There are many incredible sights, features, and effects that the natural world gives to us each day. For many of us, we have the opportunity to see many of them on display all around us, on a fairly consistent basis. For example, many of us can think back to a breath-taking sunset, or the first green buds of the spring, or the pop of color in the fall, or the silent beauty of a heavy snow. The images are majestic and beautiful. Other examples of this take us to the far reaches of the globe. Several people I know have been able to witness some of nature’s other masterpieces like the scenery of Alaska or the fjords of Norway. While I’m sure these sights are exquisite, having never seen them in person myself, I know there is one unique aspect of these places that might be difficult for me to adjust to or appreciate: the midnight sun.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar, the midnight sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs during the summer in locations that are either north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle. The display is just as it sounds: the sun shining in the middle of the night. This essentially means there is continuous day. The darkness that invites the internal clocks in our bodies to bring us to bed is thrown into a loop. The moon that tells us that it might be time for some sleep is essentially void of its power. I don’t know about you, but I think I would have a hard time trying to get to sleep with the rays of the sun shining through the windows at 2:00 am!
As seemingly unfathomable as this is to me sitting here in south-central Minnesota, this does give me a reminder of another place that has no need for the warming, life-giving light of the sun and yet it is bright and alive there all the time. As we continue in our series through the book of Revelation, we come again to Chapter 21 where the Apostle John is receiving a vision of heaven; the Holy City. As God is revealing this image and this scene to John, there are a few things that stand out to him that he finds surprising and amazing all at the same time. In verses 22-25, he writes about what he sees and says:
I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there.
Imagine that! A city with no lights…a heaven with no church! Here on this Earth and in this time, we have need for the sun. We need it to do its thing; to rise when it’s supposed to, to shine as it needs to, to set as it was intended to, and the cycle repeats itself all over again. We need it’s guiding presence. The same goes with the Church. As believers, we need the Church; we need it to be a part of who we are and how we live, we need it to deliver to us the grace and truth of God, we need it for it’s encouraging community. And yet, both of these things are imperfect to perfectly deliver to us all that we need. They are not as good as it gets.
This is what is so amazing about heaven…about the Lord of Heaven. His presence is so full, so fulfilling, so perfected, and so immense that His mere existence shines so that the sun does not have to. The presence of God delivers a light, protection, security, and community so bright and so perfect that there is nothing to fear, there is nothing to hide, there is just God in all of His power and glory. It is this awesome, life-giving presence that we not only await someday to see in glory, but this is also a presence to promises to walk with us now…today. God desires for you to feel and know and trust that He is here right now; right in the middle of your hardships and difficulties, right at the heart of your joys and hopes, right in the center of your day to not only remind you and encourage you for right now, but to show you a glimpse of what is to come. A place where all the wrongs are made right, all the darkness is gone forever, where all of the nights are turned today.
Just like if I were to visit Greenland and not be able to sleep because of the sun on my face at night, I don’t think I’m going to be getting much sleep in heaven either…but I think I’ll be just fine with that.
Imagine this scene with me: I am home playing with my kids on a sunny afternoon on our deck. We are having a great time doing all sorts of fun and goofy activities together. The time comes to take a break and grab a snack and a drink of water, so we go to find our seats. I settle into one of our patio chairs and my kids nestle into two of their plastic kid chairs that suit their stature and size. Before long, one of them offers me to come and sit in their seat. Such a kind and thoughtful gesture. So, I oblige and try to wedge my body into their chair. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds before I experienced what Goldilocks went through when she sat in the chair of the Baby Bear. Crack! The chair ceases to serve its purpose in life to hold one off the ground. End of story.
Now, I will leave it up to you to decide if this tale is true or not, but the example that it gives us is straight from your middle school science textbooks. It’s Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which boiled down states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
We live this out all the time. Whether we are walking, driving, swimming, you name it. The forces around us are creating these chain reactions from our actions. Stemming out of this natural law comes another understanding, which also fits our unfortunate example from before: the “law” of cause and effect. The force of that tiny plastic kid’s chair stood no chance when met with the force of my body bearing down on it. It tried with all of it’s might to push up against the force that I was pushing down, but alas, the effect was a broken chair. The cause: too much weight…or not enough common sense…or both…you be the judge.
Now, I use this fictitious illustration to give us a humorous glimpse into another cause and effect that is a daily reality for those of us who belong to the family of God. As we come out of the season of Lent, Holy Week, and the celebration of our resurrected Savior on Easter, we come into contact with the Easter Effect. As a result of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, there are present-day implications, outcomes, and reactions in which we now live and operate. Take, for example, the miracle of Easter itself. The force of sin and death that stood in our way of ever having a right relationship and future with God one day left us hopeless and helpless. But when met with the power, authority, and work of Jesus, death and sin stood no chance and buckled under its presence. This leaves us with hope, the promise of new life, and a future with our Heavenly Father. The effect of Easter is everywhere and sets the course of our lives moving forward in this in-between time of Jesus’ return to take us home.
It is in the context of the Easter Effect that we begin a six-week series in the book of Revelation. Much has been made about this letter and many opinions formed on trying to decipher and find contemporary meaning of every nook and cranny of its pages, but the lens through which we will be looking at it is through the lens of Easter. Because Jesus came, died, and rose again to free us from the power of sin and death, we have been given new life to live in the meantime that will culminate in His glorious return at His set time and in His purposed ways.
The book of Revelation was given to us, as believers, to deliver both hope and caution. Revelation was written to give believers comfort that no matter what trouble, hardship, tribulation, or circumstance came their way that would make it seem as though hope was lost, the end has been written and Jesus wins. The wrong is made right, the broken made whole, and peace on earth is fully realized for those welcomed home to be with Jesus forever in paradise. It also serves as a warning to not fall into temptation to the world or culture around us or to be led astray by false teaching and doctrine. It also warns us against being complacent and lazy as we wait. Point being, there are so many good things to gain and glean from its pages and we get the opportunity to do just that in the coming weeks. May our prayer be that the Lord would use the power of His Word to us in Revelation to fill us with a sense of hope, wonder, and trust in what He is doing and will do as He plays out the effect and reality of Easter in our lives today.
I love history. For as long as I can remember, I have always had the desire to immerse myself with stories from the past. Legends and tall tales, folk heroes and pioneers, brave warriors and explorers, the rise and fall of civilizations and empires, the expansion and growth of culture. When I was a kid, I can remember going to the local library of the small town I grew up in and piling stacks of books of history to bring home with me and scour through to find new nuggets of past gold. I would even reenact historical events with my siblings, or Playmobiles, or Legos…put it this way…I was a history nerd!
And this love and appreciation for history went with me even beyond my younger days. I graduated from college with a Social Studies Education major and a History minor. I had the privilege of teaching World History and Minnesota History for 3 years to middle school and high school students. It was great. I still enjoy reading historical novels and articles. I just recently finished a new biography on Martin Luther and have the biography of William Wilberforce sitting on my desk as I write this article. If you don’t know who he is, you would do yourself a favor to gain a history lesson.
Learning from and knowing our history is of great importance. There is immense significance in understanding where you came from and the events, situations, circumstances, and happenings that brought time to its present state. But history can even go beyond the present; it can define the future. History gives us something that the future cannot: consequences.
One of my favorite quotes about the value of history comes from a sermon given by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1954 when he said, “We are not makers of history; we are made by history.” History is a force to be reckoned with. History is a movement that bursts onto our present-day scene. History is a reality that shapes who we are and what lies ahead.
For the Corinthian Church, in the days of the Apostle Paul, they were also in need of a history lesson to not only guide their current-day activities, but also to give them a glimpse at their future. Paul had to remind them to remember God’s people that had lived long before them and how they were tempted to find their meaning, purpose, and significance without Him. They had been led astray by idol worship, they had delved in immorality, they doubted and tested God, they had grumbled against His plans and His ways. And yet, despite it all and despite their sinful disobedience, God was faithful. God was true to His Word and never-changing in His promises. His stance towards them was one of consistency and steadfastness. Paul’s reminder to the Corinthians is that God’s never-changing qualities still hold true and that same faithfulness He showed to deliver a way out of temptation for His people back then is at work in the same way in their present circumstances.
This reminder extends to us today too. That when we go through times where we are feeling and experiencing a distancing from God because of our actions, attitudes, and decisions, He remains faithful. That He provides a way, that He sets things in motion, that He equips us with what we need to do battle against the times of temptation that come our way. He will not leave us to our own devices, and He will not abandon us. That is one lesson that can be gained from history: the fact, reality, assurance, security, and promise that we serve and love a God who loves us too much to not be there for us, right beside us, in the everyday battles that we fight today.
“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” If you have been with us the past several weeks, this has been a truth that we have been living in as we journey through the 15th chapter of the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian Church. It is this same turning-on-it’s-head reality that God desires to deliver to us time and time again through His Word. All throughout Scripture, God declares that He will make things right and set things straight even when things appear to be hopeless, that He is the Beginning and End, that He brings freedom to those in captivity, that He can work in a hard situation and use it for His Ultimate Good, that He comes to restore what has been lost and tarnished, that He will literally bring people from death to life.
We have spent the past two weeks talking about resurrection and how that sets the stage and lays the foundation for the hope that believers in Christ can have and claim. It is through the resurrection of Christ that affirms and seals the assurance that we can have new life through Him. His resurrection is a foreshadowing of our own resurrection that we will one day have when He comes again to take His people home.
But there is an elephant in the room and that elephant is death. What do we do with death? How do we view death? What does this word of resurrection have to say about the reality and seeming finality of death?
So, let’s talk about death for a moment, but not in a heavy, burdensome way. I can, at times, enjoy and appreciate satire…when I can understand and get the point behind what the author(s) are saying. Reading the headlines from satirical websites like The Onion or Babylon Bee can usually bring a chuckle even when talking about grim topics like death.
In one such article, The Onion ran a humorous, and fictional, article with a biting truth. The article was titled “World Death Rate Holding Steady at 100 Percent.” Here is an excerpt from the article:
World Health Organization officials expressed disappointment Monday at the group's finding that, despite the enormous efforts of doctors, rescue workers and other medical professionals worldwide, the global death rate remains constant at 100 percent. Death, a metabolic affliction causing total shutdown of all life functions, has long been considered humanity's number one health concern. Responsible for 100 percent of all recorded fatalities worldwide, the condition has no cure. "I was really hoping, what with all those new radiology treatments, rescue helicopters, aerobics TV shows and what have you, that we might at least make a dent in it this year," WHO Director General Dr. Gernst Bladt said. "Unfortunately, it would appear that the death rate remains constant and total, as it has inviolably since the dawn of time."
Death has been the age-old enemy of humanity. It has been an impenetrable foe that many have tried to beat and fight against as long as possible but, in the end, time and death seem to win out. Since the beginning of time when sin entered the world, and death with sin, we have had to deal with the fear, terror, sting, pain, and hardship of death. Many of us have experienced the death of a friend, family member, or loved one. The reality of death can be devastating, despairing, and difficult. On our own, we are hopeless against this waiting enemy that is a direct result of our own rebellion against God.
And yet, God does not stand idly by and leave us in our despair and hopelessness. He steps in and He enters the scene on our behalf to deliver us a promise…to give us victory over that which we could not defeat on our own. To turn something as ugly and painful as death into a glorious gateway to something new and perfect that He gives us. To reverse the curse of sin and death into the gift of new and abundant life.
That is why the Apostle Paul begins this chapter with the resurrection. It is now through the resurrection that we view death. It is now because of the resurrection that our perspective on death and dying can be reshaped. As Paul writes regarding this same topic to the churches in Thessalonica he says: “Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For 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. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 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. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NIV)
And so, it is with this hope and this assurance and this victory that Paul can write to the Christians in Corinth and to us today as Oak Hill Church: “Death has been swallowed up in victory. ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Living in Victory,
If you had to guess what the most common last names in the world are, what would you say? You probably know many people who have these as their last name, but what came to mind? Three of the most common last names in the entire world are: Smith, Johnson, and Jones. That’s maybe not surprising because we’ve heard them many times before…that’s why they’re common.
We can go even a level deeper. Readers’ Digest asked the same question for the individual states that make up the USA and here is what they found for Minnesota. The three most common names in the state of Minnesota are: Johnson, Anderson, and Nelson. Do you know anybody with those surnames?
Now when it comes to things that occur frequently, like popular last names, one can dive into a litany of other words that show up all the time in our minds, our everyday speech, and our vocabulary. One of those words absolutely has to be the word that we will be looking at this week from 1 Corinthians 13. It defines the entire chapter. It’s love!
Love is in the air and love is everywhere. People talk about it all the time in a variety of ways to describe their feelings regarding pizza, a good book, a new shirt, and their spouse. There is no shortage of this word, “love,” making its rounds in conversations all across the globe in every known language so what would make its inclusion in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth of any great significance?
As we look at these words regarding love in 1 Corinthians 13, we very quickly come to the realization that many of us sell the word “love” short when it comes to our use and understanding of it. Only God can take a term, or something we deem or see as “common,” and blow the doors off the meaning, expression, and definition as only He can. When we see love in its purest entirety, one quickly comes to grip with the fact that this is way bigger than maybe first expected. Love, as God defines it in Scripture, is way bigger than we could ever imagine or conjure up on our own.
I’m glad that God’s love for me goes beyond the way I would talk about how much I love French Fries. I need it to because I am limited in my scope, understanding, and giving of love. But that is why He gives it to us; so that we might continue to give it away to those around us. We are invited to love our family, friends, enemies, and neighbors in ways that we might not even think possible because of the great, expansive love that was first shown and given to us. It is when we see love through the lens that God intends us to that we can see this bigger picture. It is the picture that the Apostle Paul was communicating to the Corinthian church regarding their use of the gifts and abilities that God had given them, their place in the Body of Christ, and the humility that comes from being shown God’s indescribable love.
All of this talk about the way that God loves us reminds me of one of my favorite hymns obviously titled, “The Love of God.” My favorite verse ends the song this way:
Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure--
The saints’ and angels’ song.
The human body is an intricately amazing thing. Now, that is no surprise for those in the biological or medical fields. They have done the painstaking work of diving into the extremely detailed muscles, bones, tissues, ligaments, and tendons that make up our bodies. All of the moving parts that are big and small that are working simultaneously together just for you to take a step, breathe, shake someone’s hand, blink, and even talk is a breathtaking function.
I had a first-hand, humbling experience with the elaborately complex thing known as the body of a human being. I was a senior in college and had to take an Introduction to Anatomy course to complete my Coaching Minor. Now, I thought I knew what I was getting into. All I needed to know to be dangerous was to figure out the best way to tape an ankle, do a stretch, have a basic idea of how major muscle and bone groups work, and most importantly…point the injured athlete to the nearest nurse, doctor, or trainer and let the professionals take care of things.
Oh, did I have a rude awakening! I can remember being handed a 20-page packet that had diagram upon diagram of bone, muscles, ligaments, joints, tendons, etc. that all had to do with the human hand. 20 pages! And then my professor told the class that we would be having a quiz on this material the next week, so we essentially had to memorize the parts of the human hand in a little less than a week! And let’s just say there is more than just five fingers, a palm, and knuckles! Incredible! I did not do so well on that quiz. In fact, I did not do so well in the class at all. I was overwhelmed and outmatched when it came to learning about our human anatomy. There was so much to it! It never ended! The connections went on and on and on! This thing triggered that thing, that led to another thing, that came around to that thing…see I can’t even remember what those “things” were, but it was amazing…amazingly detailed.
I ended up taking two things away from this class. One, was a greater appreciation and definition of God as my Creator and the second was the humbling experience of how small I am on my own. If you are like me, you need other people to help you, to support you, to encourage you, to challenge you. When God made the human body, He did it such a fascinating way in which all the thousands of individual parts, each doing their own thing, were working together in unity and harmony for a greater purpose. They were different in look, size, shape, and ability, but when put together, they moved in sync to accomplish something amazing.
It is the same way with another Body that God has designed and created: the Body of Christ: the Church. Each of us, though different and unique, have been called to rely on one another, to work together to love, serve, and worship God with our lives. This week, we continue seeing this profound mystery unveiled to us through the words of the Apostle Paul as he reminds us that each one is essential to this Body of Christ, that we can’t do it alone or apart from one another, that each one plays its part, and when we are unified in our uniqueness, Christ is glorified.
But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
What usually comes to your mind when you think of someone who is “gifted?” For many of us, a gifted person is usually someone who has a unique talent, skill, trait, or ability that sets them apart from everyone else. Like a professional athlete, world-renown chef, a Grammy-winning musician or Oscar-winning actor or actress, a famous author, cutting-edge scientist, or a transcendent artist. Many would agree that they are truly “gifted” people.
But if we only look at the faces and talents that our culture tends to gravitate toward, we miss out on the bigger picture of what it truly means to be gifted. Don’t hear me wrong, there is much to be celebrated in the musical, artistic, athletic, and intellectual talents that are out there. It is amazing to watch and witness and marvel at how people can do what they do. But that is where we must continue looking and appreciating the variety of gifts that are around us. For example, I am continuously amazed at many gifts that I do not possess that make a difference in my everyday life. What if we expanded our definition of being gifted to areas that include the car mechanic, the computer technician, a wise parent, a faithful friend. These are immensely valuable and important gifts that play a big role in each of our lives. When we see even the little things as gifts, it really changes our scope and perspective in how we view others.
Two things come to mind when I think of a gift or being gifted. The first is that a gift is something that has been given to me by someone else. I probably didn’t do much to merit it or deserve it, it was simply given to me by someone who loves me and will get joy and satisfaction when I put their gift to good use. The second aspect of a gift, or being gifted, that comes to mind is an understanding that they are unique, special, and in many cases, individual. In other words, there are some gifts, talents, skills, and abilities that I will never have in my repertoire. I will never be able to paint like Van Gogh, cook like Gordon Ramsey, jump like Michael Jordan, sing like Whitney Houston, or write like Agatha Christie. This realization is no surprise to me, or the people close to me. And they probably are no surprise to you either when it comes to your own giftedness.
This week, we will be looking at the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Christian church in Corinth. These people lived and operated in a very pagan culture that was morally bankrupt and financially corrupt. They saw variety and diversity in the makeup of their congregation and worship of Jesus and Paul is quick to point out that this is all the work of the same God and the same Spirit. When God infiltrated and transformed their lives by His grace, He gave each of them gifts by His Holy Spirit. These gifts were meant to build, encourage, and support the entire group and it was through this diversity, spreading, and sharing of gifts that God would be glorified in and through the Corinthian church.
Much like these early Christians, we are left in some similar places. We can doubt and question the validity, importance, or value of gifts that others bring into our own context, we can be envious of what others may have and not use what has been given to us, we can horde our individual gifts of the Spirit and miss out on the beauty of sharing and using them in community, or we can celebrate the wide sweep of the brush that God paints with as He builds His Church.
Do you know that each of you are gifted? God has given each of you your own unique makeup that, when brought together in the church, creates, builds, and constructs a beautiful masterpiece that blesses, serves, loves, encourages, and strengthens one another as we live in the gift of faith and grace that is given to each of us.
My favorite time of the year is Christmas. The music, the smells, the food, the time with family and friends, the lights, the tree, the manger scene, and the snow (still holding out hope for a White Christmas!) The season of Christmas allows me to unlock all of my love for nostalgia that I possess. I welcome the same songs that I listened to in the car on the way home from basketball practice as a kid or Handel’s Messiah blaring through our house. The familiar smells of warm cookies, hot chocolate, scented candles, and a fresh snowfall. The tastes of my mom’s ham balls, my aunt’s caramel corn, and my grandma’s holiday punch. Christmas is a perfect time for both remembering and making memories and I soak it up!
One of the things about Christmas that I also love is the anticipation for giving and receiving gifts. There is an excitement in the wonder of what could be under the tree or imagining of the face of your loved one as they unwrap that special present from you. I’m getting super pumped just thinking about all that is Christmas! Can you tell?
I can only imagine the joy and excitement that was taking place in heaven on that night in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago as Mary gave birth to a baby in a stable. It was at that precise moment that the Gift of all Gifts was sent for you and for me. That small child, named Jesus, would grow up and be for us what we could not be on our own. He would live the perfect, sin-free life that we could not, He would die the death that should have been ours, and He would be raised to life conquering both sin and death for you and for me. And all that hope, and expectation, was wrapped up in swaddling clothes on a bed of straw in a manger in a town in the middle of nowhere under the watchful eyes of a rough-looking carpenter, a teenage girl, and some smelly shepherds. But oh, what a gift!
A common feeling that you and I can have when it comes to responding to gifts, or generosity, or an invitation, expresses itself in two thoughts: “What can I bring?” or “How can I pay you back?” Maybe it’s a Midwest thing, but I know that many of us can struggle with simply being on the receiving end of someone else’s kind gesture. We feel compelled to bring things back to even, we feel like we need to bring something to the table to feel welcomed, we feel like we might be obligated to do something in return for the gift. But the crazy part about this gift that God gives us in His Son is that it is not one of those gifts. This is a no-strings-attached gift. You and I are invited to come and receive…and that’s it.
This Christmas may each of us be reminded, that we are recipients of the World’s Greatest Invitation and the World’s Most Miraculous Gift. We are invited to come to the stable, to see and remember this holy night that God has set in place generations ago. We are invited to come with our mess, our sin, and our mistakes knowing that this Little One has come to bring us peace with God. We are invited to bring our worries, anxieties, and shortcomings to the straw-stuffed throne of the King of Kings and receive His gift of mercy, forgiveness, and grace. I need to be reminded of that reality this Christmas amidst all of the other joyous and fun-filled memories that are unfolding around me. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 NIV)
Opposition and adversity. What ideas or feelings come to mind when you hear those words? Usually, these two terms are not met with excitement or enjoyment. We tend to avoid situations where we face opposition and adversity. Many of us go to great lengths to remove them from the equation of our present circumstances. And yet, many of us know full well and have experienced that facing and overcoming opposition and adversity has some benefits too.
Consider an example of this from the world of sports; basketball in particular. Jonah Berger and Devin Pope performed extensive research on the odds of each team winning a basketball game based on the score at halftime. After watching all of the games from the National Basketball Association from 1993 to 2009 (Yes, that is a crazy amount of screen time) they found that if a team was up by more than 4 points at the midway mark, their chances of winning were pretty high; 70% to be exact. If your favorite team brought a 6-point advantage to the locker room, those chances of victory increased to over 80%. In other words, the team trailing by greater than 4 points at halftime had to overcome quite a bit of opposition and adversity to be re-engaged and re-motivated to fight for the victory.
However, their research did show an odd trend. Teams that went into the locker room down by only 1 point at halftime actually had a greater chance of winning the game than the team going in with the 1-point lead. To make sure their numbers were accurate, they continued analyzing basketball games including over 45,000 collegiate games played between 1999 and 2009 (once again, how many bags of popcorn did these guys go through?!) The results were the same. Being far behind at halftime more than often correlated to a loss and did not increase a team’s effort in the second half. In fact, the farther away a team was from their goal, the less they tried to achieve them. Contrarily, if a glimmer of hope was realized, like being down only 1 point, something clicked that gave the losing team an edge to fight anew in pursuit of a victory.
It is with this thought that we come to the book of the prophet Zechariah. Zechariah lived during the early days of the return of God’s people from Babylonian Captivity and the rebuilding of the Temple. Very early into this building project, opposition and adversity struck both internally and externally. The nations surrounding Jerusalem did not take too kindly to the people building walls and putting their lives back together. They placed immense pressure and discouragement on the people and that discouragement would only grow. The time and money and resources that building the Lord’s Temple took began to become draining. The people became so drained, so discouraged, so disenchanted with this effort that they became apathetic. They lost all desire to see it completed, they lost sight of the ultimate goal, they were no longer motivated by the hope and promise that was theirs in Christ. They were not feeling as though they were winning or even down by a single point at halftime. Rather, they felt as though they were drowning in deficit so there was no reason to continue in the way they first began.
Zechariah’s words of encouragement and hope that were given to him by God are not just for these freed captives, but they are for us today. How do you tend to view opposition and adversity that comes your way? Maybe you are already feeling the burden and discouragement from another rejection, another mistake, another opportunity lost. Maybe you are struggling with deep feelings of opposition that life’s challenges bring us. Maybe you are looking at our world today and struggling to see the future hope. Maybe you are finding it difficult to see past the adversities currently in front of you. Zechariah’s message is the same: God is our reason for hope, He is the motivating factor that gives life to dead circumstances, motivation amidst apathy, joy amidst hardships, and victory amidst apparent defeat. The Lord promises to fight on behalf of His people. His mere presence is one that brings peace to troubled hearts and lives.
As we continue to face opposition and adversity in our own lives, may each of us trust and be encouraged by the promises of God that deliver hope and freedom when and where we need it the most.
Have you ever had an enemy? A foe or adversary? Someone or something that stood in your way, oppressed you, kept you down? Someone or something that was unkind or unjust, devaluing or demeaning? Maybe it was a bully at school or at work? Maybe it was a team or an individual that you competed against in a sport or for a position? Maybe it was a circumstance that kept on raising it’s head to stop you just when you got some momentum. Maybe it was a sin that seemed unshakable? Have you ever had an enemy? Do you currently have an enemy?
For many of us, our enemies or adversaries might look a bit differently that they once did, but they still take various shapes and forms. Our adversaries can be both internal or external, personal or common, relentless or situational. Life is full of adversaries whether they be people or circumstances. It doesn’t take much looking to see these in full scope. Turn on the news, open a newspaper, walk down a busy street and signs of adversaries can be all around. It doesn’t take much to see the violence, oppression, and injustice, and anger that many of us both experience and share in on a daily basis. Life can be adversarial.
For the people of Israel, one of their main adversaries was the common nemesis of many during their time of power: the Assyrians. The Assyrian Empire had made a habit of oppressing their neighbors, of victimizing them, disenfranchising them, scorning them, and utterly enslaving them in both chains and fear. Above all, they had no regard for God and definitely no regard for His people. This is where the prophet Nahum steps on to the scene.
So far, in our series on the Minor Prophets, we have seen God’s representatives bring words of judgment, warning, and hard truth to both God’s Chosen People and the surrounding evil nations that will one day answer to His righteous judgement. However, in the book of Nahum, God’s words through His prophet are pointed and direct. They are a drawn sword against the actions, attitudes, and activities of the nation of Assyria. They are also a word of comfort for God’s people who have been oppressed by Assyria for generations.
Nahum comforts God’s people with the idea and reality that God is the Author of Justice and He will repay and enact vengeance on their behalf. The picture we get is that God is fighting for His people against the evil that threatens to engulf them. The book of Nahum brings a comforting word for us today in that God still fights for His people. He still fights on your behalf, against your enemies, foes, and adversaries. It’s what He does. He cannot overlook evil and let it go undealt with; He must act. His perfect justice wins the day.
For His people, God is a shelter from trouble, a fortress in the battle, a shield against those who would try to overrun His plans. In Nahum 1:7-9, it is put this way: “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him, but with an overwhelming flood he will make an end of Nineveh; he will pursue his foes into the realm of darkness. Whatever they plot against the Lord he will bring to an end; trouble will not come a second time.”
The troubles of this world, the enemy of our soul, the injustice, oppression, and sin that we face, deal with, and are hurt by will ultimately answer to God. He promises to set things right in His time, He promises to comfort those who have been crushed, He promises divine justice in the most perfect way. He promises to comfort you when you enemies and adversaries strike in your life. May each of us lean on the promises of the One who fights for us and is fighting on our behalf.
Pastor Ben Bigaouette