Return to the Treehouse

“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 Corinthians 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, who went home to be with the Lord on this day two years ago.

imageWhen he was about ten years old, Ronnie decided to build a tree house in one of the oak trees in our yard. Upon its completion, he couldn’t wait to show off his handiwork. In spite of my reservations about his construction skills, he finally convinced me to climb up there with him.

Noting my discomfort about the stability of his creation 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 an overhanging limb, he uttered those memorable last words ever spoken in that treehouse, “This thing will be up here a hundred years!”

No sooner had those words left his mouth than the limb it rested upon started to give way, and Ronnie crashed to the ground with it. As for me, I was still holding on to that overhanging limb for dear life, while he lay dazed on the ground. 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, the lesson that stands out with me is this – a structure is only as good as its foundation. That tree house was well-built. Like all the men in our family, Ronnie was a perfectionist. 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 his earthly tent came crashing down around him like that treehouse from years before, he ripped out the cracked foundation of salvation by works and replaced it with the solid rock of salvation by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

imageAnother treehouse stands today not far from the site of that original one from so many years ago. Located at the end of a path Ronnie cleared before the Lord called him home, it belongs to his two precious grandchildren, Owen and Nora, who were the light of his life through those last difficult years. Unlike his treehouse, theirs is professionally constructed with added features like a trap door, a fireman’s pole, and even a zipline.

But it too will one day fall. Nothing in this life lasts forever. Perhaps it will stand long enough for Owen and Nora’s own children to enjoy it. Their fresh memories of their “Pappaw” and the grief of his absence no doubt saddens their heart today as it does mine. But we can all rejoice that there will be no more goodbyes when we rejoin him one day in that “eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”

“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 Corinthians 3:10-11 NIV)

Note: This is an updated version of “Lessons From The Tree House” first published Feb. 20, 2015.

The Eternal Question

Series: Reflections From John

image“Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man.” (John 2: 23-25)

Are you a Christian? Do you believe? Are you saved? Have you accepted Christ as your personal Savior? Have you asked Jesus into your heart? If you died today, do you know where you would spend eternity? All of these are versions of the eternal question.

Posing the eternal question can make us uncomfortable. If we have doubts about someone’s salvation, failure to ask it makes us unloving. But failing to resolve the question in our own hearts can make us eternally condemned. And that makes it the most important question any of us will ever face.

My first encounter with the eternal question occurred in my teenage years during revival week at Jenkinsburg Baptist Church in my hometown of Jenkinsburg, Georgia. Like so many of the old-time preachers, Reverend Price’s pitch to me was high-pressure. He tried his best to scare me out of hell and into heaven, a technique that some have characterized as terror evangelism. I just couldn’t reconcile the Jesus he was proclaiming with the Jesus my Granny Wells was always talking about- the Jesus who was her constant companion.

But a seed was planted – a seed that would germinate ten years later. Upon reexamining the Gospel from a rational and intellectual perspective, I eventually came to the conclusion that the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John and Jesus’ declarations about himself were indeed true. Claiming the promise of John 3:16 that I had recited so many times in the Vacation Bible Schools of my youth that “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV), I was baptized at Florence Baptist Church in Forest City, North Carolina at the age of 24.

For the next twenty years, very little changed in my relationship with the Lord. I was content that those questions Reverend Price had pounded into me during that revival had been resolved. Secure in my salvation, I was confident that should my life meet an early end, my eternal destination was assured. But I was trying to live the Christian life as best I knew how in my own strength and wisdom – resources which proved woefully inadequate for the inevitable storms and temptations of life.

Thankfully, the Lord did not leave me in that condition. As he drew me to His Word, I began to pray as I had witnessed Granny Wells pray, speaking with the Lord as a personal friend, rather than a distant Deity. One morning while driving to work in Bradford, Pennsylvania, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart in a way I had never before experienced, saying “When are you going to stop trying to do this on your own and learn to trust in me?” I was so overwhelmed by the presence of God that I pulled off the road and surrendered my life right then and there, confessing Christ once and for all as my Lord.

imageThe year was 1994 – the same year that Granny Wells went home to be with the Lord. Coincidence? … I don’t think so. She was a tremendous prayer warrior and I believe her prayers for me became all the more powerful the day she entered heaven. God only knows how many loved ones I will be reunited with one day in Glory because of her Godly influence and her faithful intercessory prayers.

After languishing in a nursing home for several years, she told me in one of our last conversations, “Julian, I don’t know why the Lord leaves me here.” I didn’t have an answer for her then, but I have one now. I look forward to sharing it with her when the Lord calls me home.

As far as I can recall, she never asked me any version of the eternal question. But having lived on a farm all her life, she knew the importance of preparing the soil of my heart so that one day the truth of the Gospel would take root there.

In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Paul says “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?”  It is not my place or the purpose of this post to judge the authenticity of anyone’s relationship with the Lord. But it is my responsibility as a faithful witness to share my gospel story and the truths of God’s Word to help others examine themselves.

2 Corinthians 5:10 tells us that we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ one day and our eternity will hang in the balance. The eternal question, however we choose to express it, will be supremely relevant then. But there will be no pleading our case, no opening or closing statements, no testimony from eyewitnesses, no presentation of physical evidence, and no character witnesses. Because the One sitting on that judgment seat does not need man’s testimony – he already knows our hearts.

How tragic it would be to rest in a false sense of security concerning our answer to the eternal question, only to be reminded when it is everlasting too late of perhaps the most sobering passage in all of Scripture:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil-doers!'” (Matt. 7:21-23)

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references taken from the New International Version (NIV)