A few months ago I took my family on vacation. Well, kind of a vacation. It was another city where I had a speaking engagement. As pastors kids, you learn that your vacations are wherever your family gets free lodging and an honorarium.
We spent one day walking around a nature preserve. It was a swampy, humid day so we went inside to find A/C. Inside the building, there was a live snake show going on. It wasn’t the best show, to be honest. Like the snake didn’t do any tricks or crack jokes or tap dance or anything.
Since we were late to the show, we couldn’t see a whole lot, because apparently snake shows draw quite a crowd! So, after the show, the kind, elderly lady snake-handler asked us if we wanted to see the snake up close.
We gently touched the snake. It was only a few feet long and seemed rather docile. When we were finished, the woman went to put the snake back in its cage. I’m sure it needed rest before the next show.
Somehow, in the transfer to the cage, the snake got really unhappy. It found a way to coil around her arm and constrict. She began trying to push it off of her arm and into the cage. Then the snake lunged out of the cage back at her.
She jumped out of the way, but the snake was now loose in the room as we told our kids,
“That silly snake!”
“It’s just checking out the room!”
“Look how much fun it’s having!”
Honestly, I wasn’t having fun.
As milliseconds turned into seconds which felt like hours, the snake moved quickly through the room, circling us. Then, out of nowhere, the gentle elderly woman struck just as fast as the snake. She grabbed it with both hands, held it firm and shoved it into the cage with like a snake-handling ninja who volunteers at the wildlife refuge on weekends.
She was spectacular!
I only peed a little bit.
I don’t know about you, but snakes make me uneasy.
This week of Lent is actually about a snake. Now, Biblically (and in anthropologically) snakes are usually seen in as creatures that end life. But, in this story moment, a snake is seen as a creature that gives life.
In Numbers 21:4-9 there’s a story where God has been delivering the Israelites from Egypt. You’d think that God pulling people out of slavery would make the people happy, but often the Israelites keep getting cranky.
This is another moment where the Israelites get hangry. They are unhappy because there is no food and no water (even though God has been feeding them the whole time – just not exactly what they wanted).
So, God sends a bunch of poisonous snakes into the land.
I guess you could say, he releases a bunch of snakes on a plain. (Hey-O!)
As the snakes begin biting the people, God tells Moses to make a snake out of bronze and put it up on a pole where everyone could see it. If someone had been bitten by a snake, all they had to do was look at the bronze snake and they would live.
They probably weren’t having fun.
Now that’s a weird story, huh?!
But, as usual, this story is simultaneously a narrative and a meta-narrative.
There’s a truth going on within this story that is fascinating.
We know we live in a world where things are broken. This earth has a poison to it just like these creatures that slither on the earth.
But, this story isn’t about earth, it’s about eyes.
When the pain of earth is striking at our heels,
when the brokenness of the world is poisoning our lives,
the question isn’t about the earth. It’s about our eyes.
Where are we looking?
Every day, humans have between 12,000 and 60,000 thoughts. That’s a huge range! I’m assuming that 60,000 thoughts are mothers who have lots of errands and families to run. I would also assume that 12,000 thoughts are Sundays when guys watch football.
Most importantly, studies show that 80% of our thoughts each day are negative.
Is that because 80% of the things in our lives are negative? Or is it because we’re focusing in the wrong place.
Over and over again the Bible says that our focus matters.
In the New Testament Jesus has a conversation with a fellow named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a Pharisee. He’s good at religion (which is really just the earthly version of relationship with God). Nic comes to Jesus to ask about the Kingdom of Heaven. He’s done with the earthly stuff. He’s interested in Heaven.
Jesus tells him in this conversation,
I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? (John 3:12)
Then, Jesus references the snake story and says:
Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3:14-15)
When we fix our eyes on the things of earth
what we see is temporary
what we see is broken
what we see is futile
But, when we fix our eyes on Jesus
what we see is eternal
what we see is restored
what we see is fruitful
And ultimately, where we fix our eyes will determine our future.
This week of Lent, fix your eyes on the things of heaven, not the things of earth.
KEVIN STAMPER | LEAD PASTOR | @KEVINSTAMPER