Joshua Paused the Battle of Jericho

When I was a kid, I would sing a song in Sunday School called “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho.” It was all about Joshua’s conquest of the infamous city, whose walls came “tumblin’ down.” The song was fun to sing, but it also recounted a chapter from Israel’s history that has long been troubling to a lot of people. Israel’s conquest of Canaan, beginning with Jericho, involved a lot of violence and slaughter, which raises an important and understandable question: how could a good God lead His people in such violent warfare?

When Joshua fights this inaugural battle against the people of Canaan, the battle plan God gives him is a strange one:

See, I have delivered Jericho into your hands, along with its king and its fighting men. March around the city once with all the armed men. Do this for six days. Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams’ horns in front of the ark. On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets. When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have the whole army give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the army will go up, everyone straight in. (Joshua 6:2-5)

God says to Joshua He will bring the walls of the city down, but only after six days of open marching.

In ancient battle plans, the element of surprise was key. Just a few chapters later, Adoni-Zedek, who is the king of Jerusalem at this time, moves to attack the Gibeonites because he does not like that they have made a peace treaty with the Israelites. The Gibeonites ask for Joshua’s help, which he delivers when he takes Adoni-Zedek in battle “by surprise” (Joshua 10:9). Surprise was standard.

But there’s no surprise at Jericho. The chapter opens by noting that “the gates of Jericho were securely barred because of the Israelites” (Joshua 6:1). The people of Jericho knew a defeat was imminent. So why would Joshua wait? Why not just make those Jericho walls tumble on the first day instead of waiting until the seventh?

Before they reach the Promised Land, Moses describes God’s character to the Israelites like this:

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. (Exodus 34:6)

God’s desire and nature is not to destroy wicked people in anger, but to patiently wait for them to turn to Him. Indeed, even when a prostitute from Jericho named Rahab trusts in God and helps the Israelites, He gladly spares her (cf. Joshua 2). The six days of marching, then, are six days of waiting – six days of God waiting for the people of Jericho to repent. Before Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, he paused the battle of Jericho.

When God first promises the land of Canaan to Abraham, He says to Abraham that he will have to wait to enter it because its sin “has not yet reached its full measure.” 675 years pass before Joshua fights the first battle against the people there. It turns out that God is not only patient with sinners, He is very patient.

Thus, the violent warfare of Joshua’s day is not the story of a vengeful God gleefully destroying sinners, but the story of sorrowful God who has waited and waited for sinners to repent, but to no avail.

God is still patient with sinners today. His invitation to us remains the same: turn to Him and trust in Him. Sin does not need to destroy you, for His Son can save you.

August 2, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Who Has the Power?

Credit: Pikrepo.com

Christians declare that God has all power. We live, however, like we have the power.

A few weeks ago on this blog, I recounted the famous battle between David and Goliath. When David goes to do battle with this terrifying and towering titan, there is no question over who truly has the power to win this battle. As David says to Goliath:

You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down. (1 Samuel 17:45-46)

God has the power to win this battle. And He demonstrates His power through David.

But then, David becomes king over Israel. And, at first, David continues to acknowledge and believe that God is the One who has all power and is the source of his power as king. Early in his reign, when David is readying his army to fight the Philistines, we read:

David inquired of the LORD, and He answered, “Do not go straight up, but circle around behind them and attack them in front of the poplar trees. As soon as you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees, move quickly, because that will mean the LORD has gone out in front of you to strike the Philistine army.” (2 Samuel 5:23-24)

The Lord is the One who will lead the strike on the Philistine army. He is the One with the power.

But by 2 Samuel 11, things have changed – drastically. David now clearly sees himself as large and in charge. He sleeps with a woman named Bathsheba, who is not his wife, and kills her husband Uriah, who serves valiantly as a soldier in his army, to cover up his affair. Instead of relying on God’s power to win his battles, he abuses his own power for his own pleasure and pretense.

Power, it seems, comes with a problem: when we get it, we have no idea how to use it. When David has no power as a shepherd boy fighting a giant, he does better than when he has massive power as a king who can get anything – or, as in the case of Bathsheba, anyone – he wants whenever he wants. Power without wisdom and righteousness is not profitable. It’s pernicious.

The apostle Paul writes very personally about power:

In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)

Paul fears that, if he was ever to get too much power, he would wreck everything in his conceit. Therefore, he boasts and delights in his weakness, for his weakness allows Christ’s power to work through Him. And Christ is much better at using power than he is.

Andy Crouch writes of power:

Power at its worst is the unmaker of humanity – breeding inhumanity in the hearts of those who wield power, denying and denouncing the humanity of the ones who suffer under power.

This is certainly how David uses his power with Bathsheba and Uriah. But what about power at its best? Crouch continues:

The Father’s love for the Son and, through the Son, for the world – is not simply a sentimental feeling or a distant, ethereal theological truth, but has been signed and sealed by the most audacious act of true power in the history of the world, the resurrection of the Son from the dead. Power at its best is resurrection to full humanity.

God is good with power. He uses it for us and not against us. He demonstrates it through us and not merely over us. Power that rests only in humans destroys humans. But power that is from God can restore humans.

God is good – and gracious – with power. This is why we can celebrate every time we pray:

For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.

July 26, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

What Is Lost Is Found…Finally

In a story that could have been dreamed up by a Hollywood screenwriter, after a 24-year search, Guo Gangtang of Liaocheng, which is in northern Shandong Province in China, was reunited with his 26-year-old son, who was kidnapped when he was just two. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Guo’s son, named Guo Xinzhen at birth, disappeared on Sept. 21, 1997. He had been playing at the door of his home while his mother cooked inside, according to interviews the elder Mr. Guo has given over the years.

A frantic Mr. Guo and his wife, along with family, neighbors and friends, fanned out across the region to search for the boy. But after several months, the effort waned. That was when Mr. Guo attached large banners printed with his son’s photo to the back of a motorcycle and set out to find the boy on his own.

“Son, where are you?” the banners said, alongside an image of the boy in a puffy orange jacket. “Dad is looking for you to come home.”

But now, after crisscrossing China on ten motorcycles for nearly two-and-half decades, Guo did come home. Through tears and hugs, the family reunited.

In Luke 15, Jesus tells a parable about a lost sheep:

Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” (Luke 15:4-6)

Jesus spins a touching story of a shepherd who refuses to give up his search when one of his little lambs becomes lost. But this story is not really about sheep. It’s about us. Jesus explains:

I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:7)

When we wander off in sin, we have a loving heavenly Father who doesn’t just crisscross a country, but crisscrosses heaven and earth in His one and only Son, who searches for us so that He can reunite us with God.

Guo’s story and Jesus’ parable invite us to ask: who do we know who has wandered away from our family or from God’s family? Even if they’ve been away for a long time, all hope is not lost. A call, a note, or a conversation over coffee may be just the thing needed to invite them back into the fold. People are always worth searching for. How do I know? Because God searched for you and me.

I’m thankful I was found.

July 19, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Tale of Two Lamechs

Credit: “Lamech and His Two Wives” by Phillip Mendhurst / Wikimedia

A week ago on this blog, we looked at the genealogy in Genesis 5, which recounts the lineages of the first humans. We focused on one member of this genealogy in particular, Enoch, who, we are told, “was no more, because God took him away” (Genesis 5:24). Though Enoch’s life of 365 years may seem outrageously high compared to our contemporary lifespans, compared to the other people in the genealogy, many of whom lived nearly 1,000 years, his life could be said to have been “cut short.” We discovered, however, that a life cut short is not an indication of a curse. God can bless a short life with eternal life, as He did with Enoch.

This week, I’d like to focus on another character in this genealogy – Lamech, a descendant of one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Seth, and the father of Noah:

When Lamech had lived 182 years, he had a son. He named him Noah and said, “He will comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed.” After Noah was born, Lamech lived 595 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:28-31)

This is the second Lamech we meet in Genesis. The first was a descendant of another one of the sons of Adam and Eve, Cain. This first Lamech was filled with anger and vengeance:

Lamech married two women, one named Adah and the other Zillah. Adah gave birth to Jabal; he was the father of those who live in tents and raise livestock. His brother’s name was Jubal; he was the father of all who play stringed instruments and pipes. Zillah also had a son, Tubal-Cain, who forged all kinds of tools out of bronze and iron. Tubal-Cain’s sister was Naamah. Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words. I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for injuring me. If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven times.” (Genesis 4:19-24)

Here we find history’s first instance of a polygamous relationship and the second instance of a murder. This first Lamech walks in the footsteps of his forefather Cain as he kills a man, just as Cain killed his brother Abel. This Lamech even refers to his ancestor Cain, to whom God gave the promise of protection in a stroke of grace even after his heinous murder of his brother. After punishing Cain by sending him to a distant land, God promises him: “Anyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times over” (Genesis 4:15). This Lamech tries to outdo God’s vengeance with his own vengeance, threatening vengeance seventy-seven times over (Genesis 4:24).

This leads us back to the Lamech of Genesis 5. This second Lamech serves as an antithesis to the first Lamech. Whereas the first Lamech willingly participated in the curse of death brought on by sin, this second Lamech seeks to stymie that curse. When God first cursed Adam after he fell into sin, He said:

Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. (Genesis 3:17)

This Lamech says his son Noah will:

…comfort us in the labor and painful toil of our hands caused by the ground the LORD has cursed. (Genesis 5:29)

The second Lamech seeks righteousness and comfort while the first Lamech sought vengeance by death.

Notice also his lifespan – 777 years. God’s vengeance on Cain’s behalf was seven times over – one seven. The first Lamech’s vengeance on his own behalf was seventy-seven times over – two sevens. But the second Lamech’s righteous life is 777 years – three sevens. It turns out that righteousness and comfort outdo vengeance and violence. The second Lamech’s three sevens crush the first Lamech’s two sevens.

It can be easy to follow the way of the first Lamech. When someone hurts us, we reflexively want to take vengeance. But the way of the second Lamech is where hope is found, as we yearn for someone to undo the curse sin has brought into this world. The second Lamech’s son, Noah, survived the curse of a flood, but was ultimately not unable to undo the curse of sin. But there was One who came from this line who did. Indeed, He reverses the curse of the first Lamech. When one of His disciples, Peter, asks Him:

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

The first Lamech’s vengeance is overcome by Jesus’ forgiveness, who is the second Lamech’s hope. May He be our hope, too.

July 12, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Too Young To Die

Credit: RODNAE Productions / Pexels.com

One of my most sobering tasks as a pastor is participating in funerals. Every funeral is weighty, but those that are for someone who we would say “died too early” carry with them a unique set of challenges. A young child who passes away, for instance, leaves behind intensely grieving parents. A husband or wife who dies in the prime of life leaves behind a devastated spouse.

One of the starkest portraits of life and death comes to us in Genesis 5, which is a genealogy of the first humans. There is a refrain that comes up again and again as each person is listed, beginning with Adam:

Altogether, Adam lived a total of 930 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:5)

Altogether, Seth lived a total of 912 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:8)

Altogether, Enosh lived a total of 905 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:11)

Altogether, Kenan lived a total of 910 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:14)

Altogether, Mahalalel lived a total of 895 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:17)

Altogether, Jared lived a total of 962 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:20)

Altogether, Enoch lived a total of 365 years. Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. (Genesis 5:23-24)

Altogether, Methuselah lived a total of 969 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:27)

Altogether, Lamech lived a total of 777 years, and then he died. (Genesis 5:31)

The phrase “and then he died” evinces an inescapable reality: ever since humanity’s fall into sin, people die.

There is, however, a hiccup in this genealogy’s refrain with Enoch. The end of Enoch’s life is not characterized as “death,” but as being “no more” because God took him away (Genesis 5:24). His lifespan is also notable – 365 years. This is by far the shortest lifespan of anyone in this genealogy. Compared with lifespans as long as these, Enoch could easily be said to have been taken from this world too early. And yet, as C. John Collins reminds us in his book Reading Genesis Well in his comments on Enoch:

Apparently, there are higher values and rewards than simply length of days, and the text assumes that there lies something worthwhile beyond the grave for the faithful.

We can sometimes wonder why God takes certain people from us “early.” But, as Enoch reminds us, God taking someone is not an indication of a curse. It can be an indication of a blessing. This reality does not remove the severe sting of a person who passes young, but it does offer hope. What happened with Enoch can happen for them, too. They may be apart from us, but they are with the Lord. And anytime is a good time to be with Him.

July 5, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

Searching for Meaning in a Condo Collapse

Credit: Joe Raedle / Getty Images via Newsweek

I first heard of the news about the collapse of Champlain Towers South, a condo complex on the beach in Surfside, Florida, early Thursday morning while staying in a condo complex on the beach in Port Aransas. The reports sounded ominous. The pictures that have emerged are dolorous. The number of people still missing is tortuous. And the reason for the building’s collapse remains mysterious.

When a tragedy like this strikes, it is natural for people to ask: Why? We have an intractable need to find meaning, even in the midst of what appears to be a desultory disaster. In our minds, a disaster is never just a disaster. There is always a reason behind it. There is always something we can learn from it.

This desire to find meaning in disaster is nothing new. The specific meanings we derive from disasters may change, but our search for some kind of meaning – any kind of meaning – remains. This search for meaning is what Jesus addresses when He references a tower collapse in His day and the meaning people had assigned to it:

Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. (Luke 13:4-5)

In Jesus’ day, there was an assumption that if a disaster befalls you, this indicates an especially grievous sinfulness had engulfed you. Jesus says that deriving this kind of a meaning from this kind of a disaster is wrongheaded. But just because this meaning cannot be derived from this disaster does not mean no meaning can be derived from any disaster.

So, what meaning can we rightly find in disaster?

Near the end of his life, Solomon, one of the greatest kings of ancient Israel, reflects on all he has done, experienced, and accomplished and compiles his thoughts in the book of Ecclesiastes. After much reflection, he arrives at this conclusion:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 1:2)

Though these words are quite famous, they also represent one of my least favorite translations in the Hebrew Bible. In Hebrew, the word translated as “meaningless” is hebel, which does not denote a lack of meaning, but instead describes transience. Hebel is a “vapor” or a “mist.” Solomon’s point, then, is this: just when we think we’ve taken a hold of something, it slips through our fingers. Solomon continues by offering a litany of things that slip through our fingers: wisdom, pleasure, hard work, and riches. And it is here with hebel that we find not meaninglessness, but some much-needed meaning in disaster. Disasters remind us that this life and everything in it is like a vapor or a mist. It slips through our fingers – sometimes when we least expect it, like when a tower shockingly crumbles. This life can be shorter than we care to admit.

So, what are we to do in light of life’s transience? On the one hand, Solomon says, this kind of transience should lead us to live joyfully in this day because we do not know whether another day awaits us:

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God. (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13)

On the other hand, life’s transience should also lead us to search for something that is not transient – something that lasts. This is why Solomon says in the next verse:

I know that everything God does will endure forever. (Ecclesiastes 3:14)

This life may not last. But what God does will. This means that when God sent His Son to bring life, He brought a life that lasts – a life that is eternal. Tragedy may remind us that this life doesn’t last. But God gives us hope for a life that does – a life that extends far beyond this one. And that’s not just meaning we can take from a tragedy like the Champlain Towers collapse; that’s hope we can have no matter what tragedy we may face.

June 28, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

The Sabbath: More Than Just a Day

Credit: Pixabay / Pexels.com

One of the interesting features of the creation account comes when God rests from His work on the seventh day:

By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that He had done. (Genesis 2:2-3)

This is history’s first Sabbath day, practiced by God Himself. But this seventh day breaks a pattern that is found in days one through six. Each of these days are described as having “evening and morning”:

And there was evening, and there was morning the first day. (Genesis 1:5)

And there was evening, and there was morning the second day. (Genesis 1:8)

And there was evening, and there was morning the third day. (Genesis 1:13)

And there was evening, and there was morning the fourth day. (Genesis 1:19)

And there was evening, and there was morning the fifth day. (Genesis 1:23)

And there was evening, and there was morning the sixth day. (Genesis 1:31)

On the seventh day, however, there is no “evening and morning.” God simply rests.

Though there is no reason to believe that the seventh day is any different than any of the other six days per se, the break in the pattern seems to indicate that this day is special. There is something more to this day than just a day.

The preacher of Hebrews speaks of this first Sabbath when he says:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from His. (Hebrews 4:9-10)

The preacher of Hebrews seems to be picking up on the broken pattern for the first Sabbath day. Though it may have been just a day, there seems to be something about it that lingered, something about it that transcended evening and morning, something about it that, as the preacher of Hebrews puts it, “remained” right up to the present day.

When God set a pattern of work and rest, He was not just setting a pattern, He was making a promise – a promise that rest does not merely need to be confined to one day between one evening and one morning. This is what the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day forgot. They became so obsessed with keeping the Sabbath day, they forgot that the Sabbath was not just meant to be a day, but a gift for anyone whenever they needed it. As Jesus puts it, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).

These past fifteen months have been brutal and exhausting for many people. Summer officially began yesterday. My prayer is that you’ll take advantage of God’s gift of a Sabbath during this season of time off and fun. Get some rest with family and friends. The Sabbath is God’s gift to you. And it remains for you.

It’s a gift worth using.

June 21, 2021 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A “Giant” Exaggeration

Credit: Pikrepo

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pexels-photo-3773042.jpeg
Credit: Mario A. Villeda / Pexels.com

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

Credit: Chad Madden / Pexels.com

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

Older Posts


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,105 other followers


%d bloggers like this: