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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 15)

~~ Ch. 15 ~~
Tuesday morning’s class was one of Hornby’s favorites. In reality, all of his classes were his favorites, for he considered shaping young minds an incredible privilege.

“Theological Methods and Issues” was an upper-level research class in which students learned how to investigate an issue and write persuasive, evidence-based papers on their chosen topic. And the topics were quite varied. Some chose to take on the issue of abortion and cultural values. Others worked on the topic of male leadership in the Scriptures. And still others investigated unusual subjects that they had thought about for a long time.

Hornby saw his job as helping the student sharpen his or her research question, pursue the best sources for information, and respond to the issue in a culturally-relevant manner. Each year as he taught this particular course, he was impressed with the excellent work of most of the students. In fact, last year he had self-published the top ten papers in the class as a book entitled “Thinking about Theology.” It had become a best seller — among the students’ parents and relatives!

But not all his students were eager to receive his wisdom in sharpening and researching their papers. One older female student proposed writing her paper on the Gullah people of South Carolina. Dr. Hornby, who knew a bit about that Low Country people group, suggested several ways in which that topic could a bit more focused.

“I remember that conversation as if it were yesterday,” Hornby said outloud to himself. “My student listened to my ideas, then looked at me and said, ‘If I followed your advice, Dr. Hornby, that would be your paper, not mine!’” Oh, well, he thought to himself. You can’t help everyone.

Hornby prided himself on his ability to find (and fix) every grammatical error in a student’s paper. He not only dealt with dangling participles and split infinitives, but simple matters such as punctuation errors, comma splices, and unclear antecedents.

He thought back on an email he received from one student who was considering taking his “Theological Methods and Issues” class. He wrote the student, welcoming her into the class, and added that he was death on grammatical errors and she should be prepared to proof-read her final paper several times.
He got back the following email: “Dr. Hornby, I read what you said about your correcting grammar mistakes, and I want you to know that you hurt my feeling.”

Hornby didn’t know how to respond. He wanted to write, “I’m sorry you were offended, and I believe you wanted to say ‘you hurt my feelings’, but I will do my best to help you compose the best paper you can.” Instead he left out the correction and assured her he was looking forward to working with her.

Some students thought that the FBC faculty did not carefully read student papers, but just skimmed them and assigned grades. “Ha!”, Hornby laughed to himself, as he recalled reading a rather lengthy paper on “The Mystics of the Middle Ages” by Kathy, an excellent student in his class. In the middle of her discussion of the philosophical foundation of mysticism, she wrote in a small footnote, “Dr. Hornby, if you are reading this whole paper, I will buy you a Burger King Whooper Meal Friday night at midnight!”

She and her friends were shocked to see Hornby enter the local Burger King at 11:59 pm on Friday night wearing a Burger King crown with a Burger King napkin tucked into his dress shirt and carrying a fork and a knife! That was one delicious meal, Hornby thought to himself!

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 14)

~~ Ch. 14 ~~
Henry Delganey was so proud of his son Michael. It had taken Michael a while to adjust to the move from Chicago, and he had seemed reluctant to start making friends.

But Henry and his wife Miriam had settled into a comfortable life near Faithful Bible College. They had been able to purchase a nice mountain cabin about twenty miles from the campus.

Miriam said, “Henry, is Michael doing okay with his studies? Any idea how he’s liking the dorm? Is he making any new friends? He really could do a better job keeping in touch with his mother!”

“Michael has texted me a couple of times. He’s still quite upset about his uncle’s death. But he’s told me some about his classes. His favorite professor is a Dr. Hornby. What a strange name!”

Miriam replied, “I just looked up that name on the internet and there was a famous Frank Hornby who was an English inventor back in the early twentieth century. He actually used his mechanical skills to create toys like the system called ‘Meccano.’ And he made a fortune from his model railways and the brand ‘Dinky Toys.’”

“Well, I don’t know if this Dr. Hornby is related to that toy guy or not,” Henry said. “I’m just glad Michael is enjoying his studies. Perhaps they will help him come to terms with our move — and the loss of his beloved uncle.”

“‘Beloved uncle?!,” Miriam said. “He was a criminal. And I’m glad we got out of Chicago!”

“Of course you are right, Dear. And I really don’t know how much Michael knows about Uncle Bubba. You and I have prayed for that side of the family for years. And we specifically prayed for Bubba’s salvation after I had that long talk with him last Christmas.”

Miriam said, “Did Bubba really call you a ‘religious wimp’?”

“I’m afraid so, Dear. I just pray that he got right with the Lord before, you know, his accident.” Henry looked at a photograph of Michael when he was eight and Uncle Bubba with Michael on his back.

Miriam put her arm around her husband. “You tried, Honey, to reach Bubba with the gospel. But I guess he was too blinded by the money he was making with that side of the family.”

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 13)

~~ Ch. 13 ~~
“You know, there’s a lot of verses about the sins of the fathers being visited upon their children,” John Smith said to himself outloud. “I would imagine that such Scriptures apply also to brothers, right?”

Taking out Bubba Delvaney was important, Smith thought to himself. But what other family members merit my expertise? He asked himself, “I think that Bubba had a brother, right?” I wonder where I might find him.

[New chapters in our story will be posted in July. Comments welcome!]

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 12)

~~ Ch. 12 ~~
Faithful Bible College’s cafeteria would never make the cover of Martha Stewart’s “The 50 Most Attractive College Dining Halls in the States,” but the meals prepared by Sissie Borden were delicious. Students often had to be asked to leave the cafeteria when it was closing because they could have seconds or thirds and the atmosphere was perfect for meeting in small groups and talking about their classes.

The other perk in the dining hall was that there was no separate faculty dining area. The teachers at FBC would eat with the students to discuss course assignments, questions about life, or just to shoot the breeze.

On every annual review of FBC’s facilities students always gave the highest marks to Miss Borden’s menus and especially the faculty regularly being available for conversation.

Although most of the tables were designed to seat 6-8 diners, there were several smaller tables in the corners of the dining hall for more private conversations.

Hornby entered the cafeteria and immediately noticed Michael Delganey sitting by himself at one of the smaller tables.

“Mind if I join you?”, Hornby asked.

“Of course, Professor Hornby. I’d be honored!” Michael stood up as Hornby took his seat.

“Michael,” Dr. Hornby said, “do you mind telling me a bit about your family and your background?”

“Well, sir, it’s kind of complicated. My family is originally from the Chicago area, but we moved away years ago.”

“Why did your family move away from Chicago?”, Hornby asked.

“It’s a bit embarrassing, but it was well known that the Delvaney family (that was our last name before . . . well, I believe I shared that with you already) were, shall we say, major players in the criminal world of Chicago. My father had nothing to do with his brother or his cousins. In fact, my Dad had shared the gospel with each of them — and was scoffed at for believing ‘all that stuff.’”

“Did you lose all contact with your family when you moved away?”, Hornby asked.

“Pretty much. I did, however, have a favorite uncle. We called him ‘Uncle Bubba.’ He was a huge man, but very gentle and friendly. When I was small he gave me horsey-back rides when he came to visit.”

“You say ‘he was.’ Is Bubba still around?”

Michael’s eyes filled with tears. “No, he passed away about a year ago. I miss him terribly. He used to take me for a ride in his beautiful Lexus.”

Hornby cautiously said, “Do you mind telling me how he died, Michael?”

“Well, sir, he was being charged with some very serious crimes. There were rumors that some key witnesses had gone missing. It appears that after celebrating being found innocent in court, he just drove off a cliff!”

“Drove off a cliff? Why would he do such a thing?”

Michael looked down. “I don’t know, Sir. The police have no explanation. There was no evidence that another car was involved or that he skidded to avoid a deer or anything like that. And I know my uncle. He would not have committed suicide!”

“Michael, I’m so sorry for your loss,” Hornby said.

“But, Dr. Hornby, that’s not the worst of it!”

“What do you mean, Michael?”

“I mean, if my uncle died without a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, he is lost forever!” Michael burst into tears, not caring if any other students saw him crying in the cafeteria.

Hornby tried to comfort Michael, but felt quite inept in his attempt. “Michael, I will be praying that the Lord will give you comfort. Please drop by my office anytime that you want to talk.”

“I will, Sir. And thank you for listening.”

As Hornby left the cafeteria, he thought to himself, I wonder why more of us don’t have that kind of love for those we care about who die without being in Jesus. Hornby also thought about how he would love to find out exactly why Bubba drove over that cliff.

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 11)

~~ Ch. 11 ~~
“Intro to Theology 101” was one of Hornby’s favorite classes to teach. It gave him a chance to survey the ten major areas of Christian doctrine and, hopefully, to whet the appetite of his students for all things theological.

“Today, students,” Dr. Hornby said, “we’re going to deal with a very difficult subject. The subject is what happens to those who die without a saving knowledge of Jesus.”

“Dr. Hornby?” one young lady raised her hand. “Are you talking about . . .” (she blushed when she said the next word) “. . . hell?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I am.” Hornby could see on the faces of the 30 or so students in the class that he had their undivided attention. “Many people who claim to be Christians have abandoned the idea of eternal, conscious punishment, but I want to show that the Bible actually teaches that ‘the wicked’ — those who die without Christ — will be separated from God and His people forever and will undergo everlasting punishment.”

“But my pastor taught us that all will eventually get to heaven!” one student in the back said. “In fact, he said that God is too loving to send anyone to hell and man isn’t sinful enough to merit eternal punishment.”

“That’s a very common view,” Dr. Hornby replied. It’s usually called universalism, but it’s not what the Bible teaches.” Hornby went on to show several clear Scriptures which indicated that there will be a final separation of those in Christ from those who did not trust Him as their Savior.

“I’ve had some Seventh-Day Adventist friends who told me that those who die without Christ will eventually be annihilated, put out of existence, by God,” another student stated. “In fact, they told me that God shouldn’t be seen as a cosmic torturer!”

“That’s a view known as conditionalism or annihilationism,” Hornby said. “In fact, one of the best known Evangelical leaders, John R.W. Stott, was a conditionalist. But, again, that’s not what the Bible teaches. Hornby pointed out a number of Scriptures which indicate that “the wicked” will undergo eternal, conscious punishment.

“Perhaps there will be numerous opportunities to trust Christ after death?”, asked a student named Michael Delganey. “Must we really believe that God’s grace toward the lost will end at death? Didn’t Jesus preach to the dead when He descended to hell between His death and His resurrection?”

Hornby thought for a moment. “You’ve asked a great question. Michael, is it? Some have thought that Christ’s so-called descent into hell is explained to us in I Peter 3. This view is sometimes called ‘the post-mortem conversion’ view.” Hornby went on to show that I Peter 3 is really talking about Jesus preaching through Noah to the unbelievers of Noah’s day. And that Jesus did not offer a second or third or fourth chance for salvation to people after their deaths.

“But, Dr. Hornby,” MIchael responded. “Do you really believe that those who die without believing in Jesus will be eternally condemned and never, ever have a chance to get right with God? Really?”

Hornby could see that Michael’s question was more than merely academic. “I believe that we should grieve for those who have died without Christ, but for them it is too late. That’s why the Bible puts such an emphasis on sharing our faith with people now. On earth. Before they die.”

Michael’s head was down on his desk. After Hornby finished his lecture — and assigned twenty Scriptures for the students to look up for their next session of Intro to Theology — he went over to Michael to talk with him.

“Michael,” Dr. Hornby said, “I know this is a disturbing topic. Could there even be a more disturbing topic than this one? Are you thinking about someone you care about who has died without trusting Jesus?”

Michael’s eyes filled with tears. “Yes, Dr. Hornby! My uncle. I don’t have any reason to believe that he died believing in Jesus! And now he is lost . . . forever!”

Hornby pulled up a desk next to Michael and wished he had his Ellie with him. She would know what to do. She would put her arm around Michael and just let him cry. All Hornby could do was ask him, “Would you want to tell me a bit about your uncle, Michael?”

“Well, sir, you need to know that my last name was changed a couple of years ago.”

“Changed?” Dr. Hornby responded.

“Yessir. Our last name used to be ‘Delvaney.’ My father changed our last name because of the Delvaney mob. My uncle was their leader, Bubba Delvaney,and he died last year in a car accident.”

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 10)

~~ Ch. 10 ~~
“Where the hell am I – and how did I get here?”, Bubba Delvaney said out loud. “It’s pitch black in this place and I have never smelled such a putrid stench in my life!”

“What do I remember? Oh, yeah, I heard that dreadful sound as I was driving away from the party and I think — could it possibly be? — I think I drove off a cliff! So why am I still alive? Or am I?”

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 9)

~~ Ch. 9 ~~

“I just love my ‘calling’,” John Smith said to himself. “I get to do God’s work and fulfill my destiny!”

As he sat in his hotel room, Smith was thoroughly relishing the news reports of Delvaney’s death. He thought to himself how much he enjoyed the hours of research and preparation — which were always followed by a perfect execution. He rehearsed his work out-loud as he reviewed the car “accident” he caused.

“First, I had to study the wasp, its scientific name being Vespula vulgaris. I learned that the wasp’s venom is as powerful as a rattlesnake’s.

“I remember overhearing some of Delvaney’s men in a bar talking about how their boss — a man feared by all — was deathly afraid of only one thing — wasps! They laughed as they remembered how he had jumped straight up at a family meeting when he thought a wasp was flying near his head. He explained his action by telling the story of when, as a child on his tenth birthday, he had had a wasp nest fall behind his sweatshirt as he climbed his favorite tree. He had gotten stung about 25 times and almost died.

“I love it!”, Smith said. “Delvaney didn’t get stung even once this time!” Smith gushed as he recalled the medical examiner’s findings. “Just the thought of a wasp in his car was enough to do him in!” Smith laughed out loud as he reflected on his perfect plan.

He had read up on wasps and learned that a captured wasp could be put to sleep with just a small amount of carbon dioxide. “And when Delvaney opened that small box with the card on top saying ‘Congratulations!’, he didn’t realize that the chocolate truffles were hiding a sleeping wasp! Shortly after the box was opened, the air woke up the wasp and the rest is, as they say, history!”

Smith picked up his Bible and began to read some of his favorite passages. He read verses from Numbers 35 about a man appointed by God.

As he read, Smith reviewed the details of “the avenger of blood.” God decreed that six Levite cities were to be “cities of refuge” to which a killer of someone might flee and await trial before the assembly. If that person had committed murder (striking a person with an iron object, a stone, or a wooden object), “the avenger of blood shall put the murderer to death; when the avenger comes upon the murderer, the avenger shall put the murderer to death” (Num. 35:19). God commanded execution by the avenger for someone who out of enmity hits another with their fist and they die.

However, Smith continued to read, the avenger of blood can’t execute someone who pushes another or throws something at them unintentionally or, without seeing them, drops a stone on them, and they die. No harm was intended and, after a trial before the assembly, the accused must go back to the city of refuge and stay there until the death of the high priest.

Smith finished his reading of Numbers 35 by noting that if the accused ever goes outside the limits of the city of refuge to which they fled and the avenger of blood finds them outside the city, the avenger of blood may kill the accused without being guilty of murder.

“I prefer my work to be quiet and private, unlike the Old Testament’s avenger of blood,” Smith said to himself. “I wonder what my next assignment might be.”

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 8)

~~ Ch. 8 ~~

Mrs. Scarlett O’Leary was Faithful Bible College’s librarian — and she took her job very seriously. Although she was always ready to help the students, especially in learning good research methods, she was a stickler for returning checked-out books on time. She would not hesitate to charge a student — or a faculty member, for that matter — ten cents per day for any books not returned when due.

One of her hobbies was collecting librarians’ curses. Her favorite was from the monastery of San Pedro, Barcelona, which reads:

“For him that stealeth a book from this library,
let it change into a serpent in his hand & rend him.  Let him be struck with palsy, & all his members blasted.
Let him languish in pain crying aloud for mercy,
& let there be no surcease to his agony till he sink to dissolution.
Let bookworms gnaw his entrails in token of the Worm that dieth not,
& when at last he goeth to his final punishment,
let the flames of hell consume him forever & aye.”

She had several others framed and hung on her office wall. One was by Hugh, the abbot of Lobbes Abbey in Germany, who noticed in 1049 that a number of the monastery’s books were missing. So he wrote on the last page of his catalogue:

“All those who do not books return
Are thieves, not borrowers, and earn
The punishment Justice demands;
Their sacrificial loss of hands,
May God, therefore, as witness see
That it be done unswervingly.”

Two others were framed and publicly displayed on Mrs. O’Leary’s office wall. One was by a gentle Eleanor Worcester, who in 1440 wrote,

“This book is mine
And I it lost, and you it find,
I pray you heartily to be so kind,
That you will take a little pain,
To see my book brought home again.”

With tongue-in-cheek, her absolute favorite curse was by the Parisian scribe Simon Vostre who completed a Book of Hours in 1502 with the lines

“Whoever steals this Book of Prayer
May he be ripped apart by swine,
His heart be splintered, this I swear,
And his body dragged along the Rhine.”

Contrary to the impression these curses gave of Mrs. O’Leary’s personality, she was nevertheless a sweet widow who had her sights set resolutely on none other than Dr. Theophilus Hornby. Mrs. O’Leary’s husband had passed away about the same time as Mrs. Hornby, but she had finished her grieving her late husband’s passing in record time.

Whenever Hornby came into the library, Mrs. O’Leary would drop what she was doing, would unceremoniously shove aside any student worker who would dare move toward assisting Dr. Hornby, and would whisper in her best, throaty, librarian voice, “Theo, how may I help you today?”

Hornby, although he was immensely observant in his Bible studies, was quite naive regarding Mrs. O’Leary’s intentions. But the students knew, and did not hesitate to share with one another her latest efforts to turn Hornby’s head her direction. Those students whose student work responsibilities put them on library detail would try to set up Dr. Hornby and Mrs. O’Leary by asking him some arcane question in class whose answer could only be found out by visiting FBC’s stacks. And then the real observing would begin.

FBC had a monthly dessert get together at which the faculty could share about their recent writing projects or ministry opportunities, and, after appropriate cake or pie, the evening concluded with a time of prayer.

On this Friday evening Hornby had volunteered to read an original poem he had written while teaching his “Theological Methods and Issues” class.

The dean of the school, Dr. Sean Miller, opened the monthly meeting with prayer. “Tonight,” he said, “we have as our special treat an original poem by our own Dr. Theophilus Hornby. Dr. Hornby.”

The other faculty and staff clapped profusely, knowing that Hornby’s contribution to the evening’s festivities would be worth listening to.

“Friends,” Hornby began, “as some of you know, my ‘Theological Methods and Issues’ class can be a real challenge sometimes. Some students do unthinkable things to participles, like dangle them, and even maliciously split infinitives!”

The group laughed, but Hornby continued. “A few of our students think that research is stringing together a bunch of quotes from hard-to-understand experts, sometimes failing to cite the original sources. Very few of our charges intentionally plagiarize, but this situation inspired me to pen the following parody of a famous poem, entitled ‘Footprints in the Sand.”

The group all got quiet as they waited for Hornby to read his poem. “This poem is called ‘Footnotes in the Surf.’”

He then read his poem:

FOOTNOTES IN THE SURF
One night I dreamed a dream
Of a research assignment — and I began to scheme
How to finish and get a great grade
But that wouldn’t happen without some aid.
As I strolled on the beach thinking what I could do
It occurred to me that I could pursue
Not serious study but a quick treasure hunt
Into the works of others, an oft-used stunt
By lazy students who didn’t care
Whose words they used, or ideas to share
Without attribution, without any guilt
And so I competed the research paper “I” built.
After turning it in and receiving it back
I was given an “A” — and that’s a fact!
But then that night as I lay on my bed
I had a dream, a nightmare instead
And the Lord spoke to me what was undoubtedly true.
“My son — that’s not your work. Others have carried you!”

“Oh, Theo. That was tremendous!”, Mrs. O’Leary gushed as the meeting came to an end and everybody began heading home.

“You know, Theo, I happen to have some homemade apple cider and freshly-baked shortbread cookies waiting in my kitchen at home.”

Mrs. O’Leary had heard that those two items were at the top of Hornby’s list of most desirable comfort foods. But he was tired and said to Mrs. O’Leary, “Thank you, Mrs. O. But can I take a raincheck?”

“A raincheck? Theo — you can call me Scarlett — there’s not a cloud in the sky. And you’ve already collected five rainchecks from me!”

At that precise moment in his personal history as a man, it dawned on Hornby — could it possibly be — that Mrs. O’Leary was hitting on him?! Man, he said to himself, have I been naive or what?

He stumbled on his words as he made his escape. “Mrs. O’Leary, I mean Scarlett, it just occurred to me that I have several books overdue that I had better turn in to the library tomorrow! I’ll drop them off sometime in the morning.”

“Oh, Theo. Don’t worry about overdue books. I think you and I are a bit overdue, if you catch my meaning!”

Hornby could feel himself blushing as he grabbed his coat and jumped in his car.

When he got home, Luther climbed up on his lap, instinctively sensing something was upsetting Hornby. “Luther,” Hornby said, “I sure miss my Ellie.” Luther thought he said “jelly,” and thought how good a jelly biscuit would be about right now.

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 7)

~~ Ch. 7 ~~

When Hornby got home, he opened the front door and called out, “Luther, I’m home! Got the dishes done from last night?”

He knew very well that the dirty dishes would still be in the sink and Luther would stumble out of the bedroom, leaving a warm, round indentation at the foot of Hornby’s bed.

But Luther loved doing figure 8’s around Hornby’s legs and his deep purring was his way of saying, “I’m so glad you’re home. Can we watch ‘Columbo’ tonight? And might we have an encore of that tv dinner which we enjoyed last night?”

As much as he appreciated Luther’s company, Hornby really missed his long discussions with Ellie. They could talk about anything, often finishing each other’s sentences. At their 50th wedding anniversary celebration, one of their friends described the Hornbys by saying, “Even their minds seem to be holding hands!”

Eleanor had had a distinguished career, first as a high school guidance counselor, then as head of the guidance department. She seemed to have that motherly or grandmotherly appearance that drew students with struggles to her like a magnet. Even though her primary job as a counselor was to help students select courses or make good decisions about which college to attend, much of her time was spent in listening to and providing wisdom to countless young men and women who needed “just a few minutes, Mrs. H?”

When she retired a year before her death, Mrs. Hornby had impacted literally thousands of young people on such critical issues as sexual purity; personality styles; parental respect; academic excellence; the pitfalls of popular culture; the importance of being an active member of a solid, local church; etc. After she left, the administration realized that it needed to hire two people to take her place: one as head of the guidance department and another as a confidante and counselor.

Her death left a lot of holes, and not just in my heart, thought Hornby, as he plopped into his recliner with Luther jumping up to lie next to him. “Luther,” Hornby said out loud, “please don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re a pretty poor substitute for my Ellie. I’d sure love to have her back. If only I could have my wish . . .”

Luther perked up when he heard the word “wish.” Hmmm. He thought to himself. “Wish” sounds like “fish” — and I haven’t had any tuna in a long time!

“Got you something special for dinner tonight,” Hornby said to Luther. “It’s that new Seven Seas Hungry Man Seafood Platter,” he said. “Here — it will take me just a few minutes to microwave it.”

Luther licked his lips and thought, I’ll bet we watch “Columbo” tonight. As long as I get the leftovers!

“I wonder what’s on the ‘Classics’ TV channel?”, Hornby asked as he took the dinner out of the microwave. “Doesn’t that smell delicious, Luther?”

 

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“STUNG! A Theophilus Hornby Mystery” (Ch. 6)

~~ Ch. 6 ~~

Monday afternoon was Hornby’s day to go grocery shopping. His diet included more than tv dinners, but his level of absent-mindedness seemed to be increasing as the years rolled on. He would lose track of time, forget what he came to buy, or get caught up in a conversation about theology.

He was fond of saying, “Theology is not boring. Theologians are boring!” He tried his best to keep his lectures and class discussions relevant and practical and, well, interesting. He remembered his old friend Daryl Busby, a former colleague at a small Bible college in Canada, saying, “Surely it must be a sin to bore God’s people with God’s Word!”

Hornby was always ready to discuss doctrinal matters, because good doctrine, he believed, was solidly based in truth. And the truth will set you free, he thought to himself.

He remembered going grocery shopping one Monday afternoon when he met his plumber friend John Ensel who had also lost his wife to cancer. “Theo,” John said, “got your list?”

“List? Oh, my. Nope. Forgot it again!”, Hornby answered.

“Well, that’s okay, my friend. Somedays without my Mary I find it hard to put one foot in front of the other. But we must, you know?”

“Yeah, I know,” Hornby answered. “I know she’s with the Lord, and her pain is gone, and she’s probably so enamored with the Lord Jesus that she hardly even thinks about me down here.”

“I’m not so sure about that, Theo,” Ensel responded. But what do I know? I’m just a humble plumber, DR. Hornby!”

Hornby and Ensel loved poking fun at each other, especially about their different levels of education. “I’m not so sure how truly humble you are, John. I know that you’re probably more widely read in theology than I am — and I teach this stuff!”

“Theo, you know that I just fix water problems, flooded basements, and clogged toilets. I’m just a small fish in God’s pond.”

“John, you remind me of something said by John Gardner, who was the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under President Lyndon Johnson. Gardner said, ‘The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.’”

Hornby and Ensel laughed and laughed at that quote, and for the next hour, they discussed the finer points of God’s omnipresence, the state of believers who were already in heaven, and whether or not those saints paid attention to what was going on down here on earth. Neither was aware that their discussion was taking place in Aisle 7, Feminine Hygiene and Incontinence Aids.

 

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