BY TIM CAMERON
Walking along Interstate 44, his face weathered by wind and time, Harold turned and held up his thumb, his faith low and his pessimism high as he observed the annoyed looks and scowls.
You wouldn't look at me that way if you knew what I did for you, he thought to himself. Car after car passed Harold. He kept walking ahead but his thoughts were bound to the past. Years of surviving enemy jungles, hot humid nights spent watching and wondering if he would ever make it home alive-had taken their toll-leaving Harold hardened, scarred and bitter. Failed marriages, rejected and abandoned by his kids, and the loss of jobs had left Harold feeling defeated and disrespected.
"No respect," he said aloud.
They wouldn't treat me this way if they knew what I did for them, for this country. Finally making it to an old truck stop along the interstate, Harold made his way through the open door of the busy gathering place. His long graying hair ratted, his hands filthy, his clothes tattered. He sensed the stares.
"Bum, loser, deadbeat..." just a few of the names he heard hurled at him. He was certain others who weren't lashing out were having the same thoughts, though.
Sitting down at a booth, Harold lit up a cigarette. A friendly man approached him.
"Sir, my name's Jack. What can I get for you?" the young man asked.
"How about a million dollars and a cup of coffee," Harold cracked.
"Well, if I had a million dollars, I wouldn't be working here, but I'll definitely get you that coffee," Jack said with a smile.
Harold, taken aback by the man's pleasant tone and warm nature, found it in himself to smile as well. He quickly became aware of his surroundings. Nervously and skeptically, Harold looked around the room assuming the scorn of others. Running his hands through his hair and then rubbing his eyes, he felt defeated and worn out. But Jack interrupted Harold's thoughts of despair.
"Here's that coffee and if you don't mind, sir, I'd like to buy you a special meal," the young man said.
"Nah, that's not necessary," Harold spoke with pride rising up.
"Well, listen, I don't have a million dollars, but this restaurant's mine and I reserve the right to 'treat' whomever I want. You're a first time guest in my restaurant, and first time guests get to eat free!"
Harold looked around sheepishly as if he were part of some sort of joke. Quickly realizing it wasn't a joke, he reluctantly agreed with a sheepish nod and said, "That's mighty kind of you. You're right. I am a first time guest. So tell me, what's good?"
Jack smiled, "Tell you what, I'll bring you a menu and whatever looks good to you, I'll make sure it's cooked just the way you like it."
Harold exhaled. "Well, this is different," he thought to himself.
Having never felt welcomed anywhere before, he now sat at the table of a genuine restaurant owner, almost feeling like royalty.
Who am I kidding, this is just someone who thinks I'm a charity case, Harold thought, as his pessimistic side reared its ugly head. It's the least the guy should do, especially if he knew all that I've done for him, Harold said to himself.
Jack, walking back could see the hard countenance on Harold's face and had to choke back a tear. "Lord, I know you brought this one in, please move through me for your glory in Jesus' name," he prayed.
"Well here you go, take a look at whatever suits your fancy and I'll be glad to get it for you. Oh, and I didn't catch your name earlier."
"Uh, oh, um, thanks, Harold...or Sergeant Harold Anderson if you will," Harold replied.
"You don't say?" Jack stated and continued, "Well, Sergeant Anderson, it's my honor to have you here. Please, order whatever you want."
It had been a long time since Harold could order up like this. Feeling ashamed and unworthy, he wrestled to ask for all that his stomach begged.
"I'll have your 'special,'" Harold said with thankfulness in his voice. "On the sign up there it says, two eggs, bacon and toast - $4.99."
Off Jack went but minutes later he and two ladies came out from the kitchen rolling a tray. On the tray were eggs, bacon. In addition pancakes, biscuits and gravy, oranges, grapes and much more.
"What in the world? What is all this?" Harold asked.
"It's our Champion's Breakfast-only rolled out to our very special guests," Jack replied.
Harold's eyes surveyed it all. Because of his pride, part of him wanted to bark at the young restaurant owner, I'm no charity case! But there was something deep down inside that wanted to know: Why? Why me? Why now? Harold thought.
The reality was that Harold was starving. He gratefully began to devour the meal. (For the first time in a long time he began to feel full and it felt so good.) As Harold was finishing off his last bite, a young lady walked up to clear his table.
"May I?" as she removed the dishes and his glass.
"Sure thing...all done," Harold replied.
With a smile on her face she asked, "What did you think?"
"It was the best meal I've had in a long time," he said with a smile.
"Well great, Jack will sure be glad to hear you say that," she said.
"Jack sure seems like a nice guy," Harold said, as he took in a sigh from feeling overstuffed.
"Yeah, he is. I have to tell you, before this job and meeting Jack, I'd never stepped a foot into a church. Thankfully, the Lord knew that and he put Jack in my path."
The young lady continued with her story: "Meth, broke, a single mother and hopeless was all I felt for many years, but one night I stumbled into this place and boom...JESUS! Jack is all about JESUS! And He's for real."
"Jack?" Harold asked, puzzled.
The lady grinned, "The JESUS that Jack preaches...HE'S FOR REAL. And if you knew what He had done for you, you'd want to know him too."
Then just as fast as the young helper had made her way to clean-up, she was gone.
Harold sat in his booth full from his meal. Suddenly a feeling of confused emotions overwhelmed him. But why me, why now? Harold thought to himself.
Approaching toward the table from the kitchen area was Jack, walking with a big old grin on his face, his smile almost taking Harold aback.
"I hear you liked the food?" he said with a smile.
"Yeah, it was delicious. I really appreciate it." Harold quickly replied.
Expecting that it was now "sermon time," Harold suddenly put up a wall.
Jack looking at Harold, asked, "May I?"
With Harold nodding his approval, Jack took a seat and sighed, "Thanks, it's nice to take a break, you know?"
Jack sat there and took a great interest in hearing Harold's story. He asked where he was from, where he had been and where he was headed.
"Not real sure where I'm headed," Harold answered, "Any place I'm welcome, I reckon."
Jack feeling a lump in his throat and swallowing back the tears, offered a solution: "Tell you what Harold, I have an old farm house near the edge of town. It used to belong to my parents. It has plenty of room and you're welcome to stay there as long as you like. Maybe help with some chores, put out hay for the cattle, that type of thing. You can stay there until you've had your fill. How does that sound?"
Harold, upon hearing those words, sat fidgeting in his seat. This kind of generosity wasn't normal. Harold looked puzzled, "Can I ask you something? Are you a weirdo or what? Why on earth would you allow a total stranger into your world?"
Jack, had to chuckle. "No, I'm not a weirdo, Harold. Besides, you're wrong about something. It's not my world. What I have belongs to my Lord. He's told me to share it with whoever comes and needs it. You wouldn't be just my guest, but an invited guest of God Almighty."
"You don't say?" Harold caught himself sarcastically responding, "I'm sorry, forgive me, but I'm not too much into the God stuff."
"That is quite alright Harold because He is totally about, you. When you hear all He's done for you, you will understand," Jack answered.
Jack helped Harold with his bag and drove him out to the farm. He helped him settle into his new living quarters.
"Shower is over here...towels are over there. Help yourself to whatever you like. I'll be back to check on you in the morning," Jack said.
Harold stood stunned and silent as he watched Jack drive off into the night.
Why? Why so kind? Why so kind to me? he kept thinking.
Jack, driving off into the distance, could barely see the road for the tears that were pouring out of him. His heart breaking, as God the Father allowed Jack to share what he too, was feeling - hurt and desire to see this precious lost and lonely soul find what his heart longed for. Jack prayed, "Father, please, let your WILL be done. Please touch Harold's life in a way that only you can." As Harold prayed those words, deep inside him he heard these words, "I AM and I WILL. The heart you have for Harold is not of you, but of ME. I am moving in you and will continue to do so. I love Harold with an everlasting love. Trust and obey me and you will see my glory."
Realizing he was hearing directly from his Heavenly Father, Jack pulled his car aside to the edge of road. He got out and lifted his hands toward the starlit night and began to worship.
Praising God, he whispered, "Thank You Jesus...Thank You for moving in me, Lord. Thank you for your heart that NONE should perish. Thank you for your hope, mercy and grace. It's YOUR goodness that leads us to turn to you. Thank you for who you are."
Meanwhile a few miles back at the old farmhouse, Harold carefully studied his new surroundings. He slowly paced the house, staring at old family pictures. He came to one picture in particular and froze in his tracks. He quickly lifted it up off the end table nestled close to the couch. It was a picture of Jack dressed in military gear. The frame surrounding it had the outstretched arms of Jesus and right beside the picture was an old book titled: Prayer Journal.
Harold looking around sheepishly, but with great curiosity, opened and read what it said. It was written by Jack's mother. Its words were more than profound...
Jack's First Day at War
With great angst I write this prayer. Heavenly Father, I realize you know all too well what it means to send a son into harm's way. I thank you so much for the fact that you sent your ONLY Son to die for me and my family. Lord, I fear I fall short. As I watched my son board the plane to fly into harm's way, I did NOT want to let him go. But I realize the duty and the call. I know your Word says you send angels to keep charge over us. I BEG YOU NOW Lord, that each and every moment that my son is gone that you, oh Lord would send angels to keep charge over him. Keep guard over him and bring him home safe and sound, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Harold scanned through the pages...
Day 20, day 70, day 300, day 365. Thank you Lord for keeping him safe as I continue to stand in the gap and pray that you would continue guard over his life, spirit, soul, and body...
Jack's Second Year at War
THANK YOU JESUS, JACK'S COMING HOME - ALIVE! They told me had the bullet been any closer, he'd be dead. But by your grace he's alive! I know by whom that miracle was wrought Lord and all I can say is: THANK YOU JESUS!
Harold studied the journal. Must be nice, he thought, wish someone had been praying for me like that. Choking back tears, profound loneliness invaded Harold's thoughts.
RING. RING. RING...
There in the kitchen, the telephone was ringing. Harold paused and decided to answer, "Hello?"
"Hey Harold, so glad you picked up," Jack's voice said on the other line. "I forgot to tell you about the shower. The cold knob is really the hot and the hot knob is really the cold."
Harold interrupted with laughter, "Is that right?"
Jack continued, "Well anyway, didn't want you to scald yourself."
Harold promptly responded, "Well no, I wouldn't want that either, thanks. And by the way, thanks again, this is mighty kind of you."
"Well you are very welcome to stay as long as you need and hey, get a good night's rest will you?" Jack said with a laugh.
"Will do," replied Harold.
Harold hung up the phone and again had to ask, Why me?
The next morning, Harold sat up in bed and stretched big with a yawn. Clean-shaven and feeling so refreshed from sleeping in such a comfortable bed, he jumped up and ran to take another shower.
Wow, two showers in two days. This is the life, he thought, I could get used to this.
But no sooner had those thoughts come, Harold's pessimistic side kicked in: Just who am I kidding? This ain't real and this ain't for me.
Depression began to settle in once again. Walking out of the shower and over to his old shaggy and tattered clothes, Harold realized he would have to put on his same old clothes. He somberly climbed back into bed wanting to hide from the world.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door, "Harold, you awake?"
It was Jack. He was holding a cup of coffee in his hand and carrying a duffel bag. Harold hurried to open the door-quickly putting on the robe he had found by his bedside the night before. Jack stood smiling ear to ear startling Harold back to his new reality.
"Good morning! Did you sleep well? Hope the bed was comfortable. Hey, I brought you some coffee and HERE...hope these, fit. I have some clothes that don't quite fit me. I think they might fit you better."
Harold was so stunned that he couldn't say a word, as Jack continued, "I think I got this last year for Christmas. But hey - they must think I'm skinnier than I am," he said laughing.
Harold still in silence and shock opened the duffel bag to see new clothes - something he hadn't worn, since God only knows when.
"Well, uh yeah, these should work just fine. If you don't mind I'll step in there and put 'em on."
Jack with a smile on his face said, "Oh yes, by all means please do."
Harold stepped into the bathroom and into the new clothes. Taking a look in the mirror, Harold felt a tear on his weathered cheek.
How long, he tried to remember, how long since anyone had given him the time of day or taken any kind of notice?
Feeling humbled and unworthy but all the while so thankful, he stepped out of the bathroom, sheepishly.
"What can I say but thanks? I clean up pretty good, huh?"
Jack responded, "Well that's just a start. I've got more clothes that don't fit, but it appears they might be just your size. Say, you must be starving and I need to get to the restaurant. How does another Champion's Breakfast sound?"
If you keep feeding me like that, these clothes might not be my size for too long," Harold said with a chuckle, "but sure, yeah. How can I say no to that?"
Getting into Jack's vehicle, Harold noticed right away the Bible sitting in the tray. A wooden cross hung from the rearview mirror and a sticky note that read, "For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, to give you a hope and a future."
Jack got into the truck and closed the door.
"You sure must be a religious fellow Jack," Harold said shaking his head. "I've never taken to religion - didn't reckon it could do me much good."
Jack paused and looked at Harold, "You're right Harold. It wouldn't do you any good."
Jack tuned the key and started the engine.
Harold's eyes grew wide, "Why not me?" he asked.
"Well, you see, religion does NOBODY any good," Jack responded.
"But you obviously put it into practice. You have a Bible and you do good deeds," Harold replied.
Jack turned to Harold and with great compassion said, "It's NOT RELIGION Harold, its JESUS. Knowing Him is what makes me want to do good things and it's Him whom I seek; to know Him, to actually get to know Him."
Harold could hear the passion in Jack's voice as he continued, "Look out there Harold what do you see? You see the morning sun, the dew, the grass, the trees, and the birds. Do you hear them? The one who made all that - the very one who woke you up this morning and gave you another day, desires that you and I would seek to KNOW HIM. Isn't that amazing? And Harold, you will want to KNOW HIM, when you realize all that He's done for YOU."
Seeing that Harold was uncomfortable with the conversation, Jack said, "We can talk more Harold, but let's get going, breakfast is calling."
Jack put the truck in drive and started down the road. Harold looked out and around him as he and Jack drove toward the restaurant. Jack's words reverberated in his mind: "The very one who woke you up this morning and gave you another day...desires that you and I would seek to know Him."
This is really awesome, Harold thought to himself as he bit into the sausage.
The biscuits and gravy were delicious. Eggs and bacon cooked to perfection, just as they were the day before. Diving in full bore, Harold ate until his could hold no more.
Once he finished, he sat looking around the restaurant. Over in a corner, he saw Jack and his crew huddled in a circle. They were all holding hands and their heads were bowed. Harold's curiosity caused him to turn an ear in their direction.
He leaned over and tried to silence the other background noises as he heard, "Heavenly Father, we ask that each and every person that steps foot into this place today would sense your presence and know that this place is different. We pray Lord that this would be a place of refuge. As we have prayed so many times before, we are praying believing that this truly is a 'table in the wilderness' in Jesus' name, AMEN."
The circle broke. The cook and waitresses scattered to resume their daily duties.
Heading toward Harold, Jack asked, "Well? How's it, tasting today?
Harold nodded his head in approval, "Great! It tastes great!"
Harold sat in the booth, his stomach full and his heart warming. He watched silently as he noticed one of the waitresses take a hearty breakfast to what appeared to be a single mom and her three young kids.
Straining to hear her words, the waitress spoke, "This breakfast is compliments of the owner. He has said that you are his very special guests of the day."
Harold could see the emotion in the mother's face, "Thank you, thank you," she was saying to the waitress.
Jack with his usual smile, walked up alongside the waitress, "Ma'am, just want you to know...the King of all kings has instructed us to take good care of you today. Is there anything else we can do for you?"
The mother began to sob, "I had just prayed, God if you are real, please show me."
Jack kneeled down to her side and motioned for a couple of other waitresses to come over. "Ma'am, if you don't mind, I'd like to take this time and not only tell you that, yes, He is real, but I'd also sure like to introduce you to Him. I want to share with you all He has done for you."
Harold sat in the distance, watching and listening as Jack told this single young mother..."Before you were even formed in your mother's womb...God Himself had spoken of you. You are His handiwork and you have been fearfully and wonderfully made. For years the Lord has given you day after day as a gift...hoping you would ask, 'Who made me? And who put me here?' There have been many who claimed to be the one who did, but there was only ONE in particular who came to this earth, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, performed many miracles, and that Man was Jesus. He announced that, 'You (meaning all of mankind) will put me to death BUT in three days' time I will be alive again...and whoever calls upon ME shall NEVER DIE...for I am the resurrection and the life and they that believe upon me, though they were dead, YET shall they LIVE.'"
Jack continued on with his plea and then asked permission to help invite Jesus into her life. The mother nodded with approval. Jack and the waitresses formed another circle with the young mother. As Jack was starting to close his eyes to begin to pray, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Harold's hand.
"Jack, can I invite Jesus into my life, too?" he asked with a broken voice.
Jack could not contain his emotion and began to cry as he answered Harold's question, "MOST CERTAINLY."
Feeling the presence of God in his restaurant that day, Jack decided to be bold and invite all of his customers to join in prayer.
"Please, if I may - this is a most glorious day, a day like no other. You are all invited to join us as we call upon the Savior - your Creator - Jesus Christ. If you too, want to know for certain that when your time ends on this earth that you can and will have eternal life in heaven, please come join this circle."
Jack, through his obedience witnessed the glory of God as he was allowed to see God's Spirit move in him and through him to touch his world and those around him.
That night, back at the old farmhouse, Harold got on his knees and began to thank Jesus for all that He had done for him and for bringing him to this town.
Across town, that same single mother of three tucked in her young children. "Mommy, since we all asked Jesus into our hearts that means we are going to be a family forever?" the youngest child asked.
"Yes Honey, that's what the nice man said. Remember, he said whoever believes in Jesus shall be saved forever. So yes, we are going to be a family forever," she replied.
"That's good mommy, I want you to be my mommy forever..."
No sooner had she pulled the covers around her little girl, A LOUD TRUMPET SOUNDED followed by a mighty shout: "COME UP HERE!"
Jack, Harold, the single mom and her children joined millions of believers worldwide as they ascended to their glorious destiny. Jack found himself face down before the Lord crying his heart out. The glorious presence of God encompassed them all. Jesus came, lifted up Jack and brought him to the Father.
"Here he is Father..."
Jesus said, "WELL DONE MY CHILD." This was heard all throughout heaven.
"I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was homeless and you gave me a bed."
Jack broke down once again and began to cry, "When Lord, when did I give you a drink. When did I feed you? As he stood there shaking and trembling in wonderment, he felt a tap on his shoulder.
It was Harold. "Thank you Jack for sharing Jesus with me so I can be here with our awesome Lord in this incredible place and saved for eternity," he said.
He gave Jack a huge hug and they both wept with great joy.
They had made it...They were both ready for that glorious day!
This is the first of a series of short stories from my, Sounding the Alarm Preludes to the Rapture collection. Please feel free to download the stories as formatted and use them as witnessing material.