Gabe was a good, hard-working roofer. But he looked like a bum and cleaned up only on rare occasions. If he owned a suit, no one ever saw him in it. If he owned a comb, it likely still looked new because he never used it as far as anyone could tell.
Gabe looked homeless. Actually, he had a small apartment and a beat-up pickup that periodically stopped running. In fact, that’s how the whole thing with the Angel Committee started.
About lunchtime on Monday, Gabe’s truck gave out three blocks from First Church. He’d lost track of the fact it needed gas and being as the gas gauge didn’t work, he just kept driving until it died. So he set out on foot to find a service station where he could buy some gas to get it going again.
His path took him right past First Church. The elders at First Church had been arguing about getting that sidewalk fixed for a year. One part sunk down and the part next to it rose up.
As Gabe moseyed along, he noticed the roof on First Church. It could use some fixing. He was looking up and he tripped – plumb knocked himself out. Some junior high kids on those new power scooters came along and barely missed Gabe.
Young Matt stopped, looked, and figured he was likely dead and they ought to get rid of the body before anyone got hurt. He raced into the church to get some help.
The Ladies Society was meeting about that time and was fixing to eat the fancy lunch they made for themselves.
Matt burst in the basement door, startling the committee. “What d’ya mean coming in like that?” Bessie challenged.
“There’s a dead guy out on the sidewalk,” Matt said. They all rushed out and found Gabe. He wasn’t dead but was dazed, sitting up trying to figure out why he was laying on the sidewalk.
The committee decided to bring him into the church. “Are you okay?” Laura wanted to know.
“Yeah, maybe – I think so,” he mumbled.
They thought he looked hungry and Laura asked, “Have you had anything to eat”
Now Gabe was never one to pass up a free lunch and he could smell one coming so he said, “Nope.” The ladies shared their lunch with him, although when Gabe looked at Bessie he wasn’t all that sure she agreed with the decision.
“Where d’ya go to church?” Bessie asked, suspecting he didn’t.
“Well, hmmm, I can’t say I’ve been to church for a very long time. But I think church is a good thing since they take care of widas and orph’ns and people just down on their luck.”
Now Gabe always looked down on his luck but he seldom was. The truth is he was good at putting on roofs. He had a great reputation among roofing companies. He actually kept as busy as he wanted to be, which wasn’t all that busy.
Well, the committee decided once they got Gabe fed that he must be one of them angels we meet that we don’t know are angels, basing that thought on his comments about church. Gabe, who wasn’t above playing an angle, decided to go along.
Back at his apartment, he rummaged around his stuff and found an old Bible his mother had given him. He was a lot smarter than he looked, and used the concordance or whatever that is in the back that helps you look up stuff, and found that passage about angels and some about what Jesus said when he was up on the mountain talking to the crowd.
Gabe made a point to stop by the church around lunch when that Ladies Society was meeting. That fine group of ladies had formed another committee called the Angel Committee figuring if they took care of an angel they’d get some points with their Maker. So when Gabe stopped by, the Angel Committee took him in and fed him and sent him home with sandwiches.
This went on for about three months until other parts of Gabe’s life came to light. He works, he has a pickup and he spends his spare time at the local tavern quaffing a few beers, playing’ pool and throwing darts, they learned.
This presented a dilemma for the ladies who then had a dispute over whether he was a real angel or not. Didn’t Jesus spend time at parties – they accused him of being a winebibber and glutton, didn’t they? And even if Gabe isn’t an angel, he’s still a soul to be saved. On the other hand, he appears to be a bit of a con man, maybe even a tool of the devil. Why, they couldn’t let the devil take advantage of them. So went the discussion.
Wellsir, the committee kind of split into two groups. Half prayed for Gabe’s soul; the other half prayed about the best way to confront Gabe and tell him his free lunches were over. Finally, Laura and Bessie, who were on opposite sides of this dispute, decided to have coffee at the local café and maybe a piece of pie and resolve this whole thing.
Laura was part of the praying people and Bessie was part of the confronting folks. After a long discussion and a second piece of pecan pie, they agreed that the Angel Committee ought to get together and pray about how to approach Gabe regarding his soul and – if that didn’t go well – how to tell him there were no more free lunches.
Sunday after church, they broke out some sandwiches and brewed some flavored coffee. When the sandwiches were gone and the coffee pot drained, they commenced to pray. What they didn’t realize is that Gabe had come to church that day and had dozed on a couch behind a curtain that separated the dining area from an informal area where the youth met for discussions.
“O Lord,” Bessie implored, “we need your help figurin’ out what to do with Gabe. Should we keep providin’ lunch and share the gospel with him or should we confront him for bein’ the con man he is and kick him out – well, maybe not kick him out but definitely stop feedin’ him lunch.”
Gabe woke up at the loud “O Lord” and heard the whole prayer. It appeared that his free lunches were definitely at stake here and he needed a plan. First, he must never let on that he’d heard them. Next, he needed to be real open to hearing the gospel again which seemed like a good idea since the preacher had said that rejecting the gospel meant you were choosing to go to hell which the pastor added, was a very miserable place. In fact, he said it was way hotter than roofing in 95-degree heat. Now Gabe had done that and it was miserable and so the analogy hit home with him.
At the next Angel Committee luncheon, there was Gabe. Before the ladies could say a word, he told them how the preacher had moved him and could they help him understand this gospel a little better. Now this caused Laura to smile broadly, elbow Bessie, and whisper to her, “I told you so!”
Since his was a hot lunch and in danger of getting cold Gabe suggested they could share that gospel during lunch so as not to inconvenience the ladies. Bessie was taken aback a bit, but since she was really, really hungry she decided that was quite a good idea.
“Repent!” said Bessie. Gabe wanted to know what that meant.
“It means that you tell God how sorry you are for your sins – you know how you’re sorry you spent all those nights in the tavern drinkin’ and flirtin’ with the loose women there.”
Wow! Gabe really wasn’t sure he was all that sorry because he had some good times and felt well accepted, certainly more than he was by some of these high-falutin’ ladies. The lunches were a good thing and hell was not somewhere he wanted to go but he wasn’t sure he could give up those Friday nights at the local bar. He suspected the bar wasn’t somewhere these ladies went –he’d never seen any of them there – so he told them he was very sorry and would repent.
“This means you’ll stop goin’ to the bar Friday nights,” Bessie told him. Now he wondered how she knew about that but then he was naïve when it came to the speed and effectiveness of the local gossip networks. So now what would he do?
“The preacher told me about hell,” Gabe reflected, “but he didn’t say much about heaven. Could you tell me about heaven next week?”
“So what about the tavern?” Bessie quizzed him.
“Ma’am, I’ve gotta be sincere about this repentin’ business and before I can give up that saloon, I really need to know what heaven is like.”
Laura chimed in, “It is wonderful!”
“Okay, but what does that mean? What you think is wonderful I might not think is so great. How ‘bout we talk about that next week?”
Friday night Gabe was at the saloon and Sunday morning he was in church.
Well, Bessie’s sister Wanda needed to do some repenting herself, had been at the saloon, and shared a beer with Gabe. On Saturday, she and Bessie went shopping. She happened to mention that this scraggly guy name Gabe bought her a beer.
Bessie chided her sister about being at that wicked place but tucked away in her mind the fact that Gabe had been there, too.
Monday he showed up at the Angel Committee’s meeting ready to hear about heaven. Bessie asked him what he did Friday night and Gabe put on that he didn’t recall off-hand – then he perked up, smiled and told them he had been home reading’ his Bible that night.
Laura grinned over at Bessie who turned and said to Gabe, “Wanda said she sure enjoyed havin’ that beer you bought her at the saloon Friday night.”
Gabe quickly assured them, “Right after I got home I felt ashamed and that’s when I opened my Bible and just happened to turn to Timothy where Paul advised the young man to take some wine for his stomach’s sake. Why I suppose beer must be every bit as good for the stomach as wine.”
Laura pointed out. “Jesus first miracle was turning water into wine and wasn’t Jesus even accused of being a wine bibber.”
“Laura!” Bessie challenged, “You’re just defendin’ this guy who’s mostly here for free lunches as far as I can tell.”
“Now, Bessie,” Laura replied, “you can tell he has been reading his Bible. You know Isaiah said that God’s Word would not return to him void.”
“I know,” Bessie admitted, “but I just hate bein’ conned by this scruffy, beer-drinkin’ roofer.”
She turned to Gabe and softened her voice, “Now, Gabe, I want you to look me in the eye and tell me that you are NOT connin’ us.”
Gabe knew the free lunches were over. But he wouldn’t give up that easily. “Honestly, ladies, today I came here not only for the free lunch – for which I am very, very grateful – but to learn more about this heaven the preacher talked about.”
Laura responded, “Heaven is wonderful. There’s no tears. No one has to put on a roof in 95-degree heat. There’s golden streets, jeweled walls and pearly gates, and everyone loves praising God and everyone is happy and loves everyone else.”
“So, how do I get to this heaven place and avoid hell?”
Laura beamed, “You have to believe that Jesus died so that your sins are forgiven and was raised again on the third day. You have to confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. Then you have to do your best to obey what Jesus taught us.”
“Does that mean I can’t go to the saloon on Friday night?”
“Absolutely!” chimed in Bessie.
“What?” questioned Gabe. “Are you sure?”
Laura explained, “For now it likely is, Gabe. You would just be putting yourself in a place where you’d be tempted. Jesus taught us to pray to avoid temptation.”
“Perhaps I could explain this salvation thing to Wanda.”
Bessie sighed. “I have told her and told her about what salvation is. She just doesn’t get it.”
“But you’re family,” said Gabe. “My brothers could never tell me anything and they never listened to what I said either.”
Laura pointed the conversation back to salvation. “What about it, Gabe? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins and rose again on the third day? Have you reached the point that you realize you are a sinner destined for hell unless you get some help? Do you repent – that is feel so sorry for your sins that you’re willing to give them up?”
“Whoa! That’s a whole lot of questions there.”
“Okay, Gabe, let’s take one at a time. First, did you know your sins keep you and God apart?”
“That’s not good, is it?”
“So I have to get rid of those sins, don’t I?”
“Hmmm. What do I have to do to get rid of them?” Gabe moaned as sincerely as he could muster.
Laura responded, “You have to let Jesus take them away. He’s the only one who can. When he does, you and God can be friends again.”
“What does Jesus do with them when he takes them away?”
Bessie explained, “He nails ‘em to the cross.”
“He what?!” Gabe exploded.
Laura went on, “What Bessie means is that when he died, his blood covered up all our sins, yours too. But it doesn’t do you any good unless you truly believe that Jesus died for you and that God raised him on the third day. When Jesus rose from the dead, it proves that we too will be raised from the dead when he comes back. That’s what Easter is all about.”
“Easter, huh? It’s not just about the Easter bunny then?”
Bessie was frustrated, “It has nothing to do with the Easter bunny. I hate the Easter bunny and eggs and hunts and all. It distracts from the true meaning of Easter.”
Gabe frowned. “The little tykes are so cute runnin’ around pickin’ up those eggs. How can that be so bad?”
Laura cut in, “We are getting away from the point here, Bessie.” She turned to Gabe, “Jesus was perfect. He never sinned. That’s why he is the only one who could pay a price for our sins.”
“I didn’t think anyone was perfect,” Gabe said.
“Well, Jesus was. If he had sinned he would not have been a perfect sacrifice,” Laura explained.
“How do we know he never sinned?”
“The Bible tells us so.”
“I didn’t know that. So, what should I do now?”
“You need to pray and tell God that you repent of your sins and are willing to trust Jesus as the only one who will save you from hell and give you eternal life in heaven. But, Gabe, it also means that you are willing to follow him for the rest of your life,” Laura continued.
Gabe sighed. “This is just too much for me to digest right now. Let me think about it – maybe even pray about it. It seems to me this is serious and I don’t want to jump into something I can’t finish. Why it’d be like startin’ a roof and leavin’ it half done. I’ll bet Jesus don’t want no half-done Christian.”
Bessie looked him right in the eye. “The Angel Committee has done all it can, I think. You need to talk to our pastor. Perhaps he can get you straightened out.”
“I thought Jesus did the straightening out.”
“Oh for pity sake. You’re impossible.”
“When I was readin’ the other night about Jesus talkin’ on the mountain, didn’t he say nothing was impossible for God?”
“Well, you might be an exception,” Bessie snorted.
“Bessie Smith! You better just shut up before God decides you’re impossible,” Laura exclaimed.
“Laura Jones, don’t you talk to me like that,” Bessie said glaring at Laura.
“Ladies, I recall Jesus said that peacemakers would be blessed,” quipped Gabe, grinning.
No one said anything for a very long time. Then Gabe got up, “I’m going to go pray about this. Perhaps you two could kiss and make up.”
Well, Gabe went back to his apartment, made a pot of coffee and started reading his Bible. He went back to Matthew and the Sermon on the Mount. Soon he felt some hunger pangs and found some coffee cake he’d gotten at the corner grocery. He shoved his Bible to the side to make room for his coffee cake. Plop! His Bible fell right on the floor. It fell open to the third chapter of John. He thought maybe this was a sign, so he started reading. Then he came to John 3:16. Laura was right. Jesus came to save him not condemn him. “Bessie seems out-of-step with Jesus it ‘pears to me,” he said to himself. He liked what that verse said to him.
He thought about it as he finished his coffee cake. So, he got down on his knees and told the Lord, “I know I’ve been livin’ my life with no thought of who you were or what it meant to go to heaven or hell. Jesus said he came to save sinners. I surely qualify. Please forgive my sinful life. I do want to follow you. Bessie may have been right on one thing: I do need to see the pastor. I’m sure there’s more to this than meets the eye – at least my eye. Amen.”