Archive for the ‘12-2 Kings’ Category

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.

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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.

2 Kings 6:8-23 (Part 1 of 2)

Elisha Traps the Arameans

This past weekend, I was supposed to come home from my trip to South Carolina for Session 2 of the 2019 pastoral training school for the South Carolina United Methodist Church on Sunday morning. However, due to it being Mother’s Day weekend, the airport was swamped with people on Sunday morning. It was filled with people either heading home from seeing Mom or going to see Mom in addition to the normal Sunday travelers who are leaving on business trips. Every line to do everything was extraordinarily long. Everything was taking twice as long as it normally does in Charlotte’s airport. It’s a big city airport so everything takes awhile anyway, but on this Sunday it was simply astonishing.

I bet you can already tell where this is going. I missed my flight home by mere minutes. I got to my gate but the boarding door had already been closed. The plane was still at the gate. I could still see the plane sitting there through the glass behind the ticket agent at the gate. If I had just gotten through security even two minutes sooner, 120 seconds, I would have been able to run on the plane and make my flight. It is such a sad situation when you can see the plane right there but you can’t get on it. Immediately, I started working with the gate agent to see if I could get on a later flight and not necessarily all the way to the Quad Cities Airport, at least to Chicago O’Hare, so I get home on Sunday. I needed to be back at work on Monday morning. Monday mornings are incredibly busy days for me because of all the weekly financial reporting that has to be done (after the counting and crediting of the Sunday collection – where 70% of the church’s donations come from). In addition, I just wanted to get home to my wife. I have been gone related to pastoral training down in South Carolina more than I have been home lately. So, I just wanted to get home. However, it was not to be. Because of the el-cheapo ticket that I had purchased, the options were limited and so I was booked on a flight at the same time the next morning. As I was talking to the ticket agent, the jetway begins to pull back from the plane. And that was it. The plane was still right there. Just right there. I was frustrated, angry, and upset. More mad at myself than anything else. I should have remembered that it was a holiday weekend of sorts and everything was going to take longer than usual.

So, I had spent the night with my brother-in-law and his wife that live about 15 miles from the Charlotte airport. I had to call him to come pick me up. And they ended up having company for an extra day that they did not plan on. But it being Mother’s Day, part of their day was going to be a visit to Elena’s mom in the nursing home where she resides. I decided to quit feeling sorry for myself and go with them to visit her. It would be the first time that I had seen her since Christmas Eve 2018. She was incredibly happy to see me because it was so unexpected. I was glad I got to see her. She is the last surviving parent that Elena and I have. Who knows when I will get to see her again? With the move and the new church, I am going to be swamped for a while going forward just learning the ropes at the new church and adjusting to my new role as the solo pastor at the church, no other staff pastors to help, just me. So, the learning curve is going to be steep and time spent learning how things work is going to be demanding. Therefore, being able to see Elena’s mom may not happen as much for me as it will for Elena. That’s the way I had to come away from this situation. Without having missed my flight, I would have not gotten to see Elena’s mom. And the next opportunity will be uncertain as to when it would happen.

Sometimes, in the midst of trouble, we can get so wrapped up in the trouble that we fail to see the blessing that may come out it. We have to open our eyes to see these things at times. I am thankful that I got to see Elena’s mom for my own sake but to see the happiness that it brought her to have an unexpected visit from me was worth all the trouble. We have to open our eyes at times to grasp what God is doing in our lives. That’s what I thought of this morning as I read 2 Kings 6:8-23 this first of two reads. You’ll see why I thought that as you read through it for yourself. Let’s read it now:

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’s servant was no longer afraid when he saw God’s mighty army. Faith reveals that God is doing more for His people that we can ever realize through sight alone. When you face difficulties that seem insurmountable, remember that spiritual resources are there even if you can’t see them. Look with eyes of faith, and let God show you His resources. If you don’t see God working in your life, the problem may be with your spiritual eyesight, and not God’s power.

My prayer for myself and for you is to open your eyes to see God at work in your life even in the midst of what seems like a deep, dark valley. That requires faith. Faith opens our eyes to the fact that God is doing, God is working, in our lives even when we are in the midst of a bad situation. Let us be a people who can see. Let us be a people who has trust in the Lord. Let us be a people who can trust that God will see us through the hard times. Let us be a people who can see blessings even in the midst of trouble. Let us be a people who believes that God really does have a plan for us even when things seem to have fallen apart. That takes trust. That takes faith.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 5:20-27

The Greed of Gehazi

As you may have noticed, I have not posted a blog in about a week. It has been an extremely busy week. I left the Quad Cities last Sunday to go to the first session of the annual pastoral licensing school of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was held in Winnsboro, SC at a retreat center out in the middle of nowhere just north of the town of Winnsboro. The first session is a weeklong intensive on training in the various aspects of ministry in the United Methodist Church. It was all day everyday Monday morning through Friday and then a half day this past Saturday. There will be two more weekend sessions (all day on Friday and all day on Saturday) coming up at the central office of the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church in Columbia, SC. One will be this weekend and the final session will be the weekend before Memorial Day. From sun up to sundown, we were in class.

It was an amazing amount of detail. Mine bogglingly so. So much to remember that you might wonder what the heck I am doing going into this! It is an intensive look at every aspect of small church ministry (as each of us candidates will be serving in small churches – that’s the way it is often in ministry, you start in a small church or you start a church and its small at first).

At the same time, I was still the Director of Business Services/Staff Pastor at Calvary Church of The Quad Cities and there were still duties that I had to tend to. Daily contributions had to be recorded and the daily reconciliation of our giving records to our financial reports to ensure accuracy. Preparations of month-end were performed Monday evening and Tuesday evening. Then Wednesday through Friday evenings were devoted to getting the books closed and getting all the month-end reports prepared. In this sense, a large church is very much like a small to medium-sized business in that we have a sophisticated expense control system, budgets that are actually monitored and reviewed against actual performance, reports that offer analysis of performance, and formal financial performance reports and formal review meetings concerning the church’s performance not only financially but in all aspects of the church’s life.

Add to that, on Friday night, I drove down from Winnsboro, SC to Lamar, SC to visit with representatives of the church that I am being appointed to, Lamar United Methodist Church, coming up at the end of June. It is about an hour and a half drive from Winnsboro to Lamar. I got to tour the parsonage and meet the current pastor there. I got to tour the church for the first time. Then, we had the meeting with the members of the pastor/parish relations committee. These people were so nice and so honest and it was a really good meeting and really good start to the relationship with the church. Then, it was back in the car to head back to Winnsboro so that I could go to bed and be ready for the Saturday morning session.

So, for the last week, every moment from the alarm going off early each morning until I went to bed at night was spoken for. Fifteen minutes here and there to speak to my wife by phone each day. Other moments sporadically during the week to speak to my daughter and granddaughter. Sprinkle in phone call from a friend and from my brother and that constituted my free time this week. The rest was training for Methodist ministry during the day and performing my duties for Calvary Church in the evenings. It was a week of endurance and perseverance.

I think that we all have times like this in our lives. Times where it is all about the business of getting from point A to point B and all the hurdles in between. Sometimes, when we get so busy with the business of life and for us as pastors, we get so busy with the business and operations of church, that we sometimes forget what we are in the business of!

That was the idea that struck me this morning as I read about the failure of Gehazi in this situation. He forgot what he was here for. He had gotten so busy with the business of being Elisha’s servant that he forgot the why of what he was here for. When we forget the “why” we are here in ministry then we open ourselves up to Satan’s schemes where other things become more important than discipleship of the saved and evangelism of the lost. That’s what we are here for. When we make church about something else, then, we begin to drift into the regions where Satan can influence us to focus on things other than Jesus Christ. With that idea in mind, let’s read the passage, 2 Kings 5:20-27, now:

20 But Gehazi, the servant of Elisha, the man of God, said to himself, “My master should not have let this Aramean get away without accepting any of his gifts. As surely as the Lord lives, I will chase after him and get something from him.” 21 So Gehazi set off after Naaman.

When Naaman saw Gehazi running after him, he climbed down from his chariot and went to meet him. “Is everything all right?” Naaman asked.

22 “Yes,” Gehazi said, “but my master has sent me to tell you that two young prophets from the hill country of Ephraim have just arrived. He would like 75 pounds[a] of silver and two sets of clothing to give to them.”

23 “By all means, take twice as much[b] silver,” Naaman insisted. He gave him two sets of clothing, tied up the money in two bags, and sent two of his servants to carry the gifts for Gehazi. 24 But when they arrived at the citadel,[c] Gehazi took the gifts from the servants and sent the men back. Then he went and hid the gifts inside the house.

25 When he went in to his master, Elisha asked him, “Where have you been, Gehazi?”

“I haven’t been anywhere,” he replied.

26 But Elisha asked him, “Don’t you realize that I was there in spirit when Naaman stepped down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to receive money and clothing, olive groves and vineyards, sheep and cattle, and male and female servants? 27 Because you have done this, you and your descendants will suffer from Naaman’s leprosy forever.” When Gehazi left the room, he was covered with leprosy; his skin was white as snow.

In this passage, we see that Gehazi saw a perfect opportunity to get rich by selfishly asking for the reward Elisha had refused. Unfortunately, his plan had several problems. First, he willingly accepted money and gifts that were offered to someone else. Second, he offered up a lie to get the money and then he lied to Elisha about where he had been and what he had been doing. Although Gehazi had been a helpful servant, he was overcome by the desire for personal gain. It became more important to him than serving God.

That was the thing that struck me this morning as I read about Gehazi. He was a faithful servant from what we can see of him in Scripture. He was there at Elisha’s side. He was a servant. But somehow, his heart drifted away from his purpose at some point. He became more interested in possessions than ministry. He, then, became susceptible to Satan’s temptations. He started going after the money rather than focusing on ministry.

We can all get that way though it does not have to be about money. It can be about anything that can get in the way of being a fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ. For me, this past week, has been, in part, about hitting the marks, about accomplish the large load of responsibilities that I had laid before me this week. For me, it was about the dizzying amount of details to the solo pastor’s life that we received training in. It was wondering about whether I am going to be able to handle all this detail. It was dizzying and humbling. We can be that way as a church too. When we lose focus on what established our local church – the passion to disciple the saved and to evangelize the lost – we can get all caught up in things that are not important to the kingdom of God. We can get lost in the details of being a church. We can drift from our first love that brought us to church – our love and devotion to Jesus Christ.

There were two things that are reminders from this week that I will take away with me. Never get so lost in the details of the business of church that you forget why you are there as a pastor. This was reinforced by one of the instructors at licensing school. He said, yes, we are throwing a lot of stuff at you this week, but none of it matters if you don’t love your people well. When you get to your church in June, love your people well. Get into their lives and be their pastor not just their preacher. Pastor your people. The second thing was during my meeting with the wonderful group that I got to talk to at Lamar UMC was something that was said at the conclusion of the meeting. I told them that “if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will be OK!” There was such resounding agreement around the room. It was a God moment where you felt the presence of the Lord.

Let us remember in all the busy-ness of church, that if we keep our eyes on Jesus, we will be OK.

Amen and Amen.

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.