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Mondays with My Old Pastor
By José Luis Navajo
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2012 José Luis Navajo
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe First Monday
Angels in the Desert
Only God exists, only God knows, only God is able ... Only God is the true wise One.
Fearful, taking one slow step after another, I reached the door of the house. And what I saw left me astonished.
Next to the right lintel, hanging from the facade, was a red- dish stone shaped like a piece of parchment. On the stone were inscribed the words of the prophet: "In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).
The very same words that woke me up from my dream were now right in front of my eyes.
I could hardly believe it.
As I breathed in deeply the restful and fragrant air, I thought, I can see that my old pastor and his wife have fulfilled their wish. They found a place to rest and trust. I knew, without a doubt, that they had turned this quietude into an altar and that sacred silence into worship.
When I arrived at my pastor's house to visit him the first of June, my intention was to have coffee together and let him know how I was feeling.
Just before I knocked on the door, I realized that it was Monday, like the first Monday of May, which was the day I had given up. Little did I also realize that this sunny Monday, the first day of June, would be the beginning of my restoration!
One more step and I would cross over that threshold, initiating a radical change in my life. A decisive time was about to commence.
The sun showered down from an unbelievably blue sky, and its heat cascaded over each side of the house. Not one leaf was moving when, slowly, I grabbed the sizzling bronze door-knocker and let it knock on the door two times.
With the soft sound of footsteps, it was kindhearted Rachel, my old pastor's constant and faithful companion, who opened the door for me. Surprised to see me, she spoke my name and let me know she was happy to see me. She greeted me with a kiss on each cheek and let me pass with a beaming smile as she said warmly, "Welcome!"
My old pastor was already approaching through the hallway. "Hello," he shouted, raising his arms and extending them toward me. "It brings me great joy to see you here in my house."
In the midst of that suffocating heat, a breeze of affection enveloped me. There was neither feigning nor pretense in his happiness. His friendly hug conveyed the most sincere welcome.
I was already feeling better.
The warm reception by those two angels had an instantaneous therapeutic effect. I felt that even if the visit had ended right then, I still would have returned home comforted.
Looking at them, I became convinced that it is wrinkles of the spirit that make us old, not wrinkles on the face. I sensed in them two souls overflowing with youthfulness and authentic vitality. What is it they have, I asked myself, that just their presence inspires encouragement?
The inside of the house was just as simple as the outside suggested.
As soon as we entered, we gained access to a short entryway from which four doors opened. The one to the right led to a small kitchen that contained all the basics, including a door that opened to a porch with a table and four chairs.
I envisioned them sitting there, sipping their early-morning coffee and delighting in the vast nature that stretched out before them.
Above the sink was a large window covered with a lace curtain, but it did not block the view of the hundred-year-old oak tree that stretched its branches over the house as if wanting to provide shelter from the early summer sun.
The door in front of the kitchen led into a small but cozy parlor. Two rockers were turned toward a blackened fireplace, a sign of many winters spent enjoying its heat and intimacy.
Between the two rockers stood a low table on which rested a Bible, whose well-worn cover bore the words Large Print. It was the one he was using lately, since his eyes had lost their keenness, even though the glow of his determination had never been extinguished.
Then I noticed one detail: a large cross was embossed on the cover of the Bible. From there my eyes jumped to the old log beams that rested above the home. They also formed a cross. Next I noticed that the wall shelves, filled with pictures and mementos, were designed precisely with the same shape. The same pattern occurred in the windowpanes of the large window, where two white wooden strips of wood between two panes of glass formed a cross.
My old pastor noticed what I had seen.
"Ah, you see it, don't you?" he asked me with a smile. "The cross."
"Yes, it's everywhere. What does it mean?"
His smile at that moment was filled with more light than the purest late-afternoon sun on that cloudless day.
"My life has sprung forth from the shade of the cross. I have always lived protected by it, and I want the cross to be the ladder that lifts me up to His presence when my time comes."
"What is it that you find in it?" I dared to ask him.
He only thought for a few seconds before answering. "I find Him," he said, pointing upward with his index finger. "I find Him in the cross, nothing more, nothing less. What more can you ask for?"
I stared at a stairway in the corner of the living room that led upstairs, where the bedrooms were most certainly located. The third door in the hallway led to a small bathroom that was just as clean as the rest of the house.
Only one more door remained, which my old pastor was pointing toward.
"I will bring you both some coffee right away," Rachel promised as she headed toward the kitchen.
That room was his office.
Two things caught my attention immediately: the huge floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that covered an entire wall, into which were crowded hundreds of books; and the large window that was to the right of his study desk. That large window provided an enchanting view. The countryside stretched out as far as the eye could see, and now, in full spring, the grass looked like a succulent carpet that covered the ground in a brilliant, almost phosphorescent, green.
Looking at the bookshelf crammed with books, I remembered the advice my old pastor had given me once: "You should read a lot, especially the Bible, but also seek to soak yourself with wisdom from others. A good book will make you grow. They are like mines," he had said to me, as he fondly caressed the book in his hands. "Mines full of riches. Each chapter is a like a showcase that is hiding treasures, waiting for someone to discover them."
I glanced at the book spines, trying to make out the titles.
"One thousand seven hundred and twelve," he told me.
"One thousand seven hundred and twelve books, in alphabetical order and annotated in hand-penned lists." He smiled. "You know that I have always been a compulsive reader."
"And an extremely organized person," I acknowledged. "And for sure, many of us were infected with your passion for reading."
He sat down in a wing-back chair that was facing the large window. I surmised that this must be his favorite spot. To his side stood a low table with a lamp.
I thought of the idyllic times my old pastor must have spent sitting in that chair, gazing through the window during the day and contemplating the wide-open green landscape ... and worshipping in the glimmering light of the lamp at night.
"Thank you for granting me a few minutes of your time," I told him somewhat timidly, taking a seat in front of him.
"You're thanking me?" he said, smiling more with his eyes than his mouth. "I'm the one who should be thankful. Since I've been retired I have plenty of time, and I haven't had many occasions to enjoy some visits. You see, these days I have much to share, but no one who wants to hear it. I've bored Rachel from listening to my stories over and over again. She is such a saint!" He laughed hard just in saying it.
She arrived right then carrying a tray, filling the room with the delicious aroma of coffee, accompanied by a fresh-baked cake.
My old pastor looked at her with a smile, in which I noticed more gratitude than words could convey, and she winked at him as if she still were a teenager.
I was spellbound as I witnessed that tender moment of love between those two lives that afternoon. I gathered that living in the shade of the cross preserves not only one's personal life but also one's marriage.
"So you have some stories to tell," I said to him after his wife had left the room.
"A lot," he told me. "And I think they're very good. Would you like to hear them?"
"It would be a pleasure," I said to him sincerely. I had a deep respect for my old pastor, and I felt myself growing just by being near him. How much more would I grow by listening to him?
For a moment I thought about telling him the dream I had had, which was the reason for this meeting, but I decided against it since I didn't want to influence the direction of our conversation.
"You know," he told me, "this morning I was remembering the exact time when I received my calling to serve God."
He lifted the coffee cup to his lips, but he stopped it just a few inches from his mouth, finishing his sentence: "I'm still moved just remembering it."
"How old were you?" I asked him.
"I'm not sure."
He took a sip of the steamy drink, placed the cup on the small plate, and lightly scratched his head, as if trying to stir his memory.
"Maybe when I was fifteen ... I'm not sure. What I do remember perfectly is the powerful message that my pastor preached that day."
"So you liked it, then?"
"A lot, but it was something else that got my heart excited."
"Oh! And what was that?"
"The sure feeling that someday I would also be preaching that powerful message."
His eyes focused on the window, as if reading from the vast countryside the next part of his story.
"The end of that service was the beginning of my new life. I remained seated, with my head resting on the back of the seat in front of me, praying and crying—overwhelmed with emotion. Then I noticed a hand resting on my shoulder. It was my pastor's.
"'You've felt it, right?' he asked me warmly with an equally affirmative tone. 'You've felt your call. Haven't you?'
"I nodded my head yes, not knowing what else to say. I wanted to explain to him that such a calling seemed crazy to me. That God would choose me seemed like a mistake or a bad joke. Me, who was unable to even talk in front of three people, chosen by God to talk to a crowd?"
He made an attempt to laugh, then finished: "Mistake or a bad joke, I realized that I didn't have any other option."
He picked up the cup again and riveted his eyes on mine as he continued his story. "My pastor placed his hand on my chin, making me raise my gaze so he could talk to me eye to eye: 'If He is calling you, tell Him yes,' he said almost in a whisper." My old pastor was whispering now as he told the story. "'But I will never be able to serve Him,' I complained.
"'God does not call the equipped; rather, He equips those He calls. Do you understand?' my pastor told me, pointing to the cross that hung over the altar. 'It's all you need. Life doesn't start when you're twenty, or when you're forty. Life starts at Calvary. And that's where fruitful service begins as well. Let the cross be so present in you that it becomes your way of life and your rest.' It was a healing affirmation that would go with me the rest of my life."
His story complete, my old pastor quickly finished his coffee and placed the cup on its plate. And then he leaned back in his chair.
"When we talked on the phone the other day, you didn't give me many details about the reason for your visit," he said, "but something tells me that you're facing the uncomfortable feelings that have plagued me my whole life."
He didn't let me finish my question.
I loved that he used that endearing term when he talked to me.
"From the time I could remember, I've always had the question: Will I help someone someday? Will I respond to such a high calling in a worthy manner?"
I found myself nodding in agreement. Even I couldn't have expressed my own feelings better.
"Yes," he went on. "I wasn't sure almost about anything, except that what I could do wouldn't help to change anybody's life. But then I discovered that this kind of questioning is crucial, because my doubts about my own competence forced me to draw near to God in search of resources, and there"—he pointed to some worn cushions that were lying on the floor—"is where my feelings are set in order. God's presence fills me inside with peace, and although I fall down undone at times, I always get up renewed."
The volume of his voice increased several levels.
"Transformed, victorious ... and, most of all, renewed."
I could sense that his words were even renewing me.
"It's on our knees before Him where we find balance. When you're tempted to think you lack courage, look at the cross."
He stretched his hand toward the whole bookshelf, and I noticed that even the book stand was filled with that holy symbol, printed on the spines of the books, in pictures that hung on the wall, and in Bible verses written down.
"Look at the cross," he insisted. "That's how valuable you are to God."
I decided to be honest with my old pastor. "What's happening to me," I admitted, "is that I think that I lack the talent to fulfill the responsibilities that are expected of me. Anyone could do the same things that I do ... and they would do them a lot better."
He watched me with a smile that conveyed understanding and empathy. "I'm remembering an old story. Would you like me to tell it to you?"
"Go right ahead," I told him.
He got comfortable in his chair, clasped his fingers together, and let his hands rest on his lap, and then he began:
The man entered the wise man's room very distressed. "I'm here, teacher," he said, "because I feel so numb that I don't have the desire to do anything. I'm told that I'm no longer useful, that I do everything wrong, that I'm clumsy and very dumb. How can I improve? What can I do so they value me more?"
Without looking at him, the teacher said to him, "I'm so sorry, son. I can't help you, since I have to solve my own problem first. Perhaps later ..." He paused for a moment and then added, "If you want to help me, I could take care of this matter of mine, and then after that I could perhaps help you."
"Of ... of course, teacher," the young man stuttered, feeling once again that he wasn't worth anything and his needs were always being put off.
"Well ..." the teacher continued. He took off a ring he had on the little finger of his left hand and, giving it to the young man, said, "Take the horse that's outside there and ride to the market. I need to sell this ring because I have to pay a debt. You need to get the best price possible, and don't accept anything less than a gold coin. Go now, and return with a gold coin as fast as you can." The young man took the ring and left. As soon as he arrived at the market, he began to offer the ring to the merchants, who looked at it with interest until the young man said what he was asking for it.
When he mentioned the price of a gold coin, some laughed, others turned away, and only one old man was kind enough to take the time to explain to the young man that a gold coin was much too valuable to pay him in exchange for the ring. In an attempt to help, someone offered him a silver coin and a copper vessel, but the young man had instructions not to accept anything except a gold coin and to refuse any other offer. After offering the ring to everyone he came across in the market, over a hundred people, and feeling dejected by his failure, he mounted his horse and returned. How he wished he had a gold coin to give to his teacher and free him from his debt, so that he could finally receive his teacher's wisdom and help.
He entered the room and said, "Teacher, I'm sorry. I couldn't get the price you asked me to get. I might have been able to get two or three silver coins. But I don't think that I could have deceived anyone about the true value of the ring."
"What you've just said is very important, my young friend," the teacher said, smiling. "We first must know the true value of the ring. Go get back on your horse and go and see the jeweler. Who would know better than him? Tell him that you want to sell the ring and ask him how much he'll give you for it. But no matter what he offers you, don't sell it to him. Return here with my ring."
The young man got back on his horse and rode off again. The jeweler examined the ring in the light of his oil lamp. He looked at it with his magnifying glass, weighed it, and then told him, "Tell your teacher, young man, that if he wants to sell it right now, I can't give him any more than fifty-eight gold coins for his ring."
Excerpted from Mondays with My Old Pastor by José Luis Navajo Copyright © 2012 by José Luis Navajo. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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