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Archive for Gardens

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As a part of my preparation for last weekend’s message on the second Eden, I came across a list of 12 things that won’t be in heaven. Check it out:

1. No more sea (Revelation 21:1)
2. No more tears (Revelation 21:4)
3. No more death (Revelation 21:4)
4. No more mourning (Revelation 21:4)
5. No more crying (Revelation 21:4)
6. No more pain (Revelation 21:4)
7. No more thirst (Revelation 21:6)
8. No more wickedness (Revelation 21:8, 27)
9. No more Temple (Revelation (21:22)
10. No more night (Revelation 21:23-25; 22:5)
11. No more closed gates (Revelation 21:25)
12. No more curse (Revelation 22:3)

The curious representative on this list is the sea. I’ve been to the ocean as the primary destination of family vacations as you probably have. And like you, we had a pretty good time. So why is the sea absent from heaven? In biblical literature, the sea is symbolic of chaos and danger. Further, it is symbolic of evil. In previous chapters in Revelation, for example, the “beast” rises from the sea, then is cast into the lake of fire consummating his doom. Its an interesting concept, especially when you think of the children of Israel passing through the parted waters of the Red Sea, the story of Jonah, Jesus walking on water and calming the Sea of Galilee, and Paul’s shipwreck in Acts 27-28 en route to Rome.

Categories : Gardens
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Apr
09

Second Eden: The Garden of Forever

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Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:1-5, NLT).

The Bible begins with a garden and ends with a garden. It is the goal toward which all creation is moving. Sometimes people ask the question, “What is the meaning of life?” The short answer, for me anyway, is to view life as a gift from God whereby we come to know Him and enjoy him forever. The final garden of Scripture is a picture of life in eternity with God.

Before the end comes the end of evil. Revelation 20 describes the climactic end of evil. It’s not the conquest of evil, for that was achieved by Christ on the cross. With the coming of Christ comes the cessation of all evil in the world. On the heels of that end comes life forever with God in the garden.

The first thing the Apostle John wants the reader to know about heaven is that everything there is new. He writes of a new heaven, a new earth, and a new city (Jerusalem). At the same time, all that is old is gone forever. When John speaks of the newness of second Eden, he intends for us to understand that its not another of the same kind. It’s not a re-mastered or remixed edition of the old. It is new in kind. There is enough continuity that makes it recognizable, but this new heaven and new earth is the unveiling of a totally transformed and redeemed place. Everything that was lost in original Eden will then be redeemed and renewed.

The second thing John cites is that this city is holy and new, separate and unique from anything we have known or experienced. The fact that it is a city reminds us of the communal nature of our faith. And the fact that it comes down from God helps us understand that it is a gift. It’s not like our city’s growth which is often described as building up. It comes down from God. It’s beauty and presentation is like a bride prepared to come down the aisle.

The purpose of all of this is to restore God’s presence among his people…the kind of presence Adam and Eve enjoyed in original Eden where God came and spoke freely with them in the cool of the day. God is so vested in this new city that He calls it his home. Home is a place of consolation, and we find consolation from God as he wipes away all tears from our eyes. They are not tears of joy, but the tears that came from sin’s distortion of God’s purposes for people. This is such a vivid and certain image that God instructed John to put it in writing. It’s going to happen this way!
John pauses at this moment to share an invitation. The new heaven, the new earth and city have been unveiled for us so that we might live with hope. But there are many who are without hope.

“It is finished! I am the Alpha and Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be there God, and they will be my children” (Revelation 21:6-7).

This is Jesus’ invitation to find life and experience immortality in his presence in eternity. But the invitation implies a choice.

“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshippers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

In short, all are invited, but not all will accept the invitation. We may be tempted to read verse eight and then use it as an instrument of judgment or to make it a point of arrogance. But that’s not the point. The point of included verse eight is to remind us that as the people of God we are on mission. While we may be comforted and even inspired by John’s images of heaven, we must be reminded that we are called to carry the message to those who need the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.

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Apr
02

The Garden of Immortality

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John chapter 20 begins with this: “Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark…”
That simple phrase tells the reader that something transitional has happened. The plot has moved from the last day of the week to the first, and darkness is preparing to give way to dawn.

Early on Sunday morning while it was still dark Mary went to the tomb and saw the stone had been rolled away. There she made an assumption: someone had taken the body of the Lord. In a culture where grave robbing had become common enough to earn capital punishment, Mary assumed something was wrong. So she ran to tell the disciples. Peter and John ran to the tomb and looked in and went home. For the first time in three years Peter was speechless.

Even though the men left Mary lingered. She stayed and decided to take a look for herself. Surely her mind was preoccupied with her last memories—stuck in the yesterday of death and loss. She was hitched to history, so to speak. John reports that she was crying. Literally “wailing” as she looked into the tomb. She wept alone. Jewish culture valued community mourning so much that it was not uncommon for families to hire professional mourners to come along side them in times of grief. But in this instance, Mary wept by herself.

When your eyes are clouded with tears, your vision is distorted.

As the story unfolds we read that there were two angels in the tomb. The text is unclear as to whether or not Mary recognized them as such. It would appear that Mary stood in the midst of the supernatural and miraculous and didn’t even know it. As she turned to leave she saw Jesus. Again, she didn’t recognize him. She thought he was the gardener who had come to tend to the work of the day. Her tears kept her from seeing the reality of the present and the possibility of the future.

In that moment, Jesus asked her two questions. “Why are you crying?” and “Who are you looking for?” She offered no answer but we know that Mary was crying over something that wasn’t real and that she was looking for someone that wasn’t there. It occurred to me that most of our tears are Friday tears: tears of pain, loss, guilt, regret, failure, and sin. Tears tied to last week, last month, or last year. Many times we are like Mary, guilty of looking for something that doesn’t exist to bring comfort to our broken hearts. But things are different. It’s daybreak of the first day of the week.

It all turned when Jesus called her name. “Mary!” Upon hearing her name, Mary utters a new cry, “Teacher!” and clung to him. Jesus didn’t scold her for clinging to him. He simply wanted her to understand that with the resurrection a chapter had closed and a new one had begun. Things were different. Jesus wasn’t going back to his past three years of ministry. He was going forward. He would ascend, the Spirit would descend, and the Church would be birthed.

Because of that Mary was given a special job. She was called upon to carry the first gospel message to the disciples. Friday is over. Sunday has come. It’s a new day and there’s a new life to live.

Categories : Easter, Gardens
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heart.tree

Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, “Sit here while I go over there to pray.” He took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Then he returned to the disciples and found them asleep. He said to Peter, “Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour? Keep watch and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation. For the spirit is willing, but the body is weak!” Then Jesus left them a second time and prayed, “My Father! If this cup cannot be taken awayg unless I drink it, your will be done.” When he returned to them again, he found them sleeping, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. So he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again. Then he came to the disciples and said, “Go ahead and sleep. Have your rest. But look—the time has come. The Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Up, let’s be going. Look, my betrayer is here!” (Matthew 26:36-46, NLT)

One cannot help but notice struggle Jesus experienced coming to terms with the cross. Just as the crushing press would be lowered three times on the olives, Jesus prayed three times. His prayer is simple yet sustained, “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

The cup Jesus mentions is a reference to his crucifixion. If he drinks the cup he dies. If he does not drink the cup, we die. Can Jesus accept the Father’s will? His will is for the cup to pass. But the Father’s will is for him to drink the cup. I believe that the thing that enabled Jesus to accept the cup and drink it was his trust in the Father. Reason and rationale became secondary to his trust in God. In the words of my friend Tom Clegg, “You do not have a relationship unless your will can be crossed.” Clearly Jesus relationship with the Father is strong and his trust in the Father carries him through, in spite of what he knows.

We can identify with Jesus’ struggle. Adversity strikes and the challenges become difficult, often without notice. God does not ask us to “approve of” those things. But he may require that we accept those things. Our ability to accept adversity and grow through it is directly tied to our level of trust in God. Jesus was able to trust the Father in prayer because trust and prayer had been a habitual part of his entire earthly life. What if Jesus had never breathed a prayer until that dark night in Gethsemene? We cannot develop trust if the only time we pray is on the eve of crisis. Trust is cultivated through the daily disciplines of prayer, study, worship and reflection.

Categories : Gardens, Jesus, Prayer
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heart.tree

The warm light and brilliant colors of the Garden of Eden and the Garden of En Gedi give way to the darkness of the third biblical garden in my series, the Garden of Gethsemene. Gethsemene is an important garden because we immediately associate it with agony and suffering. It is not physical bodily suffering. That would come later in the chronology. Nonetheless, the suffering of Gethsemene is emotional, mental, and deeply spiritual.

I think Gethsemene is important because Jesus never appears more real and approachable than he is in that setting. Any doubts of his humanity are quickly erased as we try to understand what he experienced. If nothing else, we can at least appreciate his struggle, for in many ways his struggle is our struggle. The suffering of Gethsemene preceeds the suffering of Golgatha. I think it is, in a sense, the death before the death.

The word Gethsemene means “oil press.” In biblical times, olives were raised for their oil, and wherever you found an olive grove you could be sure to find an olive press nearby. The olives would be harvested and placed in a basket atop a flat surface. Then, a massive stone would be lowered onto the olives crushing them so that their precious oil could be extracted. This process would be repeated three times. The first rendering would produce the best oil. The final press would produce the poorest oil that would be used for fuel for lamps. This is important to our understanding of the text that I’ll get into tomorrow.

In the mean time, I pray that this week would be more than just another week. I pray that during each day of holy week you’ll experience Christ in a new, fresh way.

Categories : Gardens, Jesus, Prayer
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heart.tree

Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches (Genesis 2:8-10, NLT).

I cannot remember a year when my parents did not have a vegetable garden. Even in their late 80’s, they continue to till the soil, plant and water the seeds, and harvest the crop at the end of summer. As a kid, that was the image that came to mind whenever I heard the word “garden.” My first ministry assignment in St. Louis altered that mental picture. The church I served was across the street from the Missouri Botanical Gardens. One of the perks that came with pastoring that congregation was a key to the employee entrance located opposite our parking lot. Any time I wanted to go for a walk in the garden I simply let myself in. It was a different kind of garden, filled with exotic plants and trees from around the world. It was a sacred space in the midst of the steel and concrete of the city.

The Garden of Eden was certainly perfect, special and unique. The word garden is taken from a root that means “paradise,” referring to “an enclosed place.” In the strictest definition, a garden is a place that is set a part with unique boundaries, protected and distinct from the outside. So we can infer that the Garden of Eden was meant to be something special. The word Eden means “abundance” or “luxury.”

In one sense, all of creation became a garden in the galaxies. Yet in the midst of the goodness and perfection of creation, God planted a garden. It was not the garden of humankind, it was the garden of God; a sacred space where God could freely fellowship with the man and the woman. A holy place where God could demonstrate life as he intended, not unlike the holy of holies in the majestic Temple.

One can hardly begin to imagine such a place of beauty and abundance, where God crafted fellowship with human-kind and relationships between his created ones. I wonder if the language of Genesis can even begin to accurately describe what it was like. The verses read more like a definition than anything else. God placed the man and the woman he created in this garden.

But in the garden he also planted a choice. There was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and the Tree of Life. So what was the choice?
I don’t think the choice was between apples and oranges. I think at the core of the choice was the decision to be content to dwell in the image of God or to strive to become God. To make it about fruit is to miss the point of the story. To make it about contentment versus pride and ambition, however, hits pretty close to home, because that’s the stuff our daily decisions are made of.

As you know, Adam and Eve made the wrong choice. But the garden did not change, they changed. Their eyes were opened, they felt shame, and their innocence was lost. Death entered the picture. They were banished from the garden. Life outside the garden is no life. It is exile.

The good news is that in the midst of this tragic turn of events there is grace. God performed the first animal sacrifice and exchanged their humble fig leaves for animal skins. Even though they were evicted from the garden, God still cared for them and came to them. In his mercy God protected them from the tree they did not choose lest they live in their guilt forever. Their eviction was not punishment, it was protection. Neither was the image of God extinguished. Sometimes I think we’re so busy talking about the fall that we miss the grace that God immediately extended.

The first Eden fell, but the spiritual Eden is still with us. The story Adam and Eve, in a sense, is the story of the entire human race and all of creation. And the spirit of the original Eden is with us each time we sense that we were made for more than this; that there is more to life than this. We are trying to find Eden again. There’s a longing that aches and a hope that burns bright that there’s more to life that what we know and experience. We see glimpses of Eden from time to time. We hear it in a song or a story or even a smile. We see it in art and creation. We taste it in a meal shared over meaningful conversation.

All of these things are reminiscent of Eden, reminding us that we are not home, that we have been created for more, and that there’s more to come.
God created life and wants to be close to it. We have been exiled from Eden, yet we know it when we see it. That gives us hope, the hope that God is planting another garden and someday will put us in it.

Categories : Eden, Gardens, Genesis
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