The Soapbox

A Personal Commentary by Mark Eidemiller

"Teddy Bear Theology"

I'm a sucker for a teddy bear.

When walking through toy sections of department stores I hear those small voices calling my name, addressing me as "Daddy" and begging me to take them home. And, considering that Karen and I have over a hundred teddy bears of varying sizes and colors, I admit I pay more attention to them than I should.

Now, before you seek to have me psychoanalyzed because I claim to hear voices from toy stuffed bears, let me explain a few things.

You can learn a lot from a teddy bear.

For one, you can learn compassion and mercy from a teddy bear. In this case, it's from the story of how the teddy bear came to be.

As a matter of historical fact, toy stuffed bears were around long before Theodore Roosevelt became President of the United States, but no one called them Teddy Bears until after November of 1902.

As the story goes, President Roosevelt - an avid lover of nature and the outdoors - was on a somewhat unproductive bear hunt. The organizers of the hunt were afraid his trip would be a failure, so they arranged to even the odds. The next day, their guide located and followed an old bear until it became tired, then attacked it with hunting dogs and roped it to a tree. When the President was invited to shoot the potential trophy, he looked at it with compassion and declared, "No! I shall not! Although I am a hunter, it would not be right to shoot this old bear for sport!" 

The next Sunday, the Washington Post published a cartoon by Clifford Berryman depicting Roosevelt in a hunting outfit, turning his back and refusing to shoot the bear - which had now been drawn as a cute cuddly creature with big ears.

This came to the attention of Russian immigrants Rose and Morris Michtom, who were inspired to name handmade stuffed bear cubs "Teddy's Bear." In response to the request for permission to name the bears after him, Roosevelt commented, 'I don't know what my name may mean to the bear business but you're welcome to use it.' (As a followup note, the Michtoms' store eventually became the famous Ideal Toy Company.)

And so it began. Countless trillions of stuffed bears now carry his name, just because he had compassion on a bear. All bears, regardless of the names given them by men, are now Teddy's bears.

In the same way, those who have been called by the name of Jesus Christ carry His name with them, too. They are Christians.

Compassion isn't reserved just for Teddy Roosevelt, however. Let's hear the testimony of one who found out about compassion:

"We'd been caught, but I was the one they dragged through the streets. I'd known he was married, and that we could be stoned to death if we were caught, but that didn't stop us. Then the Pharisees kicked in the door and pulled me out of my house like a side of beef. Finally we ended up at the temple, and they dumped me there, in front of that teacher from Galilee. I was scratched and battered ... and I was tired. The ones who brought me there reminded the teacher what the law said about my punishment, and dared him to make the judgment that would end my life. I could hear the rocks being picked up around me, wondered how long I could hold out before a knockout blow came. I couldn't look up ... I was crying ... I was ashamed at what I had done.

"I didn't hear anything for so long, and I knew everybody was waiting for the teacher to speak. But when he did, he told the crowd that the one who was without sin could be the first one to throw a rock. I waited ... and I heard the thud of a rock. But it wasn't hitting me ... it was hitting the ground. Someone had dropped it, and wasn't picking it up again. Then there was another, and another, until all the rocks had been dropped, and those who had brought me there had slowly walked away. After a few moments, I looked up just enough to see the teacher standing in front of me. And I saw the fingers of his empty hand, reaching down to me, reaching down to help me up. I couldn't believe what had just happened. I looked up, and up, and into the eyes of the teacher. He looked at me with such ... love ... I couldn't breathe! Then he asked me where my accusers were. I looked around, then told him that they were all gone ... every one of them. Then he said that he didn't condemn me either, and told me to go back home and don't sin anymore.

"That was it. I felt like a weight had been lifted from my back, and that I was free in ways I couldn't even find words for. I was a little shaky, but he helped me to stand ... his hand was very strong, and it was if some of that strength had crossed over and into me. I looked around at the other people who had witnessed this incredible thing, but I wasn't ashamed anymore. I looked back at the teacher, who gave me a simple smile, then I slowly walked home."

You can learn love from a teddy bear.

Several years ago, my wife was going through a serious bout of walking pneumonia. She tried to get through it by herself, but her daily activities were draining her and making her worse. I finally had to order her to bed, telling her that we would make other arrangements for taking care of her daily stuff.

A short while later, while getting some groceries, I felt compelled to visit the toy section. There, among the other stuffed animals, was a teddy bear. It was about 8" tall and had soft purple fur. Well, somehow I knew God wanted me to get this bear, and I even knew what his name was: Grape Juice. I knew it was an odd name, but it was appropriate. I bought the bear and took him home, and gave him to my wife with the instructions: "This is Grape Juice. He's here to keep you company and make sure you get better."

It's been several years since then. My wife got over her walking pneumonia, and the fur of the little teddy bear isn't as fluffy as it was then. In fact, it looks like he's seen a lot of wear - which he has. We have a lot of teddy bears, but Grape Juice is very special. In both of us, he's seen sickness and health, tears and laughter, and hugs and hugs and hugs. He was a present of love to my wife in a time of need, and he's still showing that love.

It may sound bizarre to say that you can see love in the eyes of a teddy bear.

But Karen and I can.

You can also learn redemption and rebirth from a teddy bear.

Around the middle of 2001, my wife and I visited a house where we'd lived in a year and a half earlier. There'd been other tenants since us, and now the house was being leveled. Curious to see how it looked now, we went to visit. Beyond the temporary chain-link fence intended to keep strangers from entering the unsafe demolition site, the second floor and most of the first floor were rubble. But as we looked, I saw an object lying over in the wet grass - a white teddy bear, about 14" long, left behind by the previous occupants.

I asked one of the men involved in the job if I could come inside the fence for a moment, to get the teddy bear and look around, and I was surprised when he gave me the go-ahead. So I wandered inside, retrieved the white teddy bear, and took him back to Karen. Then I went back in again, to continue looking around. Trash was all over the place from the walls, floor, and fixtures. While I searched, my eye caught something under one of the pieces of paneling. I lifted it up, revealing a baby's teddy bear. It didn't look like it was in the best of shape, but I couldn't just leave it behind where it would end up in the dumpster at the curbside. So I saved it.

After finding no more bears, I returned to Karen, and we left. Without hesitation, we named the white bear Rescued. And the other one we named Woodstock after the street the house was on. After a tour through the washing machine, the bears looked better, but Woodstock's stuffing - from years of use - had drastically shifted into her extremities. We thought about giving her away to one of the many couples expecting children, but we became attached to her.

We wanted to find a way of helping her, but didn't know how until we met a man at Saturday Market whose wife made animal hand puppets. We'd done business with him before, and were close acquaintances. Posing the challenge to him, we asked if there was something his wife could do for Woodstock. He looked the bear over, and said they'd see what they could do.

A few weeks later, we got Woodstock back, and were amazed! Where her arms had been empty and her hands and feet hard with compressed stuffing, her entire body was now filled and soft. Instead being floppy like a rag doll, she stood tall, her arms out at her side and a smile on her face. We didn't know what to expect, but this was beyond even our wildest imagination. Needless to say, we're very grateful to the couple.

Like Rescued and Woodstock, we, too, were doomed to end up in the eternal trash until Jesus Christ saw us. Having compassion for us, He came down from Heaven's safety to this unsafe Earth, searched for us and found us, took us beyond the fence, and cleaned us up.

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:7,10)

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

You can even learn redemption from a teddy bear.

A couple of years ago, Karen and I were in Lincoln City. We had visited the Factory Outlet stores there, and wandered into the toy store. It was there we spotted this teddy bear. It was a large one, almost two feet tall. We had considered purchasing it, but didn't. Returning to our hotel room, talk of the teddy bear kept coming back to us. Finally we decided to put it in God's hands. If the teddy bear were still there when we were heading home, we'd get him. Otherwise, we'd consider the door closed.

Admittedly, with some anticipation, we returned there before leaving town. Sure enough, he was still there, and we purchased him without hesitation. His name was not so easy in coming, though, and it took us quite awhile to decide on what it would be. As we ran ideas past one another, we looked back at what this bear's fate would've been if we'd left him behind. The store was a toy liquidation outlet. Now, I didn't know exactly what happens to toys that don't sell in these places, whether they are tossed out or stored in a warehouse until who-knows-when. To us, however, we saw this place as being the end of the line ... and we came back for him.

So his name became Redeemed, for he had been bought back.

But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God: which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy. (1 Peter 2:9,10)

And you can know salvation from a teddy bear.

Once upon a time, in a wonderful place called the Build-A-Bear Workshop, there lived a little teddy bear named Al.

Al wasn't his name back then. He didn't really have a name. He was just an empty shell, a furry pelt called 'baby cub' in a barrel full of other furry pelts called 'baby cub.'  He didn't have any stuffing, he didn't belong to anybody, he was just one in the crowd.

Sometimes people would visit. They'd pick him up, touch him, feel his fur, then put him back and go on to something else. Sometimes he'd get pushed around and buried deeper in the barrel, and was helpless to do anything about it. He couldn't move closer to the top where the people would see him; he couldn't speak or make any noise to bring him attention. All he could do was BE there, existing from one day to the next, without hope of ever being chosen.

But then one day somebody picked him up ... and didn't put him back.

He carried him away from the barrel, holding tight to him. He filled his empty body with clean, fluffy stuffing, placed a shiny new heart inside his chest, and sealed him up real good so that he couldn't accidentally open us. He was brushed and cleaned and dressed in a new tee-shirt that said THANK YOU. He was given the name Al, which was printed on a birth certificate. He felt alive now!

As they left the store, he knew he was going home. And he knew he was loved.

I was just like this teddy bear. You may be, too, and don't know it.

In the garbage pit of my sins, I existed from day to day without hope.

He will deliver his soul from going into the pit, and his life shall see the light. Lo, all these things worketh God oftentimes with man, To bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living. (Job 33:28-30)

But then Jesus Christ came close, reached down, and touched me. He drew me out of my pit, promising that I never needed to return there. He took my empty, worthless hide and filled it with His spirit.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. (Psalm 139:14-16)

I waited patiently for the LORD; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3)

He gave me a new heart, and a meaning to my life.

A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. (Ezekiel 36:26,27)

He cleaned me up, and gave me clean clothes that were whiter than snow.

Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me. (Psalm 51:7,10)

"Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

He gave me the armor of God to protect me.

Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; Above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: (Ephesians 6:13-17)

He made me born again ... he gave me a new birth in the spirit.

Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. (1 Peter 1:23)

Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

He gave me a new name ... His.

And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch. (Acts 11:26b)

He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels. (Revelation 3:5)

He held me close, and loved me.

Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 20:6,7)

My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:8)

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds. (Psalm 73:23-28)

I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip-- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you-- the LORD is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)

For I am the LORD your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves roar-- the LORD Almighty is his name. I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand-- I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, 'You are my people.'" (Isaiah 51:15-16)

He adopted me, became my Daddy, and made me one of His own.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. (John 10:28,29)

And one day He will take me home to be with Him, to a place He has prepared for me.

In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. (John 14:2,3)

And my response? Praise and thanksgiving.

Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever. (Psalm 30:11,12)

I will give thee thanks in the great congregation: I will praise thee among much people. (Psalm 35:18)

So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations. (Psalm 79:13)

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. (Hebrews 13:15)

You can learn a lot from a teddy bear. I learned that I'm God's teddy bear ... and that is SO good.

Are you a teddy bear?

Any comments? Feel free to email me.
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