A “Giant” Exaggeration

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Yesterday, at the church where I serve, we kicked off a summer-long series on Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is situated at the end of the Israelites’ forty-year wandering in the wilderness and records Moses’ final instructions to them before his death.

As the book opens, Moses begins by reminding the Israelites that they have not always done so well honoring God. Indeed, the reason it has taken them forty years to arrive at the Promised Land from Egypt is because, when they first came to the Promised Land, they refused to go in. After sending a reconnaissance team of Israelite spies to check out their new home, the team issued a frightening report about the people living there, which Moses recounts:

The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky. We even saw the Anakites there. (Deuteronomy 1:28)

The fact that the reconnaissance team saw Anakites there is interesting, to say the least. In their first-hand account, which we read in Numbers, the spies give us some more information about the lineage of the Anakites:

We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them. (Numbers 13:33)

Hold on a second. They saw descendants of the Nephilim? That seems curious.

We first meet the Nephilim in Genesis 6:

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days. (Genesis 6:4)

They are described as a wicked people and as part of the reason God sends a catastrophic flood to destroy humanity:

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created – and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground – for I regret that I have made them.” (Genesis 6:5-7)

This begs a question: if God sends a catastrophic flood to, in part, wipe out the Nephilim in their wickedness, what are they doing in the Promised Land during the time of Moses long after the flood?

It seems as though this reconnaissance team is engaging in a little exaggeration. This becomes apparent when the spies describe the size of the people they see in the Promised Land: “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them” (Numbers 13:33). The average grasshopper is an inch tall. I’m five feet ten inches tall. This means, using my modest height as a standard sample, these men would have been 69 times my size, or nearly 397 feet tall.

Uh-huh.

So often, when there is something we don’t want to do – or, for that matter, when there is something we do want to do – we’ll exaggerate in an attempt to get our way. We’ll exaggerate and put the worst construction on what someone has said instead of a more plausible construction. We’ll exaggerate and only emphasize the positives of a purchase instead of taking a realistic look at the cost of what we want to purchase and soberly analyzing whether it is a smart financial move. We’ll exaggerate on social media and make our life or our vacation look better than it really is.

Let us learn from the Israelite spies and their very implausible description of the giants who were drowned in a flood. Exaggeration hurts us and those around us. We are called to be people of the truth. We do, after all, follow a Man who called Himself “the truth” (John 14:6). No exaggeration is needed with Him.

June 14, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

An Everlasting Kingdom

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Kingdoms crack.

History is littered with kingdoms that, at one time, seemed invincible. They had so much wealth and power that other nations sought resources from them and alliances with them. Assyria was one such kingdom. The prophet Ezekiel pictures Assyria as a tree in which other nations find shade and protection:

All the birds of the sky nested in its boughs, all the animals of the wild gave birth under its branches; all the great nations lived in its shade. (Ezekiel 31:6)

Likewise, the kingdom of Babylon was also an empire to which other nations ran for protection, which is also pictured as a tree by the prophet Daniel:

The tree grew large and strong and its top touched the sky; it was visible to the ends of the earth. Its leaves were beautiful, its fruit abundant, and on it was food for all. Under it the wild animals found shelter, and the birds lived in its branches; from it every creature was fed. (Daniel 4:11-12)

But these kingdoms did not last. Assyria fell to the Babylonians. The Babylonians, in turn, fell to the Persians. By Jesus’ time, the Persians had fallen to the Greeks who then fell to the Romans. The shade and support these kingdoms offered did not last. But Jesus draws from this prophetic imagery of a tree to speak of a kingdom that will last:

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches. (Matthew 13:31-32)

It can be tempting to seek safety and security in the things of this world’s kingdoms. Money, we believe, can secure our future. The right house or vehicle or boat, we believe, can secure our happiness. The right job, we believe, can secure our fulfillment. And the right soulmate, we believe, can secure our heart.

But all too often, the things of this world’s kingdom fail us. 401ks lose money. Houses, vehicles, and boats break and decay. Jobs are lost. And even the best relationships have draining moments. Only the kingdom of God, Jesus says, offers shelter and safety that lasts. As a bird builds its home in the branches of a tree, we can find our future in the kingdom of God.

So, when this world seems scary, may we remember that our ultimate and eternal safety rests in the branches of God’s kingdom. As the apostle Paul says to Timothy:

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (2 Timothy 4:18)

June 7, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

More Than a Memorial

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Today is Memorial Day. Today’s observances continue a tradition that began on May 5, 1868, when General John A. Logan called for a nationwide day of remembrance at the end of that month for those lost in the Civil war:

The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet churchyard in the land.

Because General Logan called for the decorating of graves, his observance was called “Decoration Day.” Over time, Decoration Day came to be known as Memorial Day and was moved to the last Monday in May by an act of Congress in 1968 and has been celebrated on this Monday ever since 1971.

As Memorial Day encourages us to do, remembering those we have lost is critical. And like its predecessor, Decoration Day, reminds us, using physical objects – from crosses to pictures to flowers to flags – to help us remember can be healing.

The night before Jesus goes to the cross, He gathers His disciples to celebrate a final meal with them. As in Decoration Day, Jesus presents His disciples with some physical objects:

Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is My body.” Then He took a cup, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28)

And as in Memorial Day, Jesus also encourages His disciples to remember Him:

“Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19)

But this meal is more than simply a memorial with some tokens that help us remember a person we have lost. The apostle Paul writes that, when we partake of this meal with its objects of bread and wine, we are not only remembering with Christ, but communing with Christ here and now:

Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? (1 Corinthians 10:16)

But how do we commune with Christ – indeed, even with His very blood and body – here and now?

If Christ had shared this meal with His disciples before He died and then remained dead, this meal would simply be a memorial. But He did not stay dead. Three days later, He rose. So we do not just remember Christ with bread and wine, we truly commune with Christ in the meal He has given us. He is our risen and living host.

Paul also writes:

We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:14, 16-17)

Paul reminds us that Jesus’ resurrection is only the beginning of something even bigger. Because Christ has risen, those who die in Christ will rise, too. And we will all be together again. Children who have lost parents in battle, parents who have lost children, husbands who have lost wives, and wives who have lost husbands will all be reunited. And Memorial Day will be needed no more. For on the day Christ returns, we will not just remember our lost loved ones, we will commune with them – and with Christ.

Today, let us take a moment to remember those who have given their lives in battle to protect and defend this nation. But let us also hope for the day when we will need to remember no more because we will be able to see those we have lost face-to-face. The headstones we visit today will one day give way to hugs we enjoy forever.

That’s a promise worth remembering.

May 31, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Looking for a Messiah

The story of David and Goliath is a favorite of children’s bibles. It features a shepherd boy named David and a Philistine giant and nemesis of Israel named Goliath who fancies himself invincible. The Israelite army is so terrified of Goliath that no one will sign up to fight him. David, however, indicates his willingness to fight Goliath to King Saul, who tries to outfit David in his armor for the battle, only to find out that he is a 42 long while David is a 34 short. So David goes to fight Goliath with nothing but a sling and some stones. But with these unassuming homespun tools, the little boy takes the big bully out:

Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, David slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground. So David triumphed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone; without a sword in his hand he struck down the Philistine and killed him. David ran and stood over him. He took hold of the Philistine’s sword and drew it from the sheath. After he killed him, he cut off his head with the sword. David took the Philistine’s head and brought it to Jerusalem; he put the Philistine’s weapons in his own tent.  As soon as David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul, with David still holding the Philistine’s head. (1 Samuel 17:49-51, 54, 57)

One of the fascinating features of this story is not just that a young boy kills a towering warrior, but how David does it – he does it by striking Goliath in the head. The author of 1 Samuel seems to be quite taken by this because he uses the word “head” or “forehead” five times in these verses. Goliath’s head is so central to the image of David’s victory, that he carries the head around!

When Adam and Eve fall into sin, God curses the couple, but He also curses the one who tempted them into sin – Satan, who appears in the form of a snake. God warns Satan that there will come an offspring of Eve who will one day defeat him. But what is striking about God’s curse is not only that this offspring will crush Satan, but how he will do it. God says to the snake:

I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. (Genesis 3:15)

The offspring of this woman will crush Satan’s head.

This promise from God led the ancient Israelites to look for the fulfillment of this promise – someone who would come to save them from the sinful mess of this world by crushing the head of their enemies. They centered their hope around what they called the “Messiah,” which in Hebrew means, “anointed one.” The Israelites were looking for someone chosen and anointed by God to save them.

One chapter before the story of David and Goliath, God chooses a new king of Israel, who, unbeknownst to Saul, is Saul’s replacement. Who is this king? The giant-slayer David. God sends his prophet Samuel right before David kills Goliath to anoint him as the next king of Israel:

Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed David in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. (1 Samuel 16:13)

Just a chapter later, after becoming Israel’s new “anointed one,” David crushes the head of Israel’s greatest enemy with a stone, which begs a question: Could David be the one? Could he be the Messiah?

We know from the rest of David’s story that he was not “the one.” The one who crushes Goliath’s head with a stone is crushed by his own sin when he has an affair with a woman who is not his wife and then has her husband murdered to cover up their relationship. David may have crushed the head of Goliath, but the head of the ancient snake was still spitting its poison of sin and death. The Messiah who would crush Satan’s head was still to come.

So often, when we see amazing people do amazing things – as David did with Goliath – we wonder: Could they be the one? Could they be the doctor who wipes out cancer? Could they be the politician that fixes our nation’s ills? Could they be the soulmate who mends our heart? Could they be the financial advisor who makes us rich? Could they be “the one”?

David’s story reminds us that there is only one who is “the one.” Placing our hopes in the wrong one will eventually and inevitably lead to disappointment and anger. Placing our hopes in Christ, however, will lead to salvation and peace. He is the one we’re looking for.

May 24, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Slow in Anger and Full of Grace

When God appears in a burning bush to Moses and charges him to lead the Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt, Moses is fiercely skeptical of God’s rescue mission. He begins by expressing skepticism that the Israelites he is called to rescue won’t express some sort of skepticism:

What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The LORD did not appear to you”? (Exodus 4:1)

God responds by giving Moses the power to perform some miracles to back up his divinely mandated mantle – he can turn his staff into a snake, make his hand leprous and then heal it again, and turn water from the Nile into blood.

But Moses is still not so sure. He is not only skeptical that the Israelites won’t be skeptical; he is also skeptical that he will be able to deliver God’s message:

Pardon Your servant, LORD. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since You have spoken to Your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue. (Exodus 4:10)

God insists that Moses will do just fine. After all, He created Moses’ mouth, and He will speak through Moses’ mouth.

But Moses’ problem, it turns out, is not one of Israelite skepticism or a fear of public speaking. Instead, it is simply an old-fashioned stubborn will:

Pardon Your servant, LORD. Please send someone else. (Exodus 4:13)

Moses simply does not want to be bothered with God’s mission. And God is not happy:

Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses. (Exodus 4:14)

Usually, when the Lord’s anger burns, He acts accordingly. When the Israelites build a false god in the form of a golden calf, God says to Moses, “Now leave Me alone so that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them” (Exodus 32:10). By the end of the chapter, we read: “The LORD struck the people with a plague because of what they did with the calf Aaron had made” (Exodus 32:35). When the Israelites grumble against God immediately after He provides them with a superabundance of quail, we see that “while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the LORD burned against the people, and He struck them with a severe plague” (Numbers 11:33).

With the Lord’s anger burning against Moses in Exodus 14, we would expect God to take decisive discipline measures against Moses. What will God do? Strike Moses with a plague? Swallow him up into the earth? Turn the burning bush into a flaming inferno that consumes him?

God does none of these things. Instead:

He said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him.” (Exodus 4:14-16)

God, instead of destroying Moses because of his lack of confidence in Him, gives Moses a companion in his brother. God’s anger may burn, but so does His grace.

When Moses is up on Mount Sinai meeting with God, God proclaims His character to Moses:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. (Exodus 34:6-7)

It turns out that not only is God slow to anger, He is also slow in anger. Yes, sometimes His anger results in disciplinary action. But in Moses’ case in Exodus 4, God’s anger was subsumed by God’s grace. In place of judgment, God gave Moses his brother.

When we sin, God can – and, indeed, does – get angry. But as with Moses, God’s anger is ultimately subsumed by God’s grace. And in place of judgment, God gives us a brother:

Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for You.” “Who are My mother and My brothers?” He asked. Then He looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” (Mark 3:31-34)

God is slow in anger – even with us.

May 17, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Hard Way to Rest Easy

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According to Jesus, salvation is hard. A narrow way constricts entry into God’s kingdom:

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14)

According to Jesus, salvation is easy. He invites us to lay down the hard and harrying burdens of this world and pick up His designedly light mantle:

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

Salvation is hard, Jesus says. And salvation is easy, Jesus says.

This, of course, begs a question: what is salvation, really – is it hard or is it easy? The answer is: both.

These two sayings of Jesus teach us that the hard road of salvation is the one that takes up Jesus’ easy yoke of rest. The human assumption is that, in order to be saved, we must not rest, but must instead work our way to salvation with our good works and noble character. In our day and age, we see this assumption play out in both the utopian delusions of progressive societies and in the repristination efforts of traditional ones. In both cases, we are the ones who can set our society and ourselves straight, or, to put it negatively, save our society and ourselves from those who are wrong. But, as the old apothegm goes, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Our good intentions and good works, when they are employed to save our society and ourselves, seem to have all sorts of unintended consequences that often do little more than further a cycle of decay and, ultimately, destruction.

The hard way of Matthew 7 is to lay down our fiercest fights and best efforts that constitute the common way – or, as Jesus calls it, the wide way – of our world’s attempts at salvation and instead walk in the narrow way of faith, trusting that Jesus has done the hard work of salvation for us on a cross and, in exchange, has provided us the easy yoke of rest in Matthew 11. This way of faith is humbling because it declares that we cannot save our society or ourselves. Instead, we are called to rest in the One who can.

Yes, we can still work on ourselves and for the good of our society. But salvation – that’s up to Jesus. And if we find ourselves tempted to try to save our society or ourselves because things seem so bad, let us never forget that the very moment when things looked the worst for Jesus – the very moment when it looked like He could not save anything or anyone, including Himself – was the very moment at which He was “reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

All is not lost. We are not lost. May that promise help us rest easy.

May 10, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Dirt to Stars

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At the church where I serve, we end each service with a commission from the apostle Paul:

Shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. (Philippians 2:15-16)

This picture from Paul is tied to the very beginning of history.

When God creates the cosmos, He fashions a couple of ruling bodies. On creation’s fourth day, He speaks into existence the ruling bodies in the sky:

God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:14-18)

The stars, moon, and sun, Genesis says, “govern” the day and night. They are heavenly ruling bodies.

Then, on the sixth day, He creates some more ruling bodies on the earth:

God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:26-28)

Human beings, Genesis says, “rule” over all creatures. They are earthly ruling bodies.

As Genesis goes on to explain, these human beings who rule over the earth come from the earth:

The LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)

And yet, there is this hope that human beings, like the heavenly ruling bodies, will not just be dirty and dark, but will shine like the lights in the sky. Sin, of course, dashes this hope when God tells Adam that He will return to the dirt:

Dust you are and to dust you will return. (Genesis 3:19)

But Paul restores this hope. He says we will “shine like stars in the universe” (Philippians 2:15). But how? Paul explains:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

Paul says when we live without grumbling or arguing, we shine. We go from being dirt from the world to offering light and hope for the world.

This world is full of dirty stuff. Let’s not add to it by our grumbling and arguing. Let’s shine light on it by our joy and peacefulness. This is our world’s need – and the Church’s call.

May 3, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Anger and Forgiveness

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A new study published in the Oxford Journal of Gerontology finds that those who work to resolve arguments quickly – or avoid arguments altogether – improve their long-term health. Researchers from Oregon State University found that the longer a person lets an unresolved conflict linger, the heavier and more significant it begins to feel. Robert Stawski, the senior author of the study, explains:

Everyone experiences stress in their daily lives. You aren’t going to stop stressful things from happening. But the extent to which you can tie them off, bring them to an end, and resolve them is definitely going to pay dividends in terms of your well-being. Resolving your arguments is quite important for maintaining well-being in daily life.

The study found that, if possible, it is best to resolve a conflict the same day it arises. Dr. Stawski added:

The extent to which you can tie off the stress so it’s not having this gnawing impact at you over the course of the day or a few days will help minimize the potential long-term impact.

Of course, this insight of resolving conflict within a day is not new to this study. Long before there was this study, there was the apostle Paul who wrote:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27)

Unresolved anger is dangerous, Paul writes – not only emotionally, but spiritually. It gives the devil himself a foothold in your heart.

As a pastor, it is not uncommon for me to have a conversation with someone who is nursing a grudge and stewing in anger. And, to put it bluntly, they’re miserable. The problem is it’s difficult to stop a feeling. When I become angry, I don’t consciously choose to become angry. Anger just, well, happens. But even if I don’t consciously choose to become angry, I can consciously choose to calm down. I can talk to a friend who I trust to give me perspective. I can talk to myself and remind myself that my anger solves nothing. I can talk to the Lord and ask Him to bring me peace. And I can forgive. To quote the apostle Paul again:

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. (Ephesians 4:31)

In other words, even if you can’t stop anger from bubbling up in your heart, when it does, you are called to get rid of it as fast as you can. But how? Paul tells us in the very next verse:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Anger, Paul says, is nothing forgiveness can’t fix. Yes, forgiveness is hard. Choosing to release a grudge against someone when they have hurt you is a heavy task. But anger is dangerous. And it’s heavy, too. So, choose what is better for them – and for you. Choose forgiveness.

April 26, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

God’s Presence in Pain

Gideon Gathering His Army” by Étienne Parrocel (1696–1776)

In Judges 6, the Midianites are warring with the Israelites. The Midianites are so successful in their campaign against Israel that the Israelites head for the hills – literally:

Because the power of Midian was so oppressive, the Israelites prepared shelters for themselves in mountain clefts, caves and strongholds. (Judges 6:2)

But God is preparing to rescue the Israelites from their oppressors. He appears to a man named Gideon and greets him with a flattering title and a promise of his presence:

The LORD is with you, mighty warrior. (Judges 6:12)

Gideon, however, is not dazzled, but dubious:

If the LORD is with us, why has all this happened to us? (Judges 6:13)

Gideon’s question is a perennial one. When bad things happen to us, it is easy to assume that God has taken a leave of absence from us. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Gideon’s story opens with this setting:

The Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, and for seven years He gave them into the hands of the Midianites. (Judges 6:1)

It turns out not that God was deserting the Israelites, but that the Israelites were rejecting Him. They were turning their backs on the Lord in sin. God sends suffering not because He has deserted Israel, but because He is appealing to Israel: “Repent and turn toward Me!” He wants the Israelites’ suffering to drive them into His arms.

Our suffering can be similar. People sometimes wonder if some suffering they are experiencing is a result of some sin they have committed, as is the case with the Israelites in Gideon’s time. Oftentimes, it is not. Commenting on a recent slaughter of Galileans by Pontius Pilate, Jesus asks:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! (Luke 13:2-3)

Jesus is clear that suffering need not be connected to a specific sin. But, in the final analysis, why suffering happens is far less important than what suffering can accomplish. It can drive us to God and strengthen our faith. As Peter writes:

Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-7)

Are you suffering? Are you troubled? God’s words to Gideon are also God’s words to you:

The Lord is with you.

God walks with you in suffering. You are not alone.

April 19, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Put Down Your Sword

When I was in seminary, I took a road trip with some buddies to the tiny west Texas town of Marfa, famed for its “mystery lights.” These lights appear regularly at dusk and before dawn on Mitchell Flat, just east of Marfa. Strange orbs hover in the night sky – joining with and separating from each other, appearing and disappearing, and changing colors. For decades, researchers, scientists, and curious onlookers have tried to figure out the mystery of the lights. Some say they’re a mirage caused by sharp temperature gradients between cold and warm layers of air. Others say they’re headlights from nearby U.S. Highway 67. Others have paranormal explanations.

The night I and my buddies saw the lights, we made it our mission to solve the mystery once and for all. We took my friend’s Camaro off-roading across the plain to catch the lights. Shockingly enough, we did not. We did, however, raise the hackles of some very annoyed locals who did not like us leaving tire tracks across their land. They let us know in no uncertain terms that the plain was off-limits and it was time for us to leave.

When Adam and Eve stray from God’s command to not eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and go off-roading into evil, God lets them know in no uncertain terms that the idyllic Garden of Eden in which He has placed them is now off-limits and that it is time for them to leave. In fact, just to ensure they never enter the Garden again, He installs what is quite literally a “flashy” security system:

He placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 3:24)

Adam and Eve were able to eat from the tree of life before their fall into sin because they were designed to live eternally. But now, that tree and God’s garden is blocked by a sword that will bring about their death if they try to breach it.

The night before Jesus goes to the cross, He, like Adam and Eve, finds Himself in a garden – the Garden of Gethsemane. After He spends some agonizing moments in prayer about His impending torture and death, a coterie of Jesus’ enemies comes to arrest Him and drag Him away to a series of show trials to try to convict Him of heresy against Jewish theological teaching and treason against the Roman government. Peter, who is with Jesus, boldly brandishes his sword and cuts off the ear of the high priest’s servant, who is part of the seditious mob. But Jesus, instead of thanking Peter for his loyalty, rebukes him:

Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:52)

It was a sword that once guarded Adam and Eve from a garden. But Jesus will not allow a sword to guard Him in a garden.

Jesus, it turns out, has come to cast out the sword from the garden. As He makes His way to the cross, He is systematically disarming the curse of sin that blocks us from eternal life and threatens our eternal death. The sword is disarmed. The garden is open. As Charles Wesley says in his great Easter hymn:

Love’s redeeming work is done, Alleluia!

Fought the fight, the battle won, Alleluia!

Death in vain forbids His rise, Alleluia!

Christ hath opened paradise, Alleluia!

The paradise that was once closed by a curse to Adam and Eve has been opened to us by a cross. That most certainly deserves our hearty, “Alleluia!”

April 12, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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