Archive for April, 2019

2 Kings 5:1-19 (Part 4 of 4) – The Healing of Naaman

If you have kids then you have or will have the experience of teaching them to ride a bike at some point without the training wheels. That is probably a moment, or several moments, of life that we as parents will never forget. They are indelibly burnt in our memory banks. That moment when you have to let go of the bike and let you child ride without training wheels. There will be crashes. Sometimes immediately upon their realizing that you are not holding the bike anymore. There will be crashes too even after that have gone crash free for a while. Early on the crashes happen often even after the parents begin allowing you to ride off away from them. The crashes happen because we have not learned how about balance, different terrain, how the bike handles at different speeds, and the multitude of things you have to learn to become an experienced and less crash free bike rider. And even the most experienced biker can still have crashes because of either lack of attention or because of carelessness. Our walk with God is the same way. When we first become a Christian, we have handlers who keep us from falling. But at some point the training wheels have to come off and we are on our own.

That’s what I thought of this morning when I read this passage for the fourth time. This time I was really focused on the request from Naaman at the end of the passage. It’s really a training wheels issue. Does Elisha really give Naaman permission to participate in pagan worship – even if he knows that it is wrong? This question is one that is becoming more and more important to us in what is called this “post-Christian” world in which we live? Are we to participate in non-Christian activities just so we can get by in this world or even to give us credibility enough with non-believers to speak into their lives?  With these questions in mind, let’s read the passage once more, 2 Kings 5:1-19, now, before we move on:

5 The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.[a]

2 At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. 3 One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

4 So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. 5 “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold,[b] and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

8 But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir,[c] if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

16 But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” And though Naaman urged him to take the gift, Elisha refused.

17 Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord. 18 However, may the Lord pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the Lord pardon me when I bow, too.”

19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. So Naaman started home again.

In this passage, we see that Naaman makes two requests of Elisha after he is healed but before he leaves to return home. He asks for two “mule-loads” of earth to take home with him. People in the ancient Near East believed that the gods were tied to the lands they ruled. Naaman asks for dirt from the Lord’s land to sanctify the altar he plans to build for Him in another country. He then continued to say: “Yet in this thing may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon–when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please pardon your servant in this thing” (verse 18). The record goes on to say, in verse 19: “Then he [Elisha] said to him, ‘Go in peace.’ So he departed from him…”

Is Elisha really saying that it is OK to participate in a pagan practice? Even if he is doing it just to fulfill part of his duties to his king?

After all, Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:16-22: “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread. Observe Israel after the flesh: Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?”

Paul was referring here to the common religious practice of many to incorporate pagan rituals in their worship of God. Paul specifically prohibited true Church members to do that. We also note that Daniel’s three friends refused to bow down before the image or idol erected by King Nebuchadnezzar, and that they were willing to die for their refusal to do so (compare Daniel 3).

We also read Paul’s clear command in 2 Corinthians 6:16-17: “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God… Therefore, ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord…’” Paul tells us to come out of pagan temples and forsake pagan religious worship–not, to go into those temples and participate in false religious ceremonies.

So why then does Elisha appear to get at least tacit approval to Naaman’s request if the Bible is pretty clear throughout both the Old and New Testaments that we are not to participate in pagan idol worship? What? Bow down to Rimmon after declaring allegiance to the God of Israel? Does he think that the Lord God is just another local god to be pandered to?

And why does Naaman make such a request? Is he embarrassed by his new religious commitment? Is he afraid he will lose his high-ranking post if he doesn’t accompany the King of Aram to the temple of Rimmon, or if he does, is he afraid that the King of Aram will be angry if he refuses to bow to the local god? We expect Elisha to give him some much-need instruction on the the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me.” But no, Elisha simply says, “Go in peace.” In other words, “Yeah, that’s a problem; you will have to work that out.” In fact, as the story continues, Elisha is a lot harder on his servant Gehazi for secretly getting some money from the departing Naaman than he is on Naaman’s incipient idolatry. What’s going on here?

The world is filled with false gods to whom we are tempted to bow our heads every day. What kinds of bowing and bending might we be willing to do to protect our jobs or status or reputation? How often do we bow to the gods of fashion, success, sex, or money when we know deep in our hearts what the heart of God is on the subject? When have we experienced the inconvenience or embarrassment of acknowledging our faith in God and hidden it away?

Elisha doesn’t give Naaman any clear direction. He simply says, “Go in peace.” It’s a word of grace. It’s a word that says to Naaman, God will guide you, and if you do mess things up, if you do find yourself turning red-faced with shame as you bow in the Temple of Rimmon, you’re covered, but you WILL have to figure out what to do about it. He will have to seek God’s guidance on what to do. We must pray as to what our response should be. That yucky feeling that you get when you are in a situation that you know is against God’s Word should be there. We should feel yucky. That’s the Holy Spirit’s cue that something is wrong here and we most go to the Lord in prayer as to what our proper response, our proper course of action should be. It’s not just an uncomfortable feeling. It’s the Holy Spirit guiding you to a position of prayer.

We cannot always run to our pastor to tell us what to do. It’s just impossible. We can’t always have our accountability partners with us to give us our advice. Sometimes, we are on our own.  Sometimes, early in our walk, we will get it wrong when on our own. But we must be honest and humble enough to admit that we got it wrong and seek forgiveness from God. As we mature, we will get it wrong less often, but we still have screw-ups and sometimes even after years of being a Christ follower, we screw up in a major way. Elisha’s “go in peace” is an acknowledgement that we do have to think for ourselves but God has grace for us when we mess things up. From our mistakes in our walk, we grow and learn.

We must develop our own ability to discern the will of God and we do that through repeated and daily prayer. Sometimes in life, we have the choice between doing the right thing on one hand and damaging relationships on the other. Some examples are: When do I confront my friends about their racist attitudes? Should I attend that same-sex wedding my friend invited me to? How much can I overlook the shady business practices of the company I work for even though I’m not directly responsible for them? We can get advice from others and I am not discounting that, but we are the ones that have to apply godly advice and God’s Word in our own words and in our own ways. And sometimes, we get it wrong by doing or saying something or we choose to do nothing which in and of itself can sometimes be wrong.

The “go in peace” is Elisha’s way of saying (1) you will have to figure some stuff out on your own, (2) sometimes you will get it wrong, and (3) God has grace for enough for our mistakes when we are humble enough to seek his forgiveness and learn from the experience.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 5:1-19 (Part 3 of 4)

The Healing of Naaman

First a funny story:

Robert had never been married and still lived at home with his elderly father.  His mother had passed away several years before.  Now that his father was sick and near death, he was the sole heir to inherit a fortune.  His father told him, “Robert, you’re going to be lonely living in this big house by yourself.  You need to go find yourself a wife to keep you company.”

So, he went to a singles bar, and spotted a woman whose beauty took his breath away.  He boldly walked up to her and said, “Right now, I’m just an ordinary man.  But a month or two from now, my father will pass away and I’ll inherit over 20 million dollars.”  The woman gladly went home with Robert and he introduced her to his father.

Four days later, she got married and became his stepmother.

Now an interesting perspective on wealth:

People living in North America, Europe, and high-income Asia-Pacific countries hold 90% of the world’s wealth.  If your household assets exceed $61,000 (home equity, cars, retirement, investments) then you are among the richest 10% in the world.  You’re in the top 1% of global wealth if your assets top $500,000.  Half of the earth’s adult population, 1.8 billion, has less than 1% of the world’s wealth.  (U.S. News & World Report, 12/18/06)

We are often obsessed with accumulating wealth even as American middle class citizens. Many of us mortgage away our future to have the latest and greatest things. We buy homes that are beautiful, modern, and have every convenience as much to create envy as it is to have the latest and greatest. Many of us buy cars with car payments that are the size of what house payments were twenty, thirty years ago. We often have two of these car payments. Kids having to have and wearing $200 sets of athletic or casual shoes. We idolize the rich athletes of the world. We idolize wealthy celebrities. We carry credit card balances on average in the $8k range. In many cases, credit card balances represent only a fraction of a household’s debt. U.S. households with any kind of debt held an average of $135,7683 in outstanding debt, which can include mortgages, student loan debt, and both transacting and revolving credit card balances.

It is a dizzying and maddening life cycle of living from paycheck to paycheck. We often are squeezed to the brink by our desire for the latest and greatest and the newest. Most of us live so close to or beyond our income that any hiccup in expenses or our income will throw us into disaster mode. We spend so much on ourselves in the present that most Americans have not planned well for our retirement. We spend so much on ourselves that we cannot be generous to others with the average American giving away only 2% of their income to any and all charities including their churches, if they attend one regularly at all. Money stress is often the cause of divorces. In a recent survey of divorced American, arguments about money and monetary priorities was the 2nd leading cause of divorce.

Sure, we should have concern about money. According to one statistic that I consistently found in research over the years is that 15% of all that Jesus said in the Bible was about money or obsession about it. How do we pay the light bill? The car needs repair. The mortgage is due. Gas prices keep rising. It was the same in Jesus’ day. There were taxes, both government and religious. Food had to be bought at the market. People had to have a place to live and clothes to wear. And people always like those extras – like a fancy dress or a bracelet from the caravan. Today, it’s SUVs and HDTVs. The late Richard Halverson, a chaplain of the U.S. Senate, in his book, Perspective, wrote, “Jesus Christ said more about money than any other single thing because money is of first importance when it comes to a man’s real nature. Money is an exact index to a man’s true character.” Did Jesus spend so much time talking about money because having money was wrong?

Since many wealthy people – both in Jesus’ time (See Lk 8:3) and today – followed the Lord and did good things with their money, it seems that Jesus had other concerns with money. Concerns about human nature. Jesus’ messages about money seem less to do with “too much” than with “too little.” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus is concerned with people having too little of what they really need. That meant health for the sick, welcome for outcasts, food for beggars, and protection for women and children. But Jesus’ concern also included those who had too little of what really matters – the Kingdom, seeking after God’s will for our lives and the lives of others.

And Jesus saw that money and wealth often cause a poverty of character, a lack of what really mattered. That is why – when the rich young man “went away sad, for he had many possessions”- Jesus said “it will be hard for those who are rich to enter the kingdom of heaven.” It’s also why he told us to “give to the one who asks of you” (Mt 5:42) and that we would be judged by the measure, the generosity, by which we give (Mt 7:1). What we do with our money shows where our heart is.

In today’s passage, we see that Elisha refused a gift of money from Naaman and we must ask the question, why? Why did he refuse the gift of money? I read somewhere that about the current value of the gifts Naaman brought. The silver and gold at today’s prices would be worth $975,000. I don’t know how to value the clothes, but I am going to assume these were expensive clothes, made by a top Damascus designer worth $25,000. This meant Naaman brought $1,000,000 with him to pay for a cure for his skin disease.

What does Elisha’s refusal teach us?  With that question in mind, let’s read the passage once more, 2 Kings 5:1-19, now:

5 The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.[a]

2 At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. 3 One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

4 So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. 5 “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold,[b] and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

8 But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir,[c] if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

16 But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” And though Naaman urged him to take the gift, Elisha refused.

17 Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord. 18 However, may the Lord pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the Lord pardon me when I bow, too.”

19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. So Naaman started home again.

In this passage, we see that Elisha refused Naaman’s money to show that God’s favor cannot be purchased. Our money, like Naaman’s money, is useless when we face death. No matter how much wealth we accumulate in this life, it will evaporate when we stand before God, our Creator. It is not our bank accounts but our faith in Jesus Christ that will save us.

Elisha’s refusal of the financial gain was to demonstrate that God’s gifts to us is not contingent upon us paying for it or on performance. It is a perfect picture of salvation in Jesus Christ. We want to perform our way into heaven but there is no amount of money or effort that can erase our sin before the righteous Judge. We cannot earn it or buy it. It is a free gift from a loving God. All it takes is a belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who arose from the dead. All it takes is faith that Jesus died for our sins.

Elisha’s refusal of the financial gain also demonstrates to us that we are not to be obsessed with money and things. God is not against us having wealth. Elisha’s refusal does not cry that out. God is against us become obsessed with and beholden to our wealth. And even the envy of wealth can be as damaging to us as having wealth itself. God demands that He be the priority in our lives. Anything less than that is idolatry. What do you think about most often? How am I going to make my car payment this month? How am I going make ends me? Do you think about money more than God? Is money or the lack thereof your God?

Elisha’s refusal of the financial gain also shows us that he lived his life in such a way that money was not a central factor in his life and I don’t mean that he was super wealthy. He was a wealthy man before walking away from it and beginning his ministry under the supervision of his mentor, Elijah. And sure, Elisha most likely needed money in his day just as we do today. However, his refusal demonstrates two things about a godly lifestyle that we can use. First, in order for money not to gain control of us, we must live below our income. Second, when money does not control us we can actually not be obsessed with it.

Many of the happiest and content Christians that I know are those who have made the decision not to pursue the American Dream (or Keeping Up with the Joneses). When we decide that contentment comes from living on less than you make, when we decide that the latest and greatest is tomorrow’s old and lousy (and decide that what I have is OK and enough), when we decide that we want to free up cash for generosity (and thus pay off debts instead of trading them for new ones), when we decide to honor God first with our money, then we can find that money no longer controls. When we live off 80% or less of what we make (10% for giving, 10% for savings), money no longer controls us. We can actually use our money for God’s glory through heartfelt generosity (rather than guilty compulsion to give). We can actually be of benefit to other with our money. We can actually help change the world for Jesus Christ with our money. We can even sometimes follow God’s call on our lives when we live simply and without the continuing and maddening cycle of debt.

God is not against us having money but He is against it becoming our God. Let us be like Elisha and analyze how we live in relationship to money. Let us be like Elisha where money is not an obsession that rules us. Let us be like Elisha and live in such a way that we can be ready to walk away from it all and follow God’s call on our lives because we have not let our finances rule us.

Let us be a people that learns to live on much less than we make so that we can be generous to the world around us (and see it as an act of thanksgiving toward a God who freely and generously gave us salvation through Jesus Christ). Let us be a people who are not beholden to the latest and greatest and the debt that goes with it. Let us be a people who can use our money to advance the Kingdom of God. Let us be a people that honors God by not letting money get in the way of our placing Him first in our lives.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 5:1-19 (Part 2 of 4)

The Healing of Naaman

First off, let me say that I understand that, in large churches, you have to understand organizational theory. You have to understand staff synergy. You have to understand ways of reaching broad scopes of people. There are so many complexities that go into the making, maintaining and growing of a large church. And there are so truly valuable lessons that all pastors can learn from those who have had a part to play in the growth of the largest churches in America. We can learn valuable lessons for our churches of smaller size from the mistakes and the victories of these megachurch leaders.

There are often seminars on church growth where the experts of the most successful large churches share their ideas on what has worked for them. There are books and magazine articles and websites dedicated to how to help a pastor grow his church. It can be mind-boggling at times. What to read? Who to listen to? Things to remember. Growth ideas to implement, but which one? Following the latest trends of what’s cool in this new age of modern church, but which one? Which megachurch pastor’s books should you read – Tony Evans? Andy Stanley? Tim Keller? John Piper? Charles Swindoll? Bill Hybels? Rick Warren? Stephen Furtick? Or Perry Noble? Just to name a few. It can be just mind blowing.

One thing that we must never forget regardless of the size of our church, large or small, megachurch or small family church, it’s gotta always be about Jesus. We can make church itself overly complicated with applying this strategy or that strategy or following this trend or that trend. However, the central focus can never be anything else other than Jesus Christ. It is really very simple. Jesus said it Himself. Love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor with the same kind of unconditional love that we love ourselves.

Let us never forget that the story is quite simple. We are born into sin from our parents who can trace their sinful nature all the way back to Adam and Eve. We are born with the fleshly propensity for sin. It is a 100% probability that we will sin after we are born. When we commit that very first sin, we are condemned forever by that one sin. It is like dropping a drop of ink into clear water. It is forever changed and cannot be changed back after that one drop of ink enters the water. Add to that, the boatload of sins that we commit in a lifetime, on our own merits before the Righteous Judge that is God, we do not have any defense. We cannot claim that the first sin He presents to us as evidence against us was a one time thing. Our glass of water has so many drops of ink in it that it is pitch black. We are habitual sinners, habitual criminals before a Judge who has our record in front of Him. We can do no amount of good things that can change our glass of water back to clear water after the ink is in it. We need intervention and in walks Jesus into the courtroom of the Righteous Judge and tells His Father that He personally has paid the price for our sins. There is no other way to be released from our sentence from our lifetime of sins other than through the pardon offered us through Jesus Christ. He is the One who has already paid the penalty for our sins. It is only through Him.

Thus, everything should be about Him. Our strategies, our trends, the latest thing, the latest book, the latest seminar. All of it should be about reaching people with the message of Jesus Christ. That message is the Good News. The Good News is that we, as Christians, are honest about the human condition. We cannot improve ourselves in the absence of Jesus Christ and His sending of the Holy Spirit to dwell in us. We recognize that we are condemned sinners in the absence of Jesus Christ. It is the simplest message of all. We can have all the growth strategies we want. We can have all the latest greatest trends to follow. But none of it matters if it is not about Jesus Christ first. The simple message of Jesus Christ. Let us not overcomplicate it. It always should be based on the simple message – we are sinners and Jesus Christ is the cure. Everything. All of it. Begins and ends with Jesus Christ. When we forget the simplicity of the gospel message, we can easily make being Christian a very complicated thing. When we forget the simplicity of the gospel message, we can make church a very complicated thing. Thank God, my church is one that takes the view that it is very simple – it’s all about Jesus. If it ain’t about leading people to a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ, we are not going to do it. We are not trendy. We just want it to be about Jesus.

With that idea in mind, let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 5:1-19, now, and see how Naaman’s response to the simplicity is kind of like how we are about being Christians at times and how are about being the church at times:

5 The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.[a]

2 At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. 3 One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

4 So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. 5 “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold,[b] and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

8 But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir,[c] if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

16 But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” And though Naaman urged him to take the gift, Elisha refused.

17 Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord. 18 However, may the Lord pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the Lord pardon me when I bow, too.”

19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. So Naaman started home again.

In this passage, we see that Naaman left in a rage because the cure for his disease seemed too simple. He was a hero and he expected a heroic cure. Full of pride and self-will, Naaman could not accept the simple cure of faith. Sometimes, people react to God’s offer of forgiveness in the same way. Just to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God who rose from the dead somehow doesn’t seem significant enough to bring eternal life. To obey God’s commands does not seem heroic enough. What Naaman had to do to have his leprosy washed away is similar to what must do to have our sin washed away – humbly accept God’s mercy. Let us remember that it is by faith we are saved through the grace offered to us through Jesus Christ at the cross. We can’t do enough good things to deserve heaven. We only get there through grace.

Let us be a people who measures everything we do by whether it honors Jesus, leads people to Jesus, grows them deeper in their relationship with Jesus. Let’s always keep it simple. Let’s always let it be about Jesus first before it’s anything else. Let us declare that if it is not about giving glory to Jesus Christ through leading people to Him or growing people deeper in Him, we will not do it.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 5:1-19 (Part 1 of 4)

The Healing of Naaman

One of my favorite female comedians is Angelah Johnson. She is cleverly funny and she has some characters that she steps into during her comedy routines that are just hilarious. One of those characters is a young girl that is this combination of black hip-hop girl and a Latino gangsta girl and her name is Bon Qui Qui. The origin of this character for Angelah was during an episode of the sketch comedy show that’s no longer on the air but its name was MADtv. This character is an employee at a knock off of Burger King called King Burger. The scene goes like this:

Bon Qui Qui is shown at the register for King Burger, talking on her cell phone]

Bon Qui Qui [on phone]: So Marcus was supposed to meet me yesterday and he didn’t even show up. Girl I will cut him. Girl yes I will, remember last time alright when he had said he didn’t hook up with Tracy…

[Customer #1 is seen approaching the register]

Bon Qui Qui [on phone]: …girl I cut him. Oh yes I did girl!

Customer #1: Excuse me…

Bon Qui Qui [on phone]: Yes I did! Yes I…

[sees Customer #1]

Bon Qui Qui: Uh, do you see me in the middle of a conversation? Don’t interrupt. Rude.

[Customer #1 looks baffled]

Bon Qui Qui: Girl I’m gonna have to call you back.

[Annoyed, Bon Qui Qui hangs up the phone]

Bon Qui Qui: Welcome to King Burger, where we could do it your way…but don’t get crazy.

Customer #1: Sorry…can I get a number 6 with a cookies ‘n’ cream milkshake?

Bon Qui Qui: *groans*. You sure you don’t just want a Coke?

Customer #1: …Pardon?

Bon Qui Qui: Now I gotta get the ice cream out, gotta get all the cookies in it, I don’t even know how to use that blender – I gotta be pressin’ all these crazy buttons…no. You could have a coke. [on loudspeaker] Lemme get a #6 with a large coke. Next.

Customer #2: Hi, I’ll have a #3 with no cheese, no tomato, and no lettuce.

Bon Qui Qui: Dang, anything else?! [on loudspeaker] I got a complicated order. *glares at the customer*. Lemme get a #3 with no cheese, no tomato…

Customer #2: Wait, wait, wait – I’m sorry, I…

Bon Qui Qui: Um, excuse me, sir. You see me tryin’ to put in my order? Don’t interrupt. Rude. [on loudspeaker] …and no lettuce. That’s it. [to customer] What?

Customer #2: I changed my mind about the cheese.

Bon Qui Qui: Oh, now you want some cheese?

Customer #2: Yes!

Bon Qui Qui: You see me puttin’ in the order. Why didn’t you say nothin’ in the first place?

Customer #2: I tried to, but…

Bon Qui Qui: Uh-uh! No, sir! Don’t get loud with me sir, do NOT get loud with me! Oh no! SECURITY, security, this dude needs to go.

Mr. Williams: Bon Qui Qui…

Bon Qui Qui: Oh hey Mr. Williams. How you doin’ today, sir?

Mr. Williams: I’ve had better days, Bon Qui Qui. This is the fifth time you’ve called security today. Now how many times do I have to tell you, you cannot call security just because someone has a complicated order.

Bon Qui Qui: Is that what you had said?

Mr. Williams: Yes, that’s what I had said.

Bon Qui Qui: Oh, ok…you right, Mr. Williams. My bad, i’m sorry. Next, please.

Customer #3: Hi, can I get a number five with a boneless skinless chicken that is slightly seasoned.

Bon Qui Qui: HAHA! No. SECURITY! Security, this chick needs to go. Needs to go.

Mr. Williams: Bon Qui Qui, what?

Bon Qui Qui: Sir, she was tryin’ to fight me, sir.

Customer #3: No I wasn’t!

Bon Qui Qui: I will CUT you.

Mr. Williams: I’m sorry, she’s with our “out of the hood” program.

The reason I bring this up is that one of my favorite parts of this spoof of the worst customer service EVER is when she says “You have got to go!” in her best young thug girl accent.

In this passage, we see pride in action. As Bon Qui Qui would say, “You have got to go!” Pride has got to go. How often do we let pride get in our way of our relationship with God? We want God to do things our way. We don’t want to go out of our way. Here, in this passage we see a man suffering from a skin disease but he gets miffed because he was not treated with honor and then he didn’t want to do what he was directed to do because the river was small and muddy. How many of us act that way in our relationship with God?

We want a relationship with God but don’t make us change. We want a relationship with God but don’t make serve him when it’s inconvenient. We want a relationship with God but don’t make it a complicated order! We want a relationship with God but on our terms. We don’t want God to teach us anything. We don’t want God to stretch beyond our comfort zone. We just want a convenient, easy relationship with God where we are the ones in control. Just as Bon Qui Qui didn’t want to be bothered by customers and wanted things all her way, so too do we often let pride get in our way and it has “got to go!” We want all the blessings of God but none of the hassles of having him reveal our shortcomings to us or stretching us beyond what we want to give. We want God’s blessings but we don’t want to get dirty or messy. We want an easy relationship with God that does not require us to humble ourselves below our idea of what we deserve.

Aren’t you and I like that with God? We want him to answer our prayers but in the way that we want and think we deserve. We want him to change us as long as it doesn’t hurt or require any sacrifice. We want to grow in him but as long as it doesn’t cause us to see ourselves as we really are. I know that I often have let pride get in the way of my relationship with God.

Here recently, God has revealed that I still have pride issues and he has humbled me to see that I do not know it all. He has revealed to me that I still have much to learn. He has revealed to me that I am not the most talented guy on the block. He has revealed to be that I will not always be the best and the brightest. He has revealed to me that I must be patient, too, as He teaches me what I need at this moment in my growth in Christ. He has revealed to me that I must put in the work in my spiritual growth just as I do in my physical exercise. Spiritual growth sometimes requires pain for the gain. He has revealed to me that I must humble myself before those whom He has put over me and say “I don’t know” or say “You know better than I”.  The only way that we grow deeper in our relationship with God and move into to the blessings that He has for you is to humble yourself before the Creator and say, “Lord, teach me what I need to know about myself and what you want me to learn so that I am ready for what you have next for me!” Sometimes, this process is painful. When God reveals the reality of our own shortcomings to us is an humbling experience. However, it is necessary for us to receive what God has in store for us next. And it never stops. When we are truly seeking after God and to become more and more like Christ, He reveals our pet sins, our hidden corners of pride as we mature in Him.

It was that idea of having humility so that we can grow into what God wants us to be, having humility to learn what God wants us to learn, having humility to let God have His way instead of our own way is what I thought of this morning when I read 2 Kings 5:1-19 this morning. We want to grow in Christ but we want it to be convenient to us. With that idea in mind, let’s read the passage now:

5 The king of Aram had great admiration for Naaman, the commander of his army, because through him the Lord had given Aram great victories. But though Naaman was a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.[a]

2 At this time Aramean raiders had invaded the land of Israel, and among their captives was a young girl who had been given to Naaman’s wife as a maid. 3 One day the girl said to her mistress, “I wish my master would go to see the prophet in Samaria. He would heal him of his leprosy.”

4 So Naaman told the king what the young girl from Israel had said. 5 “Go and visit the prophet,” the king of Aram told him. “I will send a letter of introduction for you to take to the king of Israel.” So Naaman started out, carrying as gifts 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold,[b] and ten sets of clothing. 6 The letter to the king of Israel said: “With this letter I present my servant Naaman. I want you to heal him of his leprosy.”

7 When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes in dismay and said, “Am I God, that I can give life and take it away? Why is this man asking me to heal someone with leprosy? I can see that he’s just trying to pick a fight with me.”

8 But when Elisha, the man of God, heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes in dismay, he sent this message to him: “Why are you so upset? Send Naaman to me, and he will learn that there is a true prophet here in Israel.”

9 So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and waited at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 But Elisha sent a messenger out to him with this message: “Go and wash yourself seven times in the Jordan River. Then your skin will be restored, and you will be healed of your leprosy.”

11 But Naaman became angry and stalked away. “I thought he would certainly come out to meet me!” he said. “I expected him to wave his hand over the leprosy and call on the name of the Lord his God and heal me! 12 Aren’t the rivers of Damascus, the Abana and the Pharpar, better than any of the rivers of Israel? Why shouldn’t I wash in them and be healed?” So Naaman turned and went away in a rage.

13 But his officers tried to reason with him and said, “Sir,[c] if the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? So you should certainly obey him when he says simply, ‘Go and wash and be cured!’” 14 So Naaman went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times, as the man of God had instructed him. And his skin became as healthy as the skin of a young child, and he was healed!

15 Then Naaman and his entire party went back to find the man of God. They stood before him, and Naaman said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant.”

16 But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives, whom I serve, I will not accept any gifts.” And though Naaman urged him to take the gift, Elisha refused.

17 Then Naaman said, “All right, but please allow me to load two of my mules with earth from this place, and I will take it back home with me. From now on I will never again offer burnt offerings or sacrifices to any other god except the Lord. 18 However, may the Lord pardon me in this one thing: When my master the king goes into the temple of the god Rimmon to worship there and leans on my arm, may the Lord pardon me when I bow, too.”

19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said. So Naaman started home again.

In this passage, we see that Naaman, a great hero, was used to getting respect, so he was outraged when Elisha treated him like an ordinary person. A proud man, he expected royal treatment. To wash in a great river was one thing, but the Jordan River is not a mighty river – it’s rather puny when compared to the great rivers of the world. Further, not only is it is a small river but the water is also muddy and not clear. To wash in the Jordan, Naaman thought, was beneath a man of his position. Yet, he was suffering from leprosy. He was sick but was letting his pride get in the way. But Naaman had to humble himself and obey Elisha’s commands in order to be healed. Obedience to God begins with humility.

We must believe that His way is better than our own. We may not always understand His ways of working, but by humbly obeying, we will receive His blessings. We must remember that (1) God’s ways are best since He is God and we are not, (2) God wants our obedience more than anything else, and (3) God can use anything to accomplish his purposes.

Let us, Oh Lord, humble ourselves before you and realize that you are God and we are not. Help us to see that we are your children and You are our Father. Help us to accept your discipline when we need it to grow into the child of God that you want us to become. Help us to lose our pride that prevents us and blinds us from what we need to see in order to grow in our relationship with You. Help us to trust You even in the hard things that you have to teach us about ourselves. Help us to learn so that we can be more useful to you in your Kingdom. Help us to step into the muddy rivers that you ask us to step in even when we think it is beneath our dignity. Help us to realize that everything that we go through is being used by you for our good. Help us to see that even the tough things that you ask us to go through are preparation for what you have prepared for us. Help us to do the things that we don’t want to go through so that we can come out on the other side and see the blessings that you have in store for us.

Amen and Amen.

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.

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.