.
I dunno, Raymond. Sounds like some fly by night Bible thumper nobodys ever
heard of. Seems to lack experience in English-speaking churches.
Then give him some, Jack! Even a pimple-faced kid starts out as a burger flipper
before he becomes CEO of the company that hired him.
Oh, all right, Raymond, but lets get this straight. If hes such a great speaker, why
dont you let him speak at your own church tomorrow?
Weve already booked a guest speaker to fill tomorrows slot, and Dr. Benjamin
couldnt minister at tomorrows evening service either, because were holding a harp
concert instead.
Plausible enough explanation, Dr. Vanderbilt said frostily. But does he charge an
arm and a leg for speakers fees?
Thats the sweet thing about it, Jack. Since Dr. Benjamins new in the area, he
insists on recouping traveling expenses only. His primary interest is in building up
his experience portfolio. Dr. Benjamins policy is to freely share what God has given
him. Hes a no-nonsense expositor of the Word whose true treasures are laid up
beyond the blue.
Sounds like a nutcase, but hes a steal. At least the guy sounds interesting. Well
pop for a grand, just to help him get to his next church, Dr. Vanderbilt said. Hey,
this really saves my bacon. I was gonna have Dr. Elton Crawley from Brandenville
minister tomorrow morning. But he wants ten grand to preach. After we hang up you

get hold of your interpreter and Ill tell Dr. Crawley there was a fire at our church and
he cant come after all.
Oh, thank you, Jack. I swear, Dr. Benjamin wont let you down.
He better not, Raymond. If he scares my parishioners off, Ill sue for loss of tithes
and offerings.
Deal, Pastor Roberts said. Lets just consider this an olive branch Im extending
from our church to yours.
Next morning, Paul and his Greek interpreter were chauffeured to Miracle Manna
Worship Center. Brother Roberts was thrilled to see his mysterious guest leave.
Elated that he was about to get even with his archrival for winning the Golden
Steeple Award at the Pulpit Pilot Preach-athon, he keeled over laughing.
Once Dr. Vanderbilt saw the diminutive, but dignified, Bible scholar in his brand new
$5000 suit and shiny shoes, he tripped all over himself to make him feel welcome.
Surely it would be good publicity for Miracle Manna Worship Center to feature a
renowned guest speaker from the Third World.
Dr. Vanderbilt mounted the steep steps up to his colonnaded pulpit, straightened his
collar and announced: This morning we are honored to present a renowned doctor
of divinity who is on a worldwide missions tour. Dr. Paul Benjamin comes to us from
Tora Bora.
Thats TARSUS, Reverend, the interpreter whispered. Ohforget it!
Be that as it may, Dr. Paul Benjamin is his name, and hes made his mark in
theological dissertation all over the Middle East. Now his fame is being noised
abroad in our neck of the woods and hes fast becoming the best in the West, too.
Dr. Benjamin, what do you think of the United States, this blessed bastion of
freedom shining its light of liberty throughout the earth?
Hesitantly the interpreter posed that question to Paul.
Paul raised his bushy eyebrows. WHAT freedom?
Why, the freedom to spread the gospel, Dr. Benjamin, the preacher replied, once he
recovered from his shock. Because youre in America you can say anything you like
without being hassled by the authorities.
Weve heard how repressive other
countries are.
Are you really and truly free? Paul asked the congregation. What kind of liberty is
it when people are slaves of THINGS instead of to Christ? Paul looked all around at
the vast cathedral, with its vaulted crystal ceiling, sparkling stained glass windows
which shone like the rarest jewels, velvety pews, lofty oaken pulpit, teakwood
offering table, vast monitors, inspirational artwork, and choir loft crafted from
mahogany woodwork. He pointed at mysterious gadgetry he never could never have
imagined in his own lifetime. How much of your lifes work did you have to devote
to acquiring all these earthly things, and how many more material things will it take
to make your shepherds content? he began. I was positively stunned to see that

marble statue of a preacher out by the entry of this building! Such shameful idolatry
should never be tolerated in the gathering places of the saints.
So many of you are falling away from the true gospel originally delivered to the
saints, Paul continued. The grace of God is being treated as a license to sin. What
kind of pastor preaches Christian liberty while demanding ten per cent of a mans
wages to lavish more luxuries on himself? How can Christians be slaves to imaginary
violence on a magic screen and still claim to be free from the world and its affections
and lusts? Why do little men appear on those screens and demand big money from
Gods people to buy magic miracle potions in a little bottle?
The congregation gasped. That isnt the worst of what Ive seen in your Last Days
earth, Paul said. My interpreter, with no sign of shame on his face, translated for
me as one man among you proudly introduced me to his FIFTH live-in partner, as
you call it. Some of your women and girls wear clothes so revealing that a brothel
keeper would blush. Your generation is scientifically advanced beyond all I could have
imagined in my day. But like Sodom, youre spiritually backward and headed for hell.
I exhort you all to REPENT! Dont you know the Lord Jesus is about to appear and
punish your Sodom society? Why would you perish along with it?
So much for freedom of speech. Just as it had always happened after one of Pauls
sermons, a riot broke out. The interpreter barely escaped out the back door. Paul
vanished. The congregation threatened to fire Dr. Vanderbilt for hosting a speaker
who offended their enlightened ears with such outdated truths.