“You will be ashamed because of the sacred oaks in which you have delighted; you will be disgraced because of the gardens that you have chosen.” (Isaiah 1:29)
The sight before me seemed to contradict everything that was going on about me. It looked like a graveyard; untended and overgrown with thorns and weeds. It was dark and damp; and seemed so out of place. Yet, here it was, off in a corner of Monumental Park.
Etched in a stone arch at the gateway of this dark corner were these words: “The wretch, concentered all in self, doubly dying shall go down unto the vile dust from which he sprung – unwept, unhonored, and unsung.” (Sir Walter Scott)
The first marker had but one word on it – “Insignificance.” It was erected as a witness to the woeful failure of Lot, Abraham’s kinsman. The second darkened stone said, “I have played the fool.” They were the dying words of King Saul.
The third marker said, “Ephraim is joined to his idols; leave him alone.” (Hosea 4:17). And the fourth marker read, “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” (2 Timothy 4:10). These words were written by Paul the Apostle.
These Four Stones tell a Sobering Tale.
The story of Lot is nothing but pathetic. He was a close kinsman of Abraham, God’s friend. Lot had every privilege and blessing he would ever need to live a full, free, and prosperous life. But he chose to go his own way, settling for less than God’s best.
Turning away from Abraham, Lot pitched his tent toward Sodom – the doomed city. The first thing Lot saw every morning when he awoke, and the last thing he saw every night before he fell asleep – was Sodom. What a man gives himself to continually gaze upon will soon possess him.
We discover later in Lot’s story that he moved into the city and became vexed by its great evil. When the Angels visited him to warn of the coming destruction, he made a pitiful request, asking if he could be permitted to settle in a small town some distance from doomed Sodom. The Angels granted him his request.
The name of the town was Zoar, which means “insignificant.” And there is where his life ended. An insignificant man living an insignificant life in an insignificant town – disgraced.
King Saul also stands as the ultimate example of a man who had everything needed to succeed – and yet he failed miserably. God anointed with His Spirit, gave him victory in battle, empowered him to prophesy, and rallied Israel to his support. But he tossed it all aside.
His own words sum it up in clear and pathetic finality – “I have played the fool, and have erred exceedingly” (1 Sa 26:21). His life ended on the battlefield as he fell upon his own sword to prevent the pagan Philistines from capturing him alive. He died as a man disgraced.
Ephraim came to a unhappy end. Several tribes bore his name and carried it into shame and disgrace. Chosen by God to be doubly fruitful in all things, they joined themselves to idols and reaped great sorrow of soul. They drank themselves into a stupor, and then gave themselves over to every sexual deviation imaginable. They loved shame more than honor. Their lives ended in disgrace.
Demas, a potential champion in the New Testament, traveled and ministered with Paul on several missionary campaigns. Had he stayed the course in faithfulness his name would be held in high esteem today. But he quit. At the moment he was most needed by Paul, the waffling man bolted and sought pleasure over sacrifice; temporal delight over eternal gain. The man’s life in a single word? Disgraced.
There was yet one more stone set in that disturbing and disgraceful place – but it was blank. The words were pending, not yet written. As I gazed upon it a frightening sense came over my being. I knew that this singular stone was awaiting the outcome of a life that was yet being lived – mine, and yours.
So, my fellow traveler — what will it be? Grace? Or, disgrace?
After a time of deep reflection I returned to the Pavilion of Praise to rejoin our tour group. “What were you looking at over there?” several asked, as I drew near.
“You will need to go see for yourself,” I answered. “But do so quickly, for you dare not tarry long in a place where others have so shamefully fallen.”