Trouble in paradise?

Trouble in paradise? Having just returned from a weekend of preaching in Honolulu, Karen and I were reminded once again of not only how warm and gracious  the Hawaiian people are, but also how strikingly beautiful is their island home. The perhaps perfunctory flight attendant’s “Welcome to paradise” certainly isn’t far from the truth. In fact, islanders in our community of faith recall that a mainland visitor to Honolulu over a century ago stood atop the 1,200-foot Pali lookout and commented how the lush green valleys of blossoms and palms spreading northward toward the white beaches and azure sea  reminded her of scenes of heaven. We walked to that same Pali lookout on Sunday with my cousin, Ralph Watts III, and his wife Sharon, who serve our church as president of the Hawaii Conference. Reveling in that paradise moment, we missed the posted warning sign that potential trouble lay ahead. The trade winds that blow off the Pacific onto the north shore are steady and strong as they sweep up the valley to the Pali cliffs. So you can lean into the winds as you stand at the railing and gaze over the emerald floor below. That’s why nobody noticed the tiny yellow and black creatures that were “surfing” the same trade winds, darting low to avoid being swept away in the wind, but quickly resurfacing high into the air again. Nobody noticed, that is, until one of them found refuge from the blowing in the nook of Sharon’s finger, stinging her when she tried to brush it away.  We’d been warned—but we had ignored the posted sign in the parking lot: “CAUTION—BEES.” Why even in paradise there can be trouble! Because, let’s face it, as breath-taking as the Hawaiian islands are, this earth home of ours is hardly the paradise it was once created to be. The sting of economic downturn and job losses, of unexpected health crises, of unanticipated family and marital troubles—the stinging of personal sin and painful guilt—it isn’t that we weren’t warned. It’s just that we keep hoping the warning won’t apply to us. CAUTION—BEES. But alas we get stung with the ultimate sting. “The sting of death is sin” (I Corinthians 15:56). Is there no hope for us in this paradise lost? “But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 57). Good news for all the stung. The God of the universe entered into our fallen paradise, and by taking into himself the ultimate sting of sin and death at the cross he delivers all who want to be saved. That’s the critical truth underlying our new series “The Temple” (download podcasts at this website). Yes, “the hour of his judgment has come” (Revelation 14:7). But when the entire Court is on your side, judgment turns out to be the best news of all! For when the gavel falls and court is adjourned, then will come the words we’ve spent a life time awaiting: “Welcome to Paradise.”