Rayford Steele just lost a good portion of his passengers and
crew from his 747. As captain, everyone looks to him for answers.
Where did they go? All children vanished. Every few seats are
vacate except for the passenger's clothing, wedding ring or watch.
All around people cry, pray and talk. As Rayford left the cockpit,
his senior flight attendant barreled into him.
She pressed him back against the cooking compartments, her face
close to his. Had she not been clearly terrified, he might have
enjoyed this and returned her embrace. Her knees buckled as she
tried to speak, and her voice came in a whiny squeal.
"People are missing," she managed in a whisper, burying her head
in his chest.
He took her shoulders and tried to push her back, but she fought
to stay close. "What do you m--?"
She was sobbing now, her body out of control. "A whole bunch of
people, just gone!"
"Hattie, this is a big plane. They've wandered to the lavs orÑ"
She pulled his head down so she could speak directly into his
ear. Despite her weeping, she was plainly fighting to make herself
understood. "I've been everywhere. I'm telling you, dozens of
people are missing."
"Hattie, it's still dark. We'll findÑ"
"I'm not crazy! See for yourself! All over the plane, people have
"It's a joke. They're hiding, trying toÑ"
"Ray! Their shoes, their socks, their clothes, everything was
left behind. These people are gone!"
Hattie slipped from his grasp and knelt whimpering in the corner.
Rayford wanted to comfort her, to enlist her help, or to get Chris
to go with him through the plane. More than anything he wanted
to believe the woman was crazy.
Rayford didn't know if he had done the right thing by leaving
Hattie in charge of the passengers and crew. As he raced up the
stairs, he caught sight of another attendant backing out of an
alleyway, screaming. By now poor Christopher in the cockpit was
the only one on the plane unaware of what was happening. Worse,
Rayford had told Hattie he didn't know what was happening any
more than she did.
The terrifying truth was that he knew all too well. Irene had
been right. He, and most of his passengers, had been left behind.'
In the ensuing days, Rayford begins to suspect the event that
precipitated the vanishings taking his wife and son was indeed
the Rapture. He always viewed himself as a Christian, albiet a
slack one. Fighting the panic and depression, he phones his wife's
church. Most of the congregation have also disappeared along with
all the pastors except one. Rayford asks him the obvious question:
' "How did you miss it?"
"I'm going to tell you, Ray, because I no longer have anything
to hide. I'm ashamed of myself, and if I never really had the
desire or the motivation to tell others about Christ before, I
sure have it now. I just feel awful that it took the most cataclysmic
event in history to reach me. I was raised in the church. My parents
and brothers and sisters were all Christians.
"I loved church. It was my life, my culture. I thought I believed
everything there was to believe in the Bible. The Bible says that
if you believe in Christ you have eternal life, so I assumed I
"I especially liked the parts about God being forgiving. I was
a sinner, and I never changed. I just kept getting forgiveness
because I thought God was bound to do that. He had to. Verses
that said if we confessed our sins he was faithful and just to
forgive us and to cleanse us. I knew other verses said you had
to believe and receive, to trust and to abide, but to me that
was sort of theological mumbo jumbo. I wanted the bottom line,
the easiest route, the simplest path. I knew other verses said
that we are not to continue in sin just because God shows grace.
"I thought I had a great life. I even went to Bible college. In
church and at school, I said the right things and prayed in public
and even encouraged people in their Christian lives. But I was
still a sinner. I even said that. I told people I wasn't perfect;
I was forgiven."
"My wife said that," Rayford said.
"The difference is," Bruce said, "she was sincere. I lied. I told
my wife that we tithed to the church, you know, that we gave ten
percent of our income. I hardly ever gave any, except when the
plate was passed I might drop in a few bills to make it look good.
Every week I would confess that to God, promising to do better
"I encouraged people to share their faith, to tell other people
how to become Christians. But on my own I never did that. My job
was to visit people in their homes and nursing homes and hospitals
every day. I was good at it. I encouraged them, smiled at them,
talked with them, prayed with them, even read Scripture to them.
But I never did that on my own, privately.
"I was lazy. I cut corners. When people thought I was out calling,
I might be at a movie in another town. I was also lustful. I read
things I shouldn't have read, looked at magazines that fed my
Rayford winced. That hit too close to home.
"I had a real racket going," Barnes was saying, "and I bought
into it. Down deep, way down deep, I knew better. I knew it was
too good to be true. I knew that true Christians were known by
what their lives produced and that I was producing nothing. But
I comforted myself that there were worse people around who called
"I wasn't a rapist or a child molester or an adulterer, though
many times I felt unfaithful to my wife because of my lusts. But
I could always pray and confess and feel as though I was clean.
It should have been obvious to me. When people found out I was
on the pastoral staff at New Hope, I would tell them about the
cool pastor and the neat church, but I was shy about telling them
about Christ. If they challenged me and asked if New Hope was
one of those churches that said Jesus was the only way to God,
I did everything but deny it. I wanted them to think I was OK,
that I was with it. I may be a Christian and even a pastor, but
don't lump me with the weirdos. Above all, don't do that.
"I see now, of course, that God is a sin-forgiving God, because
we're human and we need that. But we are to receive his gift,
abide in Christ, and allow him to live through us. I used what
I thought was my security as a license to do what I wanted. I
could basically live in sin and pretend to be devout. I had a
great family and a nice work environment. And as miserable as
I was privately most of the time, I really believed I would go
to heaven when I died.
"I hardly ever read my Bible except when preparing a talk or lesson.
I didn't have the 'mind of Christ.' Christian, I knew vaguely,
means 'Christ one' or 'one like Christ.' That sure wasn't me,
and I found out in the worst way possible.
"Let me just say to you both--this is your decision. These are
your lives. But I know, and Loretta knows, and a few others who
were playing around the edges here at this church know exactly
what happened a few nights ago. Jesus Christ returned for his
true family, and the rest of us were left behind."
Bruce looked Chloe in the eyes. "There is no doubt in my mind
that we have witnessed the Rapture. My biggest fear, once I realized
the truth, was that there was no more hope for me. I had missed
it, I had been a phony, I had set up my own brand of Christianity
that may have made for a life of freedom but had cost me my soul.
I had heard people say that when the church was raptured, God's
Spirit would be gone from the earth. The logic was that when Jesus
went to heaven after his resurrection, the Holy Spirit that God
gave to the church was embodied in believers. So when they were
taken, the Spirit would be gone, and there would be no more hope
for anyone left. You can't know the relief when Pastor's tape
showed me otherwise.
"We realize how stupid we were, but those of us in this church--at
least the ones who felt drawn to this building the night everyone
else disappeare--are now as zealous as we can be. No one who comes
here will leave without knowing exactly what we believe and what
we think is necessary for them to have a relationship with God."
Chloe stood and paced, her arms folded across her chest. "That's
a pretty interesting story," she said. "What was the deal with
Loretta? How did she miss it if her whole extended family were
"You should have her tell you sometime," Bruce said. "But she
tells me it was pride and embarrassment that kept her from Christ.
She was a middle child in a very religious family, and she said
she was in her late teens before she even thought seriously about
her personal faith. She had just drifted along with the family
to church and all the related activities. As she grew up, got
married, became a mother and a grandmother, she just let everyone
assume she was a spiritual giant. She was revered around here.
Only she had never believed and received Christ for herself."
"So," Chloe said, "this believing and receiving stuff, this living
for Christ or letting him live through you, that's what my mother
meant when she talked about salvation, getting saved?"
Bruce nodded. "From sin and hell and judgment."
"Meantime, we're not saved from all that."
"You really believe this."
"It's pretty freaky stuff, you have to admit."
"Not to me. Not anymore."
Rayford, always one for precision and order, asked, "So, what
did you do? What did my wife do? What made her more of a Christian,
or, ah . . . what, uh--"
"Saved her?" Bruce said.
"Yes," Rayford said. "That's exactly what I want to know. If you're
right, and I've already told Chloe that I think I see this now,
we need to know how it works. How it goes. How does a person get
from one situation to the other? Obviously, we were not saved
from being left, and we're here to face life without our loved
ones who were true Christians. So, how do we become true Christians?
How it goes. How does a person get from one situation to the other?
Obviously, we were not saved from being left, and we're here to
face life without our loved ones who were true Christians. So,
how do we become true Christians ? "
"I'm going to walk you through that," Bruce said. "And I'm going
to send you home with the tape. And I'm going to go through this
all in detail tomorrow morning at ten for whoever shows up. I'll
probably do the same lesson every Sunday morning for as long as
people need to know. One thing I'm sure of, as important as all
the other sermons and lessons are, nothing matters like this one."
While Chloe stood with her back to the wall, arms still folded,
watching and listening, Bruce turned to Rayford. "It's really
quite simple. God made it easy. That doesn't mean it's not a supernatural
transaction or that we can pick and choose the good parts--as
I tried to do. But if we see the truth and act on it, God won't
withhold salvation from us.
"First, we have to see ourselves as God sees us. The Bible says
all have sinned, that there is none righteous, no not one. It
also says we can't save ourselves. Lots of people thought they
could earn their way to God or to heaven by doing good things,
but that's probably the biggest misconception ever. Ask anyone
on the street what they think the Bible or the church says about
getting to heaven, and nine of ten would say it has something
to do with doing good and living right.
"We're to do that, of course, but not so we can earnour salvation.
We're to do that in response to our salvation. The Bible says
that it's not by works of righteousness that we have done, but
by his mercy God saved us. It also says that we are saved by grace
through Christ, not of ourselves, so we can't brag about our goodness.
"Jesus took our sins and paid the penalty for them so we wouldn't
have to. The payment is death, and he died in our place because
he loved us. When we tell Christ that we acknowledge ourselves
as sinners and lost, and receive his gift of salvation, he saves
us. A transaction takes place. We go from darkness to light, from
lost to found; we're saved. The Bible says that to those who receive
him, he gives the power to become sons of God. That's what Jesus
is--the Son of God. When we become sons of God, we have what Jesus
has: a relationship with God, eternal life, and because Jesus
paid our penalty, we also have forgiveness for our sins."
Rayford sat stunned. He sneaked a peek at Chloe. She looked frozen,
but she didn't appear antagonistic. Rayford felt he had found
exactly what he was looking for. It was what he had suspected
and had heard bits and pieces of over the years, but he had never
put it all together. In spite of himself, he was still reserved
enough to want to mull it over, to see and hear the tape, and
to discuss it with Chloe.
"I have to ask you," Bruce said, "something I never wanted to
ask people before. I want to know if you're ready to receive Christ
right now. I would be happy to pray with you and lead you in how
to talk to God about this."
"No," Chloe said quickly, looking at her dad as if afraid he was
going to do something foolish.
"No?" Bruce was clearly surprised. "Need more time ? "
"At least," Chloe said. "Surely this isn't something you rush
"Well, let me tell you," Bruce said. "It's something I wish I
had rushed into. I believe God has forgiven me and that I have
a job to do here. But I don't know what's going to happen now,
with the true Christians all gone. I'd sure rather have come to
this point years ago than now, when it was nearly too late. You
can imagine that I would much rather be in heaven with my family
right now. "
"But then who would tell us about this?" Rayford asked.
"Oh, I'm grateful for that opportunity," Bruce said. "But it has
cost me dearly."
"I understand." Rayford could feel Bruce's eyes burning into him
as if the young man knew Rayford was nearly ready to make a commitment.
But he had never rushed into anything in his life. And while he
didn't put this on the same scale as dealing with a salesman,
he needed time to think, a cooling-off period. He was analytical,
and while this suddenly made a world of sense to him and he didn't
doubt at all Bruce's theory of the disappearances, he would not
act immediately. "I'd appreciate the tape, and I can guarantee
you, I will be back tomorrow. "
Bruce looked at Chloe. "No guarantees from me," shesaid, "but
I appreciate your time and I will watch the tape. "
"That's all I can ask," Bruce said. "But let me leave you with
one little reminder of urgency. You may have heard this off and
on your whole lives, the way I did. Maybe you haven't. But I need
to tell you that you don't have any guarantees. It's too late
for you to disappear like your loved ones did a few days ago.
But people die every day in car accidents, plane crashes--oh,
sorry, I'm sure you're a good pilot--all kinds of tragedies. I'm
not going to push you into something you're not ready for, but
just let me encourage you that if God impresses upon you that
this is true, don't put it off. What would be worse than finally
finding God and then dying without him because you waited too
* Excerpt from the first book in the series, Left Behind. For
information about the authors: Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins,
please visit their website: http://www.leftbehind.com
What is the "take-away" message of the "Left Behind" series?
Nothing is more important than making a decision NOW where you
Jesus Christ. Don't wait until it is too late. Read the Gospel of John from the Bible
and consider your life in light of God's love.
- The Left Behind Series is available at: