Archive for April, 2019

2 Kings 4:38-44 (Part 2 of 2)

Miracles During a Famine

The parallel is unmistakable when you read the second half of this passage, vv. 42-44. When you read about Elisha feeding the 100 people with only 20 loaves of barley bread and some grain. It bears striking similarity to Jesus feeding the 5,000 with just 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Christ’s miracle of feeding the five thousand is unique in that it is the only one that all four gospel writers mention (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-44; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-14). So this miracle through Elisha is worth noting since Elisha is a man of God but not God in the flesh as is Jesus. What are we to make of this similarity and what are the differences and what is the lesson we learn from this passage?

The similarity is obvious. Both are miracles of providing for the physical needs of people that Elisha and Jesus encounter as they are going about their ministries. It demonstrates that God is faithful to those who love him and that He will provide even in the darkest of times (as we will learn in 2 Kings that this miracle occurred during a time of famine in the land). Despite the widespread disobedience, there were those who remained faithful to God. God will not forsake them. GOD REMEMBERS HIS OWN, even in the midst of the famine. The believing remnant is not exempted from the hardships of life but God is with them. God helps His own overcome the hardships in life because they trust in Him. Therefore, facing hardships in life does not mean God doesn’t care about you.

On the contrary, we see God showing His presence and power in the midst of hardships. In fact, hardships tell MORE about us than God. HARDSHIPS REVEAL WHO WE TRUST, in whom are we really trusting. They either draw those who love God closer to Him (we cling on to Him), or it widens the gap for those who don’t love Him (and turn our hearts against Him). Hardships reveals where our true love and true faith is. This incident showed there was a shortage of food but the Lord provided through one man’s offering. And the Lord specifically told Elisha to take this offering and serve the 100 men present. We’ve seen how God uses what we offer Him, the flour and oil of the widow, the 20 loaves, or the 5 loaves 2 fishes, to do His will. When offered into His hands, we see how He uses them to accomplish greater things – things that we would otherwise not be able to see if they were left in our own hands. Don’t belittle our offerings to God. We give with gratitude and gladness, and leave the rest to God. God accomplishes His purposes through our offerings. Both accounts tell us GOD IS CONCERNED WITH LITTLE THINGS in our lives. God is concerned with our daily bread. For the Jewish people, bread is a staple in their diet. We can trust God to provide what we need, because our daily bread matters to Him.

The difference between the two is one miracle is performed by a man of God while the other is performed by God in the flesh, Jesus Christ. What are we to make of this? A mere man being used by God to perform a miracle. We have heard stories of men of faith being used by God to perform miracles. Is it true that we can be used by God to perform miracles? Even the impetuous disciple and apostle Peter was used by God to perform miracles after Pentecost. We have no issue with Jesus performing miracles because, well, He is God … and it comes with the territory. However, how do we explain mere mortals being used by God to perform miracles and what is unique about these men who have been used by God to do so? I think it boils down to faith, and I am not talking your average everyday faith that you and I, as Christ followers, typically have. There is deep faith that the God of the universe can and will do miraculous things. Not just some wish or desire of an intense nature but a belief in God’s glory to be shown through miraculous acts. Most of us have doubts about such things as miraculous healings. We just can’t get beyond the doubt. We can’t get beyond our culturally induced disbelief and our bias toward the fact that God is no longer in the miracle business. We buy off on the miracles of the Bible but we have serious doubts about miracles in the present day. Because of legions of those who have abused the privilege of the miraculous through false claims, we err toward not believing in God’s miracle business today. We make our modern day God less powerful than the God of the Bible. Our doubt of the miraculous prevents us from believing in the miraculous. The thing that is apparent from the miracle here is that when we have the faith of Elisha and the great men of the Bible that we have access to the miraculous power of God. It is simply a matter of the depth of our faith and our willingness to suspend disbelief and our belief in God’s will in a specific situation.

Thus the lesson of this passage is how much do you trust God. Let’s read the passage now, with that in mind:

38 Elisha now returned to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land. One day as the group of prophets was seated before him, he said to his servant, “Put a large pot on the fire, and make some stew for the rest of the group.”

39 One of the young men went out into the field to gather herbs and came back with a pocketful of wild gourds. He shredded them and put them into the pot without realizing they were poisonous. 40 Some of the stew was served to the men. But after they had eaten a bite or two they cried out, “Man of God, there’s poison in this stew!” So they would not eat it.

41 Elisha said, “Bring me some flour.” Then he threw it into the pot and said, “Now it’s all right; go ahead and eat.” And then it did not harm them.

42 One day a man from Baal-shalishah brought the man of God a sack of fresh grain and twenty loaves of barley bread made from the first grain of his harvest. Elisha said, “Give it to the people so they can eat.”

43 “What?” his servant exclaimed. “Feed a hundred people with only this?”

But Elisha repeated, “Give it to the people so they can eat, for this is what the Lord says: Everyone will eat, and there will even be some left over!” 44 And when they gave it to the people, there was plenty for all and some left over, just as the Lord had promised.

In this passage, we see that when we trust in God in hard times or God and I mean really trust Him, He will never forsake us. He will never leave us without provision. He will provide. When we really trust Him, He will make a way for us. When we seek His will and obey His Word, we will not be left out in the cold even in the hard times. He will provide us a way through our hard times. When we trust Him deeply and earnestly as a child trusts its parent, He will provide us miracles. We may rationalize them away as coincidence or whatever but those who trust in God deeply know that His provision is sometimes miraculous and cannot be explained in any other way. How much do you trust Him? How much doubt do you have about God’s provision? How much doubt do you have about God being there for you in the hard times? How big is your God?

Let us not limit God any longer in our lives. Unleash your complete belief and trust in the Creator and watch your faith and your walk with Jesus grow stronger and deeper.

Amen and Amen.

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2 Kings 4:38-44 (Part 1 of 2)

Miracles During a Famine

If you are old enough to remember television in the late 70’s and early 1980’s, there was a show that was a wildly popular ratings success called Fantasy Island. It aired on the ABC television network from September 1977 through May 1984. It starred Ricardo Montalbán as the mysterious Mr. Roarke, who grants the fantasies of visitors to the island for a price. The series was created by Gene Levitt. A revival of the series aired on the same network 14 years later during the 1998–1999 season.

Often the fantasies would turn out to be morality lessons for the guests. For example, one featured a couple who clamored for the “good old days” being taken back to the Salem witch trials, sometimes to the point of (apparently) putting their lives at risk, only to have Roarke step in at the last minute and reveal the deception. It is mentioned a few times that a condition of visiting Fantasy Island is that guests never reveal what goes on there. In each episode, it seems that the fantasies would teach the guests that our fantasies of a better life in some perfect world is really nothing more than exchanging one set of problems for another set.

In Venezuela, we see how the Fantasy Island mindset has played out since the beginning of this century. At the end of the last century, Venezuela was the richest country in South America awash in economic expansion caused by its rich oil reserves. However, with the success came inequalities of wealth that is often a natural result of capitalism. As a prosperous nation over a long period of time, the shortcomings of capitalism and the way it distributes wealth led many Venezuelans to being focusing how to make everyone happy. They began seeking to make Venezuela an utopian state where everyone was equal and there was no poverty and no unequal distribution of wealth. Slowly they drifted toward socialism. Playing on this utopian ideal and to satisfy the masses disenchanted, Chavez was elected President in 1998.

As we now see some 20 years later, the socialist policies desired by the masses and that put Chavez in power have utterly failed. There are three main policies implemented by Chavez since 1999 that produced the current crisis: Widespread nationalization of private industry, currency and price controls, and the fiscally irresponsible expansion of welfare programs. One of Chavez’s first actions was to start nationalizing the agriculture sector, supposedly reducing poverty and inequality by taking from rich landowners to give to poor workers. From 1999 to 2016, his regime robbed more than 6 million hectares of land from its rightful owners.

Nationalization destroyed production in affected industries because no government has the capacity to run thousands of businesses or the profit motive to run them efficiently. Instead, government officials face incentives to please voters by selling products at low prices and hiring more employees than necessary, even when that’s the wrong industry decision. As economic theory predicted, as state control of the agricultural industry increased, Venezuela’s food production fell 75% in two decades while the country’s population increased by 33%. This was a recipe for shortages and economic disaster. After agriculture, the regime nationalized electricity, water, oil, banks, supermarkets, construction, and other crucial sectors. And in all these sectors, the government increased payrolls and gave away products at low cost, resulting in days-long countrywide blackouts, frequent water service interruptions, falling oil production, and bankrupt government enterprises.

Yet taking over the most important sectors of the economy was not enough for the socialist regime. In 2003, Chavez implemented a foreign currency control scheme where the government set an overvalued exchange rate between the Venezuelan currency and the U.S. dollar.

One goal of the scheme was to reduce inflation by overvaluing the currency, subsidizing imported products. But the currency control meant the regime had to ration available U.S. dollars to importers since, at an overvalued (cheap) exchange rate, there was more demand for U.S. dollars than supply. Naturally, a black market for foreign currency emerged and corrupt regime members and lucky individuals assigned cheap U.S. dollars obtained large profits. Even worse, the scheme actually increased inflation since overvaluing the currency reduced government oil revenues in Venezuelan currency, leading the regime to print money to cover the ensuing budget deficit.

The socialist regime also implemented price ceilings on hundreds of basic products such as beef, milk and toilet paper. At artificially low prices, more people were willing to buy these products but the few private factories left—not nationalized—could not profit at the government-capped price, so they reduced or halted their production. Instead of benefiting the poor, price ceilings predictably resulted in shortages that forced them to stand in lines for hours, while supermarket employees and the well-connected obtained the products they needed.

But perhaps the most harmful part of the Venezuelan socialist project is the part that the international media and leftist figures used to praise most frequently: welfare programs. The socialist regime created social “missions” aimed at tackling poverty, illiteracy, healthcare, and more. But despite enjoying higher government oil revenues due to a tenfold rise in oil prices from $10 a barrel in 1999 to more than $100 in 2008, the regime financed a growing deficit by printing more currency. Expansive welfare programs and massive public-works projects provided ever-growing opportunities for still greater corruption. Printing money to pay for endless state programs unsurprisingly led to high rates of inflation.

In this way, socialism run rampant—not cronyism, corruption, falling oil prices, or U.S. sanctions—caused the crisis in Venezuela. Welfare programs that were supposed to help the poor actually increased the cost of living. A foreign currency control that aimed to reduce inflation only increased it and allowed for massive corruption. And nationalizations that should have given “power” to workers only left them unemployed and hungry.

Venezuela is the ultimate “be careful what you wish for” story. It may look pretty. It may look desirous. It may even sound morally right. However, just as in economic terms, socialism sounds great in discussions and on paper, but in reality never works out. The ultimate socialist project the Soviet Union and its conquered and supported lands all ended not because of losing a war but because of economic collapse resulting from a bloated government and little economic activity.  Socialism have proven time and again to be Fantasy Island economics. Promise the people everything, they agree to it, and then they proceed to lose their freedoms in a state controlled economy and then lose the very level of utopia that they desired. Economic collapse always is the ultimate end to socialism.

We see those in our country now that desire to create the utopian state in the United States because somehow the result would be different here. They desire the Fantasy Island utopia that socialistic policies intend to create. It all sounds good in theory but never works out in practice. We never learn from history, it seems, when it comes to public economic policy.

That’s what come to mind when I read today’s passage and it spawned two ideas for two blogs on it. For today, it was that idea of fantasy island. Whether it is economic policy or our relationship with God, we often fall prey to the siren’s call of what seems to be good but that which will crash us on the rocky shore. Don’t get me wrong I am not saying that God endorses capitalism and condemns socialism but rather that idea of that which sounds so good is often that which will destroy us.

Think about it. Satan often speaks to us about how we are missing out by following God. Satan tells us that it is OK to do this or do that or believe this or believe that because God is trying to hold us back from the freedoms that we have a right to desire. The first half of this passage, vv. 38-41, is a lesson in that. Lets read the passage now, with that in mind:

38 Elisha now returned to Gilgal, and there was a famine in the land. One day as the group of prophets was seated before him, he said to his servant, “Put a large pot on the fire, and make some stew for the rest of the group.”

39 One of the young men went out into the field to gather herbs and came back with a pocketful of wild gourds. He shredded them and put them into the pot without realizing they were poisonous. 40 Some of the stew was served to the men. But after they had eaten a bite or two they cried out, “Man of God, there’s poison in this stew!” So they would not eat it.

41 Elisha said, “Bring me some flour.” Then he threw it into the pot and said, “Now it’s all right; go ahead and eat.” And then it did not harm them.

42 One day a man from Baal-shalishah brought the man of God a sack of fresh grain and twenty loaves of barley bread made from the first grain of his harvest. Elisha said, “Give it to the people so they can eat.”

43 “What?” his servant exclaimed. “Feed a hundred people with only this?”

But Elisha repeated, “Give it to the people so they can eat, for this is what the Lord says: Everyone will eat, and there will even be some left over!” 44 And when they gave it to the people, there was plenty for all and some left over, just as the Lord had promised.

In this passage, we see that often that which seems harmless and even good for us can be harmful. This lesson from the physical world, in this passage, reminds us metaphorically that the world is full of poisonous ideas that may look harmless and even resemble the truth, but they are bitter and bring unhappiness to man.

 To be able to recognize this and to protect others from these bitter herbs, men need to be trained in the Word of God that they may in turn equip others in the truth. The pictures here are clear enough. The world is full of poisonous ideas and solutions to life. To the untrained, undiscriminating ear and eye, they sound and look good, but they are full of death and misery. Further, in this picture, we see the believer’s responsibility. In Jesus Christ and His Word we have the antidote–the answer to man’s death and the means of life eternal and life abundantly (John 10:10). Unfortunately, our tendency is to follow our own instincts and that which seems right to us.

Elisha called for meal (flour) and threw it into the pot and by a miracle of God the flour neutralized the poison. This beautifully illustrates a wonderful spiritual truth, an analogy for faith and obedience. Isn’t it interesting that in order to live, they had to eat in faith of that which had been poisonous? There was no neutral position. They either ate of the flour-sweetened stew or they died.

Satan wants us to believe that what God allows us to do is not enough. He wants us to believe that God’s commandments are restrictive. We must have our right to pursue our own desires. He wants us to believe that God is holding us back. That’s how he swindled Adam and Eve. They had everything they needed in the garden (equivalent to this passage where they were sitting around the pot of stew) and then Satan tempts them to go after what God had forbidden them to do. It sounded so good. It even sounded so right. To follow your own desires is the ultimate freedom. It’s fantasy island stuff.

There is freedom, according to Satan’s siren song, to go looking for what you want and what seems beautiful and soul-freeing rather than God protecting us from what is bad for us. Obedience to God’s Word always leads to life and disobedience leads to death. God is our Father who cares for us and wants the best for us. The commandments of God are there to protect us from ourselves and the sinful desires of the flesh. Satan twists it to make following our desires as right and beautiful and our right as the kings of our domain. Just as politicians to win the hearts of the masses by promising them utopia (but not telling us how it will be financed), so does Satan tempt us with what sounds so wonderful and so right because it tickles our desires for that fantasy island that we want.

1 Corinthians 1:20-25 tells us:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Father, in heaven, please help us to see that You are our Protector. Please help us to see that You love us so much that You don’t want us to come to harm. You love us so much that You gave us Your Word to guide us and direct us toward holiness and that which is good for us and will not harm us. Help us not to listen to Satan’s siren song about chasing after that which in the end will destroy us and cause us to collapse under the weight of sin. Help us to see that Satan will often make things sounds so good, so utopian, so good for us, that are ultimately destructive to us. Help to see the wisdom of Your Word. Help us to see that you ask us to stay around Your campfire and your stew so that we will not be lured away toward the poisons of this world that will cause collapse, corruption, ruin, and death in our lives. Help us to learn to be children in your presence Lord where we trust what you say and will not stray from it because we know that You know what is best for us.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 4:8-37 (Part 3 of 3)

Elisha and the Woman from Shunem

As we stand here on Good Friday at 8am on my local time here in the US Central Time Zone (CTZ). Sure, it’s about 4pm on Good Friday right now in Jerusalem, but I just got my day going here in the CTZ so allow me some poetic license and assume that the crucifixion is happening according to my time zone’s time.  

Let us drift back to what many historians and theologians believe to be around the year 30AD, some 1,989 years ago. It is 8am in the morning. Jesus has been up all night.  First, praying so intensely that he dripped blood from his brow. This is not some fantasy for dramatic effect. It is a real and documented and understood medical condition. It’s turned up throughout history. Jesus was said to have been sweating blood before his crucifixion. The artist Leonardo da Vinci wrote about a soldier who had bloody sweat after battle. Doctors don’t know exactly what triggers hematidrosis, in part because it’s so rare. They think it could be related to your body’s “fight or flight” response. Tiny blood vessels in the skin break open. The blood inside them may get squeezed out through sweat glands. It is usually been associated with traumatic levels of stress. Jesus was not only fully divine but He was fully human also so he knew what was coming and got stressed out about it to the extreme. In his humanity, He begs the Father to not let the upcoming events happen, to “pass this cup from me!”.

Next up, was a late night arrest and a clandestine trial. The trial of Jesus was illegal according to the Jewish traditions of the time (based on biblical principles). To begin with, the Sanhedrin should have never held the trial. They had plotted to kill Jesus ahead of time. Consequently they were hardly in a position to render a fair verdict as to his guilt or innocence. This is especially true of the High Priest Caiaphas. He is the one who said that it was necessary for Jesus to die for the entire nation. The High Priest was the supreme judge in Israel. It was his responsibility to see that a person be given a fair trial. At the very least, he should have not participated in trial in any manner. Yet he was the driving force behind the arrest and trial of Jesus. Therefore there was no possibility that Jesus could have been given a fair trial. It was illegal to try capital cases at night. By doing so the Sanhedrin broke the law. When a person’s life was at stake the trial could only be held during the day. In capital cases, judgment was to be delayed until the next day. The fact that they pronounced judgment immediately is another sign of the illegal nature of the trial. here is also the problem of Jesus’ testimony. When Jesus was put under oath he acknowledged that he was the Messiah – the promised Deliverer. This admission of Jesus was what caused the Sanhedrin to cry out that he was guilty of death. However, they never stopped to consider the possibility that Jesus was telling the truth. There was not the slightest interest in attempting to find out whether Jesus may indeed be the promised Messiah. There was no evidence that was allowed to be given on Jesus’ behalf and they weighed no evidence before making their judgment.

Then, we move to the civil authorities of Rome’s puppet king in the area, Herod, and then to Pilate, the Roman governor. And then the severe to almost the point of death beating of Jesus by All these events lead us to 9am (the third hour after sunrise according to Jewish time reckoning at the time) and our bloodied beaten Jesus is on the cross. His skin ripped to shreds from head to toe by his beating. He is wore out physically from (1) being up all night, (2) the cat of nine tails lashing that would in and of itself rip flesh and muscle from his body so his body is suffering from that trauma, (3) after that he extremely weak and beaten body is forced to carry his cross beam the ¾ of a mile to Golgotha, (4) having nail spikes driven through his feet (imagine that pain) and similar spikes driven through what most crucifixion experts believe to be the wrists of a crucifixion victim (imagine that pain and blood loss it would cause). It’s 9am and the next adventure begins, the slow death that is crucifixion.

Well, crucifixion was a gruesome mode of execution that was commonly used by the Romans in Jesus’ day. Roman authorities used execution as a method of control and intimidation to rid their cities of slaves, heinous criminals, and insurgents. The Romans adopted the practice of crucifixion and brought it to a higher level that was unprecedented. In fact, at one point they were crucifying 500 people a day. This was practiced from the 6th century BC until the 4th century AD until the Roman emperor Constantine I banned the practice in 337 AD. The initial scourging would weaken the victim, cause massive blood loss, and probably induce shock. By the time the victim had carried thecross bar to the crucifixion area, he would be exhausted.

Once up on the cross, the victim would have his body weight suspended by their arms. In this position, it is difficult to completely exhale. The victim could take shallow breaths for a while, but eventually would be forced to push himself up to take a full breath.

At this point three things happen:

  • The victim’s weight is now fully supported by his feet. The nails through the feet would be likely to hit two major nerves running through the area. The result would be excruciating pain in the legs.
  • The nails in the wrists would be likely to pierce the main nerve running through the arm. As the victim pushed up to breath, the wrists would rotate against the nail, irritating the nerves and causing intense pain in the arms. Some authorities also believe that the crucifixion position would dislocate the shoulder or elbow. Any movement would aggravate the pain from these injuries.
  • The wounds on the victims back from the scourging would push up against the rough part of the centerpiece. This would tend to re-open the wounds, leading to more pain and blood loss.

This combination of pain would quickly force the victim to lower himself back down. Eventually, the victim would no longer be able to raise himself up and would suffocate. The shock from blood loss due to the scourging would hasten this process.

It is 9am and this process begins. It will take six hours for Jesus’ human body to give up its fight for life. This is your Savior. We sanitize what He went through in most movies about Jesus. We even rationalize in our mind that He, being God in the flesh, did not really suffer as we might as human beings. But remember, Jesus was fully human as well as being fully divine, fully God. In his human fullness, our Savior suffered immeasurable pain for six long hours (from the 3rd hour of the day past sunrise – approximately 9am, to the 9th hour past sunrise, approximately 3pm). Think of your Savior enduring the details of this day that where He got no sleep since probably Wednesday night/Thursday morning and then went through all of this stuff that happened on Good Friday. As we go through our next 6 hours of our day on Good Friday, let us bear all of this in mind – unsanitized and in the reality of what happened to Jesus on the cross, not as a way to induce guilt in us but to realize just what Jesus went through to pay the once and final penalty for our sins. It was not easy and was not sanitized. It was real. It was ugly. It was excruciating. He felt unimaginable pain for you and for me.

And then we must this afternoon after 3pm and after Jesus’ lifeless human body is taken away to a borrowed tomb, we must think of the disciples and Jesus’ mom and the other followers of “The Way”. What loss they must have felt. Remember, they were living these actual events as they occurred. They don’t have the advantage of knowing how the story ends. What pain they must have felt. What loss they must have felt. What feelings of “what are we going to do now, they’ve killed the most amazing man I have ever met” they must have had. What loneliness. What despair. What incomparable fear that they would be next to be sought out and killed. What they thought was to be the beginning of a huge spiritual revival in the nation of Israel was now, to them, in tatters. The sought after renewal of the people Israel was now snuffed out with the death of Jesus. They had walked away from everything for this. They had given up careers for this. They had played their full deck of cards for this. Now, it was all in ruins. Talk about fear, loneliness, depression, not knowing what to do next, desperate grief over their friend and leader, anger over it all, you name it. They were scared, alone, defeated, and grieving.

With the post-crucifixion mass of huddled and disillusioned, grieving believers somewhere in Jerusalem, let us drift back in time and identify with them on this first God Friday almost 2,000 years ago. Feel that grief and loss and despair. Now think of the woman from Shunem and identify with her grief over her own miraculous son. Death seems so final to the disciples of Jesus on this day. Death seems so final to this grieving mother in 2 Kings 4:8:37 some 850 years before Christ’s birth and some 880 years before Mary sees her own son die and be entombed. Let’s read the passage once again now:

8 One day Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there, and she urged him to come to her home for a meal. After that, whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for something to eat.

9 She said to her husband, “I am sure this man who stops in from time to time is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s build a small room for him on the roof and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then he will have a place to stay whenever he comes by.”

11 One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to this upper room to rest. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the woman from Shunem I want to speak to her.” When she appeared, 13 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tell her, ‘We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?’”

“No,” she replied, “my family takes good care of me.”

14 Later Elisha asked Gehazi, “What can we do for her?”

Gehazi replied, “She doesn’t have a son, and her husband is an old man.”

15 “Call her back again,” Elisha told him. When the woman returned, Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, 16 “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”

“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”

17 But sure enough, the woman soon became pregnant. And at that time the following year she had a son, just as Elisha had said.

18 One day when her child was older, he went out to help his father, who was working with the harvesters. 19 Suddenly he cried out, “My head hurts! My head hurts!”

His father said to one of the servants, “Carry him home to his mother.”

20 So the servant took him home, and his mother held him on her lap. But around noontime he died. 21 She carried him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and left him there. 22 She sent a message to her husband: “Send one of the servants and a donkey so that I can hurry to the man of God and come right back.”

23 “Why go today?” he asked. “It is neither a new moon festival nor a Sabbath.”

But she said, “It will be all right.”

24 So she saddled the donkey and said to the servant, “Hurry! Don’t slow down unless I tell you to.”

25 As she approached the man of God at Mount Carmel, Elisha saw her in the distance. He said to Gehazi, “Look, the woman from Shunem is coming. 26 Run out to meet her and ask her, ‘Is everything all right with you, your husband, and your child?’”

“Yes,” the woman told Gehazi, “everything is fine.”

27 But when she came to the man of God at the mountain, she fell to the ground before him and caught hold of his feet. Gehazi began to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone. She is deeply troubled, but the Lord has not told me what it is.”

28 Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

29 Then Elisha said to Gehazi, “Get ready to travel[a]; take my staff and go! Don’t talk to anyone along the way. Go quickly and lay the staff on the child’s face.”

30 But the boy’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I won’t go home unless you go with me.” So Elisha returned with her.

31 Gehazi hurried on ahead and laid the staff on the child’s face, but nothing happened. There was no sign of life. He returned to meet Elisha and told him, “The child is still dead.”

32 When Elisha arrived, the child was indeed dead, lying there on the prophet’s bed. 33 He went in alone and shut the door behind him and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again! 35 Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes!

36 Then Elisha summoned Gehazi. “Call the child’s mother!” he said. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Here, take your son!” 37 She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs.

In this passage, we see that that son of the woman from Shunem dies. If you have any heart to you at all, you must understand this woman’s pain. We see that because her husband was old, it is assumed that she was not young herself. Therefore, her having a child is a miracle in and of itself. Imagine the joy that having a child would have brought this ancient Middle Eastern woman. Imagine the joy of a miracle child would bring to any mother in any age. Then, to have that miracle child struck down by death suddenly. Imagine the depth of that grief. To have the mountaintop experience of joy at having a child to a mother that thought she would never have a child and then to lose that child to death suddenly. The grief must have been astounding. Remember, she was living this actual event as it actually happened and not knowing how it was going to turn out. Imagine the grief. Imagine the feeling of loss. Imagine the feeling of despair.

That’s the thing here on Good Friday that we should get ourselves in the mindset of. For the moment, let us identify with the grief and sense of loss of both the disciples of Jesus and this woman of Shunem. They don’t know how the story is going to turn out. They don’t know. They do know that, based on human experience throughout history since the Garden of Eden, death is final. It is the end. It is irreversible. Let us identify with that. Let us live that today along with those first century disciples and with this women from Shunem some nine centuries earlier than that. They don’t know what is about to happen. The disciples had to live from 3pm today on Friday until sunrise on Sunday, parts of three days – not knowing, grieving. Though they had been told by Jesus that He would rise again. They had seen Him killed and knowing from human experience and not truly getting who Jesus was yet, they thought this three year ride with the man of God, Jesus, was over and they were scared worried and grieving.

Now, stop reading here for a little while and think about the disciples hiding out and grieving and think about this woman who was grieving. Let it marinate in your soul for a little while and …. Then come back here and read…

First let us consider the Shunem woman and the joy she must have felt – even greater than the joy of having the child. Think of the utter joy of having a child that was dead come alive again! Elisha says,  “Here, take your son!” 37 She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs. Imagine the joy at what God had done for her. Imagine the gratitude. Imagine the mind being blown by this event. Everything you’ve known about the finality of death set on its head. You have your child alive again! Imagine! Imagine! If you can’t believe in God after such an event as this, when will you believe? For the Shunem woman, God is to be praised for this ultimate, death destroying miracle! Imagine what she must have felt and would feel from this day forward every time she looks at her son!

Now imagine again the disciples where we left them…

They are in the Upper Room, most likely. They are scared, afraid, grieving. In bursts, Mary Magdalene and announces the shocking news. She has seen the empty tomb. They don’t want to believe her. After all in the ancient Middle East the testimony of a woman was not considered reliable. She persists that He is alive. She even talked to Him. Finally, Peter realizes what Jesus had told them and rushes off like a madman to see for Himself that the tomb is empty along with John:

“Therefore, Peter went out along with the other disciple and came to the tomb. Now, both ran together but the other disciple was quicker than Peter and entered the tomb first. Looking in he saw the grave clothes lying there, but did not enter. Then Simon Peter came following him and entered the tomb. He saw the grave clothes lying there and the face-cloth, which had been on his head, was not with the grave clothes that were lying there, but was by itself, rolled up in its place. Then the other disciple entered in, who had reached the tomb first, and he saw and believed — for they had not understood the Scripture that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples departed on their own.” — John 20:3-10.

he women have been to the grave already, now it is time for Peter and John to witness the empty tomb for themselves. They race to the tomb, John is quicker, so he beats Peter to the entrance, but stops to peer in. Peter thus, enters first. And, in addition to the grave clothes, they find the face-cloth set to the side and even folded (or at least, not casually discarded like the grave clothes).

The question of the face cloth, either folded or rolled up (depending on how you translate the terms, though “rolled up” may be more literal) has caused no end of speculation. In the early church (which was closest to the Jewish culture of Jesus’ Day), the argument was made that a folded (or rolled) cloth would not be something that robbers would leave behind — it would be discarded in haste, not carefully rolled. Thus, it is meant as a testimony once again that Jesus’ tomb had not been burgled during the night. Others go to great lengths to try and see it as a message to the disciples from beyond the grave…yet, if it was a “message,” that message fell on deaf ears because the accounts that follow still betray much confusion on the part of the Apostles.

What is more important is what John actually records about the disciples not really understanding the Scriptural bit about Jesus rising from the dead…and then John believing. In other words, when confronted with the empty tomb, John’s response was a response of faith. A point that we have already discussed in these reflections is the importance of evidence to support the faith we profess. Yet, it cannot be emphasized enough that true Biblical faith is not a matter of acting blindly, but it is the spiritual sight needed to see and understand the testimony that God presents in nature and the events of history to see his hand at work and then believe.

The resurrection of Jesus is the most important event in all of history, for this is the event that proclaims that death has been destroyed. And thus, we are given evidence — not just the eyewitness of several women, but now two men have seen the empty tomb as well (not to mention some Roman Guards). And things are only going to get more interesting from here as Jesus appears to the Eleven and then to others. The faith we have as Christians is not just grounded on stories or legends, but it is grounded on historical facts…the most important of which is that this man, Jesus, has risen from the dead.

Imagine the joy that follows in the days where the resurrected Jesus spends time with the disciples and appears to hundreds of people over a period of about six weeks. Imagine the joy that the disciples must have felt at knowing that Jesus was the real deal, the son of God, the Messiah, the Promised One, God in the flesh. Death was not the end of Jesus. It was just the beginning. The disciples were so empowered by Jesus’ resurrection and by the day of Pentecost that they literally changed the world as we know it. They, who were clueless much of Jesus’ earthly ministry, were now amazing ministers of the gospel of the resurrected Christ – that changed the world!

The uniqueness of Christ is that He was fully human and fully divine. So, no matter what human experience of pain, loss, and despair that you may feel. Jesus has been there. Done that. He can identify directly with what you are going through right now. He was human. He knows the human experience from birth to death and all (even injustice) of it in between. He knows it. He lived it. He felt it. Jesus knows exactly what you are going through in this fallen world in which we live. He even knows death. He can walk with you through every aspect of living a human life. He’s done it. No matter how dark the valley you are in, He can identify with you in it. He is there with you right now. Reach out to Him. He will comfort you from first hand knowledge of the human experience.

Yet, at the same time, He is fully God. He conquered death. Through His resurrection, we know that whatever we are going through, we can conquer it. Through His resurrection, we know that there is hope. Through his resurrection, we know He’s got us in the palm of His hands. Death where is your sting. Death where is your finality. In Jesus Christ, we can rise again. In Jesus Christ, we have a future. In Jesus Christ, we know that there is a heaven and there is a reward for being His follower. Death is not the end. It is only the beginning. We have joy! We have peace! We have a resurrected King!

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 4:8-37 (Part 2 of 3)

Elisha and the Woman from Shunem

How often do we pass by people in our lives that need our help but we rationalize away not stopping to help? I am as guilty as anyone. We have become so jaded about people “working the system” that we rationalize away not helping. We have people approach us at gas stations asking for gas money. We pass by people at intersections in our car with “will work for food” signs. We past by beggars on the street. We either say that we cannot help because we don’t have time or we look the other way. We don’t have time to get involved, we say. We tell ourselves that they are trying to scam us. And most certainly, these thoughts are valid. There are many who panhandle their way through life and prey upon the good hearts of good people. There is so much of “people working the system” out there that these feelings are valid and real. It is sad that often people in real need get overlooked by those who can help because of all those who are con-artists and scammers. We often think to ourselves, “get a job, dude!” or “if you spent as much time trying to find productive work as you did trying to scam people, you would not be in this situation!” It’s a common thing in the human experience.

Should you give to those who ask, whether they are knocking at your door or asking on the street? My answer is usually, yes. Usually, the default should be yes. I am not saying that we should not be wise, but we should not become so jaded as to avoid helping others altogether. We can be wise in how we help others. We must remember that love does no harm to the person you are attempting to love. Love does no harm. Romans 13:10 says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor,” — It doesn’t harm a neighbor — “therefore, love fulfills the law.” You have to ask, “Am I harming him?” Love aims to do good. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:43–44). That means pray for their good. It doesn’t mean pray for their harm. You want this person’s good. So, you don’t want to just feed their bad habits. hat is the argument usually used for why you shouldn’t give to them. Love has real compassion. The parable of the prodigal and of the good Samaritan closes with this. Who proved to be neighbor to this man? The one who showed compassion. And Jesus said, “Go do that. Go be compassionate.”

Being compassionate does not always mean giving someone money. Being compassionate can mean buying groceries for the person standing outside the grocery store begging for money. Being compassionate can mean getting a prepaid gas card for the person asking for gas money. Being compassionate means meeting the need they ask for rather than giving money. Being compassionate means often stopping and taking time out of our daily pursuits to help someone in need rather than throwing money at them. Being compassionate means having real conversations with a person in need. It may mean that you say to them that giving them money is not wise and that you would like to meet that need that they are asking for. Often that very type of conversation will expose those who are just trying to scam you for money. Those in real need will accept a grocery gift card if they are in need of groceries. Those in real need will accept you paying for their gas at the register if they really need gas for their car. We must also be aware of physical danger through the warnings of the Holy Spirit and not put ourselves in situations that are not in public places with many witnesses. However, there are those in real need of real help out there so we must be wise but willing to help.

Being generous not only means recognizing needs of people in desperate straits. We must be willing be generous to all people in all walks of life. We should be able to bless others because we are a thankful people for the blessings that God has bestowed upon us. For example, we had a couple in our church that knew we needed a dining room table for our new home here in the Quad Cities. They were buying a new dining room set for their home and they just gave us their old dining room furniture. Just gave it to us. We had known them less than two months at the time, but they simply heard that we had a need. They had a way to fill it and they did it. Not because we were long-time friends at that point. They barely knew us. But they simply wanted to express the love of Jesus Christ to us by being generous. We could have gone out and bought a dining room set so it was not some dire straits kind of need. They were just sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in their lives to be generous to others.

That idea of going out of our way to be generous was what struck me about the woman from Shunem this morning as I read through 2 Kings 4:8-37 for the second time this morning. She did not have to be generous. And even being generous could have meant just giving some cash to Elisha. But no, she went out of her way and built this guy a room at her house. She went out of her way to meet a real need. Let’s read the passage once again now:

8 One day Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there, and she urged him to come to her home for a meal. After that, whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for something to eat.

9 She said to her husband, “I am sure this man who stops in from time to time is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s build a small room for him on the roof and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then he will have a place to stay whenever he comes by.”

11 One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to this upper room to rest. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the woman from Shunem I want to speak to her.” When she appeared, 13 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tell her, ‘We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?’”

“No,” she replied, “my family takes good care of me.”

14 Later Elisha asked Gehazi, “What can we do for her?”

Gehazi replied, “She doesn’t have a son, and her husband is an old man.”

15 “Call her back again,” Elisha told him. When the woman returned, Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, 16 “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”

“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”

17 But sure enough, the woman soon became pregnant. And at that time the following year she had a son, just as Elisha had said.

18 One day when her child was older, he went out to help his father, who was working with the harvesters. 19 Suddenly he cried out, “My head hurts! My head hurts!”

His father said to one of the servants, “Carry him home to his mother.”

20 So the servant took him home, and his mother held him on her lap. But around noontime he died. 21 She carried him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and left him there. 22 She sent a message to her husband: “Send one of the servants and a donkey so that I can hurry to the man of God and come right back.”

23 “Why go today?” he asked. “It is neither a new moon festival nor a Sabbath.”

But she said, “It will be all right.”

24 So she saddled the donkey and said to the servant, “Hurry! Don’t slow down unless I tell you to.”

25 As she approached the man of God at Mount Carmel, Elisha saw her in the distance. He said to Gehazi, “Look, the woman from Shunem is coming. 26 Run out to meet her and ask her, ‘Is everything all right with you, your husband, and your child?’”

“Yes,” the woman told Gehazi, “everything is fine.”

27 But when she came to the man of God at the mountain, she fell to the ground before him and caught hold of his feet. Gehazi began to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone. She is deeply troubled, but the Lord has not told me what it is.”

28 Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

29 Then Elisha said to Gehazi, “Get ready to travel[a]; take my staff and go! Don’t talk to anyone along the way. Go quickly and lay the staff on the child’s face.”

30 But the boy’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I won’t go home unless you go with me.” So Elisha returned with her.

31 Gehazi hurried on ahead and laid the staff on the child’s face, but nothing happened. There was no sign of life. He returned to meet Elisha and told him, “The child is still dead.”

32 When Elisha arrived, the child was indeed dead, lying there on the prophet’s bed. 33 He went in alone and shut the door behind him and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again! 35 Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes!

36 Then Elisha summoned Gehazi. “Call the child’s mother!” he said. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Here, take your son!” 37 She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs.

In this passage, we see that the woman from Shunem realized that Elisha was a man of God, and, so, she prepared a room for him to use when he was in town. She did this out of kindness and because she sensed a need, not for any selfish motives. Soon, her kindness would be rewarded beyond her wildest dreams. How sensitive are we to the needs of those around us? Often, we get so caught up in our needs and, even, in our cynicism about the world that we do not offer to assist others.

One of the things that often prevents us from being sensitive to the needs of others is because we have mortgaged our own futures away by the gathering of things. We live in a society where it seems to be our bent to spend more than we make and acquiring things that we cannot afford. We are encouraged by our society to be selfish and that we must have the latest and greatest things no matter if we can afford them or not. The lessons that I take away from the generosity of the woman from Shunem is that it is apparent that she lived simply enough where she had the capacity to be generous.

That’s the first thing. Let us learn to be a people that lives on less than our income so that we CAN be generous. Let us be able to give to the Lord through our tithes and offerings and also be able to meet real needs of real people. That means we keep our cars a little longer. That means we don’t want that big fine brand new car with the huge car payment. That means that we forgo the big house. That means that we do that because we want to be generous and not let our STUFF get into the way. We want to be generous because we are thankful for God’s blessing on our lives and we want our generosity to be a testament of how good God is.

The second thing is that we should act on those divine leadings where God provides us those divine appointments to be generous. Sometimes, it means going out of our way and getting out of our comfort zone and cynicism. We should be wise as I said and we should pray for the Holy Spirit to give us that wisdom in recognizing real needs. But we should have a mind toward generosity. Jesus was generous enough to step out of heaven to die for our sins, so, then, we should have a mind to show generosity to the world around us and to recognize situations where we can.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 4:8-37 (Part 1 of 3)

Elisha and the Woman from Shunem

Have you been in a situation where you felt you had already experienced it before but you knew that was not true and that it was completely new experience? In his 1863 travelogue Our Old Home, Nathaniel Hawthorne described a visit to Stanton Harcourt, a 15th century manor house near Oxford, England. As he stood in the building’s enormous medieval kitchen, the writer recalled, he was washed over by an eerie sensation:

“I was haunted and perplexed by an idea that somewhere or other I had seen just this strange spectacle before. The height, the blackness, the dismal void, before my eyes, seemed as familiar as the decorous neatness of my grandmother’s kitchen.”

Hawthorne had never been to Stanton Harcourt before, but yet the feeling of have encountered the experience before was palpable to him. Scientists have often found that feelings like this come from fuzzy memory bytes in our brain that are so fuzzy and less firmly entrenched in our memory banks that a trace memory can cause a feeling of having been somewhere before. That is almost certainly what happened with Hawthorne in the kitchen. Recall that it was the “height” and “blackness” of the room that stirred his global memory of having been there before. Indeed, Hawthorne figured this out himself, without the tools of modern memory research. He later summoned up a dim memory of a poem by Alexander Pope, who had also been moved to write about the cavernous rooms of Stanton Harcourt.

That is the feeling that comes to mind when you read 2 Kings 4. There are two miracles performed here that you know you have read somewhere before. You think to yourself, “I have read this before! That can’t be! Can it?” But you persist in that feeling. So you do a little research and, yes, your vague recall of having seen these miracles before is real. If you read 1 Kings and 2 Kings right after one another, your feelings are valid. We’ve been there and seen that already! It is because God’s 2nd and 3rd miracles performed through Elijah in 1 Kings 17 are substantially similar to the 3rd and 4th miracles God performs through Elisha. In 1 Kings 17:12-16, the widow’s food was multiplied beyond your wildest dreams of just having enough for one next meal. It’s counterpart in 2 Kings 4 is the widow’s oil being multiplied such that the widow would have some financial security from its sale. In 1 Kings 17:17-24, that same widow’s son was raised to life by God through Elijah by the prophet laying on top of the son. In 2 Kings 4, we find the counterpart miracle of the raising of the child of the woman from Shunem from the dead in similar fashion. The similarities are there. The similarities of Elisha to Elijah are strong. Maybe it has something to do with Elisha having been mentored by Elijah over the years.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Elisha’s ministry, particularly early on is quite similar to that which he observed from his mentor, Elijah. Elisha experienced first hand at the feet of one of the great men of God of the Bible, Elijah. Elijah was such a great man of God, he was one of the two men with Jesus in the vision given to the disciples. So, Elisha did well to imitate his ministry as he was learning his role early on. Certainly after this early period of Elisha’s ministry, the similarities begin to fade simply because Elisha encountered different people, different times, different circumstance that caused his ministry to become unique and standalone from that of Elijah. Maybe, these early miracles were to demonstrate to other’s that Elisha was indeed a man of God in the same way Elijah was. Maybe, these early miracles were because Elisha was sensitive to the same things that Elijah was trained by God to be sensitive to. Regardless, the evidence is there that Elisha had been with Elijah.

That similarity of miracles was what caught my eye this morning as we begin a three-part review of this passage, 2 Kings 4:8-37. It was the similarity of the miracles that brought to mind that Elisha was indeed a student of Elijah and was sensitive to the same things that Elijah had been sensitive to. That Elisha’s early ministry was so similar to that of Elijah reminded me that I have my own great men of God to imitate in my upcoming ministry where I will be a solo pastor for the first time in my life. I have four men of God that I have observed closely as I have been preparing for this next phase of God’s call on my life. Let’s read the passage now and recall the similarity of this miracle to one that we have already seen similarly in 1 Kings 17:

8 One day Elisha went to the town of Shunem. A wealthy woman lived there, and she urged him to come to her home for a meal. After that, whenever he passed that way, he would stop there for something to eat.

9 She said to her husband, “I am sure this man who stops in from time to time is a holy man of God. 10 Let’s build a small room for him on the roof and furnish it with a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Then he will have a place to stay whenever he comes by.”

11 One day Elisha returned to Shunem, and he went up to this upper room to rest. 12 He said to his servant Gehazi, “Tell the woman from Shunem I want to speak to her.” When she appeared, 13 Elisha said to Gehazi, “Tell her, ‘We appreciate the kind concern you have shown us. What can we do for you? Can we put in a good word for you to the king or to the commander of the army?’”

“No,” she replied, “my family takes good care of me.”

14 Later Elisha asked Gehazi, “What can we do for her?”

Gehazi replied, “She doesn’t have a son, and her husband is an old man.”

15 “Call her back again,” Elisha told him. When the woman returned, Elisha said to her as she stood in the doorway, 16 “Next year at this time you will be holding a son in your arms!”

“No, my lord!” she cried. “O man of God, don’t deceive me and get my hopes up like that.”

17 But sure enough, the woman soon became pregnant. And at that time the following year she had a son, just as Elisha had said.

18 One day when her child was older, he went out to help his father, who was working with the harvesters. 19 Suddenly he cried out, “My head hurts! My head hurts!”

His father said to one of the servants, “Carry him home to his mother.”

20 So the servant took him home, and his mother held him on her lap. But around noontime he died. 21 She carried him up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, then shut the door and left him there. 22 She sent a message to her husband: “Send one of the servants and a donkey so that I can hurry to the man of God and come right back.”

23 “Why go today?” he asked. “It is neither a new moon festival nor a Sabbath.”

But she said, “It will be all right.”

24 So she saddled the donkey and said to the servant, “Hurry! Don’t slow down unless I tell you to.”

25 As she approached the man of God at Mount Carmel, Elisha saw her in the distance. He said to Gehazi, “Look, the woman from Shunem is coming. 26 Run out to meet her and ask her, ‘Is everything all right with you, your husband, and your child?’”

“Yes,” the woman told Gehazi, “everything is fine.”

27 But when she came to the man of God at the mountain, she fell to the ground before him and caught hold of his feet. Gehazi began to push her away, but the man of God said, “Leave her alone. She is deeply troubled, but the Lord has not told me what it is.”

28 Then she said, “Did I ask you for a son, my lord? And didn’t I say, ‘Don’t deceive me and get my hopes up’?”

29 Then Elisha said to Gehazi, “Get ready to travel[a]; take my staff and go! Don’t talk to anyone along the way. Go quickly and lay the staff on the child’s face.”

30 But the boy’s mother said, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I won’t go home unless you go with me.” So Elisha returned with her.

31 Gehazi hurried on ahead and laid the staff on the child’s face, but nothing happened. There was no sign of life. He returned to meet Elisha and told him, “The child is still dead.”

32 When Elisha arrived, the child was indeed dead, lying there on the prophet’s bed. 33 He went in alone and shut the door behind him and prayed to the Lord. 34 Then he lay down on the child’s body, placing his mouth on the child’s mouth, his eyes on the child’s eyes, and his hands on the child’s hands. And as he stretched out on him, the child’s body began to grow warm again! 35 Elisha got up, walked back and forth across the room once, and then stretched himself out again on the child. This time the boy sneezed seven times and opened his eyes!

36 Then Elisha summoned Gehazi. “Call the child’s mother!” he said. And when she came in, Elisha said, “Here, take your son!” 37 She fell at his feet and bowed before him, overwhelmed with gratitude. Then she took her son in her arms and carried him downstairs.

In this passage, we see the similarity of this miracle to one performed by God through Elijah in 1 Kings 17. From the expanse of the testimony of the Bible, we know that Elijah was a great man of God. He is like one of the hall of fame of God’s chosen prophets and leaders of God’s people. Elisha did well to imitate this great man of faith. That was the idea that came to mind. We all have people in our lives that are far ahead of us in the walk with God that we can imitate, who set the example for us on how we should live and lead as Christ followers.

For me, there are four men that I owe a great debt in my development as a Christ follower and I will imitate the best of each of them going forward. The first one is Luke Brower, my pastor at Livermore Alive Community Church. Luke simply made being a Christ follower fun for me. It was no longer a struggle after having met him. It was no longer a box that I got out and played with and put back up after having met him. He taught me that being a Christ follower is a 24/7/365 thing. It’s a lifestyle not a thing you do on occasion. He taught me that we must live for Him all the time in everything we do and that it can be fun not a chore. The second man is Jeff Hickman, the senior and founding pastor at LifeSong Church. He taught me about the basics of leadership and that we have to own our own faith. He taught me that our faith is not about having favor from your pastor. Our faith is between us and God and that we have to own it. He also taught me about leadership and casting vision. He taught me about being passionate about souls and not just about a selfish form of Christianity that’s all about me. Next are two men that I work under currently. First, is Jeff Duncan, the worship pastor and second in command at Calvary Church. He has taught me about being in the ministry of reconciliation. He has taught me that conversations we have with people always should have discipleship in mind and not just the current situation and moment. He has taught me that we should have an eye even in tough conversations toward how this conversation will effect someone’s maturity in Christ not only today but years down the road. We must always be seeking reconciliation with God as the goal. We must seek unity as the goal in all we do, even in the tough conversations. And finally, there is Tim Bowman, the senior and founding pastor of Calvary Church. He has taught me much about how planning is a part of ministry, how things in ministry don’t just happen – they come from being prepared and then because of that, there’s nothing to get in the way of God doing what He’s going to do. He’s taught me that leadership of a church can be a lonely thing and a tough thing when you truly care about the souls on your staff and the souls in your congregation. He has taught me about sermon preparation. He has taught me so many things without even thinking that he is teaching me. I have observed these men of God and I will do well to imitate the best of each of them.

These are my Elijahs. These are the men of God that have influenced me and will continue to influence me in the future. The time under each of these men has been necessary and worth the lessons learned – sometimes hard lessons learned. If I can cobble together a good ministry for the Lord from observing these men operate in the spirit of the Lord, I will have done well at the end. None of them are perfect and each has their own struggles but men of God each is and each serves Him with passion. I will do well to imitate the best of their ministry efforts just as Elisha imitated Elijah.

Who is your Elijah? Who is ahead of you in their walk with Christ? We all need an Elijah to imitate!

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 4:1-7 (Part 3 of 3)

Elisha Helps a Poor Widow

Today, we pay our final visit to 2 Kings 4:1-7 before moving on to the next passage. Today, we are going to look at this passage from the perspective of the widow and her sons and how we can relate to their part in this story of God’s miraculous provision.

Fifteen to sixteen months ago, Elena and I had a choice to make. We had known for a while that we had been called to full-time ministry. In fact, we had known this for about 7 years at the time we had to make a major choice. In those 7 years prior to December 2017-January 2018, I had gone to seminary and gotten my master’s degree in Christian ministry. We had downsized our finances by paying off debts and getting a smaller house with a smaller mortgage. During those 7 years, we had become so involved in our church, we were part of the leadership team there. We were ready and willing in concept and theory to go into full-time ministry. But when the call finally came, we had a choice to make.

When Pastor Tim, the senior & founding pastor of Calvary Church of The Quad Cities, called me to offer me the job as Director of Business Services/Staff Pastor at the church, we had a choice to make that was difficult on so many levels. First and obviously, it was going to be a radical change in our finances. Though we had been preparing for this eventuality for many years and were positioned well for it, making the leap from what I was making at Fujikura America to what I was going to be making at Calvary was significant. Second, we were going to be required to move to a state and to a metropolitan area in which we had never lived, had no family even remotely near us, and had no clue really about the region. Third, it was actually a full-time ministry job not just a dream of one. This was real and this was it. It was decision time. This is where some of find ourselves when we pray for opportunities and the dream is always out there on the horizon but never actualized. In these times, when the entry into full-time ministry is just a dream and just out there somewhere on the horizon, it is easy to fantasize about what life will be like in ministry. However, often when the time comes and the dream becomes a reality, we back off from it because of doubt, because of excuses, because of…you fill in the blank.

It reminds me of the scene with the rich young ruler in Matthew 19 where Jesus tests the faith of the young man but telling him to go home and sell all his possessions and follow me. For the young man, this was too much to ask. Certainly, Jesus was not against us being rich or having nice things, but He was against those things becoming so important to us that they replace Him as our first allegiance. We must not become so wrapped up in our things or the lack of them that we make them the throne of our heart instead of Jesus.

So when the call came to go into full-time ministry, we had a choice to make. Jesus was asking us to leave our cushy and safe life behind and follow Him. He did not promise that the following would be a romp through a daisy field. He did not promise that. He simply said follow me to Moline. He simply asked us to follow. That was a major step for us. The preparation for it is one thing but the actual doing of it is another. Follow me. Trust me. Gather as many jars as you can and I will fill them. Go home and sell all your possessions and follow me. How many of us are willing to have that kind of faith? I am not trying to pat my back or Elena’s back on this thing. We simply acted in faith in the God that we know and trust. Over the years, He has always made a way for us. He has always provided for us right on time every time. He has always protected us. And, so, there are those critical moments in life, where He asks you to do something completely on faith. Others may laugh. Others may be completely puzzled by our actions. But it comes down to faith. It comes down to how big you think your God is. It comes down to how much you trust Him.

That was the idea that came to mind when I read this passage for the third and final time. That idea was “how big is your faith in God?” In each of our lives as Christ followers, there are those “critical mass” moments where we must step out in faith or withdraw into doubt and excuses (and miss out on the provision of God for our faith and obedience). Let’s read the passage now:

Chapter 4

1 One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.”

2 “What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”

“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied.

3 And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. 4 Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.”

5 So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. 6 Soon every container was full to the brim!

“Bring me another jar,” she said to one of her sons.

“There aren’t any more!” he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.

7 When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, “Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.”

In this passage, we see that the widow and her sons collected jars from friends and neighbors (probably over and above what they already had in their home), pouring olive oil into them from their one flask. The olive oil was used for cooking, for lamps, and for other uses as fuel. The oil stopped flowing only when they ran out of containers. The number of jars they had gathered was an indication of their faith. God’s provision was as large as their faith and their willingness to obey. How often do we limit God’s ability to perform miracles in our lives through a lack of faith (doubt) and an unwillingness to take the risk of stepping out in faith?

We all have those moments. Those moments that I call “critical mass moments”. Those moments where we have to put our money where our mouth is. Those moments where we have to put up or shut up. Those moments where we have to demonstrate whether we actually trust God or whether we are just all talk when it comes to trusting Him. What is your “critical mass moment” with God? If you haven’t had one already, it’s coming. We all have those moments whether we step out or come back to God with all the valid and reasonable reasons that we cannot do what He asks. Sure, God wants us to demonstrate to Him that we have done our homework to be ready for His call. We should no matter of whether God is calling us to something or not be prepared as if He is going to. We should live simply and do things to prepare our hearts and minds for God’s call. Sometimes, it will take years and decades to be ready. But when the call comes, will you be ready to step in faith like this widow or will you be like the rich young ruler?

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 4:1-7 (Part 2 of 3)

Elisha Helps a Poor Widow

You often heard it said in today’s world, “Oh, I am a New Testament Christian!” or you hear those that are far from God who say that they like and maybe even believe in Jesus but all that Old Testament stuff I just cannot buy into to all that smiting and zapping stuff. Why is that that we as Christians and many non-believers often overlook the Old Testament. Many of us are at times embarrassed, in our modern sensibilities, of the minutia of details of social order regulations and of the smiting and zapping that goes on in the Old Testament. Somehow, we see the Old Testament as a testament of a different God from that of the New Testament. Why is it that we do that? The God of the Old Testament is the same exact God as the God of the New Testament. God has not changed.

The Old Testament demonstrates God’s love and God’s righteous judgment. The Old Testament shows us God’s love for His people just as much as it shows His judgment upon unrepentant sinners. In that sense, the Old Testament shows us a complete picture of God that we must see. The Old Testament shows us ourselves, both the rebellious part of us and the faithful servant of God part of us. The Old Testament is a picture of us and how God interacts with His created beings to whom He gave free will. The Old Testament shows us his longsuffering with His rebellious children, his faithfulness toward His children who seek to follow His commands, and his ultimate justice for unrepentant sinners. There is a message of evangelism in the story and progression of the Old Testament.

Here, today, in this passage, we see God’s compassion for those who seek Him. He provides for His people. Those who seek after Him and fully believe and depend on Him as the Creator and Sustainer of All Things. He provides for those who love Him. He provides for those who seek to do His will. He provides for those who obey His Word. Since we live in a fallen world filled with sin that has spiraled in outward ripples since Adam and Eve, our lives are filled with trouble. Our own sins, the sins of others, and the reactions of all these sins against each other, all cause us to have trouble in life. It is not a matter of “if” but rather “when”. So, in this passage, a widow and her boys are in economic trouble and because of their faith, they approach Elisha seeking help. God knows the heart. He must have known that this family was seeking to serve the Lord and He provided for them. How often in my own life since salvation that I have been able to see God provide for me just when I needed it the most. God does provide for those who love Him and seeks after Him. It may not be in the way that we define it and in the timing that we prescribe to it, but God provides for us just in time, right on time, and in the right proportion to our current situation and to our maturity in Christ.

So, we see here, the compassion of God in the Old Testament and it is as ever-present in the Old Testament as is God’s justice upon the unrepentant. This is real God. We either focus only on His love and forget His justice or we focus only on His justice and forget His love. The God of the Old Testament is just as loving in the Old Testament as He is in the New Testament and He is just as just in the New Testament as He is in the Old Testament. The loving compassion God shows to the widower here is evidence of His love. His longsuffering with His rebellious children, the Israelites, over centuries and centuries shows us His amazing capacity of love – waiting and waiting for us to return to Him and quit shaking our fist at Him. Ultimately, though, there is justice coming to us all. Only those who love God, seek God with all their heart, mind and soul, and obey Him will find shelter in His arms. Righteous judgment against sin will come to us all. Unrepentant sinners just as in the Old Testament days will pay the ultimate price for having ignored, disobeyed, and outright rebelled against God. God is a longsuffering God just like a parent with a rebellious child. However, at some point, judgment must and will come. Therein lies the thing that struck me this morning!

This passage reminds of how passionately God loves each and everyone of us. He wants to have a relationship with us. He wants to provide for us. He wants to protect us just as He does for the widow in this passage. Thus, God is equal parts love and justice. Thus, as Christ followers, we must remember that God is a God of love but He is also a God of justice. Therefore, when we think of God as only a God of love then it takes the pressure off of us to evangelize our neighbors, friends and co-workers. With that idea of God being equally loving, as evidenced here, and equally just, as evidenced in both the Old and New Testament, let’s read the passage now:

Chapter 4

1 One day the widow of a member of the group of prophets came to Elisha and cried out, “My husband who served you is dead, and you know how he feared the Lord. But now a creditor has come, threatening to take my two sons as slaves.”

2 “What can I do to help you?” Elisha asked. “Tell me, what do you have in the house?”

“Nothing at all, except a flask of olive oil,” she replied.

3 And Elisha said, “Borrow as many empty jars as you can from your friends and neighbors. 4 Then go into your house with your sons and shut the door behind you. Pour olive oil from your flask into the jars, setting each one aside when it is filled.”

5 So she did as she was told. Her sons kept bringing jars to her, and she filled one after another. 6 Soon every container was full to the brim!

“Bring me another jar,” she said to one of her sons.

“There aren’t any more!” he told her. And then the olive oil stopped flowing.

7 When she told the man of God what had happened, he said to her, “Now sell the olive oil and pay your debts, and you and your sons can live on what is left over.”

In this passage, we see the first of four miracles God performs through Elisha in this chapter of the book of 2 Kings: providing money for a poverty-stricken widow, raising a dead boy to life, purifying poisonous food, and providing food for 100 men. These miracles show God’s tenderness and care for those who are faithful to Him. When reading the Old Testament, it is easy to focus on God’s harsh judgment of the rebellious and to minimize His tender care for those who love and serve Him. Seeing God at work providing for His followers helps us keep His severe justice toward the unrepentant in proper perspective. It is also impetus to us to reach those who are far from God so that they do not experience the justice of a very real and righteous judge.

That’s the takeaway this morning. Let us show the world that God is a God of love and that He wants to provide for you and me and He wants to have a relationship with His children. He wants to protect them. But let us be able to demonstrate that God is a righteous judge and because of sin, we need Jesus and His substitutionary sacrifice for our sins. Help us to demonstrate that in the absence of Jesus that we are destined to stand before a righteous Judge with no recourse, no excuse, just our naked sins to be examined and judged. The Old Testament teaches us that we need Jesus. The failures of the people of Israel to keep the law and turning their back on God is a picture of us. We are them and they are us. The Old Testament points out of need for Jesus. Outside of Jesus, there will be judgment. God loves us so He provided us a way out of our deserved judgment through Jesus. Jesus is not some optional self-help guru. The Old Testament points us to Him as a necessity. The Old Testament points us both to God’s compassionate love for us and His justice against sin.

Compassion and justice. That is God. Our job is to demonstrate God’s compassion on every sinner through His Son Jesus Christ and to demonstrate the necessity of Jesus so that a longsuffering God will not have to exact His justice against sin.

Amen and Amen.