1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
Scriptures such as Psalm 19 tell us that the God of the universe has set within His creation living pictures of Himself and His perfect plan. I don’t know that David had the same images in mind when he wrote Psalm 19, but I have no doubt that the Lord, in fact, declares His works in creation. It takes little effort to see it.
The Bible has several references to the Lord as Light. Jesus Himself declared, “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness.” (John 12:46) In the heavens, what can be said of our sun is not unlike that of the Son. It gives light to the earth. It is constant. It is so radiant, so bright we can not look upon it with the naked eye—even as the Son of God in heaven is so radiant, so righteous and holy that we are unable look upon Him from this world in our natural (fallen) state. A few of the disciples had a glimpse of that radiance while Jesus was still ministering on earth. “…Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him.” (Matthew 17:1-3)
The world is only in darkness when it turns away from the sun. What a good picture of mankind. Christ is always there, always giving light and life. It is mankind who turns away into darkness. But even here the love of our God provides. In a world that is turned from the sun, there is another light, a “…lesser light…” (Genesis 1:16) set in the heavens for those in darkness. The moon has no light of its own. It merely reflects the light of the sun onto a darkened world. The true light (the sun) is still there, unmoved, but God has ordained another body–the moon–to reflect the true light while the sun is out of view. That is a picture of how the Lord has ordained Christian believers to reflect Christ’s True Light onto a darkened world. Jesus told His disciples, “You are the light of the world…Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14, 16)
When we look at the moon, we see evidence that the sun still shines even though we can not see it. When the world looks at a Christian, should they not see the evidence that Jesus is the True Light even though they can not see Him? In order for the moon to provide light to the earth, it has to remain in sight of the sun. It can not follow the earth into darkness. Likewise, Christians must remain in The Light (of Christ), or they lose the ability to fulfill their God-given purpose. It is no less important for fellow believers to see the Light of Christ in each other. When one Christian can distinguish the Light of a brother or sister in Christ amidst the darkness of the world, that believer is encouraged to also remain in orbit, as it were.
Reflecting the light of Christ takes two forms. First, as shown in the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, it involves acting Christ-like (“that they may see your good works…”). Secondly, reflecting the Light is also associated with the Word of God. This essay began with Psalm 19:1-2. It is appropriate to conclude with verses from Psalm 119. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path…” (vs. 105) “The unfolding of your words gives light…” (vs. 130). Christians reflect the light of Christ by shining His Word, the Scriptures, on those living in darkness. It is the light of the gospel. As the Apostle Paul put it, “For God, who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”
Creation itself points us to the wonder and glory of the Creator. The heavens do declare.
[Scripture references are quoted in whole or part from the New International Version or the New American Standard Bible.]
[I ran across this old, very short story of mine the other day and thought I’d post it here.]
Whatever happens next I will not be able to control. That was the first thought that entered my mind when I glimpsed the gun. Strange how your mind sharpens during conflict at the same time your body refuses to budge. I stood still and watched. At least I seem to remember not moving, not changing my position at all. My mind was clicking, though. I knew that at some point my body would have to catch up. —
It had started as such a nice day. I came down to breakfast wearing a new tie. I kissed my wife and wiped a smear of grape jelly from my son’s chin. The coffee was hot, the bacon was crisp.
“No rain today, I think,” my wife said. “Will you be home early? I picked up some steaks. We could grill out. First time this spring.”
“I’ll do my best, babe. You know how things go sometimes,” I said.
“Well, call me. I can always stick them in the broiler,” she said.
I drove into the city with the April sun full in the windshield, a back light to the dirt streaks left by neglected wiper blades. Seemed like a typical day. I greeted my co-workers and snagged the coffee cup from my desk as I made my way to the nearly empty pot in the corner of the room. I had a lot of paperwork. It kept me inside all morning. Things were pretty quiet for a Friday.
By noon it was surprisingly warm. The windows didn’t open, and the air conditioning hadn’t been turned on yet in the old building. Air conditioning wasn’t such a big issue when I was younger. That’s what the older guys say. “When I was a kid,” it usually goes, “we didn’t have air conditioning in school, in our cars, nothing. Don’t know how we survived.” Surviving—applies to other things besides air conditioning. —
I didn’t move, but my eyes were taking everything in–two guys with guns, four people in the store, one clerk behind the counter. And me.
They hadn’t made a move yet. They didn’t know I saw the guns. Well, I only saw the skinny guy’s gun, but I could tell the fat guy had one, too. They were waiting for something, maybe courage. The clerk was oblivious, sacking up bread and cold cuts for the old lady in front of me as I stood there holding my charcoal lighter fluid and beer. I wasn’t sure if I should get his attention or not. Who knew how he would react? We didn’t need a panic at the moment. —
Lunch had been a panic. I had driven across town and stopped near one of my favorite delis. There were patrol cars parked on the street, lots of them. I spent half an hour talking to a couple of the police officers about a dead guy. The story was he shot some lady and then turned the gun on himself. I never got to go in the deli. That’s the job, though–one thing after another. I bounced around all over the city, probably made five stops that afternoon. Each one seemed to be in a shabbier neighborhood than the last. It was late afternoon when I finally was able to pull away and head home. I only had to stop and get the lighter fluid to ignite the charcoal for the grill. —
Ignite. That’s what was getting ready to happen. The only thing lacking was a spark. The skinny guy looked nervous. His eyes never stopped jerking back and forth. The heavy guy hung back. He almost looked sleepy. But the sweat rolling down into his eyes gave the lie to his expression.
Two ways you can deal with fire, stomp it out or smother it. That’s after it ignites. How do you keep it from starting in the first place? You have to remove the fuel, or the oxygen or the heat, right? Boy Scout stuff. My body was catching up with my brain.
The little old lady nearly bumped into me as she turned and passed by, cradling her bag like a fullback breaking through a tackle. I smiled at the clerk as I stepped up. “Hi, how are ya?” I said a little too loudly. “You know I have to say, I travel all over selling security systems to stores like this, and I’m impressed. Your security cameras are top of the line. Tied right into the police station, I bet.” The clerk half smiled and half frowned at me. I caught the skinny guy’s reaction out of the corner of my eye. His eyes bounced like ricocheting pin balls now, taking in every corner of the ceiling. The fat guy woke up and started backing toward the door. Skinny followed him out. I walked to the plate glass window and took down the license plate number as they jumped into the back seat of a waiting car.
“What the heck you talking about, Mike?” I heard the clerk ask me. “You ain’t a cop anymore?”
“Still a cop, Sammie,” I said over my shoulder as the men drove off. “Hang on to my stuff a minute, will ya? I have to make a call.”
The first thing he saw when he opened his eyes was the sole of a cowboy boot on the floor inches from his face. As he pushed himself up, a wave of nausea swept through him, sending him back down. His head hurt. He put his left hand to his temple and recoiled at the resulting stab of pain when he touched the throbbing wet spot. He tried once more to get up, slowly this time, and had managed a sitting position when the smell hit him. It was a foul mixture of earthy metal and body waste. He knew immediately what that meant and struggled to focus, to be alert, defensive. It was then that he noticed the knife in his hand, a butcher knife—a bloody butcher knife. He struggled to his feet and backed away from the man attached to the cowboy boot…
Read the new Matt West novella BY DEVIOUS MEANS
His clothes had been taken for evidence and replaced by what looked to him like baggy orange hospital scrubs. The interrogation room was like most he had seen, except brighter and cleaner. A woman in a gray pants suit stood against the far wall as the corrections officer, or C.O., led Matt to a table in the center of the room. He could smell the coffee that steamed in a paper cup in front of him.
The gray pants suit walked to the table as the C.O. closed the door. She pulled out the metal chair. It made a sound like fingernails on a chalkboard. They both winced. She glanced at the coffee and said, “I hope you take it black. I’m Detective Haskie. How’s the head?”
Matt shifted in his chair. His was bolted to the floor. “I’ll live.”
“You’ll live.” She smiled. “That’s an interesting response since the other guy didn’t.” Haskie flipped open a light green folder and consulted a stack of papers. “How well did you know the victim, Mr. West?”
READ BY DEVIOUS MEANS
I put this story up in four parts a while back. Because of that, the last part shows first–not a good thing if you intend to read it from the beginning. So, I am re-posting the entire story here from the beginning. If you have already read it, thanks. If you haven’t, you might want to take a few minutes to find out about–
Charlie and Pete straddled a pair of wood crates and listened to old Buck spin his yarn. They might have been hearing it for the first time the way they hung on every word. Truth is they knew it well enough they likely could tell it themselves. That was how good Buck was at his storytelling. He would lean forward in that big old catalpa rocking chair–the one he carved out of a huge catalpa tree that fell on him in a lightning storm back when he was driving a mule team for the Blackjack Mining Company. Trapped him under for two days until a flash flood washed him out–the way he tells it. He went back the next day with an ax, cut that tree up and hauled it home. Most of it ended up lumber for his pump house, but after he retired from the railroad in ’32, he turned the rest of it into a rocking chair. Carved the rockers in the shape of railroad rails, but bent up, of course. It had been sitting there at the Frisco depot for four years, Buck in it most of the time, and him telling tales to any soul who’d sit still long enough, which was mostly young ones like Pete Reilly and Charlie Wicks.
Every time Buck would lean forward to convey a critical part, the boys would lean forward to catch it. As he talked, Buck’s snowy eyebrows arched and frowned, wriggling like caterpillars marching across his forehead.
“Them raiders used to come across that Missouri border in packs looking to rob and pillage folks on this side of the line, on account of how they disagreed on the subject of slavery,” said Buck.
“But that was before you were born,” said Charlie, contributing to the story.
“‘Course it was. That was back in the ’50’s. I was born in ’61, the same year Kansas got her statehood. Anyhow, most of them border raids was up north of here. That’s where Parson Mull come from, up around Baldwin City, I believe it was.”
“He’s the one hid his fortune around here somewhere,” said Pete as the rumble of the Frisco locomotive drew his eyes down the track.
Buck nodded and leaned in. “Parson came down after the first big payloads of lead and zinc was struck just south of here. When the mines started bustin’ out everywhere is when the town sprung up. It was plenty wild hereabouts in them days, let me tell you.”
The noise of the arriving steam engine halted conversation as the Frisco squealed and hissed to a smoky stop at the platform. Buck leaned back and set the heavy rockers in motion. He watched the people make their way out of the cars and across the platform, eyeing the scene with a kind of alert resignation. As the platform cleared and the train settled into an idle state, he pulled the pillow from behind him and fluffed it. It was square and blue with gold braid around the edges, a gift from President Harding back when he came through on the train after a visit to Hutchinson in ’23–the way he tells it.
“And Mull got rich in the mines,” Charlie said to prime Buck into taking up the story again.
Buck stopped rocking and pointed to the big house on the hill above the station. “And he built that house yonder.”
“Your house,” said Pete.
“Well, I come by it later. At the time, I was working mule lifts and had a shack down by Short Creek. Mull, he made his money buying land and selling claims. He figured out early that striking deals held a lot more profit than swinging a pick forty feet down a hole.”
“But he was scared of raiders,” Charlie said, coaxing like.
Buck waved his hand in the air, the one that was missing part of a finger. “‘Course, there wasn’t any raiders anymore. That mostly ended when Quantrill’s bushwhackers disbanded and the war was won. That was years before the mining boom. It didn’t commence until about Eighteen and Seventy-eight. But Mull had lost one fortune to border ruffians, and he was bound and determined not to lose another.”
This is the conclusion of the four-part story. The story takes place in a small Kansas mining town in the mid 1930′s. Pull up a crate and read the final installment of–
Parson’s Fortune (conclusion…)
The light gleamed on three gold coins cradled in Pete’s grimy, bloody palm. Charlie grabbed one up and turned it over in the light. “Twenty dollar double eagle. Lord amighty, Pete, we found Mull’s gold.”
The two boys jumped around and yelled out their excitement for a minute and then hit the floor to search for more coins. They crawled over every inch of the floor, kicked at the rock walls, checked for other alcoves–nothing, no more gold.
“He must’ve moved it somewhere,” Charlie said finally.
“Or he spent it all before he died, more likely,” Pete said, brushing his hands on his backside. It don’t matter right now. We gotta get out of here.”
“Damnation,” said Charlie. “All right. Let’s keep going.”
They abandoned the alcove, taking the passage until it closed down to a crevice neither could fit through.
“Damnation,” Charlie said with a kick at the small hole. “We gotta go back, try the other tunnel.”
The flashlight began to flicker as they retraced their steps to the fork and ducked into the other tunnel. It was tighter at first but opened into a tall passage. The direction wasn’t taking them closer to the surface, but they had no other choice than to follow where it led. It was slow going. It felt to Charlie like hours of walking. The flashlight was fading. And then the hole began to shrink.
Neither boy had spoken for some time. The seriousness of their situation grew heavier on their minds. Charlie stopped. Pete bumped into him in the dimness.
“This ain’t looking so good, Pete,” Charlie said, slumped down to avoid the low ceiling.
“You feel that?” said Pete. He stepped around Charlie and sniffed the musty air. “Something’s changed. The air’s moving.” He took the flickering light from Charlie, walked forward twenty feet and disappeared with a yell.
“Pete!” Charlie held his hands out to protect his head and rushed forward into the darkness.
The faint light reappeared, and Pete’s voice called out. “Hold up. Watch your step.”
Behind the beam of the flashlight, Charlie could see Pete’s head on the floor looking up at him. As he got closer he realized that their tunnel emptied into a bigger room, the floor of which was four feet lower. Pete was standing in the other room looking back into the hole at Charlie, who came forward and jumped down beside him.
They swept the light around the walls. The hole they had come through looked small now.
“This ain’t no cave,” said Pete. “It’s a mine. Look there at the timbers.”
“Well then it’s got a way out, don’t it?” Charlie grabbed the light from Pete and started through the new tunnel. The walls sparkled with the shine from bits of galena and pyrite reflected in the beam. After a good ways, the floor sloped upward and ended at a shaft flooded with light from the clear day above.
The boys were too exhausted to celebrate. They squinted up to where the rock turn into bright sky thirty feet above them.
“Where you reckon we are?” said Charlie.
“Question is, how do we get up there?” said Pete.
Charlie searched the rough walls of the shaft. “Here’s something.” He pulled a rusty wire cable from a crevice and tested its strength, his eyes following it upward. “I think it goes to that derrick up there, or what’s left of it. We can climb it easy.”
The two tired boys, caked with flint dust and striped with rust from the cable, lay on their backs on the rocky ground fifteen minutes later. The sun soaked into their damp clothes as they caught their breath.
Pete was the first one up. “We gotta get to Jack.”
“What if he figured we’re dead and just lit out,” Charlie said, struggling to his feet.
“Well, we gotta find him anyway.” Pete shaded his eyes and looked for a landmark. The underground march had taken them north and west about a quarter mile from the pit and around the side of Cemetery Hill. “Let’s try the pit first. He might still be there.”
They crossed the rocky flats taking care to avoid abandoned shafts.
“Who’s that?” Charlie pointing to someone walking toward them.
Buck picked his way over the broken ground. His long white hair spilled from a worn miner’s cap affixed with a carbide lamp. He stopped when he spied them and let the boys close the distance.
“Saints and sinners. You ain’t drown nor otherwise dead after all. Young Jack was sure as Sunday he’d sent you to a watery grave. You boys injured any?”
“No sir, just chewed up a bit,” said Charlie. “Where is Jack? Did he go tell everybody?”
Buck looked them over from toe to crown. “He came and found me first, seeing as how I know you and why you were out here in the first place. I told him to hold up and let me see if I could find you before setting off the whole town. He is sure enough scared to death.” He shook his head and squinted out the sun with one eye. “You boys got no idea how lucky you are. Hells bells, there ain’t one in a hundred could get in and out of there in the water. By the looks of you, you didn’t come that way.”
“We found a cave,” said Pete as he shoved his hand in his pocket. “Seems old Parson Mull didn’t have no fortune after all. This is all there was.” He held out the three gold coins in his rusty palm.
Buck picked one up and held it by the edge, his stubby finger pointing straight up. He examined it closely and set it back in Pete’s outstretched hand. “Well, would you look at that,” he said, and then he leaned toward them. “And here all this time I been thinking I had got it all.”
This is the third installment of a story that I’m posting in parts, serialized as was once common in newspapers and magazines. The story takes place in a small Kansas mining town in the mid 1930′s. Pull up a crate and read the next installment of–
Parson’s Fortune (Part three…)
The flashlight showed the roof to be some twenty feet above them. The walls were rugged, fifteen feet to either side. All they saw in front of them was darkness, and they drifted into it.
Charlie switched on his light and studied the closest side. The flint rock receded into a low ledge that climbed upward. “Over there,” he said to Pete and dipped the paddle into the water to pull for the spot.
“Saints and sinners,” Pete said, borrowing Buck’s favorite oath. “This is really something. Don’t you want to go back and tell Jack, figure out what to do now?”
Charlie kept paddling, gaining speed. “Let’s just take a look over here. Looks like a good landing spot. Shine your light over there while I–”
The canoe checked up with a thump, jumping a bit at the bow. The jolt threw the boys forward. Charlie grabbed for the gunwales to catch himself and dropped the paddle in the water. He heard Pete yell behind him.
“Holy smokes! What was that?”
Charlie reached down to retrieve his flashlight from the bottom of the canoe and pulled his hand away with a cry. “Lordy, Pete we’re sinking.” The water was already over their ankles, pouring in through a rent in the bottom of the old canoe caused by the jagged edge of a submerged rock.
Pete was grunting, yanking on the rope for all his worth. The line tightened, drawing the canoe out into the middle of the cavern toward the opening, but it was sinking fast. Both boys bailed with their hands as the ever heavier vessel slowed and sank.
“It ain’t no good, Charlie,” yelled Pete. We gotta swim for it.”
“I ain’t swimming in this water,” said Charlie, still bailing. “It ain’t safe. There’s bound to be creatures in here. Maybe one hit the boat.”
“We’re going down. We gotta. Make for the side. It ain’t far.” Pete didn’t wait for Charlie’s response. He shoved the flashlight in his pants and lowered himself over the side, splashing his way to the ledge. Charlie followed, slapping the water with his arms to ward off any underwater predators. He felt sharp stings on his legs and arms as he kicked his way after Pete. They pulled themselves onto the ledge and watched the outline of their vessel drifting just below the surface. As the rope tightened and slacked, the boat moved in slow, almost imperceptible jerks and bumps toward the glow that lit the mouth of the cave thirty feet away.
Charlie drew his legs up away from the water and felt his injuries. “I told you. Lord amighty. We could’ve been eaten alive. What do you reckon is in there, giant gar fish?”
Pete shined his light on his own arm. A long cut ran watery red. He winced at the sting and examined Charlie’s legs. “It ain’t nothing but sharp rocks. There must be flint ridges cropping up just under the surface all through here.” He shined his light into the water, but the milky green undulations threw the light back at him.
A faint yell came from outside. The cavern mouth soaked up the sound they knew must be Jack having figured out the boat had sunk. They yelled out for help, but their cries just came back in a chorus of echoes.
“You reckon Jack will go for help?” Charlie said after they stopped to listen.
“Sure he will,” said Pete. “And we’ll have hell to pay when they come get us.”
Charlie said, “Lord amighty. We’re in for it now for sure. My pop will wear me out for a month.”
Pete shined his light up the sloping ledge. “Well, maybe we can get out somehow before they come for us. All these mines and caves around, don’t you reckon maybe there’s a hole somewhere up there we can crawl out of?”
Charlie dragged a wet sleeve across his nose and shifted to follow the beam of Pete’s light. The ledge was a foot wide in most places. It climbed ten or fifteen feet and disappeared around an outcropping. “Worth a try,” Charlie said, getting to his feet.
Charlie took the lead, testing each step and using his free hand to grab at what handholds he could find. His wet clothes clung to him and held the chill of the dark cave. He felt Pete’s hand on his belt and heard the boy’s heavy breathing as he concentrated on the climb.
Charlie reached the outcropping and saw that the ledge narrowed to a few inches. He turned to face the rock and inched forward until he could see around the bend. Pebbles dribbled over the ledge and plinked in the water below as he sought better footing.
“What do you see?” said Pete.
“Looks kinda like a tunnel or cave,” said Charlie. “Come on.” He scooted around the rock and disappeared from Pete’s view.
The opening was narrow but tall enough for a man to walk through upright. Charlie stepped in with caution. He swept the flashlight back and forth like a blind man’s cane as he walked. Pete came up behind him. The beam of his light moved erratically as he brushed cobwebs from his shirt and hair.
They followed the cave inward, up the gently sloping floor to where the passage split. One tunnel went left, the other bent to the right.
“Now what?” said Charlie. He heard Pete banging on the side of his flashlight behind him.
“My light’s played out,” said Pete.
Charlie turned around to see the boy staring into the faint yellow beam as it flickered like a dying candle. “Probably got wet,” said Charlie. “I guess that rules out splitting up.”
Pete shoved the spent flashlight into his back pocket and stepped around Charlie to study the tunnels. “Wish we had us some rope,” he said into the left passage.
“Which one you thinking, Pete?”
The smaller boy rubbed his close cut hair and squatted on his haunches to think. He picked up a stone and tossed it into the left tunnel. It skipped and clattered on the rock floor until the sound faded out beyond the reach of Charlie’s light. He did the same with the right tunnel and got the same result.
“I say go left,” Pete said as he stood up. “The floor looks to slope up some. Up is the way we need to go.”
Charlie wasted no time re-taking the lead and pushing into the left tunnel. They hadn’t gone more than forty feet when the light caught something on the floor. “Look here,” he said, settling the light on a rusty animal trap, the steel jaws clamped shut on a bit of bone. “Somebody’s been through here before.”
“Play your light over there.” Pete nudging Charlie’s arm to the left.
Just beyond the trap was another opening in the side wall. The light showed it to go back only six or eight feet, but in the middle sat a rough wooden crate, and on the crate was a coal oil lantern powdered with dust. Pete shook the lamp, but the reservoir was dry.
“What’s all this, you reckon?” said Charlie.
Pete didn’t answer. He was squatted down again looking at the crate. It was upended, the open side facing them. The slats cast bar-like shadows on the rock walls as Charlie’s light swept over the crate.
“Whoa, hold up. Give me the light.” Pete held out his hand behind but kept his gaze on the crate. As Charlie leaned over him, Pete focused the beam on the slats that rested on the floor. It reflected something shiny, a sliver of something under the crate. “Lift this thing up and set it over a ways,” Pete said.
Charlie shifted the crate and stood back as Pete brushed his hand over the dusty rock beneath. “What are you after?” Charlie said.
“This,” said Pete, turning to Charlie with his hand open.
…..to be continued…