2 Kings 8:16-24 (Part 1 of 2)

Jehoram Reigns in Judah

Yesterday, we talked about raising sons and using my dad’s relationship with my brother and me as the example. Today, let’s talk about raising daughters. In Christian circles, we talk about our men as being God-ordained as being the leader of the household and that is what God’s Word in so many ways teaches us. God’s Word does not tell us that women are to be treated like second class citizens. It’s just that man and woman have different but equally important roles in the home. It is God’s design that we, as men, provide the principal provision for our homes. It is also our job to create a safe environment of a home so that our wife and our children can flourish and become what God has intended them to be. Man is charged with protecting his family’s security even to the point of giving his life for his wife or his children.

None of these qualities essential to the proper function of a home that are given to men by God diminishes in any way the responsibilities of a wife in a home. In fact, inside the home, it is where a wife has the most influence, even more so than a husband and father. The father/husband sets the stage for his family to flourish but it is the wife that makes things happen within that environment. Equally important roles. None more or less valuable than the other. That is not to say that in some marriages that the design comes out different due to the talents that God gave an individual husband and an individual wife or the balance of duties ebbs and flows over time due to the needs of the family and of the spouses. However, the general design for family is as I have stated previously.

And it is within the home that a wife and mother generally exerts great influence over the children and over the husband. Whether you are a Christ follower or not, this fact seems to be generally true for us all here in America. There is an old saying in our culture that floats around and it gets laughs each time it is said, “if momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobobdy happy!”  and the other one, “Happy wife; happy life!” There are family power structure implications in this comment. There are sexual connotations in this comment. We laugh at these old sayings with a nervous chuckle a lot of times. We laugh at comedy because the best comedy always has truth at its core. Nothing could be more true than in marital relationships between men and women. These sayings recognize a truth. There is simply the recognition that women/wives/mothers exert great influence in our families – over their children and over their husbands – and without really trying hard at it.

Thus, raising daughters, we must teach them that they are valuable not only in their careers but in their marriages as well. They have important roles to play in marriages that are critical to the success of a good marriage and we should never let them marry into a marriage where they are not going to be valued, allowed to flourish, and to exert the influence over their family that God intended for them to have, in the way that He intended them to have it. We should examine the potential son-in-law to determine if he will provide the proper balance for our daughters as wives and mothers. He must provide for her, protect her and allow her to flourish. Secondly, we must raise our daughters (1) to look for a godly man, but just as importantly (2) to use their powerful influence within the family unit in a wise and godly way and not for sport or power or greed.

The same is true when we examine the potential daughter-in-law that we will be handing our sons over to as husbands. As in any marriage, this potential daughter-in-law will exert great influence over your son. She will mold his home, where he lives, how he raises his kids, how he spends his money, what he spends it on and even the relationship he has with you. This potential daughter-in-law will also exert great influence over your son when it comes to his Christian walk. To deny these facts is simply to deny the dynamics of the influence of a woman/wife has over her man/husband. Thus, as parents it is important that we raise our sons to recognize when there is the God given right balance in a relationship with the woman that they may have fallen in love with.

There is no more important role in a family than that of a mother and wife. Who gets that role in your son’s life should be the biggest influence that you want to have over your son. It is important. We have seen throughout our lives and you know it’s true! We have seen in history and we know it’s true. Just look at our bible passage for today. The influence over an entire nation’s relationship with God, the real, one and only true God, was shaped and influenced by a wife’s influence in the home over her husband, the king. Let’s read that passage, 2 Kings 8:16-24, now for the first of two times with an eye toward the powerful influence that a wife and mother has on her family (and in this case a nation):

16 Jehoram son of King Jehoshaphat of Judah began to rule over Judah in the fifth year of the reign of Joram son of Ahab, king of Israel. 17 Jehoram was thirty-two years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eight years. 18 But Jehoram followed the example of the kings of Israel and was as wicked as King Ahab, for he had married one of Ahab’s daughters. So Jehoram did what was evil in the Lord’s sight. 19 But the Lord did not want to destroy Judah, for he had promised his servant David that his descendants would continue to rule, shining like a lamp forever.

20 During Jehoram’s reign, the Edomites revolted against Judah and crowned their own king. 21 So Jehoram[a] went with all his chariots to attack the town of Zair.[b] The Edomites surrounded him and his chariot commanders, but he went out at night and attacked them[c] under cover of darkness. But Jehoram’s army deserted him and fled to their homes. 22 So Edom has been independent from Judah to this day. The town of Libnah also revolted about that same time.

23 The rest of the events in Jehoram’s reign and everything he did are recorded in The Book of the History of the Kings of Judah. 24 When Jehoram died, he was buried with his ancestors in the City of David. Then his son Ahaziah became the next king.

In this passage, we see that King Jehoshaphat arranged the marriage between Jehoram, his son, and Athaliah, the daughter of wicked Ahab and Jezebel. Athaliah followed the idolatrous ways of her parents in the northern kingdom, bring Baal worship into Judah and starting the southern kingdom’s decline. Where Jeroham died, his son, Ahaziah, became king. Then, when Ahaziah was killed in battle, Athaliah murdered all her grandsons except Joash and made herself queen (see 2 Kings 11:1-3). Jeroham’s marriage may have been politically advantageous, but spiritually it was deadly.

As you see here, the wife, Athaliah, had great influence over her husband. It was not necessarily that he was a weak and docile man. It is simply that if you do not recognize the influence that a wife and mother has in a marriage, you are simply kidding yourself. That’s why as parents of sons that it is highly important that we raise our sons not only to treat women well but also to discern the nature of the woman that they are going to marry. When he marries her, he is handing his home over to her. When he marries her, he is giving direct influence over 2/3 or more of his life to her. When he marries her, she will shape his views on the other third of his life as well, his job – what it is, where it is, how he views it, etc. I am not saying these things to bash women but rather to recognize their powerful influence in a man’s life.

We may be charged by God to protect our families but our wives are charged by God to make that family a family. Let us influence our children to choose wisely and let us influence them to be the kind of spouse that uses their role in a godly way and as God intended it. It can change the course of our children’s lives but who they marry. Just look at this situation in Judah’s history. This is a turning point in Judah’s history. Why? Because of a marriage.

We may not have a son or daughter entering in our a royal marriage such as this but it is just as important to your family’s history as this marriage was to Judah’s history. Let’s us raise daughters who will use their influence in marriage in a godly way that promotes the well being of her family and their family relationships and their relationships with Jesus Christ. Let us raise son who play their role in marriage appropriately by providing, protecting and creating environments for their wives and children to flourish in ways that are sacrificial in nature. Let us raise these children to recognize their roles in marriage and use them wisely. Let us raise them to choose their spouse wisely.

Amen and Amen.

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2 Kings 8:7-15 (Part 2 of 2)

Hazael Murders Ben-Hadad

Here we are on Father’s Day 2019. It is the first one without my father of 56 years, one month, and 27 days. He passed away almost 8 months ago now on October 22, 2018. For all the things about dad that drove me crazy and there were plenty, I miss him terribly, especially on a day like today. The thing that I learned after becoming a father myself was that my dad did the best he could within the limitations of the gifts that God gave him. I realized that he was the best dad he could be given his fleshly limitations. I used to get angry at him for not being the perfect dad but when I became a dad myself, you realize that while you are raising a child you are totally unprepared for each coming year of their lives. Each child is different and each year of their lives is different. Just when you think you’ve got this parenting thing down, that darn kid gets older and has new issues. So, I just learned to love my dad for what he was able to provide for me and what he was able to teach me given that I came with no instructions.

One of the many things that I appreciate that my dad taught me was that it is a cruel world out there and that there are consequences for your actions. His disciplines for breaking his “house rules” were firm but fair but they were always there. He never redrew the lines for anything. So many parents today do not enforce their rules for behavior for their kids and as a result, there are no rules. But with my dad, the rules were not lines in the sand to be obliterated, they were lines in completely cured cement. We knew when we crossed them that there would be consequences. We knew that the consequences would come and without fail, and without negotiation, and without compromise. We knew the rules. We broke them. We paid for it. That’s just the way it was with my dad. I hated his unyielding disciplinary nature when I was growing up in his house. But now, I am thankful for it. I know that the there are consequences for behavior.

Another thing that he taught me was endurance. I even know that sometimes in life you have to endure things that are distasteful to you personally and that you cannot whine you way out of it. I know that sometimes we just have to get through things and get to the other side. You then emerge as a better man for having gone through the tough thing. My dad expected me to finish things. My dad expected me to never give up and keep on plugging away. Sometimes, too, he taught, that we must endure things that are because of mistakes we have made but other times that the world is unfair. In an unfair world, you sometimes just have to endure and this storm too shall pass. This lesson in endurance and getting through to the other side (even if you are dragging yourself on to the shore) was useful in sports growing up but it has been useful in difficult times as an adult.

Another thing that he taught me was the difference between right and wrong. He taught us to do our best to be honorable young men. And this circles back to consequences and endurance. The rules of the house had as much to do with doing the right thing and honoring our parents by being truthful with them. We got in more trouble for lying about what we had done wrong than for what we had done wrong in the first place. Being fleshly human beings, we would try to preserve our rear ends (literally and figuratively) by stretching the truth, white lies, or just bold-faced lies. We were always found out. See consequences and endurance paragraphs.

All of these character building aspects of becoming a man seems to be disappearing among dads these days. Many dads are not truly part of their sons’ lives because of divorce and want to be Disneyland dads when they are around. Many dads who are a part of their kids lives on a daily basis want to be their friend and pal and not their dad. My dad told us many times, “I was not put on this earth to be your friend. I was put on this earth to be your dad.” It is from dads that we are supposed to learn right from wrong, consequences, and endurance. That is what they were put on the earth for.

It was that heartless, soulless approach to the vision of Elisha from Hazael that made me think of what kind of sons are we growing in today’s society. So often, you hear stories today of kids without fathers who commit crimes that seem to be committed by boys without souls. And often in each case, these heartless, soulless boys had no father, no real authority figure in their lives. So with that in mind, let’s read this passage, 2 Kings 8:7-15, once more today before we move on to the next passage:

7 Elisha went to Damascus, the capital of Aram, where King Ben-hadad lay sick. When someone told the king that the man of God had come, 8 the king said to Hazael, “Take a gift to the man of God. Then tell him to ask the Lord, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’”

9 So Hazael loaded down forty camels with the finest products of Damascus as a gift for Elisha. He went to him and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, has sent me to ask, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’”

10 And Elisha replied, “Go and tell him, ‘You will surely recover.’ But actually the Lord has shown me that he will surely die!” 11 Elisha stared at Hazael[a] with a fixed gaze until Hazael became uneasy.[b] Then the man of God started weeping.

12 “What’s the matter, my lord?” Hazael asked him.

Elisha replied, “I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!”

13 Hazael responded, “How could a nobody like me[c] ever accomplish such great things?”

Elisha answered, “The Lord has shown me that you are going to be the king of Aram.”

14 When Hazael left Elisha and went back, the king asked him, “What did Elisha tell you?”

And Hazael replied, “He told me that you will surely recover.”

15 But the next day Hazael took a blanket, soaked it in water, and held it over the king’s face until he died. Then Hazael became the next king of Aram.

In this passage, we see Hazael think of this vision of murder and slaughter as “such great things” (v. 13). When I read that verse over and over again, I was struck by the heartlessness of it. And then you go on to see that Hazael murdered his way into the throne of Aram. He had regard to right vs. wrong. He only had regard for what he wanted. He was an evil man in his heart. No sense of right or wrong. No sense of the consequences of his actions. No sense of simply enduring the things that he like about his current situation. He was selfish and childlike grabbing for the toys that he wanted and not caring who got hurt in the process.

Sound like a spoiled child? That is the challenge to us as dads. Are we raising spoiled children that will end as adults who act like Hazael? That is the challenge to us as dads. We must teach our children right from wrong (those things that God has wired all of us to know). We must teach our children that there are consequences for our actions. We must teach them that life is not fair and sometimes there is nothing that you can do about it. We must teach them that there are things that we can change in life but we are bound by the difference between right and wrong in doing so. We must teach our children about the ultimate Father. We must teach them about God. We must teach them about God and His Word. We must teach them about the consequences of bad behavior and sin as laid out in the pages of the Bible. We must teach them about their sin nature and how we need Jesus as a result. We must first and foremost live all of these things out (given our own sin nature) in front of our children. We must be present in their lives and be able to be more than their pal. We must be present and enforce consequences. We must be present to teach them endurance. We must be present to teach them about right and wrong. We must be present to teach them about Jesus Christ. We must be present to live these things out in front of them.

On this first Father’s Day without my dad, thanks dad! Thanks for being tough on me. Thanks for all the things you taught me. Thanks for being my advice giver as I began parenting myself. Thanks for being my friend as we both grew older and had raised our kids. Thanks for … being my dad!

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 8:7-15 (Part 1 of 2)

Hazael Murders Ben-Hadad

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you see something bad about to happen either to yourself or, especially, to someone else and you try to scream but nothing comes out of your mouth? You attempt with all of your might to scream but it’s just these low guttural sounds that only you can hear! I have had those dreams like many of us have had. You see the monster about to attack one of your friends but you can’t get the words out and you lose your friend. Or you are about to have something bad happen to you in a dream that you try to scream for help and nothing comes out and you are about to get hurt physically or extremely traumatized emotionally and then you wake out all out of sorts and you feel weird the rest of the day.

That’s kind of the feeling I get in today’s world where the world seems to purposefully be straying from God. The world seems to be glorifying behaviors that are clearly against the Word of God in the name of personal freedom. If you oppose the expressions of personal freedom then you are backwards and out of step with the culture. In the culture, there is a general belief in God still, I believe, but it is a God that is different from the true God revealed in the pages of the Bible. It is a god that is simply happy for you to be self-actualized. It is a god about you realizing your full self. It is a god about you being happy. It is a god that cuts deals with you about what the Bible says. It is a god that just wants you to be the best you that you can be. It is a god that serves your needs. When you simply point out that this type of god is not the God of the Bible, then you are labeled as being against personal freedom and backwards. God is a god of love and a god of love only.

That was the thing that I thought this morning as I read 2 Kings 8:7-15. The thing that I thought of was the fact that there seems to be a trend toward changing and fashioning God into who WE want Him to be to suit our needs. I think that God weeps over this. Just because we want to change God into who we want Him to be does not change Him. That’s the thing that makes God weep. He sees us going off the rails and he weeps over our free will choices knowing that something bad is going to happen – like in those dreams that I talked about. With that idea in mind, let’s read this passage now for the first of two times. This time let’s look at it, asking the question why does Elisha weep in this passage:

7 Elisha went to Damascus, the capital of Aram, where King Ben-hadad lay sick. When someone told the king that the man of God had come, 8 the king said to Hazael, “Take a gift to the man of God. Then tell him to ask the Lord, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’”

9 So Hazael loaded down forty camels with the finest products of Damascus as a gift for Elisha. He went to him and said, “Your servant Ben-hadad, the king of Aram, has sent me to ask, ‘Will I recover from this illness?’”

10 And Elisha replied, “Go and tell him, ‘You will surely recover.’ But actually the Lord has shown me that he will surely die!” 11 Elisha stared at Hazael[a] with a fixed gaze until Hazael became uneasy.[b] Then the man of God started weeping.

12 “What’s the matter, my lord?” Hazael asked him.

Elisha replied, “I know the terrible things you will do to the people of Israel. You will burn their fortified cities, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women!”

13 Hazael responded, “How could a nobody like me[c] ever accomplish such great things?”

Elisha answered, “The Lord has shown me that you are going to be the king of Aram.”

14 When Hazael left Elisha and went back, the king asked him, “What did Elisha tell you?”

And Hazael replied, “He told me that you will surely recover.”

15 But the next day Hazael took a blanket, soaked it in water, and held it over the king’s face until he died. Then Hazael became the next king of Aram.

In this passage, we see Elisha, the man of God, began to weep when he was about to tell Hazael of his vision of upcoming events. The choices that men were going to make both among Israel enemies and among Israel’s leaders that will lead to this vision coming true. God weeps over our choices. It grieves His heart. He does not condemn us to hell as hellfire and brimstone preachers might think. We condemn ourselves by our own choices, our own sins. In that, God weeps.

What makes God weep? He weeps when we decide for ourselves that we know better than He. He weeps when we say that what is eternally true by His definition is no longer true. We decide for ourselves that it is now OK and that what God said was for a different time and a different people. When we do that, we start defining for ourselves what is true and right and holy. God weeps.

When we wrest control of the truth and make it our own. God weeps. When the truth is no longer external to us. God weeps. When we say sin is no longer sin. God weeps. When we think God has only love but no justice. God weeps. When we think God and me have a deal concerning our pet sin(s), God weeps. When we no longer trust His Word as the final authority in our lives, God weeps. When we pick and choose what parts of His Word we believe, God weeps. When we make God into our own personal god like a personal vending machine, God weeps.

God is external. God defines what it true and real and He defines what is holy and what is sin. Not us. Let us be a people that gives the truth back to God. Let us be a people that allows Him to define truth for us and that we recognize that it is external to us. Otherwise, God weeps. God weeps because He sees the coming disaster. God weeps for our own condemnation.

Thank God that He has provided us the truth. Thank God that He has provided us with the Holy Spirit to draw us to the truth that we innately need and often don’t even know it. Thank God we have Jesus Christ to free us from our own blindness. Thank God we have Jesus Christ to free us from our own condemnation.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 8:1-6

The Shumenite Woman Returns Home

Over the past two and a half months since learning that I had been accepted for service in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and had been assigned to a church, I have had some time to reflect. The main area of reflection was exactly what moving to the Quad Cities really meant in the grand scheme of my ministry career.

Was it a mistake? If becoming a pastor in South Carolina was God’s goal, then, what was the point of us going to Illinois? Couldn’t we have learned what we needed to learn without having to leave my home state? When you think about Elena and I both having to return home to the Carolinas for the deaths of each of our fathers and not being there when they took their last breaths on earth, why did we have to go? What was the point?

As I have had time to reflect, there are several points to us moving to Illinois. First, it was to learn that I had a lot to learn about being in ministry full-time and even about accounting in ministry. Things were so different for me that it was like being fresh out of college again. It was an humbling experience. Thinking that I had the finance thing down and was ready to be groomed for the pastoral side of ministry was prideful. Learning how things worked at Calvary from a financial reporting standpoint was so different that I had to re-learn things. It was humbling. That’s what God does to us at times, breaks us down so He can build us up into something useful for His kingdom. It was not about the actual learning of Calvary’s systems. It was about learning that even in my historically chosen profession that I did not know it all. It was about humbling me in the thing that I had always excelled at. That was necessary for showing me that going into my new church next month that I do not know it all, will not know it all, and be willing to admit that.

The second thing was to teach us that ministry is really about relationships. Since I did not get much exposure to teaching and preaching, we made a concerted effort just to love on the people of Calvary. That was our ministry – to be intentional about loving the people of our church, getting to know them, getting into their lives, about not really caring about limelight but about plowing the field that God had provided us. Relationships – that was the field to plow. As a result, God allowed us to be in relationship with so many families of our church and them knowing how much we truly cared about them. Some relationships were closer than others but there were many. Some specific relationships will be lifetime relationships that we take with us as we leave. If nothing else was learned in this past year and a half, it was worth it for having developed these relationships. Church is about relationships. Relationships with Jesus Christ and then with each other. That’s the point.

The biggest thing though that I think was the point of us moving to Illinois was “the go”. Before you have a flashback to a Charmin commercials (“enjoy the go” ad campaign), let me reset what “the go” means! “The go” for us was the moving to Illinois. That point of the move was the move. It boils down to how much you trust in the Lord. Moving to Illinois seemed crazy by human standards. Why go? There is no connection to you otherwise. You don’t know a soul in this set of river towns known as The Quad Cities. Why go? It boils down to trusting in the Lord. We would not have learned the lessons to be learned and met the people we met and loved the people we loved without “the go”. We went to The Quad Cities because God called Elena and me to full-time ministry. I honestly feel that God chose The Quad Cities to see if we would chuck out comfortable life in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area and follow Him to a “foreign land.” We had been yearning to go into full-time ministry for many years at that point. God said, “OK follow me to the Midwest where you know no one and have never even seen these towns before!” Follow me to something you do not know. Follow me to somewhere you will be starting all over again. Follow me where I send you. And just go. Just go because I said so.

That’s the thing that I thought of this afternoon after reading the scripture for today, 2 Kings 8:1-6. In this passage, we learn that the Shunemite woman (that we have seen been before – Elisha raised her son from the dead in 2 Kings 4:34-35) moved away from Israel because Elisha (acting as an agent of God) had told her to do so. That got me to thinking about our move to Illinois and what it meant. Let’s read the passage now:

Chapter 8

1 Elisha had told the woman whose son he had brought back to life, “Take your family and move to some other place, for the Lord has called for a famine on Israel that will last for seven years.” 2 So the woman did as the man of God instructed. She took her family and settled in the land of the Philistines for seven years.

3 After the famine ended she returned from the land of the Philistines, and she went to see the king about getting back her house and land. 4 As she came in, the king was talking with Gehazi, the servant of the man of God. The king had just said, “Tell me some stories about the great things Elisha has done.” 5 And Gehazi was telling the king about the time Elisha had brought a boy back to life. At that very moment, the mother of the boy walked in to make her appeal to the king about her house and land.

“Look, my lord the king!” Gehazi exclaimed. “Here is the woman now, and this is her son—the very one Elisha brought back to life!”

6 “Is this true?” the king asked her. And she told him the story. So he directed one of his officials to see that everything she had lost was restored to her, including the value of any crops that had been harvested during her absence.

In this passage, we see that the Shunemite woman had followed the instructions of the “man of God”, Elisha. She went to a foreign land because he, acting as an agent of God, had directed her to do so. What trust that must have taken! To leave her husband’s ancestral land and the land to be inherited by her son and go to a foreign land just because a man of God directed her to do so required a great deal of faith. However, her faith displayed by her action was ultimately rewarded when she returned to Israel after the famine was over. She was rewarded for her faith and her response by having her land restored to her and compensation for the crops that were grown and harvested in her absence.

Now that we stand here ready for what’s next (next month), I can identify with this story. The Shunemite woman was rewarded for her obedience. In the same way, I believe in my heart that I would not have the opportunity that stands before me had it not been for obedience. “The go” to Illinois provided me with the experience needed for being accepted for service by the South Carolina United Methodist Church. “The go” to Illinois, though, was far greater in God’s eyes in that He saw that we were for real about following anywhere He led us. “The go” to Illinois was about Him preparing us for what He has prepared for us. “The go” to Illinois taught us some valuable lessons about ministry that were needed prior to us moving into what He has prepared for us. “The go” was about trusting its purpose. “The go” was about obedience to God. “The go” was about preparation, necessary preparation. “The go” was about “going” and letting God handle the reasons why.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 7:12-20 (Part 3 of 3)

Israel Plunders the Camp

Wow, its been since last Tuesday (8 days ago) since I have had a chance to sit down and do my personal Bible study (which I share with you almost daily, normally). There has been a lot of driving over the past eight days (except for yesterday when I did not leave my daughter’s house not even once). As of right now, I think Elena and I both have put about 1,200 miles on our cars. First, there was the trip from Rock Island, IL to Huntersville, NC (one of the northern suburbs of Charlotte) to visit for a few days with Elena’s brother and sister in-law (Paco & Abbie). That was 880 miles and took us from Wednesday morning to Thursday afternoon (with an overnight stop in Florence, KY). Next up for me, on Friday was a 105 mile drive from Huntersville down to the SC United Methodist Center (the central office for the United Methodist Church in South Carolina) for the first day of pastoral training. After a full day there, it was a 97 mile drive from the UMC Center to the Shops at Greenridge in Greenville, SC to meet my daughter to pick up the keys to our storage units in Florence, SC. Then, back up the road from Greenville to Huntersville, NC, another 101 miles in my car.

Next up on Saturday, both Elena and I were on the road on separate road trips. Elena had to go meet our movers (who pick up all our goods from our house in Rock Island) who were delivering our stuff to the storage units that we have rented in Florence, SC (to hold there until we move into the parsonage in Lamar, SC on June 26th). That was a 258 mile round trip for her that day. For me, it was back to Columbia, SC and the UMC Center for the final day of all the pastoral training for my licensure. That was another 210 miles round trip for me. Sunday, we went to church at one of the Elevation Church campuses in the Charlotte area (the one at Lake Norman). After hanging out with Paco & Abble at their community pool for the afternoon, it was back on the road for us. This time, we headed off to my daughter’s house in Liberty, SC (just west of Greenville, SC). From Huntersville, that’s another 126 miles on the cars. Monday was Memorial Day so there was a lot of running to the grocery store and such, but at least no extended driving. Finally, yesterday, we had a day to “veg out”.

The previous week was grueling. Something you had to get through. It’s kind of like when you have to have a colonoscopy. You know it’s coming. You know you have to have it. You don’t look forward to it. And while you are in the middle of it…well, it’s a pain in the…well…you know where! This move was necessary for us to get to the next phase of our ministry life in God’s calling. The destination, the church to which we have been assigned, is exciting as it will mark the beginning of what Elena and I have been preparing for now for over 8 years. We look so forward to the new mission field and the challenges that surely will await there. However, before we get there, we gotta do a lot of driving. I mean a lot, lot, lot of driving. I mean I really don’t care much for my car right now. We have become too familiar! As the old saying goes, “familiarity breeds contempt!” Did I say we had a lot of driving and still more to go between now and June 26th?

I guess you are wondering by now, what in the world our travels have to do with today’s passage? Well, let’s talk about that. In the midst of all the driving, it reminded me that sometimes that we have to experience difficult things to get to the blessings that God has in store for us. Just as the people of the city of Samaria were going through rough times during the siege so too have we experienced the gauntlet of driving long distances and depending on the kindness of friends and family for a few weeks. But the blessing lies out there. We must have faith in God that He will get us there. The Samarians rushed out into the camp after long hard days. They then experienced God’s great blessing of supplies and food. So much so that that the prices of goods dropped dramatically from just the day before.

For us the drive down, the staying in other people’s homes, more driving, more driving, but the blessing is now just outside of the city gates for us, metaphorically speaking. That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 2 Kings 7:12-20 for a third time this morning before we move on to the next passage. I thought about how we must remain faithful to the Lord when in the midst of hard times. Let’s read the passage now:

12 The king got out of bed in the middle of the night and told his officers, “I know what has happened. The Arameans know we are starving, so they have left their camp and have hidden in the fields. They are expecting us to leave the city, and then they will take us alive and capture the city.”

13 One of his officers replied, “We had better send out scouts to check into this. Let them take five of the remaining horses. If something happens to them, it will be no worse than if they stay here and die with the rest of us.”

14 So two chariots with horses were prepared, and the king sent scouts to see what had happened to the Aramean army. 15 They went all the way to the Jordan River, following a trail of clothing and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their mad rush to escape. The scouts returned and told the king about it. 16 Then the people of Samaria rushed out and plundered the Aramean camp. So it was true that six quarts of choice flour were sold that day for one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain were sold for one piece of silver, just as the Lord had promised. 17 The king appointed his officer to control the traffic at the gate, but he was knocked down and trampled to death as the people rushed out.

So everything happened exactly as the man of God had predicted when the king came to his house. 18 The man of God had said to the king, “By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost one piece of silver.”

19 The king’s officer had replied, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” And the man of God had said, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” 20 And so it was, for the people trampled him to death at the gate!

In this passage, we see in vv. 16-18, how the Samarians received a blessing from God that drew an end to the siege by the Arameans. Once the armies were gone, the people rushed out of the city to receive their blessing. Food aplenty. Supplies aplenty. That is what is striking here. The king’s guard had given up hope and was in such disbelief that he did not get to participate in the end of the siege and the receipt of the blessing. But those who held out hope, rushed out in their blessing after days and weeks in the hardest of times.

For us, Elena and me, we stand just inside the city gates as they open. We have been through years of training. We have learned a lot, usually most from our mistakes. It took eight years to get to this point. God called us both, pastor and pastor’s wife, to full-time ministry. We have learned so much from the leaders before us when at LifeSong Church and at Calvary Church of The Quad Cities. The road has been long. Just as was the move to Illinois and now our move back to South Carolina. That which we have been called to is before us. We feel so honored to have this opportunity. The past 8 years have been about breaking us down and God building us into His servants. We still have much to learn about being the lead pastor of a church and being the lead pastor’s wife. But we are about to run outside the city gates into what God has prepared for us, what God has been leading us toward, what all the hard work and hard times of the past 8 years have been about. Let us now step outside the city gates.

Hang in there if you are in training, if you are going through a long road of preparation where there seems no end, if you are experiencing tough times. Remain faithful to the Lord. Don’t become discouraged. The gates will open when God is ready for them to open. We must trust in Him. Stand ready to run out of the city gates … when He says you are ready. In the meantime, keep the faith. Keep plowing. Keep being faithful.

2 Kings 7:12-20 (Part 2 of 3)

Israel Plunders the Camp

This morning begins the last full day in our house here in Rock Island, IL. We have been packing up our personal belongings within our house for the last couple of weeks. What we have remaining to pack today are the minor things but necessary things that we cannot pack until tonight and first thing in the morning. Tonight, before we go to bed, we will pack up all the media electronics. Tomorrow morning, we will pack up all the bathroom stuff and the kitchen utensils and cookware and that will be it. The movers come tomorrow morning to pick up all our stuff and that will be it. We will close out the house and go spend the night at a local hotel Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, we drive off from the Quad Cities for the last time. We will spend the next 5 weeks as vagabonds of sorts, bouncing from house to house of friends we left behind in Lyman, SC, of family in Liberty, SC and Huntersville, NC before we settle in at the parsonage at our new church in Lamar, SC in late June.

What we have learned over the last few moves that we have made is that there is stuff that you just can’t take with you when you move. One thing that we humans do when we have homes is that we accumulate stuff. We accumulate clothes. We accumulate trinkets. We accumulate things. We accumulate documents. We accumulate the “oh I might use that later” kinds of things. Most of us are not hoarders but we often keep stuff with full intention of using it later but never do and it just becomes stuff. Our general rule of thumb that we have developed is that we have not used it or worn it in over a year…then it’s candidate for being thrown away or donated to Goodwill or the Salvation Army. We have learned in our last few moves that less is better. Sure there are sentimental things that we keep. For example, I have, I think, every special occasion card that Elena has ever given me in the almost 12 years that we have known each other (nine of which we have been married). I will not throw those things away. Family pictures and other family history memory reminders that are treasured will remain with us always (so that we can pass them on to our children). Other than those things, though, everything else is fair game. We have learned over the years that things are just things. They are not essential. As long as Elena and I have each other, the trappings of life are just not that important.

One of my wife’s favorite shows is the HGTV network show, “Love It or List It” where people are given the option of keeping their current home after a remodel done by the show or buying a new home that is ready-made to meet all their “must-haves” in a home. It just shocks me about what people today consider “must-haves” in a home. Are ya kidding me? They will refuse to consider beautiful new or newer homes than what they currently have because it does not meet their “must-have” checklist. The things that we consider important in homes just blows your mind. I guess I am just too simple. As long as I have a place to lay my head (a decent bed) and ESPN during college football season, I can live pretty much anywhere. For Elena, it would be HGTV and maybe TBS instead of ESPN but the idea is the same. Maybe, it’s because we both have been through divorces and starting over, but I think it has more to do with finding our joy in the Lord rather than in things. We live modestly so we don’t have fancy stuff to begin with. We do not want high dollar things because they have high dollar price tags and often financing associated with them. We don’t want to become thing-rich and cash-poor. We want the contentment of knowing if we have the opportunity to be generous that we can be. We can part with things pretty easily. We have thrown away a lot of stuff, again, over these past few weeks of packing. Why? Because things are just not important. Relationships are, but things are not.

When we walk away from the Quad Cities, we will miss our house. It is a cute 1914 farmhouse style home but it’s a non-essential in the grand scheme of things. What we will miss more is the relationships that we have made here in just a year and a half. Good friends. Dear friends. Friends that we have impacted. Friends that have impacted us. Deep conversations to get to the heart of things. Silly conversations that veer off in to comedy land that make your sides hurt from laughter. And those are the things that we will treasure most and keep and not throw away. Things that I have not worn in over a year got thrown away. Things that I have not used in over a year were thrown a year. Old papers of bills long since paid. Things that I thought that were important to keep but turned out not to be were thrown away. Relationships though…those we will keep.

There’s an old saying that “you will never see a U-Haul trailer behind a hearse” and it is true. And the other similar saying, “You can’t take it with you when you die” seems appropriate at this time of change in our lives. You keep the things that matter – relationships and momentos of those relationships, those you keep, the things that matter. Everything else is just clutter.

That’s what I thought of this morning as I read through 2 Kings 7:12-20 for a second time this morning. I thought about how the Arameans in their panicked rush to leave their camp that they left virtually everything behind. They left with what only what was essential for their journey. That’s the thing that struck me this morning. What’s essential? Let’s read the passage now:

12 The king got out of bed in the middle of the night and told his officers, “I know what has happened. The Arameans know we are starving, so they have left their camp and have hidden in the fields. They are expecting us to leave the city, and then they will take us alive and capture the city.”

13 One of his officers replied, “We had better send out scouts to check into this. Let them take five of the remaining horses. If something happens to them, it will be no worse than if they stay here and die with the rest of us.”

14 So two chariots with horses were prepared, and the king sent scouts to see what had happened to the Aramean army. 15 They went all the way to the Jordan River, following a trail of clothing and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their mad rush to escape. The scouts returned and told the king about it. 16 Then the people of Samaria rushed out and plundered the Aramean camp. So it was true that six quarts of choice flour were sold that day for one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain were sold for one piece of silver, just as the Lord had promised. 17 The king appointed his officer to control the traffic at the gate, but he was knocked down and trampled to death as the people rushed out.

So everything happened exactly as the man of God had predicted when the king came to his house. 18 The man of God had said to the king, “By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost one piece of silver.”

19 The king’s officer had replied, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” And the man of God had said, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” 20 And so it was, for the people trampled him to death at the gate!

In this passage, we that the Arameans had accumulated a lot of STUFF during their siege of Samaria. They had taken all the supplies and food that was supposed to be sold and traded in Samaria from the surrounding markets and farms. They had a lot of stuff. But when it counted, when they had to leave, they left it all behind. The stuff did not matter.

That’s the point to me this morning. What is it that matters? What is it that is essential? To me, that is the joy and contentment that comes from having a deep and abiding relationship with Jesus Christ. Everything else is just window dressing. None of the things that we accumulate on this earth really matters. The fine houses. The fine cars. The latest electronics. The stuff. The stuff we work so hard to buy and put in our places we live. It’s nice and I am not against having nice things, mind you. But when it becomes the reason we live, then we got it all wrong. If we have to work all the time to pay for our stuff. If we are just a couple of paychecks away from being homeless because of all our stuff that we have to pay for…then we got it all wrong.

This is not what God wants for us. He wants us to be free from clutter. He wants there not to be anything in the way our relationship with Him. He wants us to live simply so that we can be generous. He wants us to live on less than we make so we can seize opportunities to be Christ to those around us. He wants us to have the freedom to walk away from our stuff and follow His call on our lives. And above all just for us, He wants us to be content. He does not want us frantic all the time where we get so wrapped up in our stuff that we cannot see Him for worrying about our stuff. Stuff is not important. Relationships are. Relationships with family, friends, and with the One That Matters Most of All – God…because you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 7:12-20 (Part 1 of 3)

Israel Plunders the Camp

A man was putting tin roof on his barn when all the sudden he slipped and began to slide down the roof. He cried out to God to save him when no sooner he got the words out of his mouth a nail caught his pants and stopped him. When he stopped he said, “Never mind, God. I took care of it!”

Isn’t that a good illustration of how we often miss God’s miracles? Isn’t that a good illustration of how we miss God’s miracles in our lives. Even as Christ followers, we have succumbed to some of the influences of the culture where we do not really believe God is still in the miracle business. We have made God small. Often we pray sheepishly to God for fear that He is not in the miracle business anymore. We fail to have the faith that God can or will provide the miracle that we need. Without real faith in God, we miss His miracles in our lives. Without real faith in God, we cannot see the miraculous all around us and thus not see God’s daily activity in our lives. Without real faith in God, He is just some far off God that we send up half-hearted prayers. Without real faith in God, He is just some remote God who cares little for the details of our lives.

Think of the miracle of conception and how that grows from a fertilized egg into a living breathing wonder of God that is my granddaughter. From that single cell has come this sassy, self-aware granddaughter who is the life of the party wherever she goes. Think of the miracle of how the earth just happened to be the right amount of distance from the sun, and just happened to have a single moon orbiting it that regulates the wobble of the planet and the tides so that we have the growing seasons for food, that the earth has the right atmosphere conducive to that growth. Just think of even more specific than that about the plot of land you live on (whether it be an apartment or a single family home), the earth on which it sits contains an amazing complex ecosystem both above ground, at ground level and below ground. That all these ecosystems on the planet operate together in a logical fashion begs us to see the miraculous nature of God.

Yet, these are just three examples of the wondrous power of a Creator God, but yet we often doubt that He cares about us as individuals. We often pray because we think we have to, as Christians. We often pray weakly because we do not believe that God is still in the miracle business, though He is a Creator God who built an entire universe but can do nothing about our personal needs.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I read this passage, 2 Kings 7:12-20, focusing on the doubts made clear in the first verse of the passage and in the last two verses. Both the king and the officer in his guard doubted the power of God. Let’s read the passage now and see their doubts:

12 The king got out of bed in the middle of the night and told his officers, “I know what has happened. The Arameans know we are starving, so they have left their camp and have hidden in the fields. They are expecting us to leave the city, and then they will take us alive and capture the city.”

13 One of his officers replied, “We had better send out scouts to check into this. Let them take five of the remaining horses. If something happens to them, it will be no worse than if they stay here and die with the rest of us.”

14 So two chariots with horses were prepared, and the king sent scouts to see what had happened to the Aramean army. 15 They went all the way to the Jordan River, following a trail of clothing and equipment that the Arameans had thrown away in their mad rush to escape. The scouts returned and told the king about it. 16 Then the people of Samaria rushed out and plundered the Aramean camp. So it was true that six quarts of choice flour were sold that day for one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain were sold for one piece of silver, just as the Lord had promised. 17 The king appointed his officer to control the traffic at the gate, but he was knocked down and trampled to death as the people rushed out.

So everything happened exactly as the man of God had predicted when the king came to his house. 18 The man of God had said to the king, “By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost one piece of silver, and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost one piece of silver.”

19 The king’s officer had replied, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!” And the man of God had said, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!” 20 And so it was, for the people trampled him to death at the gate!

In this passage, we have the advantage of being believers reading the Scriptures and we know that God was the provider of the miracle. However, the Samarians had become idol worshippers and had strayed far from God through generations of evil, self-centered kings. Thus, they did not trust the good news that the lepers had brought them. They could not understand why there was a sudden change in fortune. They had grown so used to the fact that they were slowly be starved to death by the surrounding Arameans that they could not believe the miracle.

At the beginning of the passage, we see the king here distrust that the miracle had happened. In the end of the passage, we see that the doubting officer of the king’s guard had previously said that he would not believe that God could do anything about this situation even if the gates of heaven were flung wide open. He doubted God’s ability to change the situation. Because of his unbelief, this officer was trampled to death under foot by the stampede of people rushing to receive God’s miraculous provision.

Are you and I often unable to believe that God is still in the miracle business? He is still in the miracle business. He responds to our prayers. We must have faith to believe in His miraculous provision. It may not always look the way we prefer it but He does answer our prayers. Have to the faith to pray for miraculous provision or healing. How often we limit God by seeing the miracles of the Bible as nice stories but not applicable to real life in the 21st century. The prayers of a righteous man avails much, the Bible tells us. Believe in the miracles that He has already provided in your life, the life of people you know, and even in news stories about people you don’t know. There are God miracles all around us but we explain them away as random coincidences. Have the faith to believe that God is still in the miracle business and you will begin to see His miracles and not miss out on His intimate action in our daily lives. Don’t miss out on the good stuff!

Amen and Amen.