' "Hattie--"
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 disappeared."
"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.'

' "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 was covered.
"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 next time.
"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 lusts."
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 themselves Christians.
"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 true Christians?"
"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."
"That's right."
"You really believe this."
"I do."
"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 into."
"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 long?"

* 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 stand with
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: