A friend of mine with a checkered past called me this week. He was struggling. The painful memories, who he'd been, who he'd not been, were raining down. Daggers through the back. I've known him about a decade. Have seen miraculous transformation in his life. The man he is today, the husband, father, friend, is not the man he was then. Different as night and day. Problem is he was looking in the mirror and the whisper of the deceiver was drowning out the truth of the gospel. Also, in a couple of weeks, he and I and a few other guys are going on a trip together. To another country. To tell people about Jesus. Pray for the sick. Teach the gospel. So, with one eye, he's looking in the rearview. With the other, he's looking out the windshield. Hands on the wheel, he is uncertain. Gas or brake? Oh, and he's on the docket to speak. To briefly, simply tell his story -- through an interpreter -- of how the Lord brought him from bondage to freedom. How The Lord broke his chains. Our conversation sounded something like:
"Hey pal, what's up?"
Pause. Deep breath. "Can I just be honest?"
One of the things I so love about him, is that if he is anything, he is honest. There's no BS between me and his heart. He lets me in. No walls. No pretense. No fishing for the issue. "Yes."
"I'm wrestling with who I once was, with thoughts, memories of me seven, eight, ten years ago...and trying to see myself standing up in front of these people." Pause. "I feel like a fraud."
The angels are arranged in perfect rows. Thousands in a row and thousands of rows. Trailing out as far as the eye can see. They are radiant, barefooted and decked out to the nines. Glowing white. Glistening gold. Chiseled features. Blond, auburn, ebony hair. Beautiful, flowing gowns. The floor upon which they are dancing is reflective. Not sure what it's made of but it's shiny. Not a speck. Not a smudge. The guy closest to me has blonde hair to his waist. Pulled back in a ponytail of sorts. He, like all the rest, is a good bit taller than me. About four feet taller. He is imposing, muscled, arms extended, one foot resting behind the other, bent slightly at the waist, face pointing down. His wings stretch another ten feet into the sky and the tips are almost touching. He is frozen in time, holding the same choreographed pose he was holding when the music stopped. Along with everyone else, he is waiting for the music to begin again and send him into the next movement. Right now, he’s catching his breath and waiting for orders. Head bowed, a bead of sweat drips from his brow onto the mirrored floor. He is glancing at me out of the corner of his eye. There is a smirk on his face as if he knows something I don’t. He raises an eyebrow and then winks as if to say, You haven’t seen anything yet...
I’ve always known I’m not the only “Charles Martin” on the planet. Obviously. It’s not an uncommon name. Whenever I’ve met one, I always recoil a bit. Narrow eyes. Swollen chest. “Don’t mess up my name.” I imagine they say the same about me. A good name is hard to find. ;-) Imagine being “Jim Smith.” That said, an angry reader ripped me a new orifice for a book she read by, “her favorite author, Charles Martin.” Only problem is I’m not that Charles Martin and I didn’t write that book. Had nothing to do with it. Never said I wrote that book. Never knew about that book. Best I can tell, I don’t write anything like that. If you search Amazon, you’ll see what I’m talking about.
It was a normal dirt road. Dusty. Big rocks. Potholes. A trade route. Just an everyday stretch of well-traveled road.
Years ago, a man of some account walked it. By all accounts, including his own, he was a good Jew. Obeyed the law. Zealous. A Benjamite, circumcised the 8th day, and a regular in the synagogue. His parents placed him under the instruction of one of the greatest teachers in the history of Israel -- Gamaliel, where he excelled and by the age of 12, he'd memorized the Torah. All five books. By heart. He then spent 7 years studying the prophets. But don't take my word for it. Of himself, he says: "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today." (Acts 22) To the Philippians he says: "circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." He would describe his education this way:, "I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers." (Galatians 1:13-14) He also happened to be a Roman citizen which would radically change the course of his life in the years ahead...
He was known as the ‘blind beggar who sat by the city gate.’ That was his calling card. His resume. The best he could do. We don’t know if he was married or had children — I rather doubt it. The only definitives we have for certain are that his father was Timaeus and his name was Bartimaeus and that he lived in Jericho and sat daily by the gate. His story comprises about a paragraph in both Mark’s and Luke’s gospel and if you blink or yawn you’ll miss it.