Tommy Meadows died on Saturday morning and was buried the following Tuesday. The newspaper obituary was very simple, giving only his name, age, address, and the names of his parents, siblings, and grandparents. The newspaper account of the accident was more informative, mentioning that Blake Adams had died as well. It also mentioned that alcoholic beverages and drugs were found in the badly twisted and burned vehicle and that they may have contributed to Tommy's bad judgment in trying to outrun the train. However, none of the newspaper accounts mentioned that both boys had already been in trouble with the law many times. Because of Tommy's parent's status in the community, this fact had been well hidden, even at church. His parents had continued to hope that Tommy would change, but he got worse instead of better. In the end, he was uncontrollable.
Now, Mr. and Mrs. Meadows were finished with worrying about their image in the community. After church on Sunday morning, they met with Rev. Sykes to discuss the funeral arrangements. Mrs. Meadow's words to Rev. Sykes were commanding, "Pastor, I want you to tell the truth. Tommy probably died without The Lord." Her tear-filled eyes looked directly at the pastor. Her face was drawn and colorless from grief.
"Now, Mrs. Meadows, we don't know that for sure," Reverend Sykes responded. "There is always hope."
Mr. Meadows stood up to emphasize his point. "Pastor, you know as well as I do that without holiness no one will see the Lord. It says this in our doctrinal statements. Tommy has brothers and cousins who are going down his same path of destruction. They will be at the funeral, and they need to be warned."
"I understand Mr. Meadows, but no one is completely holy. All of us fall short of God's standards for holiness, even Christians."
Tommy's dad continued. "Reverend Meadows, I knew my son. Just as you have preached in the past, the holiness that God gives you starts on the inside and works its way out. But the inside of Tommy's heart played host to a rebellious spirit, rebelling against God and rebelling against his parents. Any evidence that God had truly done a work in his heart was short-lived."
His voice broke as he continued. "The fires that consumed Tommy's vehicle were merely a foretaste of what Tommy will experience throughout eternity. When he died, all hope for his soul died with him. Pastor, please, all we ask is that you tell the truth. It's too late for Tommy, but for his brothers and cousins there might still be time."
The pastor assured them that he would tell the truth about Tommy, and he did. In fact, he came very close to giving an invitation for repentance at the end of his message, but he didn't. Later, he explained to Mrs. Meadows that he didn't want to take the chance that folks would get caught up in the emotion of the moment and profess repentance and faith that wasn't real. If it was real, if it had truly come from God working in hearts, it would last beyond the service.
After the memorial service, Commander Dave left the sanctuary to go to the restroom. Although the hallway had been empty on the way there, he passed Chad's father on the way back.
"Well, Commander Dave, it looks like you lost another one."
Commander Dave simply nodded and kept walking. This angered Chad's dad.
"You know, Commander Dave, a responsible adult would have gotten me out of bed when you brought Chad home Saturday morning."
Commander Dave turned around and stood in front of Chad's father. "Don't talk to me about responsibility when you don't even know where your kids are at night."
"He was supposed to be in bed," Chad's father responded. "How was I to know that he would make a knotted rope and climb down from his window? Maybe he learned to do that in Rangers. What are you teaching these kids, anyway?"
Commander Dave struggled to lower his voice to a highly articulate, animated whisper. "I had your son one night a week. You have him everyday. There is no way that I can do in one night what you are supposed to be doing daily. When is the last time you prayed with Chad? When is the last time you had family devotions? When did you last turn off the television just so that the two of you could talk about spiritual things? Don't talk to me about responsibility." Then, Commander Dave turned around and stormed away.
Later that evening, Commander Dave paced back and forth through the kitchen while his wife, Carolyn, tried to prepare dinner. "Honey," he said, "I think I am going to give up Rangers."
"Dear, you really shouldn't make this kind of decision right now. It's difficult to think clearly when you are in the middle of a tragedy."
"Oh Carolyn, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Rangers is not working. Look at Chad, and now, look at Tommy. Do you remember when I worked with the Buckaroos? I can still remember the touch of Tommy's little hands on my shoulders when all the little kids would crowd around me to get their Buckaroo advancements checked off. I remember the night we played rattlesnake. Tommy was blindfolded, and in the excitement he broke free from the guys who were circled around him and ran smack into a tree. He had such a big knot on the front of his head and was so small that he cried terribly. I knelt beside him and held him, just like he was my own child. Later that evening, after he was feeling much better, he tugged on my sleeve and asked me if I would pick him up one more time and let him ride on my shoulders. I knew that if I did this for him, all the other kids would want a ride, too. So, I told him no. But, he looked so sad. I can remember that look, just like it was yesterday."
Carolyn dried her hands and put an arm around Commander Dave. "Honey, what you do in Rangers is much more than just giving kids special moments to make them feel good. You teach the Word of God. You explain and clarify the scriptures and tell the children how to apply them to their everyday lives."
"But it doesn't work," Commander Dave complained. "What difference does it make what I tell them if they never take it to heart. Maybe someone else could be more persuasive; maybe someone else would tell better stories. I'm sure someone else would make a better camper."
"Dave, you're just thinking about Chad and Tommy. What about all the other kids? What about your own son?"
"Yeah, what about them. Maybe I need to get them another commander while there is still time, before it's too late."
"Okay Dave, let me ask you a question. What is your primary job as a Royal Rangers commander?"
Dave thought for a minute; then he remembered. "The purpose of Royal Rangers is to reach, teach, and keep kids for Jesus Christ."
"Okay dear, what is the primary instrument for reaching, teaching, and keeping kids for Jesus Christ?"
"Well, we try to appeal to their need for companionship and adventure, especially with the camping program. And, we try to make Ranger meetings fun and have special activities once a month. But, I've never been able to have an activity every month. In fact, it's hard just to find enough help to have a camping trip a couple of times a year. We seem to always run short on time and money. And, I couldn't make it all fun, either. Some of the things I taught were very serious. How do you have fun when you are warning kids about God's judgment?"
"Dave, you did your job. You tried to make the program attractive to the kids, and once you had them, you taught them the word of God, right?"
"But it didn't work for Chad and Tommy. Tommy is lost forever, and I can't help but believe that I could have done something that would have touched Tommy in a way that would have changed his heart. And, if Tommy and Chad missed it, how do I know that the other kids aren't missing it, as well."
"Honey, your job is to teach The Word of God. It is God who changes the hearts."
"Well, Iím sure that God always does his part," Commander Dave responded. "So, where did I fail?"
"Honey, God does not work equally in every kid. Otherwise, how could some kids be born in Arab countries where they never hear the gospel while kids are inundated with it here in America? Your job is to teach. It is God's job to use what you teach to open the eyes, ears and hearts of the kids. And, you don't always know where he is working. A good example of that is Buzzy."
"Yes, let's consider Buzzy. How do I know that Buzzy won't turn away, just like Chad."
"Honey, I wasn't sure when to tell you this, but now might be a good time. On Friday, Buzzy had arranged to join with Chad and go riding with Tommy and Blake."
"No, I'm not kidding. That evening, Chad showed up at Buzzy's window at eleven o'clock to take him to Tommy's car.
All the color left Commander Dave's face. "Chad never mentioned this. What did Buzzy do? He obviously didn't go."
"Dave, do you remember the devotion you did with us Friday night, the one about listening to your conscience. Buzzy was going to go with Chad. Yes, he was going to sneak out and go with him. But, based on what he learned in that devotion, Buzzy decided not to go. In fact, he decided that it was better to have Chad angry with him than to violate his conscience. Don't you see, honey, you're standing hear berating yourself over your performance as a commander, and you don't even realize that on Friday night, by God's grace, you saved your son's life."
Commander Dave's knees grew weak, and he sat down.
"Now Dave, if you didn't know about Buzzy, isn't it possible that there are other guys that God has affected through your work, touched in ways that you won't even know about until you get to heaven?"
Just then, Buzzy walked into the kitchen.
"Oh Buzzy!" Carolyn said, despairingly.
Buzzy was completely wet, covered with algae and water. His shoes were covered over with mud.
"Sorry mom, I fell in the creek."
Carolyn didn't care the he fell or jumped into the creek; she was used to that. It was just that Carolyn had gotten all the carpets professionally cleaned only a month ago, and Buzzy had just made a wet muddy trail across the living room.
Suddenly, Buzzy realized what he had done. He shuddered as his father walked towards him, fully expecting to be severely reprimanded. He braced himself as he anticipated his father roughly grabbing his shoulders and shaking him. Then, he almost gasped with fright as his father wrapped his arms around his wet muddy body and embraced him. How surprised he was, when he heard his father crying softly and praising God.
"Dad, what's wrong? I am sorry about the carpet. Don't you worry, I'll get it cleaned up, even if it takes all my allowance." Commander Dave's crying grew louder.
"Mom, what's wrong with Dad? Do Dads get those wierd hormones like Moms do?"
"Buzzy!" Carolyn exclaimed, half-amused and half-irritated.
"Hush your mouth and hug your father."
Buzzy obediently embraced his father. Then Buzzy's eyes widened as he read the lips of his mother. "He knows."
Meanwhile, across from Buzzy's bedroom window, through the woods and down the gravel lane, Chad lay on his bed and struggled to silence his conscience. The minister's words hung heavily and accusingly in his mind. Determined to forget them, he placed the ear phones over his ears, turned on his stereo, and turned up the bass, creating an artificial and friendlier world where the loud, hot, and steady beats and driving rhythms leave the conscience seared and quiet.