Saturday, January 16, 2021

Damocles’ Sword


Have you ever felt on edge because you’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop? Perhaps it’s a financial burden looming on the horizon, such as a debt that must be repaid with no apparent means to do so. Perhaps it’s waiting for a test result to determine whether a dreaded illness threatens your future.

Maybe your child or other loved one is on a self-destructive path, running away from God straight to inevitable devastation. Or what if you were convicted of a crime and were waiting for sentencing, knowing that the outcome would be bad at best and fatal at worst?

In many situations like these, our anxiety and distress are aggravated by knowing that we are in some way responsible for the dilemma, whether through irresponsible spending, neglecting our health, careless parenting or even illegal acts.  If any of these situations ever apply to us, how should we live our life while we’re waiting for the resolution?

A well-known story illustrating an extreme example of such a situation is that of Damocles’ sword. During the fourth century BC, Dionysius II, tyrannical king of Sicily, had a power-hungry, opportunistic courtier named Damocles. When Damocles expressed his admiration and even envy of the king’s wealth, splendor and magnificent lifestyle, Dionysius II offered to trade places with him.

Damocles eagerly accepted and was seated on the royal throne, only to find that Dionysius II had arranged for a deadly sword to hang over his head, held in place only by a single hair of a horse's tail. How could Damocles enjoy living in luxury when his life could end at any moment? Ultimately he begged the king to let him resume his former life, having learned that grave, imminent danger accompanies great power and wealth.

Damocles was responsible for sacrificing his own peace of mind to acquire fortune and power, and he quickly regretted the consequences of his decision. But I wonder if he found true peace once he returned to his less exciting, but safer, life circumstances?

Ultimately we must all face the truth that at any moment we may be in life-changing, paradigm-shifting, even fatal peril. If we escape the immediate threat that is our primary concern at the moment, whether it is financial collapse, life-threatening illness, loss of a loved one, or even criminal penalties, do we breathe a sigh of relief and resume our carefree ways?

Scripture is clear that we are not promised tomorrow, and that no one but God knows what the next moment may bring (Proverbs 27:1). The fool whose goal was to build bigger barns to protect his amassed wealth did not know that he would die that same night (Luke 12:16-21). When we speak of scheduled events, we should always add, “Lord willing,” because His will surely prevails over our plans (James 4:13-15).

So how should a born-again Christian (John 3:3-8), one who is saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), live their life when danger looms? Fear is a natural but undesirable response, as is remorse or guilt if our own choices endangered us. Even if the calamity is not of our doing, all trouble can be traced back to the curse of sin, which affects all of us (Genesis 3).

If our sin has put us in peril, we should quickly ask for forgiveness, which God in His mercy will grant us (1 John 1:9). No matter how threatening the external circumstances, we should have the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7), for we can trust that He works all things together for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28).

No affliction can come near the child of God unless He allows it to accomplish His purpose (Job 1:8-12). We need not fear what man can do to us (Psalm 118:6; Hebrews 13:6), for if God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31) The worst that can happen to the saved soul is physical death, which is then immediately counteracted by eternity in Heaven (John 3:16).

As James and Paul remind us, we can have joy in the Lord through all our trials and dangers (James 1:2; Philippians 4:4-13; 2 Corinthians 11:23-27), for His grace is sufficient, and His strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

But what happens when the immediate trial passes and we experience resolution?

Our sin nature leads us to drift away from the Lord once the imminent danger is over, as we forget that without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Our faith grows stronger in the valleys than on the mountain tops, for our pride seduces us into believing that we are responsible for and deserve our own successes, rather than seeing them as a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:13; 5:19; 1 Peter 4:10).

In truth, each of us, whether saved or unsaved, has a lethal sword of some sort hanging over our head by a single thread. At any moment, the thread could break, destroying our physical body or our earthly life as we know it, or it could hold, protecting us from disaster. These threats result directly from our sin nature, for since Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Genesis 3), every one of us has been plagued not only by the consequences of sin, but by aging, sickness, and physical death (Romans 6:23; James 1:15).

The unsaved should rightly fear the devil, who not only kills the physical body but throws the unsaved soul into everlasting hell (Luke 12:4-5). For that person, Damocles’ sword dropping is truly a disaster of eternal consequence, for after physical death, there is no escape from eternal damnation. Now is therefore the time of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2), before it is too late!

Should born-again Christians live in fear of the next calamity? No, we should trust God, Who is still on the throne, to do what is best for His children and to deliver us (2 Corinthians 1:10). He has given us richly all things to enjoy (1 Timothy 6:17), He provides for all our needs (Luke 12:22-32), and every moment of every day is a gift from Him (James 1:17).

If the thread breaks and the sword pierces one of God’s children, we will be absent from the body but present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). Every earthly trial will fade (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:17) and every earthly blessing will pale in comparison to one look at His precious face! Our physical senses cannot even begin to imagine the delights He is preparing for us! (Isaiah 64:4; 1 Corinthians 2:9)

God has not given us the spirit of fear (Romans 8:15), but of power, of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7), for His perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18). We should cast our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7), for He cares for us! We should not be anxious about any trial, known or unknown, present or future, but pray to Him for deliverance, thanking Him in advance for the optimal outcome (Philippians 4:6).

May we use every day to serve Him, for the time is soon coming when He will return for us at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17) or bring us home to Himself.  May we thank Him for the gift of each breath, using it to enjoy and praise Him for the many blessings He has given us! 

© 2017 Laurie Collett
Edited and reposted from the archives

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Great Adventure

I dreamt that my husband and I are at our favorite beach. The beach looks familiar but the condo where we usually stay and the neighboring condos are gone, replaced by long, gray barracks. I decide I’m going to camp out on the beach in a small, triangular, bright orange nylon pup tent. I set it up and drive stakes in the sand.

I look out the tent window and see a brilliant blue sky with a few wispy clouds like ostrich feathers. Suddenly a tsunami sweeps me away, still in the tent, which is riding the crest of an enormous wave. I’m amazed that I’m not underwater, and rather than experiencing terror, I feel exhilarated to be having this fantastic adventure.

Upon awakening I still feel oddly joyful rather than anxious. When trying to interpret the dream, I remember that the night before, a local Christian outreach group had sent me an email with the subject line “Great Adventure.” It urged the reader to follow God’s will at all times (Luke 22:42), trusting that He will provide “fantastic opportunities” to serve Him (Exodus 23:25; Joshua 24:24; etc.) and be joyful in His blessings (Psalm 32:11), even during trials and adversity (Acts 20:24).

Confirmation that I was on the right track in deciphering the dream came from a Charles Stanley devotional we read the morning after I had the dream, entitled “Fantastic Adventure.” It too reminded us that even when the world is in turmoil and our life seems like it is turned upside down, Christians can experience the peace that passes all understanding (Philippians 4:7) and the joy of His salvation (Psalm 21:1; Isaiah 61:3,10).

If we trust God and keep our minds fixed on Him, instead of on the world’s chaos, He will keep us in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). Even better, we can eagerly anticipate that extraordinary times bring forth extraordinary opportunities to serve Him (Ephesians 5:16), as He guides us through a fantastic adventure. The Chinese pictograph for “crisis” is the same as the pictograph for “opportunity.”

During this past year of upheaval in everyone’s lifestyle, health, ministries, finances, and even liberties, the beach has been our place of refuge that God has so graciously provided for us. It is a place where we can enjoy the majesty and inspiration of His creation (Psalm 19:1), and relative peace and solitude encouraging us to grow closer to each other and to Him.

Yet it is also a place of tremendous contrasts. One moment the water may be as still as glass; the next, churned up by a raging storm, just as Jesus’ followers experienced on the Sea of Galilee (Luke 8:22-25). A thunderous downpour may be followed by the clean fragrance of ozone and a brightly colored rainbow on the horizon, reminding us of God’s faithfulness (Psalm 40:10; Lamentations 3:23), and of His covenant never again to destroy the earth by water (Genesis 9:11-17).

And so it is with our lives. Peace, joy and fulfillment in serving Him, interspersed with heartbreak over the staggering spread of the pandemic; loss of beloved brothers and sisters in Christ; and senseless division, hatred and even violence that render our once God-fearing nation (Psalm 33:12) scarcely recognizable and awaiting His judgment (Psalm 2:1-5).

In the dream, the beach was familiar but the housing situation was very different, our distinctive living quarters gone and now blending into dull uniformity. This may symbolize loss of personal property and privileges that we may hold dear, perhaps a warning from God not to become too attached to the things of this world (Matthew 6:19-21), even though He in His abundant benevolence has provided them (1 Timothy 6:17).

My camping out on the beach in a modest tent is reminiscent of the Israelites camping in the wilderness as they journeyed to the Promised Land (Exodus 33:7), and of God’s faithfulness to lead them by day and to tabernacle with them at night (Exodus 13:21-23). Once we are saved by faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4) as the only Way to Heaven (John 14:6), His Holy Spirit enters the tabernacle of our body (2 Corinthians 1:22). Yet this mortal body is just a temporary dwelling for Him, and once we are absent from the body, we shall be present with the Lord, eternally in His presence (2 Corinthians 5:8).

To secure the tent, I placed stakes in the sand, clearly not intending this to be a permanent dwelling, nor to build a fortress in this transient earth (Matthew 7:24-27), but to allow mobility as God called me to the next lap of His journey. Similarly, the Israelites were able to wait overnight where God stopped them, uplifted by His Shekinah Glory filling the tabernacle, and to resume following Him the next day as He led them with a traveling cloud (Exodus 13:21-23).

The glorious, heavenly view through the tiny tent window calls to mind that we are to fix our gaze on Him and on things above, and not to become preoccupied with the cares of this world (2 Corinthians 4:17-18). With that perspective, we need not be troubled even by catastrophic events (2 Corinthians 4:8-16). In the dream, the tsunami was turned from a destructive force to a dynamo of energy that lifted me high above the current and allowed me to ride the crest of a great wave, experiencing a great adventure.

It reminded me of the disciples’ question about Jesus:  “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him!” (Matthew 8:27).

The word “great” can mean not only “grand” or a superlative form of “good,” but also “awesome” in the sense of “terrible.”  Our God is not only supremely good (Exodus 34:6; Psalm 52:1), but also One to inspire awe and terror in His righteous judgment on those who mock Him and have not trusted His Son (Ecclesiastes 12:14; Psalm 9:8-17).

Yet God can turn even the most destructive blows from the devil into instruments for His children’s good and for His glory, as He did with Joseph sold into slavery (Genesis 50:20) and Christ on the cross. He can truly work all things together for good for those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

In these End Times, He may allow us to experience one or more great adventures. We can succumb to fear and despair as we face the onslaughts of the devil, or we can pass over them, uplifted by our Lord’s unseen hand, to experience the thrill of His sure victory (1 Corinthians 15:57) and the blessing of being used by Him to accomplish His perfect will.

God may have placed us here, like Queen Esther, for His purposes, “for such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). May we use these opportunities wisely, seeing them as fantastic opportunities rather than frightening ordeals. May we serve Him boldly and following His leading until He comes again!

The world may be sinking in chaos, but as born-again Christians (John 3:3-8), we have the blessed and lively hope (Titus 2:13; 1 Peter 1:3) of the Rapture! What greater adventure could there be than to instantaneously rise to the clouds, in glorified bodies that will never age, die, sin or feel pain or sorrow (1 Corinthians 15:35-57), united with Christ and with our loved ones in Him forever?

© 2021 Laurie Collett