Monday, December 7, 2009

Life Puzzles

Jeff sat on his bed and turned the pages of the worn out, paperback Bible he had found a few hours earlier on a bench just outside the courthouse. He and a few other inmates from the county jail were frequently required to pick up trash around the courthouse. Jeff found the Bible and asked if he could keep it.

Lance, the officer in charge of keeping an eye on Jeff and the other members of the clean-up detail, looked the Bible over and handed it back to Jeff, "You can keep it if you want. It looks like it's sat out here for quite a while. There's plenty of Bibles in better shape than that back at the jail."

Jeff thanked Lance and tucked the Bible under his arm. Jeff knew about the other Bibles at the jail, but something about this Bible intrigued him. He had been alone with his thoughts for countless hours prior to finding this Bible, wondering how he could make some sense out of his life.

It was as if his life was a puzzle with a huge piece missing. He kept trying different pieces, thinking he'd found the missing piece time and time again with drugs, alcohol, and relationships. But as he placed each one of those pieces into his life puzzle, they all eventually ripped themselves out, leaving a bigger chunk of his puzzle incomplete. As strange as it seemed, finding this Bible tapped into Jeff's mind with a question, "Could this book be the answer to finding the piece I'm missing?"

Jeff didn't know if it was or not. But the way he looked at it, he had plenty of time on his hands to find out. And Jeff had quite an imagination. He approached this Bible as if he were a treasure seeker who had found an ancient map to a treasure chest.

He turned the pages, scanning...searching. He soon realized it would take quite a while to read the whole thing front to back. He looked down the index, hoping something would jump out at him. His finger stopped on Luke.

Luke was the name of Jeff's grandfather. A preacher, now retired. Jeff's grandfather was the one person in his life who had loved him unconditionally. Jeff turned to the book of Luke. This particular Bible was the Contemporary English Version with bold captions, like newspaper headlines, describing each section. Jeff scanned past the first three chapters. When he came to chapter four, the following bold caption caused his heart to jump, "The People of Nazareth Turn Against Jesus."

"Now THAT I can identify with!" Jeff thought to himself. Deep down inside, Jeff knew that he was responsible for where he was. But Jeff didn't get there without a few incidents in his life that contributed to a deep anger and resentment. He often felt like others had turned against him.

Jeff was shocked to know that HE could identify with JESUS. Or better yet, that Jesus could understand what Jeff felt. That thought drew Jeff to read beneath that caption. It was there that he found these words:

"Jesus went back to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and as usual he went to the meeting place on the Sabbath. When he stood up to read from the Scriptures, he was given the book of Isaiah the prophet. He opened it and read, 'The Lord's Spirit has come to me, because he has chosen me to tell the good news to the poor. The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners..." Jeff stopped. Leaned closer to the words. He read those words again, "The Lord has sent me to announce freedom for prisoners."

Jeff was now captivated by this book. He continued, "' give sight to the blind, to free everyone who suffers...'" Without realizing that he spoke outloud, he said, "That's me!" Someone napping nearby raised up and asked, "Did you say something?"

Jeff realized then that he had spoken outloud. "No. Nothing," he said. "Go back to sleep."

Jeff kept reading. He discovered that Jesus was talking about himself. Jesus was the one Isaiah had written about. Jesus could set Jeff free. But how?

Jeff didn't find the answer to that right away. He folded the top of page 1060 in his "new" Bible and laid down to think. He fell asleep.

Over the next couple of days, Jeff kept looking in that Bible for the answer. "How can Jesus set me free?" He couldn't find it. One night, he woke up in the middle of the night and could not go back to sleep. He remembered something his Grandpa Luke once told him, "Jeff, if you can't go back to sleep, just lay there and pray. God's up all night. Just start talking to him and eventually you'll go back to sleep."

Jeff didn't know how to talk to God, but he did it anyway. Two words came out of his mouth, "" Tears rolled down the sides of his face. Just a few, at first. But once the tear pump was primed, out they gushed. All of Jeff's anger came out in sobs stifled into a pillow.

He fell asleep. When he awoke the next morning, he picked up his Bible again. It fell open to John 8. Another bold caption leaped off the page, "The Truth Will Set You Free." Just under that caption, Jeff read the words of Jesus, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."

What truth? Jeff scrambled back through the previous seven chapters. He was beginning to learn who this Jesus truly When he caught up to chapter 8 again, he kept reading until he got to chapter 14. The life puzzle pieces began to fall like manna from heaven...

"Don't be worried! Have faith in God and have faith in me" (John 8:1). A huge puzzle piece fell into place. In Jeff's heart and mind, it seemed like lights were starting to come on and darkness was being driven away.

Then he read Jesus' words in verse 6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life!"

Suddenly, it became clear. The truth that would set Jeff free was Jesus! If Jeff would believe in and trust Jesus, he would become a free man. Not free from a county jail. Free on the inside...where true freedom exists.

Jeff got on his knees while others around the jail gave him puzzled glances. Jeff prayed, "Jesus, I believe in God and in You. Please forgive me and set me free. I'm not much, but You can have me. I want You to take my life and make something of it."

The prayer was answered. Jeff's life was no longer an unfinished puzzle, but a clear picture of what it means to be truly free. Jeff carried that Bible with him everywhere he went. It was so worn out, others just had to ask about it. Jeff was glad to tell them how much like that Bible he was. To everyone else, Jeff didn't seem worth much. Some folks thought he should just be discarded. But Jesus found Jeff, picked him up, tucked him under His arm, and now carries Jeff everywhere He goes so that he can tell his story and help others find the missing pieces to their life puzzle.

As a writer, it is easy for me to make up a Jeff story and feel good about it. As a Christian, I need to realize that there is a world filled with Jeffs and Jeff puzzles. When the Jeffs of this world are set free, will they find love, acceptance, and ministry in our churches? In my heart? Our challenge is simple. Love who Jesus loves. Accept who Jesus accepts. It doesn't matter whether you find Jesus in a pew or a prison. We all need the same grace and mercy.

Don't look for an "X" on the treasure map of life. Look for a cross.
Perry Crisp

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