“Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed , we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. (2 Cor. 5:1 NIV)
I grew up on a 96-acre farm just outside the small town of Jenkinsburg, Georgia. As I look back on my life, I realize that some of my greatest life lessons were learned in those formative years on that farm. I recounted one of those lessons when I preached the funeral of my big brother, Ronnie just a few weeks ago. It received such a positive reaction that I felt led to share it with you.
When he was about ten years old, Ronnie decided to build a tree house in one of the oak trees in our yard. We were blessed to have parents who did not discourage such creative activities. When he was finished, he couldn’t wait to show off his handiwork. After he coaxed me to climb up there with him, I didn’t feel overly secure to say the least. In my professional six-year old opinion, it shook a little too much on the limb it was built upon. The experience was not unlike walking across a swinging bridge.
Noting my discomfort and wanting to assure me just how safe it was, Ronnie started to jump up and down on the floor of that tree house. You can imagine just how much safer that made me feel! As I grabbed onto a nearby limb, he uttered these fateful last words, “This thing will be up here a hundred years!” Those words had no sooner left his mouth than the limb that tree house was built upon started to give way, and it and Ronnie crashed to the ground.
I was still holding on to that other limb for dear life, dangling up there in that tree while he lay dazed on the ground. It was time to use our signal. We had a signal I’d use when I was in trouble … I’d yell “Help!” at the top of my lungs! Ignoring his own pain and disorientation, somehow Ronnie climbed back up that tree and helped me down to safety.
As I look back on that experience, I suppose one could deduce a number of lessons from that story – one being to never trust an older brother! But the lesson that stands out with me is this – a structure is only as good as its foundation.
That tree house was well built. Just before he passed away, Ronnie had fallen and broke both his legs. When my sister Diane asked him how he had managed to do that, he responded, “When I do something, I go all the way!” And he did- all the men in my family were perfectionists. But the foundation upon which that tree house rested was not a solid foundation. And the force of Ronnie’s jumping up and down was more stress than it could bear.
How is your foundation today? Will it stand up to the storms of life? There was a time when the foundation of Ronnie’s life would not. But before it was everlasting too late, before the tree house of his life came crashing down, he ripped out that old cracked foundation, and replaced it with the solid rock foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so, while those of us who knew him and loved him grieve his passing, we can rejoice that when he gave up this earthly tent, he received “an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands”. Just as I was hanging onto that tree limb many years ago, we’re left here behind, holding onto this world with all we’ve got, trying to adjust to life without him. He can’t return to us and tell us to just let go or help us navigate this world without him. But God’s Word assures us that those of us whose foundation is built upon our faith in Christ will be together again with all those loved ones who have died in Christ before us.
My prayer for you is that because of the foundation of your relationship with Christ, you can be as confident of that as I am. And that on the day the Lord calls your name, you can face it with the same dignity, grace, peace, and positive expectation that Ronnie displayed in his final days here on earth.
Until next time, may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
“By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 3:10-11 NIV)