Archive for May, 2019

2 Kings 8:1-6

The Shumenite Woman Returns Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 8

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

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

Israel Plunders the Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Israel Plunders the Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

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

Israel Plunders the Camp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 7:3-11

Lepers Visit the Enemy Camp

When I was a kid growing up as a preacher’s kid and even later as an adult, I saw the whole purpose of church being what happened on Sunday morning. The members of the church came there to hear my dad’s sermon, be challenged by it to be better than they are, and go home. Yes, there was the meetings during the week, youth on Sunday afternoon or evening, youth trips to theme parks and to retreat centers, meetings, more meetings, and that just seemed to be it, from my perspective. It was the family business. I was there all the time. Church put food on my table and clothes on my back. I did not understand the Good News until much later in life.

Back when we were kids, the church was just always there. In fact, the church and its grounds (wherever dad was serving) was our playground. My brother and I would play at church and in the church during the week, especially in the summertime. We were big Star Trek fans in those days when all we had was the re-runs of old TV show (before all the movies and Next Generation and all that stuff that came in the 80’s and beyond). We used to imagine that the church (wherever Dad was serving at the time) was our Starship Enterprise and outside were alien worlds that were there for us to explore and have encounters with the inhabitants of these alien worlds. Little did Dad or the visitors to his office during the day know but that they were these aliens. We would have conversations with them and giggle inside knowing that they were participating in our fantasy of that day without even knowing it. Ah, my brother and I had such imaginations in those days. We could entertain ourselves for hours with Star Trek adventures. Who needed video games in those days?!?! We had our imaginations. Back to the point though…These church members, they were the aliens of our daily Star Trek episodes. They were the aliens we would be encountering in these “strange, new worlds” of our “Star Trek episode” of that day.

I got to thinking about it and how it has become that church people are aliens today. They are now encountering this strange new world in which we live. It is Star Trek. Our churches are like the Starship Enterprise now. It is our safe haven for our landing party from our excursions into the alien world. It used to be that church was part of the culture of America. But somewhere along the way, we retreated back to the spaceship. We became inward focused with all the activity within our starship. We became more concerned with the operation of the starship than why the starship was orbiting the planet. We have now discovered that the earth is an alien planet. We are simply landing parties in a far off planet at the edge of the universe. What happened?

We withdraw from the world. We quit sharing the Good News. When a church starts the talk of “us in here vs. them out there” then we begin the slow process of dying. The purpose of church is not for us. It is for “them out there”. What happens inside our churches is to prepare us to go out there. Sunday morning (and Wednesday evening if you have midweek services) are not the end game. Yes, these are necessary. Don’t get me wrong. Sunday and Wednesday services are essential parts of church life. We must have them. But these services are not the totality of Christian life. These services are gas station refueling moments. They are there to fill us up. They are there to equip us. They are there for us to look at ourselves in honesty. They are there to remind us of our purpose. They are there to remind of what the Good News is and why we should share it. But it’s not the end. Church services should equip us, energize us to go out there to share the Good News with a world that is convinced that they don’t need what we have to share. Church services prepare us for the alien world that we have been sent out as landing parties to encounter.

That’s the thing I thought of this morning. How easy it is for us to sit in our starship and be preoccupied with the starship rather than seeing the purpose of the starship being at the planet was to send out landing parties – to encounter the alien planet. And then how similar that is to our situation today as Christians. We must not get preoccupied with the starship. We must use the starship as the launching point. It is on our starship called our local church that we are prepared, but being the landing party is the purpose. That is similar to what we encounter in today’s text, 2 Kings 7:3-11. Here the lepers must either stay at the camp or go out and share the good news:

3 Now there were four men with leprosy[a] at the entrance of the city gate. They said to each other, “Why stay here until we die? 4 If we say, ‘We’ll go into the city’—the famine is there, and we will die. And if we stay here, we will die. So let’s go over to the camp of the Arameans and surrender. If they spare us, we live; if they kill us, then we die.”

5 At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, no one was there, 6 for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, “Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!” 7 So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

8 The men who had leprosy reached the edge of the camp, entered one of the tents and ate and drank. Then they took silver, gold and clothes, and went off and hid them. They returned and entered another tent and took some things from it and hid them also.

9 Then they said to each other, “What we’re doing is not right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.”

10 So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, “We went into the Aramean camp and no one was there—not a sound of anyone—only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.” 11 The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace.

In this passage, we see that the lepers discovered the deserted camp and realized that their lives had been spared. At first, they kept this good news to themselves, forgetting that their fellow citizens were starving back in the city of Samaria. God had miraculously saved the citizens of Samaria from certain death during the siege. That which was oppressing them and would lead to their death had been lifted. They did not deserve this favor from God. The Samarians had drifted far from God under the leadership of their sinful kings. However, the favor was shown by God. The lepers realized that this good news was too good to keep to themselves. They had to share it and share it they did. They ran back to town and shared it with everyone with whom they came in contact.

It certainly is obvious that this Old Testament story points us toward the Good News of Jesus Christ. The undeserved favor of God is shown upon us through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. We do not deserve it but God gives us the miraculous provision of Jesus that lifts our death sentence to eternal separation from God and all things heavenly in hell. As Christ followers, we know this Good News. We know what we have been saved from. We have stood at the edge of the cliff and had our eyes opened. We know that we have been saved from an eternity in hell through the grace of Jesus Christ on the cross. We know that we can never been good enough to earn heaven. We know that one sin, our first sin, much less the lifetimes of sins that we commit, permanently stains us and changes us and prevents us from ever being worthy to be in the presence of a perfect and holy God in heaven. It is only through Christ paying the punishment for our sins on the cross (because God defined that this was what Jesus was doing there on the cross) as the once and final perfect sacrifice for sin that we are made clean. We are made clean by believing with all our heart that Jesus Christ is God in the flesh and that he died for our sins on that cross and that He then arose from the dead. That earnest belief in Jesus Christ as being who He says He is cleanses us so that the Holy Spirit can abide within us and daily make us more like Christ Himself. That earnest belief firmly establishes us in the hands of Jesus Christ and will spend our eternity in heaven with Him. That’s the Good News.

It’s time to run to town and share it. Sunday morning is not the end game of the Christian faith. It’s just celebration time. We must gather together as Christian in our local churches so that we can band together and celebrate our Lord. But that’s just the start. We gather together in our local expressions of Christ’s universal church as the launching point to be difference makers in the world. We launch from our churches to share the Good News and be missionaries where we live, work, and play. We launch from our local church to share the Good News and take part in loving people to life. Sunday morning is necessary but it not the end game. It is the beginning. It is the filling station that charges us up to be sent back out into the world. It is our pep rally. It is our pregame speech where the coach challenges his team to look inside, change what needs to be changed to be more like Jesus so that we can go back out and win the real game outside. That game is awakening people from their blindness so that they can see what we have seen, so that they can know what we know, so that they can see faith in Jesus as necessary and not optional, so that they can see that their siege is over and they have been given undeserved favor from a loving God.

It’s time to run to town my friends. It’s time to run to town with the Good News. We cannot stay in our camp and keep the Good News of the life-saving miracle of God through Jesus to ourselves. We cannot see Sunday morning worship as our purpose, although it is a necessary part. We must see it as being equipped to be sent to town. It’s time to run to town and share the Good News. It is time to leave the starship and be the landing party!

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 6:24-7:2

The Arameans Besiege Samaria

In about a month and a half from now, I will become the pastor of a small church in Lamar, SC, about 90 miles inland from Myrtle Beach, SC. As my time here at my church in The Quad Cities of Illinois/Iowa draws to a close, there is sadness about leaving so many meaningful relationships behind. We have made so many good friends here in just a relatively short period of time (a year and a half). And there are a few of these relationships that we will leave behind that will tear holes in our hearts (specifically, the couples in our small group).

As my time here draws to a close, there is excitement about the fact that the exact thing that God has been calling me to do (to be the pastor who preaches, teaches, counsels, leads, inspires, etc.) is now coming to fruition after years of training and waiting. Between all the leadership roles that we played at LifeSong Church in Lyman, SC and in my full-time role here at Calvary Church, there has been eight years leading up to next month’s moment.

As my time here draws to a close, there is also a fear of all the things that can go wrong in ministry as I await my new assignment. I will be the pastor, the only pastor, the guy. No one to pass things off to anymore. No subjects that I can easily avoid by saying that this area of discussion I must defer to my senior pastor. Every decision, every public statement, will be scrutinized. There will be someone who will not like my decision with every decision. As with any leadership role, there is always going to be someone dissatisfied with a decision that is made. It is further complicated when you are a pastor.

I have heard stories before from other pastors including my dad and my brother among church members getting angry at a pastor for being truly honest with a person in a counseling session – for their own good. I have heard stories of people being difficult to deal with at church because church is the only place they feel like they have influence. I have heard all the horror stories of church relationships going sideways and the pastor being the blame for it. All of it is kind of scary when you think about it. I mean it’s not like it is an isolated thing. Every pastor I have every known has had experiences where they have become the lightning rod for people’s anger and hurt. The thing we must remember as pastors is that we cannot take it personally and we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. My friend and fellow pastor here at Calvary, Jeff Duncan, repeats a phrase quite often in meetings. He says, “we must be about the ministry of reconciliation.” We unpack that a little more after we read through today’s passage.

That’s what I thought about this morning as I read 2 Kings 6:24-7:2. I noticed how Elisha did not seem to take the king’s comments personally. He kept his eyes on what God was doing by the way he responded to the king. Let’s read the passage now:

24 Some time later, however, King Ben-hadad of Aram mustered his entire army and besieged Samaria. 25 As a result, there was a great famine in the city. The siege lasted so long that a donkey’s head sold for eighty pieces of silver, and a cup of dove’s dung sold for five pieces[a] of silver.

26 One day as the king of Israel was walking along the wall of the city, a woman called to him, “Please help me, my lord the king!”

27 He answered, “If the Lord doesn’t help you, what can I do? I have neither food from the threshing floor nor wine from the press to give you.” 28 But then the king asked, “What is the matter?”

She replied, “This woman said to me: ‘Come on, let’s eat your son today, then we will eat my son tomorrow.’ 29 So we cooked my son and ate him. Then the next day I said to her, ‘Kill your son so we can eat him,’ but she has hidden her son.”

30 When the king heard this, he tore his clothes in despair. And as the king walked along the wall, the people could see that he was wearing burlap under his robe next to his skin. 31 “May God strike me and even kill me if I don’t separate Elisha’s head from his shoulders this very day,” the king vowed.

32 Elisha was sitting in his house with the elders of Israel when the king sent a messenger to summon him. But before the messenger arrived, Elisha said to the elders, “A murderer has sent a man to cut off my head. When he arrives, shut the door and keep him out. We will soon hear his master’s steps following him.”

33 While Elisha was still saying this, the messenger arrived. And the king[b] said, “All this misery is from the Lord! Why should I wait for the Lord any longer?”

7 Elisha replied, “Listen to this message from the Lord! This is what the Lord says: By this time tomorrow in the markets of Samaria, six quarts of choice flour will cost only one piece of silver,[c] and twelve quarts of barley grain will cost only one piece of silver.[d]”

2 The officer assisting the king said to the man of God, “That couldn’t happen even if the Lord opened the windows of heaven!”

But Elisha replied, “You will see it happen with your own eyes, but you won’t be able to eat any of it!”

In this passage, we must ask the question, “Why did the king blame Elijah for the famine and the troubles of the siege? Some possible reasons may include:

  1. Some commentators say that Elisha must have told the king to trust God for deliverance. But after hearing of the woman’s troubles, the situation just seemed terribly hopeless. The king may have thought that Elisha had given him bad advice and not even God could or would help them. Or….
  • For years the kings of Israel and the prophets of God had been at odds with one another. The prophets often predicted gloom and doom because of the evil of the kings of Israel. Thus, the kings often saw the prophets as troublemakers. With this frame of mind, the king may have been striking out at Elisha in frustration. Or….
  • The king may have remembered when Elijah, Elisha’s mentor, helped bring an end to famine (see 1 Kings 18:41-46). Knowing Elisha was a man of God, perhaps the king thought he could do any miracle he wanted and the king was angry that Elisha wasn’t coming to Israel’s rescue.

Regardless of which these possibilities, gleaned from various commentaries on this passage, that you choose to believe, we see in each one that the “pastor” here, the prophet Elisha, is the one that is the recipient of the anger. That is often the case in church. It goes with the territory. We are the visible real, live human beings holding ourselves out to be the representatives of the gospel of Jesus Christ. But that’s where being the representative of gospel and the fact that pastors are actual real, live human beings too crash together in conflict with one another. Yes, we are pastors. But at the same time, yes, we are humans. Yes, it would be so easy for us to default to our own human nature and respond to anger with anger, frustration with frustration. And sometimes, we actually do make the mistake of responding in kind to the anger or frustration that is being heaped upon us directly.

However, as Pastor Jeff often says, “we are to be about the ministry of reconciliation.” What Pastor Jeff means by that is that we cannot take people’s anger and frustration as a personal attack. There is something going on in their lives that causes them to respond the way they do. That’s what we need to get at – not this moment of anger. We must measure our responses by what impact our words as pastors will have on (1) this person coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior or (2) deepening their relationship with Jesus Christ if they are already saved. Jeff’s words thus are profound. Thinking about how my response is going to reconcile someone to God changes everything in how we typically respond to aggression, anger, and frustration. How will my words impact this person’s walk? Will my words responded in tit for tat anger cause someone to get off trail in their walk with Jesus? Will my words cause them to not accept Jesus as their Savior? We must measure our responses by what will lead this person to a deeper knowledge and relationship with Jesus.

This is true, especially for pastors, but it also true for all Christ followers. Measure our responses. Keep our eyes on Jesus in how we respond. We are about the ministry of reconciliation.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 6:8-23 (Part 2 of 2)

Elisha Traps the Arameans

As the end of the road at Calvary Church quickly approaches and we are about to embark on the next chapter of our lives, I have come to realize that we have made some great friends and learned a lot in the short year and a half that we have been here in The Quad Cities and at Calvary Church. It is going to be a lot harder to walk out the door at church on Sunday, our last Sunday service at Calvary, and it will be equally hard to walk out the door of the church office suite on Tuesday, my last work day at the church. I am afraid that there will be crocodile tears on Sunday with friends that we have impacted and have impacted us. We have made friends through intentionality here. As a result, we have made some deep friendships here really quickly. We used meals at our table. We used ministry opportunities. We used meals at restaurants after church services (our Sundays usually don’t end until after Sunday lunch with some member couple of the church). These friendships will continue long past our departure from here but, man, it’s gonna be hard to NOT be able to see these friends daily, weekly. We were just getting started!

Then, on Tuesday, I have to let go of the work here. It has been a strange evolution in the last year and half at the job. It was kind of the path of a roller coaster. There is a hill you start out on and then you have the downslope into a valley and then back up the next hill. That’s the way the job has been. I started off on a hill, thinking I had it all knocked. Then, I realized how different this world is from the finance world I had known and how I did not grasp the structures here and down into the valley I went. Self confidence disappeared and doubt reigned. But then, with my confidence broken down (like a soldier at boot camp), I was slowly able to begin grasping the why of the way things are done here the way they are. It actually began making sense. And, now, here at the end, I am actually doing my best work here. Back up to the top of the hill on that rollercoaster analogy. That’s the hard part of leaving is that I am doing my best work now and the old confidence in my understanding of my work has returned. But it is a more humble confidence than before.

I am grateful for the deconstruction and reconstruction of my confidence that occurred here. It was necessary to realize that I am not always going to be the most talented guy on the team. It was necessary for me to realize that there is sooooo much that I don’t know, even after 30 years in my profession. It was necessary for me to realize that I had actually grown too comfortable in my previous job and had stopped seeing that I could grow and learn and that I could actually not be right. I learned that I could still make mistakes and make them weekly and often. This was necessary humility. It was painful in ways that I could not imagine going in. This was necessary humility. But on the going up the other hill side of things. The place that I am now. I am just right here at the end, at the top of the hill, and I am doing my best work so far at Calvary. No way that I could appreciate that point without the valley behind me. The confidence that I have now makes me appreciate the things that I learned back in that valley. Now, everything is making sense. Now, I understand the why behind the systems and processes that have been in place.

The lessons in humility learned here at Calvary will serve me well in my next phase of life. I have learned that I am just called to serve the Lord. I am not and will not be the savior of my next church where I will be the lead pastor, the only pastor. I have learned that I ain’t all that and a bag of chips. I have learned that this experience at Calvary will be repeated at Lamar. At Calvary, I am responsible for only one part of the spectrum of church responsibility. At Lamar, I will be responsible for it all. So the learning curve will be great. Without having had the lesson in humility here, I would not be approaching this next phase will a healthy fear that I am approaching it. I realize that I am expanding from a piece of the pie to the whole pie. I realize that I have much to learn the complete array of church life and not just part of it. Talk about healthy fear. I am going to be learning a lot, making mistakes (though not purposefully), making more than one mistake, learning, learning and more learning. And may be somewhere down the road at Lamar I will be doing my best work.

The experience at Calvary has prepared me for that. The experience at Calvary has taught me that none of us deserve to be pastors. It is just such a huge office to fill, but it is He that has led us to this and will lead us through it. Through this experience at Calvary, I have learned as a pastor you are never going to know it all and there’s only one thing you can do about it – cling to the Lord. We don’t deserve to be pastors on our own merits. We just follow the call. We just depend on His grace. We just look in humility and thankfulness toward Him that He even has allowed us to be in this place. Knowing what we know about ourselves, as people who graced by God with the office of pastor, we know we don’t deserve but humbly thank Him for the chance to serve. Thanks to my experience at Calvary, I will approach the next phase at Lamar in humility clinging to the hand of my Savior. And maybe down the road, He will have me doing my best work.

It kind of reminds you being invited to the banquet table of the Lord. He knows and we know that we don’t deserve the grace of Jesus Christ. But He has invited us to the banquet table anyway because we humbly came before the Lord and asked Him to cover our mistakes and sins through His grace. He sets a place for us at His table even though we are mistake-filled sinful people that do not deserve to be at the table. He treats us as honored guests. Sitting at the table, we are humbled by it. We know that we don’t belong on our own merits. And it is only through that realization that God can use us and work through us to do our best work for Him.

With that idea of humbly sitting at the banquet table, Let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 6:8-23, now for a second time:

8 When the king of Aram was at war with Israel, he would confer with his officers and say, “We will mobilize our forces at such and such a place.”

9 But immediately Elisha, the man of God, would warn the king of Israel, “Do not go near that place, for the Arameans are planning to mobilize their troops there.” 10 So the king of Israel would send word to the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he would be on the alert there.

11 The king of Aram became very upset over this. He called his officers together and demanded, “Which of you is the traitor? Who has been informing the king of Israel of my plans?”

12 “It’s not us, my lord the king,” one of the officers replied. “Elisha, the prophet in Israel, tells the king of Israel even the words you speak in the privacy of your bedroom!”

13 “Go and find out where he is,” the king commanded, “so I can send troops to seize him.”

And the report came back: “Elisha is at Dothan.” 14 So one night the king of Aram sent a great army with many chariots and horses to surround the city.

15 When the servant of the man of God got up early the next morning and went outside, there were troops, horses, and chariots everywhere. “Oh, sir, what will we do now?” the young man cried to Elisha.

16 “Don’t be afraid!” Elisha told him. “For there are more on our side than on theirs!” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O Lord, open his eyes and let him see!” The Lord opened the young man’s eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire.

18 As the Aramean army advanced toward him, Elisha prayed, “O Lord, please make them blind.” So the Lord struck them with blindness as Elisha had asked.

19 Then Elisha went out and told them, “You have come the wrong way! This isn’t the right city! Follow me, and I will take you to the man you are looking for.” And he led them to the city of Samaria.

20 As soon as they had entered Samaria, Elisha prayed, “O Lord, now open their eyes and let them see.” So the Lord opened their eyes, and they discovered that they were in the middle of Samaria.

21 When the king of Israel saw them, he shouted to Elisha, “My father, should I kill them? Should I kill them?”

22 “Of course not!” Elisha replied. “Do we kill prisoners of war? Give them food and drink and send them home again to their master.”

23 So the king made a great feast for them and then sent them home to their master. After that, the Aramean raiders stayed away from the land of Israel.

In this passage, we see that Elisha told the king not to kill the Arameans. The king was not to take credit for what God alone had done. In setting food and water before them, it is reminds us of the banquet table to which Jesus refers in Luke 14:15-24. Though we have done nothing to deserve the banquet table of the Lord and in fact we are enemies of righteousness, we are invited to his banquet table. As the Apostle Paul stated, “When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” – Titus 3:4-5, 7. That’s the thing that I see in this passage is that the Aramean army deserved death under the normal rules of war. They were trapped and should have been slaughtered. But, God showed them great mercy through the king of Israel (acting on the godly counsel of Elisha). They were given a new lease of life. They did not deserve by the standards of war. They were treated as if they were not aggressors but rather as honored guests and were treated with dignity. Instead of being killed or imprisoned and treated harshly, they were fed and sent home. They were given new life when they deserved death. That is the gospel in one scene.

That’s the lesson of Calvary for me. God does His best work in us and through us once we humble ourselves before Him. We don’t deserve the grace He has shown us in salvation and since salvation. We don’t deserve Him allowing us to serve Him. We don’t deserve to sit at His banquet table. Once we realize that humbling thing. God has us ready to start doing His best work in us and through us. When we realize that we have so much to be thankful for to Him, when we realize that we are never deserving, when we realize that we have so much to learn – always, when realize that we are not ready for what’s next and that we have one thing to cling to – His mighty hand alone, then, we are ready to do our best work for Him!

Amen and Amen.