contuation of Lost and Found - (items 4-6)
|If you have not yet viewed the beginning of this piece, please check for "Lost and Found" - love to all - Dr. Jay
PART FOUR - LOST, A PLACE TO CALL HOME
The Lord God made garments of skin for
Adam and his wife and clothed them.
And the Lord God said, “The man has now
become like one of us, knowing good and evil.
He must not be allowed to reach out his hand
and take also from the tree of life and eat, and
live forever.” So the Lord God banished him
forever from the Garden of Eden to work the
ground from which he had been taken. After He
drove the man out, He placed on the east side of
the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword
flashing back and forth to guard the way to the
tree of life (Gen. 3: 21 - 24 NIV).
Exactly how long did Adam and his lovely bride live in the perfect harmony of the garden? Did they have time to enjoy a long and happy honeymoon or were they placed there on Friday and ushered out by the first of the week? The Biblical account doesn’t offer much of a time line.
For some, it’s a question of theology and evolution. Do Adam and Eve belong to the age of the dinosaur; the stone age; the bronze or iron age? Or perhaps it’s letter “D” (all of the above). For example, did Adam and Eve have any neighbors named Fred and Wilma Flintstone? Others, like myself, have little interest in the question of how long the first couple resided at the first address. Instead, we are intrigued by the tremendous changes Adam and Eve suffered upon leaving. Along with the more well known punishments; difficulty in farming for Adam - difficulty in childbirth for Eve - another, more subtle penalty emerged. Home was no longer home.
Of Harding and Home . . .
Not everyone was raised with such a luxury; but having a permanent place to call home is truly a comforting gift. While attending Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas, I began to see just how great a comfort it can be.
Shortly after arriving on campus, I began the daily pilgrimage so many students enjoy. At least once a day (often several times a day), I would go to the University Post Office and check my student box. As a rule, it was as empty as a politician’s promise. However, the student boxes weren’t the only diversion in the Post Office. On the cluttered wall, by the exit, was a special bulletin board designed to help students find a way home for weekends and holidays.
Let’s say, for instance, you were planning to drive home to Dallas for the weekend. Just leave a note on the board and, chances were, you’d have some company to share the ride or even the cost of gas. If you had no vehicle, you could always leave a note, hoping someone was going your way. Once or twice, my old ‘64 Super Beetle carried near perfect strangers to the Dallas Metroplex. Funny, by the time we got back to school, we were no longer strangers but friends.
There were some students, though, who could never seem to find someone passing near enough to their home-town; Brothers and sisters from such far away, mystical countries as Zambia, Zimbabwe, and New York City. Some of these students were forced to leave home and family for years at a time to pursue an education (and I thought six hours in a Volkswagen bug was tough!). But even they, at some point, might have been allowed the luxury of returning home. Adam and Eve never would.
A Little Off the Top . . .
A man can learn a lot if he’ll just listen now and then, especially in a barber shop. Not in a styling salon, mind you - conversations there may be too polite and polished. It’s the old “buzz saw” barber who is willing to tell, without reservation, the way thing really are. It seems to be his unofficial place in life to stand as tribal historian and story teller. Anyway, I don’t have enough hair to warrant a “style”.
Recently, I decided to increase my conservative standing by having the local barber take a little off the top. It was the middle of the afternoon and as I entered Mr. Talley’s shop, the place looked totally deserted. As I waited patiently for my invitation to climb into one of those oversized, “up and down and all around” chairs with the flip-flopable footrest, I tossed my jacket and Becky’s wallet (mine was empty; my wife was picking up the tab) into one of the deeply cushioned chairs that lined the wall.
It was, at that moment, that Mr. Talley came in from the back room; munching on some Ritz Bitz crackers and drinking a Coke-A-Cola Classic. His opening line was straight to the point, avoiding completely the usual chit-chat of small town life. He simply said, “Have a seat.” Then, as I was ascending the chair, he added, “Do you want it blocked or tapered in the back?”
That was the most we said to each other the entire time I was in his shop. It may have been that Mr. Talley was little interested in making small talk with a stranger less than half his age. At any rate, I sat still - like a good boy - while he went on cutting my hair and eating his lunch.
Somewhere between trimming the front and blocking the back, another customer came through the doors off Commerce Street. I glanced at the tall, stout fellow and decided he must be a retired farmer or rancher. There were a lot of retired farmers and ranchers in Mexia, Texas; so it was probably a safe bet. As he took his seat across the room, I thought about my wife’s wallet I had so carelessly tossed aside. It was easy to tell. though, that this man would be more likely to give someone a hundred dollars than accept a dime he didn’t deserve. It was also easy to see that the “newcomer” and Mr. Talley had been friends longer than I had been alive. The conversation started immediately.
The “farmer” began telling Mr. Talley about an upcoming milestone in his marriage, “Fifty years with the same woman.....amazing, ain’t it?! It seems their golden wedding anniversary was only a few days away. He made sure the barber understood, he wanted no part of any fancy celebration; just a few days in Branson, Missouri, with his bride, to relax and listen to the music.
Mr. Talley pointed out that during those fifty years, with the exception of the great war, they had never been far apart as neighbors; and soon, they would be buried right across the street from one another at the local cemetery. It took me a little by surprise. There was a definite sound of relief in his aging voice. It sounded as if those juxtaposed grave sights promised a welcomed change.
At my age, thoughts of grave sights and cemeteries don’t often come to mind. I suppose, though, that another forty years of hard work and lost loved ones, some memorial garden will become a welcome sight to me as well. There seems to come a time, at least for some of us, when life becomes more of a battle than a victory; a time when men simply search for a peaceful place to rest.
The Search . . .
People of all cultures, religions, and races seem to share the desire to return to - or simply find for themselves - some perfect paradise; an insulated, isolated, protected place of happiness. You can see it in their traditional beliefs. While they may be oceans apart and worlds away from agreeing on a basic picture of such a province, they do have one thing in common: This world, as we know it, is seen as a mere shadow of something -someplace- far better.
The ancient Greeks wrote epic poems of danger and adventure. “gods” and men, humans and heroes battled their way toward something better. European explorers sailed their fragile vessels through unknown, and often unfriendly, waters to capture a piece of the “new world” for king and country.
People of all casts and colors followed those explorers. Many came to find what they hoped would be a new paradise on Earth, free from persecution and pain. Others were brought to the Americas against their will, to serve as slaves; men and women whose job was to carve out a suitable lucrative paradise for their masters. But whether in slavery or luxury, the new world offered no such oasis of peace. Every acre of comfort and freedom was purchased with the precious price of blood, heartache, and hard work.
Still, there remains a certain utopian spirit among us; a spirit still waiting and hoping for a better tomorrow. How long will it be until God breaks into history to take away these feelings of emptiness and longing? how long until we enter the glorious garden of God and leave behind, forever, the business of cultivating life in the rocky soil outside?
FOUND - THE PERFECT PARADISE OF GOD
There are few diseases so easily contacted as or harder to cure than homesickness. No one is immune; nor is there any limit to the number of times one may suffer from its pain. It’s a bitter-sweet sort of illness caused by wonderful thoughts, sweet memories and pleasant longing that -at least for the moment- seem too far away to enjoy.
The Scriptures are filled with stories of people longing for home. From Abraham’s wanderings (looking for a city with foundations, whose builder and maker is God) to the prodigal son’s realization that “home is where the food is”, the Bible offers pictures of many happy homecomings.
At the very point of death, Stephen looked up and caught a glimpse of Jesus at the right hand of God. That promise of home gave him strength. The Apostle John, while on the Isle of Patmos, was treated to a vision of the wonder-filled city of God. People have been dreaming of pearly gates and a golden street ever since.
Even the Lord Jesus Himself, while living on the earth, must have suffered from His own brand of homesickness. When Adam and Eve were ejected from their garden of peace, it meant, equally, that Jesus would some day have to leave His Father’s home of glory. I can’t help but think, when I read of how Christ emptied Himself and took on the form of a servant (Philippians 2), that part of His emptiness could only be filled by going home. It was, at least in part, His enticing talk of the Father’s house that has led so many to seek that heavenly housing for themselves.
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord.
My heart and my flesh cry out
for the living God.
“No problem,” says the Master, “There’s plenty of room.”
Do not let your hearts be troubled.
Trust in God; trust also in me.
In my father’s house are many rooms;
if it were not so,
I would have told you.
I am going
to prepare a place for you.
PART FIVE - LOST, THE TREE OF ETERNAL LIFE
To Adam He said, “because you listened to your wife
and ate from the tree about which I commanded you
‘you must not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because
of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the
days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles
for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the
sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you
return to the ground, since from it you were taken;
for dust you are and to dust you will return...”
So The Lord God banished him from the Garden of
Eden to work the ground from which he had been
taken. After He drove the man out, He placed on the
east side of the Garden of Eden Cherubim and a flaming
sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the
tree of life. (Genesis 3:17 - 19 & 23 - 24)
Whenever I am given the opportunity to work with a group of teenaged Christians, I always ask them to follow three simple rules: Remember WHO you are...Remember WHOSE you are...and NEVER embarrass me in public! (Usually, they do pretty well with the first two).
There was a time, not long after sin entered the world, when Adam received a rather firm reminder of WHO he really was. As he reached out his hand and took hold of the forbidden fruit, he set his sights on becoming a god. But, as the brightness of the flaming sword chased him out of the only home he’d ever known, the ONE TRUE GOD stepped in to hand out a heavy dose of reality,
YOU ARE DUST! AND TO DUST YOU WILL RETURN!
Imagine his horror. One minute, you’re all set to rule with heavenly authority and the next you’re food for the Regina “Super Sweeper”. One minute you’re a hand fashioned, eternal being, living in a God fashioned paradise and then, suddenly, you’re out on your own wishing you could have just one more bite of eternal life.
Sadly, that scene is being played out every day in the lives of men and women all over the world. What would you pay for just one more day of happy, healthy fellowship with someone death has taken away? What would it be worth if we could stop just one child from suffering? What price, the tree of eternal life?
Of Memorials Old and New . . .
Gary was an all star catcher. We played on the same team, one year, back in little league. Looking back, he may have gotten the job by default. No one else wanted to put on all that gear and spend the game dodging wild pitches and hard wood bats.
Gary was a tough competitor. In a league where “stealing second” was viewed as the inborn right of every player, Gary had the unusual ability to throw out most of those who tried. When the play was close at the plate and bodies were flying around like a ballet gone bad, Gary seemed unbreakable. As the dust settled and the bactine was being passed down the bench, the huge crowd (made up of moms and dads with an occasional cousin or friend) would roar to life. They always expected the ball to be firmly planted in Gary’s glove and the runner to be just as firmly called OUT! Gary’s game was solid. Gary was solid.
Maybe that’s why the news came as such a shock. Someone said they were collecting money to help Gary’s family with rocketing medical bills. Gary’s leukemia was out of remission.
Leukemia?! Gary?! It just didn’t seem possible for those two words to be united. Surely it was someone else. Maybe the doctors had switched someone’s test results. Gary was too young; and too strong.
I almost had myself believing it was all a big misunderstanding. It wasn’t long, though, before the “hospital” fund became the “memorial” fund - designed not only to offset medical costs; but funeral expenses as well.
Gary was 15.
That word “memorial” has a lot to say about the human existence. Granite tombstones in textured rows, flowers set in loving arrangements to give the illusion that this is a place of life and growth and not a cemetery full of death and decay. We place plaques in hallways to honor former presidents or preachers long passed. And, of course, there are those tiny bits of paper - placed lovingly in hymnals and prayer books - “Donated by Family and Friends of the Deceased”...in memorial.
Here Lies Abel;
Son, Brother, Rancher
I wonder if somewhere, lost in the annals of time, is a memorial stone set to honor Abel - murdered son of Adam and Eve. A single granite marker placed carefully on a hill, overlooking the forbidden garden - death within eyesight of the tree of life, morning within earshot of the garden’s peace.
We are told of no others who might have preceded him in death. In the Biblical account, his memorial stands as ALPHA. I suppose his obituary might have read, “survived by ....everybody.”
But in the pages that follow, we are introduced to an endless parade of people who “appear like a mist and then are gone.” We are treated to the private and not so private lives of both small and great, righteous and reprobate - lives that seem to go on forever and those that are snuffed out long before their time. From Methuselah’s 969 to David’s “threescore and ten” to the untimely murder of Bethlehem’s babies in the days of Herod the (not so ) Great, the message is driven deep into our souls, “Life is fleeting...death is certain!”
History is full of man’s desperate attempts to escape the specter of death. Ponce De Leon searched in vain for the fountain of youth. (The older I get, the more convinced I become that Ponce should have looked a little harder!) Modern science has given itself to the study of genetic engineering. Lives are being made better. Lives are being prolonged. But the graveyards and funeral homes are still full of our failures. In a sense, we were all buried with Abel on that lonely hillside - victims of Satan and sin.
FOUND - A HERO AND A SAVIOR
An Unlikely Hero . . .
One slot in that ever growing cemetery city remains empty. It is a gravesight that might have served as a final resting place for the body of young Ryan Christopher Taylor. I can only retell the events as I heard them from others, I never knew him myself; but in an age of selfish and callused hearts, I thought you’d like to hear about this special young man.
Friends and family alike lauded Ryan as one who loved to live life to its fullest. Ever the optimist, quick with a smile and decidedly loyal to those he counted as friends, Ryan had just reached the magical age of sixteen - new car, new horizons, time to enjoy the fabulous freedoms of youth. And then he was gone.
As you might well imagine, his funeral was well attended and his tragic death mourned by all who knew him. As I attended the funeral, though, I did notice one close family member who failed to attend. You see, Ryan wasn’t just “late for his own funeral”, he didn’t show up at all. He had better places to be.
Just a few short months before the terrible auto accident that took his life, Ryan’s family had been discussing - just in passing - what each would like to have done in the event of their death. Ryan’s answer was short, straight, and to the point. It betrayed the soul of a young man who held no long term ties to this dwelling of dust. He is reported to have said, “Just give away all the good stuff and do what you want with the rest.”
The “good stuff” turned out to be a strong young heart and two good kidneys that were taken immediately at his death and given to others whose lives depended on them.
“Even in death,” his stepfather said, “He goes on living. He’s still with us.”
A Loving Savior . . .
Strangely enough, I have another friend who never made it to His own funeral; for He, too, had better places to be. Unlike Ryan, though, this man’s death was no accident. Misunderstood by most and hated by many, Jesus of Nazareth died a death of total purpose. He marched toward His trial and execution with single-minded determination:
From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders,
chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the
third day be raised to life (Matthew 16:21)
Like Ryan, His death gave the hope of life to people in desperate need; but the life Jesus gave (and goes on giving) was neither physical nor temporary. It was the replanting of the tree of life. It was the rebreathing of the breath of the eternal Spirit of the eternal Spirit of God.
Ryan missed his funeral to live on as heroes do. Jesus missed His to live on as the death conquering Son of God.
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning,
the women took the spices they had prepared and went
to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the
tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body
of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this,
suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning
stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down
with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them,
“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is
not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you,
While he was still with you in Galilee:
‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of
sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again”
Then they remembered His words. (Luke 23:1-8)
PART SIX - LOST, PLAIN, OLD FASHIONED TRUST AND OBEDIENCE
Those Crazy Teenagers . . .
I’m not sure where or why I started thinking this way. Technically, I suppose, I know I’m wrong; but being wrong has never stopped me from holding an opinion. It’s just that I think of Adam and Eve as teenagers, rather then adults.
I know the Bible School materials say Adam was created fully grown; but, on the other hand, most teens I know think they, themselves, were created as adults, too. Life must have been just as new and exciting for Adam and Eve as it is for the teens of today. It’s a great blessing to explore the freedoms of becoming an adult, while still filled with the thrill of a life that is young and new.
Unfortunately, it is often this very blessing that leads young people down the road to trouble. The “full grown” half wants to launch out and decide matters on its own. The “young and new” side, though, still needs a lot of tender, loving care.
Perhaps this is why so many teens are tempted by the twin siblings, Distrust and Rebellion. On the one hand, they are told to obey their parents and never question the voice of authority. On the other hand, they are told to “grow up”, accept responsibility and learn to make their own decisions. No wonder teens are so confused (and confusing).
Teenagers or not, Adam and Eve were not exempt from Distrust and Rebellion. As they listened to the voice of Satan, they were drawn in by the lure of Rebellion. When they believed his report of how God was cheating them out of all the “good things” the forbidden fruit could bring, they were quick to lose trust in the very One who had given them life.
Children of the King . . .
Like Adam and Eve, all of God’s people find themselves faced with the enviable challenge of growing up under our Father’s loving hand and watchful eye. And, like the first couple, we struggle with the yeses and nos, the punishments and kudos of His parental power.
It’s easy being a child of the King when our royalty brings us freedom and charity. Everyone loves to be loved and no one has the ability to lavish love on His children like our Heavenly Father. But, as the perfect loving parent, our Father knows that to give gifts without responsibility will only serve to spoil and eventually harm His children. Because of this, God has always given His children laws as well as gifts. Unfortunately, most folks have trouble enjoying the benefits of both.
Some are so taken by God’s immense ability to give, they forget (or simply ignore) His commands altogether. They have a hard time imagining why God doesn’t supply them with more and better while they offer Him less and worse. Like Adam and Eve, they find themselves captivated by the few things God has not given; rather than the innumerable things He has. How many modern day Adam and Eves are listening to the voice of Rebellion as it calls them to take what God has not given.
The argument goes something like this, “God is a God of love and grace; so, if God does not strictly condemn it, I can do it. How could a God of love also be a God of punishment?
To a great number of people, many of them members of the Lord’s Church, this argument makes perfect sense. To some ears, though, it sounds a bit too much like the words to an old country song. The lyrics consist of a one-sided conversation between an unnamed “backslider” and a “self righteous woman” named Mrs. Johnson.
The chorus will be more than enough for our purpose (it’s better if you read it with a southern accent);
The Lord knows I’m drinkin’
and runnin’ around;
And He don’t need your loud mouth
informin’ the town.
The Lord knows I’m sinnin’
and sinnin’ ain’t right;
But me and the Good Lord
gonna’ have us a good talk later tonight.
Unless I’m overlooking some deeper message, this song seems to portray God as some sky bound “good buddy” who may not care for drinkin’ and runnin’ around; but would never stand in the way of a fellow’s good time. In fact, it’s Mrs. Johnson, that “self-righteous woman”, who seems to be out of step with the divine bandwagon.
Many members of the church will defend their loophole lifestyle as the only true path to enlightenment. For them, God is a God of grace, pure and simple; and law keeping is reserved for those unfortunate babes too immature to enjoy real freedom. As a whole, these Christians display a great deal of trust; but are severely lacking in obedience.
On the other hand, there are many among us who, while living in the middle of a beautiful relationship with God, are afraid to enjoy even the fruit he personally provides. Think of how we’ve argued and debated about such gifts as grace, salvation, the Holy Spirit, worship, and the Lord’s Supper. Through the ages, it seems, great time and effort have been spent convincing us that the gifts God has given were never meant for our enjoyment. If you need proof this is the case, just look at the many believers who have been “worshipping” God for years; but still see their Christian walk as a drudgery, a duty, and a downer.
Young people who feel this way are not so hard to understand. Everywhere they go, some adult is there to lay down the rules of the game. It’s easy to see why so many teens view God as some cosmic home-room teacher, with just enough rules to ruin an otherwise tolerable afternoon with their friends. However, adults who still view their service to God as a dutiful drudgery, are downright mysterious. You’d think, after all the hours of Bible study and debate, they night catch a glimpse of the God who really cares. If they understood the Father at all, the motivation behind their Christian lifestyle would be forced to change; so why doesn’t it?
They are the “bootstrap” brethren - men and women who have worked long and hard for what they have and know you can’t get anything for free. Just show them which mountain to climb and they’ll be the first ones to reach the summit; but talk about grace as the free gift of God and they are swimming in uncharted waters. While they love the way things look on the surface, these brethren just can’t shake the feeling that, just below the surface, something big is about to bite off both their legs. No amount of assurance - from God or man - seems sufficient to quiet those fears. If they can’t earn it, they can’t enjoy it. These are the brothers and sisters who are strong in the area of obedience; but can’t quite bring themselves to trust a God who doesn’t charge interest.
FOUND - THE HEART OF A LITTLE CHILD
Lessons From Latchkey . . .
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked,
“Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child and had him stand among them.
And He said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change
and become like little children, you will never enter the
kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself
like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my
name welcomes me (Matthew 18:1-5).”
Several years ago, while preparing for a new youth ministry assignment in Mexia, Texas, we received an interesting phone call. Karen Foreman, who was later to become a close friend and constant encouragement, was serving as the secretary for the Northcrest congregation at the time. It was her duty to inform me that a new outreach ministry was being installed and that I had been assigned the distinguished title of Director. The term Latchkey was never mentioned during the hiring process, it showed up as a sort of rider on the final job description.
As it turned out, the Latchkey program was designed to provide care to the children of a special group of working parents so the children wouldn’t have to go home, alone. Instead, they sent them to ME! Before the bags and boxes were all unpacked, I found myself knee deep in a swirling sea of elementary-aged con artists. They weren’t (for the most part) trying to trick me or the rest of the volunteer staff out of money, goods, or services. Instead, they wanted something much more precious; our attention. What they really needed was our love and the love of our Heavenly Father.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this pint-sized pack of pilgrims was their willingness to trust. Since our program was built entirely of volunteers, there always seemed to be a new face serving snacks or supervising activities. There were so many new faces: some smiling, some firm.....some friendly, some not so friendly; but the kids seemed ready to embrace any and all newcomers with a level of trust that was nothing short of amazing.
We gave them food and drink and they devoured it without a thought (other than who would be the first to get seconds). We gave them toys to occupy their time; and they begged us to play with them.
One thing we learned in a hurry: consistency is a great ally of trust. As long as the rules remained constant and fair, the children could easily understand what was expected of them. As long as the penalties and rewards that accompanied those rules didn’t vary, they could see the worth of choosing what’s right.
For most of the children, it was the only time in their young lives they saw inside the walls of a “church” building. I remember one little girl (now in her late teens) who interrupted a story about Jesus to say, “I think I’ve heard about Him, doesn’t He die in the end of the story?” (She didn’t have to ask twice!!)
I’m not sure, after all our efforts, how much lasting good was done. I do know we had a special opportunity to endow those children with a glimpse of a God we can truly trust. That’s one of the things that makes our God so wonderful. He’s totally trustworthy! Whether it is a question of obedience and life, or disobedience and discipline, God’s laws are fair, true, and constant.
So are His promises. One has only to check His list of references to see that He will always live up to our trust. Here are just a few witnesses you might call to the stand:
Adam, Cain, Noah (and the rain) Enoch, Moses, Abraham (and his grandkids who ate no ham)
Joshua, Gideon, Esther (two brave brothers, one brave sister) Prophets, Priests, Kings (and a Savior who is all of these things)
John, Peter, James (and the miracles that proved their claims)
Stephen, Antipas, Paul (trusted God and gave their all)
Two angels at the tomb (why look for God in a dead man’s room?)
Since it’s bad form to end the work with sappy poetry, let’s close with the words of J.H. Sammis:
When we walk with the Lord
in the light of His word,
What a glory He sheds on our way.
While we do His good will,
He abides with us still;
and with all who will trust and obey...