Sunday, April 16, 2017

Be grateful for life's thorns

My childhood was spent in the bright lights of a major metropolitan area. Every couple of years or so, we would make the trek to my father’s rural roots in middle Georgia to visit extended family. Those trips were always an adventure for this little city girl, because the way and pace of life there were so different from my own.

One of those trips included a visit to my great-uncle’s farm. Besides getting up close and personal with cows and watching young men in dirty overalls fill a barn with curtains of tobacco, we also picked blackberries. It was a hot summer day and I was wearing shorts. We were all happily filling our buckets with berries when someone in front of me moved quickly, causing a bush to whip back against my bare leg. One by one, the thorns on the branch that blew back bit into my skin from ankle to knee. The barbs dug into my flesh and wouldn’t let go as blood trickled out around each pierced point of entry.  I felt paralyzed, too afraid to move for fear of further injury. Eventually my father came to my rescue and slowly, one by one, pulled out each thorn.  I have no recollection of ever eating the berries, but even all these years later I haven’t forgotten the sight of those thorns in my leg, the blood, or the pain.

Can you imagine a world without thorns? It started out that way — thornless. Then, Adam did the one thing God told him not to do and, as a result, the ground was cursed with thorns and thistles (Genesis 3:17-19). Thorns are the blemish on God’s perfect paradise. From the moment when Adam disobediently ate from the forbidden tree, thorns became the reminder of sin and how it completely changed the landscape for every single human being ever to walk on this earth. Sin separates us from God and his perfect paradise.

The next human on record encountering thorns is Moses. Moses murdered a man and left town to escape the repercussions. He was an experienced sinner and other people knew it. That’s painful on many levels (don’t ask me how I know). Moses was still living with the pain of his past when he came face to face with a ‘hassәnәh’ (Exodus 3). The original Hebrew word ‘hassәnәh’ is translated as a thorny bush. This thorny bush was on fire, but it stayed green, never charring. The voice calling out to Moses from that fiery, thorny bush was the same one that Adam heard curse the ground with thorns. Moses’ eyes saw sizzling thorns but his ears heard God’s voice telling him to lead the Israelites out of slavery and into the Promised Land. He said it was a land flowing with milk and honey. Can you hear the hope of paradise coming through the pain of the curse?

It wouldn’t be the last time God showed up in the midst of the flesh-piercing curse.
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.”  John 19:1-3
Jesus suffered being beaten and then, the thorny exemplification of sin pierced his forehead as he, too, was killed. All of it was an act of total and perfect obedience to God. His obedience in taking on the thorns of this world is what bushhogged that path for you and me. It is the ultimate message of deliverance for us.

Have I been disobedient? Have I eaten from the wrong tree?  Have I killed somebody?  Maybe not physically, but what about with my words?  Maybe.  Absolutely. Whatever I’ve done to place myself close enough for the thorns of this world to grab me and try to take me down, God has provided a way back to Him. It doesn’t mean I’m not going to get hurt or that I’m not going to bleed.

That day in the field of blackberries, the thorns clinging to my leg got my attention. I was suddenly aware of the danger surrounding me and never more grateful for a loving father who would gently take them from me. It was a reminder that the thing that brings you down just might be the very thing God shows up in with his message of deliverance and redemption.

This was originally published April 16, 2017 on the Press and Standard site.