The long drive during rush hour up the 710 Freeway from my apartment in Paramount, California to my classroom at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena was exhausting. The fact that class began at 6 p.m. and ended at 10 p.m. didn’t help matters. Some would argue that Medieval Church History would be the cherry on top of this sundae of fun. I, however, was looking forward to this class. I’m a history buff, and the middle ages was my absolute favorite of all the ages. I walk into the classroom and look to the back corner of the room—the few seats located along the left wall. John was already sitting there and he waved me over. John, Casey, and I were the few back-row dwellers in this class. I’m a firm believer in the fact that one learns best when sitting in the back row as far over to the left as possible. I sit down, pat John on the back, open up my legal pad, and lean back in my chair. The instructor, a PhD from University of Marburg, enters the room, spreads out his notes, and says, “Let’s pray!”
We all fold our hands and close our eyes like the good seminary students we all are.
“Heavenly Father,” the instructor begins. “We all have so much shit in our lives. Shit we need you to remove and remove quickly.”
I peek over at John, who is already laughing under his breath. Casey’s eyes were still closed as if this kind of prayer happened every night at his dinner table growing up.
Initially shocked—and definitely awake—I continued to listen to the prayer, and as the semester moved forward, I found these prayers refreshing. I concluded that perhaps there isn’t a more appropriate word for our personal sin than the word our brilliant, Marburg educated instructor used and continued to use throughout the class.
Over two years ago, I wrote about two items that still sit upon the desk in my office. One item is a die cast collectable, Case International Harvester tractor that my Grandpa Vander Lugt gave to me. Every time I look upon this tractor, I think about Grandpa Vander Lugt and remember the wonderful times we shared, the grace and love he exuded, and the fun we had together on his farm. The other item is a Breyer Arabian Horse my Grandpa Van Hill gave to me. Every time I look upon this horse, I remember his humor, his inventions, and the fun we had together playing games, massaging his feet, and riding in a cart behind his donkey Jake.
These small items—toys to the untrained eye—are reminders of two amazing men who touched my life in profound ways. We all have things that remind us of those we love. We all of things that remind us of who we are and where we have been. After crossing the Jordan River, God told Joshua to choose twelve men, one from each tribe of Israel. Each man was to choose a stone from the middle of the Jordan and stack them up at Gilgal. This stack of stones was to serve as a sign, so future generations could remember that God cut off the Jordan so the people could cross from the desert into the Promised Land. The stones were a memorial to an amazing God who delivers them, protects them, and provides for them (Joshua 4).
After conquering most of the Promised Land, the people unfortunately sinned against God. When they did this, God sent an angel from Gilgal (the exact place where the stones remained—still stacked to remind the people of God’s love and deliverance). Speaking about the nations of Canaan, the angel said to them, “I will not drive them out before you; they will become traps for you, and their gods will become snares to you” (Judges 2:3). Regrettably, because the people decided to let “excrement” overpower their lives, God decided to let their enemies stay in the land. Not only this, but those same enemies spend the entire book of Judges capturing the people, submitting them to slavery, and causing continual distress in their lives. In the same way, the stones at Gilgal reminded the people of their deliverance, the angel reminded the people that even though they’ve broken covenant, God will still deliver them. Fortunately, throughout the book of Judges, God selected judges to rise up and deliver his people over and over again.
One of my favorites, and most disgusting narratives in the Bible is about a judge named Ehud. Ehud was left-handed, which most scholars suggest means he was disabled and unable to use his right hand. The people of Israel did evil, so God had an obese king named Eglon attack and conquer the Israelites while making his headquarters in Jericho. Can you imagine how painful it was to see foreign invaders take over the city they so easily destroyed when they first entered the Promised Land? Eglon was gluttonous, greedy, and overindulging—he was the manifestation of Israel’s disgusting sin. As my Medieval Church History professor would have so eloquently said, “Eglon represented Israel’s feces.” After eighteen years of servitude to Eglon, God provides Israel with a disabled deliverer. Ehud fashions a double-edged sword and straps it to his right thigh—directly under his useless right hand. After presenting tribute to Eglon, Ehud walks back to the stones set up near Gilgal. Perhaps he was afraid to attack until he witnessed the stones that Joshua and the tribes set up earlier and was reminded of God’s love, power, and faithfulness. Seeing the stones, Ehud turns around, enters the palace, and stabs Eglon in the gut, spilling his bowels all over the place. Ehud then leaves the palace, again walks past the stones at Gilgal, and escapes. When he arrives at Seirah, Ehud blows a trumpet, and the Israelites repossess the land where they are free for the next eighty years (Judges 3:12-30).
How often do our problems seem so obese that we wonder if we’ll ever be able to overpower them? How often do we need to be reminded of God’s love, faithfulness, and power to remove the excrement from our lives? It isn’t a coincidence that Ehud is disabled or that he uses a double-edged sword to destroy his obese overlord—casting out the stench of sin. We need to be constantly reminded that God and God’s word provides the power and authority we desperately need to overcome those obese obstacles and disgusting dung that so often overwhelm our lives. The next time you pass by those “Stones of Gilgal” remember that wonderful message of freedom: God sent Jesus, the Word made Flesh, to help us overcome all our obese overlords and remove the stench that so often consumes us.
“For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”