Archive for the ‘12-2 Kings’ Category

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

Elisha Helps a Poor Widow

Today, we look at the passage, 2 Kings 4:1-7, for the first of three blogs on this passage. What to write about today? For today, let’s concentrate on the first verse of the passage, v. 4. There is a widowed family and a threatening creditor. The big idea that comes to mind in this passage is the difference between keeping the letter of the law vs. the spirit of the law. First, before we examine the passage itself, let’s think of an illustration that we can all relate to.

Remember, when we were little kids and we were required to share with our sibling(s). Remember, when we were required to, oh my, apologize to one or more of our sibling(s) for something we had done to them. Oh those were moments of excruciating agony. If you were an only child, the agony was greater when you had to share with a neighbor kid or share with a child of friends of your parents. We all remember this type of scenario in one way or another. My brother is only 18 ½ months older than me. So, we were really close in age and in everything. He was just one grade ahead of me in school. Because we were so close in age, we developed physically at about the same pace. He grew taller than me pretty early on. He was always tall and skinny. I was shorter but much stronger than he was. So, we each had advantage of the other in one way or another. Add to that, we were so close in age, we were competitive with one another in everything. We were competitive especially in basketball. It’s a game that kids can play without having to buy a lot of equipment to play. As long as you have a goal and a basketball, you got game. We played football, baseball, and all kind of outdoor games back then. Saturdays especially were filled with outdoor adventure all day long, especially in the warm weather of South Carolina rural summers. But basketball was a game that we could easily play at all times, anytime, all year.

Even as little kids as early as when I was 6 and he was 7 we played basketball against each other. To say we were competitive with one another would be a considerable understatement. Sure, we were always aware of the rules of the game about fouling and we would call fouls on each other during our one on one games. But as the games progressed and the target score would get closer (we would most of the times play whoever gets to 20 first wins or some arbitrary quantity of points depending on how much time we had), the fouls would get harder, the shoves more physical, the banging against each other as we guarded one another would get more physical, the rebounds with swinging elbows would get more intentional. We were fiercely competitive. We hated to lose to each other – with a passion. We hated to lose to the other one in anything. It didn’t matter – chess, checkers, racing to do something first, calling dibs on something, whatever it was, we made it a competition. But back to basketball, the closer we got to end of games, the more physical things got. We were both pretty good shooters growing up. RT was taller so I had to develop ways to create space to get my shots off. Though he was taller, I was stronger so banging into him often created space for my shots.

As you can imagine, these two boys that could make a competition out of doing anything, these basketball games often ended in arguments and sometimes an all out brawl. We would go at it right there in the parsonage yard. Two preacher’s kids fighting for all its worth right there in the parsonage driveway or backyard. Oh those games were intense even as youngsters. I think it made us better basketball players because our games with each other were so rough and tumble. We were not Division 1 players by any means but we could be counted on to score and to play good defense on the organized teams that we played on. But the emotional intensity of our one-on-one games would get the best of us sometimes and we would brawl. I think both of us still have scars from those fights. Of course, dad would have to rush outside and break it up before we killed or mamed each other. We showed no mercy in our fights. I think we might’ve injured each other badly if it were not for the dad interventions.

You know how the story goes from here. He started it. No HE started it. Pointing fingers and “not me” were frequent responses. Dad would get so fed up with our lack of willingness to admit our wrongs that he would punish us both with either whippings or restrictions of some sort. And of course the age old parental requirement of saying you’re sorry. I would have to say I am sorry to RT and RT would have say that he was sorry to me. You remember those days, the I’m sorries were half-hearted at best and if you could’ve gotten your hands on your brother right then, you would be right back at the brawl with him. I don’t know if Dad expected genuineness or just wanted us to be forced to do something we did not like. Whatever it was, the I Am Sorry was never genuine. It was a requirement from my higher authority, my dad, and I did it just to get out of the situation.

That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, particularly that first verse. Where was the genuineness in this situation on the part of the creditor? Where was the compassion? And it reminded me of how sometimes we as Christ followers do things to check off a list to say we have done but we forget the spirit of why. With that in mind, let’s examine this passage for the first of three times and, today, look at that first verse (2 Kings 4:1) in particular. Let’s read the passage now:

Chapter 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In this passage, we see the law concerning debt and servitude as laid out in Deuteronomy playing itself out in a real situation. In ancient Israel, under God’s covenantal law, poor people and debtors were allowed to pay their debts by selling themselves or their children into slavery. However, God ordered the rich people and/or creditors not to take advantage of these people during their time of servitude in which they were paying off their debt. See Deuteronomy 15:1-18 for an explanation of these practices. This woman’s creditor was perverting the law by threatening to take the widow’s son as slaves or better termed in today’s language, indentured servants. The woman was not offering up the children. She was being threatened with the taking of them. There seems to be sinister tone to this proceeding between the widow and the creditor. Certainly, the Deuteronomic Code allowed for indentured servitude as a way to pay off debts, but it was to be the debtors idea not the creditor’s. It was to be a last resort rather than the first. It was within the letter of the law but it certainly was not in the spirit of it. The threatening seems to be an indication of how the boys would have been treated as well. Again, the servitude would have paid the debt but there is no compassion or right treatment to be expected in what we know from this verse. It’s kind of like saying you are sorry but not really meaning it. We may check off a requirement but where’s the heart, where’s the compassion, where’s the willingness to work things out with others, where’s the heart of Jesus in any of this?

Just as when I was forced to say I am sorry to RT when I was a little kid after a basketball-induced fight, I said it but I did not mean it. I observed the requirement but my heart was not in it. I may have said the right thing but my heart was not in it. I may have been forced to forgive my brother for his part in the fight but my heart was not in it. We can think we are right but still be wrong because of our heart.

Sometimes we get so caught up in what is right for us, our rights, our needs, our preservation, our being offended that we forget compassion. We may be right but still be wrong. We may say we are sorry but don’t mean and still harbor anger. We may do things that are biblically correct according to the letter of scripture but miss the heart of the scripture. One of the things that has been searing into my heart lately is Jesus Christ physically on the cross and what He says there.

Prior to the cross, Jesus had been wrongly arrested, kept up all night long so he was tired from no sleep. He was beaten and abused by His own people. Then, He was handed over to the Romans on a trumped up charge of treason (just to keep the peace in Judea). He was then beaten with a cat-o-nine-tails whip to within an inch of His human life. The whip had jagged barbs embedded in the nine leather straps attached to the whipping handle. When they would land on the body, the leather straps themselves would sting, but the steel jagged barbs would dig into the flesh as the straps landed on the body. As the whipping soldier would snap the whip back toward himself to prepare for the next whip stroke, those barbs would then rip away flesh and muscle as the whip snapped back. This was repeated 39 times in total. Jesus’ flesh was a bloody, ripped mangle of blood, exposed muscle and gore. The portrayal of Christ’s body in the movie, the Passion of the Christ, had it accurate as it has ever been portrayed. Then, he had to walk with his cross beam about a half a mile all beaten and having lost a great deal of blood already. Then, then, if that was not bad enough, he was nailed through most likely the wrist (where so many nerves are) and through the feet (where so many nerves are) and placed upright on a cross. Crucifixion is about the cruelest form of death there is. It is not the sanitary thing that we have made it most movies.

If you strenuously stretch out your arms, even while seated, you’ll recognize the difficulty of breathing (without having already been severely beaten with a whip and lost significant blood). It’s easy to inhale with arms fully outstretched, but difficult to exhale again. The body needs to work its muscles to breathe in and out, and it is used to doing so with little resistance. Once the chest is fully expanded, it’s impossible to breathe in anything more than sips of air. The victim slowly suffocates, unable to get enough oxygen, over the course of a day. Slow, painful suffocation.

But what does Jesus say on the cross as He is suffering this unimaginable suffering? Meanwhile, He is able to hear the jeers and mocking of most of the people below – laughing at Him for His claims of being the Son of God because He does not bring Himself down from the cross. He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!” Wow, think about it. It is not some cutesy thing. Here He is – having done nothing wrong in the sight of God but yet He is more worried about His accusers’ eternal futures than He is for His own rights for justice! He proclaims, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!” If anybody had any right to half-hearted say forgive them, it was Jesus. If anybody had a right to stand up for His rights under the letter of the law, it was Jesus! He did nothing wrong. He was being mocked and jeered. But He full-on said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”

Let that sink in a bit! Jesus on the cross. The perfect Man. The Son of God. The Innocent One. He says to His Father to forgive those who were persecuting Him!

So, when you and I do something for the kingdom halfheartedly, or under some sense of compulsion. Think of Jesus. He could’ve stood on His rights and took Himself down from the cross and starting going all Rambo on everybody, but He was compassionate on those who had wronged Him. He loved those who had wronged Him. When we are standing on the letter of the law but have no compassion, think of Jesus forgiving those who mocked Him on the cross.

May we be compassionate people who truly loves those who do not agree with us. May we be more concerned about their eternal future without God than we are about our rightness. May we be compassionate to those whom we have every right to lash out against for having wronged us. May we be a passionate people who lives out the spirit of God’s love in everything we do. May we not do things half-heartedly but with a heart of passion and compassion. May we represent Jesus well. May we have the same spirit of love and compassion as the One who died for our sins. May we mean our I Am Sorries. May we be compassionate toward those who we have every right to be angry with. May we be genuine in our compassion. May we seek reconciliation rather than our right to be right. May we love instead of hate. May we be of the same frame of mind as Jesus on the cross. He was thinking about the kingdom of God for those far from God even then!

Amen and Amen.

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2 Kings 3:4-27

War Between Israel and Moab

This week at the life group that we lead and host in our home on Tuesday night, during our final night in our study of Ephesians, Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus, the emphasis of the lesson was on how we are connected as a body of believers through prayer. After we finished the lesson and during our wrap-up time of prayer, it really struck me that I often forsake prayer when I am rising out of a struggle.

Oh, it is very clear to me that I pray when I am in the midst of a struggle, but when I emerge from the period of struggle, God convicted me at that moment on Tuesday night that I do not pray with the same frequency and fervor when I am standing on the mountaintop having emerged from the valley and the climb up the mountain. Ephesians 6:18 tells us, “18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” The verse says to pray “on all occasions”. The verse says “always keep on praying”. All occasions. Always. That’s pretty clear. We are to pray on all occasions always. We are to pray all the time. Good times and bad times. Everything in between.

That’s how I related to this Scripture passage today, 2 Kings 3:4-27. At first reading of it, I just really struggled to find that nugget for my walk with God that He wanted me to see at this moment in time in my life. So, I read it again and then again. And then it hit me. As we read this passage, we see that the leaders of the Israelite, Judean, and Edomite armies did not come to seek God’s will until they had gotten themselves into a fix in the wilderness with no food or water for their soldiers and their supply animals. That’s what hit me. How often do we cry out to God only after we have exhausted our own capabilities? But yet we often ignore Him when making plans for future action or when we have emerged from struggle in which we have cried out to Him in the midst of it?

In the past year and half of my first full-time ministerial appointment, it has been an humbling experience and a spiritual struggle at times as I am learning to be a full-time vocational pastor. Although there have been times of great spiritual mountaintop moments, there also have been moments in which I have felt the lowest of lows as I made mistakes, learned from them, and learned just how much I have to learn about the difference between being a dabbler in part-time ministry in my past and my full-on, full-time 100% this is it, this is my life aspect of full-time ministry. I am learning about how different full-time ministry is from the corporate world. And, during this time of humbling and learning and seeing, I have cried out to God to ease the hard lessons on a daily and sometimes even hourly basis. And in the process, I have learned a greater dependence on God. I have learned that I have not arrived as a leader. I have not arrived as a Christ follower. I am still learning and to realize that important point has been necessary for me in my maturation as a pastor and as a Christ follower. To realize that you are not “all that and a bag of chips” is necessary to becoming an effective pastor. To grow, that painful growing lesson is to realize that cliché but true Christian saying, “God does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” What we forget is that qualifying us involves teaching us and it involves humbling us. What this experience at Calvary has taught me is that I am simply a lowly servant of God. I don’t deserve to be a shepherd of the flock but He has called me to it and given me a burden to minister to the needs of the flock. But as we learn the lessons that we need to learn, it can be some of the hardest spiritual warfare that we can encounter. To go through the learning process is painful as God chisels away at your faults, some of which you didn’t even realize that you had, is truly humbling. To have God lay you bear before yourself is eye-opening and eye-popping as He reveals your weaknesses and shortcomings. Yes, it is necessary. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is good in the long run in my growth as a pastor and as a Christ follower. I firmly believe with all of my heart that my time here at Calvary was for this purpose for me personally. God has used us to touch a few lives along the way, but for me personally, it has been a necessary time of learning and chiseling. It was to shape me and ready me for my next pastoral appointment where I will be the solo pastor of a small church. Without this shaping, sharpening, humbling time, I would not be ready for the next season of my ministry. God would not have allowed the next opportunity without having been through this spiritual time of shaping and humbling at Calvary. It was necessary for the next season that we are about to embark on.

While we are going through hard times where circumstances are shaping us or where God is chiseling away our imperfections, we cry out to God easily. It’s like in all the disaster movies you see. When things seem their worst and people are dying left and right and everything seems to be going wrong and the odds are against the main characters, it is then we often see the main characters cry out to God in prayer. In the struggles against the process of God shaping me over the past year and a half, I have cried out to God to deliver me from the struggle. When all self-confidence is gone, we often cry out to God. When we have tried everything we can try and that still seems to fail, we cry out to God. And we should, don’t get me wrong. We should go to God when we are at the end of ourselves. We should seek His face in times of trouble. We should seek His face when we have nowhere else to turn. God actually wants us to come to Him when we figure out that we are at the end of ourselves. That is when He can actually use us the best is when we learn that everything depends on Him. Our prayers of deliverance from hard times and hard lessons should be offered. When we see Him perform His miracles in our lives we can then see Him for real – when we have reached the end of ourselves and are solely dependent on Him, we can see the deliverance some much more clearly.

However, as we are fleshly people full of sin, we often forget about God when things get better. That is what struck me during our prayer time at life group at our home on Tuesday night. Don’t forget to sing the praises of the Lord when the season of spiritual difficulty is over, when the season of hard times is over, when the season of difficult circumstances is over. I know that each of you reading this can identify with that. Everyone of us is going through either (1) difficult circumstances, (2) a season of hard times, or (3) a season where God is teaching you difficult lessons about yourself. We all can fit in one of those three categories. When these seasons are upon us, we, like in the disaster movies, cry out to God with fervor. What about when these seasons are over? Often we default back to our own power and leave prayers of dependency on God behind.

That’s what struck me hard on Tuesday night. Always pray. Pray often. Pray always. When God has delivered us from circumstances, hard times, or just plain out a time of hard teaching to us, and sets us on a mountaintop. That’s when we should pray the most! That’s when we should be singing the praises of God. That’s when we should be thanking Him the most! That’s when we should be shouting from the mountaintop about what God has done in us and for us! Pray at all times about all things. About deliverance when times are tough, about celebration and thanksgiving when times are good, and about the wonders of God. When the tough seasons are over, we should emerge realizing that our mountaintop moments are by the grace of God just as much as His sustaining us through the tough times.

With that idea in mind, let us examine the passage and see ourselves in it in how this situation in this passage is handled by the leaders of Israel, Judah, and Edom. Let us think of them as us as we read it:

4 King Mesha of Moab was a sheep breeder. He used to pay the king of Israel an annual tribute of 100,000 lambs and the wool of 100,000 rams. 5 But after Ahab’s death, the king of Moab rebelled against the king of Israel. 6 So King Joram promptly mustered the army of Israel and marched from Samaria. 7 On the way, he sent this message to King Jehoshaphat of Judah: “The king of Moab has rebelled against me. Will you join me in battle against him?”

And Jehoshaphat replied, “Why, of course! You and I are as one. My troops are your troops, and my horses are your horses.” 8 Then Jehoshaphat asked, “What route will we take?”

“We will attack from the wilderness of Edom,” Joram replied.

9 The king of Edom and his troops joined them, and all three armies traveled along a roundabout route through the wilderness for seven days. But there was no water for the men or their animals.

10 “What should we do?” the king of Israel cried out. “The Lord has brought the three of us here to let the king of Moab defeat us.”

11 But King Jehoshaphat of Judah asked, “Is there no prophet of the Lord with us? If there is, we can ask the Lord what to do through him.”

One of King Joram’s officers replied, “Elisha son of Shaphat is here. He used to be Elijah’s personal assistant.[a]”

12 Jehoshaphat said, “Yes, the Lord speaks through him.” So the king of Israel, King Jehoshaphat of Judah, and the king of Edom went to consult with Elisha.

13 “Why are you coming to me?”[b] Elisha asked the king of Israel. “Go to the pagan prophets of your father and mother!”

But King Joram of Israel said, “No! For it was the Lord who called us three kings here—only to be defeated by the king of Moab!”

14 Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord Almighty lives, whom I serve, I wouldn’t even bother with you except for my respect for King Jehoshaphat of Judah. 15 Now bring me someone who can play the harp.”

While the harp was being played, the power[c] of the Lord came upon Elisha, 16 and he said, “This is what the Lord says: This dry valley will be filled with pools of water! 17 You will see neither wind nor rain, says the Lord, but this valley will be filled with water. You will have plenty for yourselves and your cattle and other animals. 18 But this is only a simple thing for the Lord, for he will make you victorious over the army of Moab! 19 You will conquer the best of their towns, even the fortified ones. You will cut down all their good trees, stop up all their springs, and ruin all their good land with stones.”

20 The next day at about the time when the morning sacrifice was offered, water suddenly appeared! It was flowing from the direction of Edom, and soon there was water everywhere.

21 Meanwhile, when the people of Moab heard about the three armies marching against them, they mobilized every man who was old enough to strap on a sword, and they stationed themselves along their border. 22 But when they got up the next morning, the sun was shining across the water, making it appear red to the Moabites—like blood. 23 “It’s blood!” the Moabites exclaimed. “The three armies must have attacked and killed each other! Let’s go, men of Moab, and collect the plunder!”

24 But when the Moabites arrived at the Israelite camp, the army of Israel rushed out and attacked them until they turned and ran. The army of Israel chased them into the land of Moab, destroying everything as they went.[d] 25 They destroyed the towns, covered their good land with stones, stopped up all the springs, and cut down all the good trees. Finally, only Kir-hareseth and its stone walls were left, but men with slings surrounded and attacked it.

26 When the king of Moab saw that he was losing the battle, he led 700 of his swordsmen in a desperate attempt to break through the enemy lines near the king of Edom, but they failed. 27 Then the king of Moab took his oldest son, who would have been the next king, and sacrificed him as a burnt offering on the wall. So there was great anger against Israel,[e] and the Israelites withdrew and returned to their own land.

In this passage, we see that Jehoshaphat’s request for a “prophet of the Lord” shows how true and religious experience in both Israel and Judah had declined. In David’s day, both the high priest and the prophets gave the king advice. But most of the prophets, the true men of God, had left Israel and God’s prophets were sent from the outside of the kingly courts as messengers of doom. This miracle predicted by Elisha affirmed God’s power and authority and validated Elisha’s ministry. At the same time, it points out how the kings of Israel and Judah no longer consulted God in all that they did but rather saw Him as a God of last resort. How often are we like that? How often do we use God as the God of our fallback position, only consulting Him in the hard times or when we are desperate straits?

Then, what’s the takeaway today from our reading of this Scripture passage? Everything turns out pretty good for Israel and Judah here so it seems to validate their addressing God only in times of trouble. Most assuredly they will return to their self-centered ways. They did not seek God before going into battle. They sought God only when times got tough. And you do not see any mention at the end of the passage about them seeking God’s advice before withdrawing forces after the victory was assured nor do you see any mention of praising God after the victory. All it says is they went home. No mention of a time of feasting and praising God for their victory. They just went home. That’s all that is said.

That’s the lesson for us here. Pray at all times. Praise at all times. Good times. Bad times. Prayer and praise at all times. Especially, we must be thankful when we stand in the blessing of the mountaintop. Praise Him who gave you the victory. Praise Him who gave you the new season. Praise Him who gave you the time of rest from trouble. Praise Him who delivered you. Praise Him for the mountaintop. Let us give Him praise just as fervently when we are set on dry ground as when we are struggling in the flood. Just as fervently when a season of hard lesson learning is over.

There are three kinds of people in this world, as the old but true cliché goes. There are people who are about to enter a time of struggle. There are those who are in a time of struggle. And there are those who are emerging from a time of struggle. That’s it. We are always somewhere on that spectrum. I realize that there are going to be struggles ahead in my ministry. There will be new seasons of learning and chiseling that God will allow to happen that are necessary. You are the same. We are the same. Everyone is in one of the three phases of the struggle spectrum.

The lesson that I learned in prayer time on Tuesday night was that let us not forget to offer prayers of thanksgiving when we are standing on dry ground and we know that it is only by the grace of God that we are there. We must praise Him in prayer for the dry ground, the mountaintop, the time of rest and peace. We must seek His face in times of struggle and we find that easier I think. However, let us never forget to seek Him and praise His mighty name when we have emerged from struggle and before we enter the next struggle.

We must pray at all times. We must pray in all situations. We must always pray. In all situations. In all occasions. Always.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 3:1-3

Joram Begins His Reign in Israel

Comparing sins. Seeing one sin as greater than another. Measuring ourselves against others based on comparing our sins to the sins of others. Isn’t always true that our sins are always less than those of others to whom we compare ourselves? My neighbor, my friend, my co-worker, and especially, the people I dislike, they all have far greater sins than what I commit, right? The comparison game with the deck always stacked in our favor! That’s the thing that I thought of this morning as I read 2 Kings 3:1-3. I can imagine King Joram thinking that he was so much better than Jeroboam because he did not commit sins to the degree to which his forefathers had committed sins. He probably prided himself in that.

How often do we act that way? There is such a danger in that when we have been Christ followers for a while. We can begin to think that we are better than those who seem to revel in their ongoing unrepentant sins as they shake their fist at us and at God himself. The thing that always comes to mind when I think about this subject is something that I say to myself which is “the only difference between me and the guy that does not know Jesus Christ as his Savior is repentance and grace.” As a person who has found salvation in Jesus Christ, I am secure in His hands for eternity. However, because I still camp out in this flesh of humanity that I am being perfected daily through the action of the Holy Spirit in my soul. That battle continues daily. I am a man of flesh so I sin daily. I commit sins of commission and omission daily and sometimes even without realizing it. I am a flawed man because of my flesh. I am in that process, in theological terms, known as sanctification. Since salvation, the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in me and He is doing his work in me. He causes me to see who I really am and He works in me to change me to be more and more like Christ each day, but this process is not complete on this side of heaven. It is a lifetime of work and revelation. The things that I used to accept as OK the Holy Spirit reveals to me as sin and drives me to the cross to repent of them. All of us have sins that we commit regularly that are easily revealed to us by the Holy Spirit and easily repented from. There are others though that it takes the Holy Spirit a long time to chisel away at in us to reveal them to us for what they are. That’s the hard work of the Holy Spirit, those sins that are hard for us to give up. But the Holy Spirit does give us hope in that He helps us see where we came from and not just how far we have to go. The man I am now compared to the man I was at the day of my salvation revolts me. The man I was just a decade ago, the man I was just five years ago compared to the man the Holy Spirit has molded me into as of today is a world of difference. I thank God for the ability to see where the Holy Spirit has taken me so far.

There is also the humility to know that He still has a long way to go in molding me into greater and greater Christlikeness each day as I walk further and further down the road with Christ. I thank God for the reality that sets in when I think of where I am today vs. where I was when I accepted Christ as my Savior. I thank God for knowing that He still has much work to do in me and that I have not arrived and won’t until I get to heaven. I thank God for the reality of knowing that the only difference between me and those who do not know Him is the wonderful grace of Jesus Christ. I thank God for knowing what I have been saved from. The real difference between a saved and an unsaved person is that we, the saved, know what we have been saved from. We know that man stands at the precipice of hell with rocks crumbling beneath our feet. We know the eternity in hell is real and that we actually deserve it. We know that our first sin in our lives condemns us there without question. Then, pile on the lifetime of sins that we commit, we are by rights doomed to eternity separated from a very real God. It is only through grace that we are secure in our eternity with God.

That reality and the reality that we are still sinners each and every day and each one sin alone is enough to separate us from God is what should drive us to humility before Jesus and drive us to not grade sins. It should drive us to compassion for those who are still outside the freely given grace of Jesus Christ. We should not think that we are better by any means. We are just sinners saved by grace. We are pardoned sinners who in and of ourselves are no better than those who are far from God. It should drive us to tears of compassion and the deep seated desire to open their eyes not condemn them. We were once where they were. We have no elevated position over them in our salvation and sanctification. Let us mourn for them and be motivated to meet them where we used to be before we met Christ as our Savior.

I know these are three short verses but they spoke loudly to me this morning. Let us read the verses now:

Chapter 3

1 Ahab’s son Joram began to rule over Israel in the eighteenth year of King Jehoshaphat’s reign in Judah. He reigned in Samaria twelve years. 2 He did what was evil in the Lord’s sight, but not to the same extent as his father and mother. He at least tore down the sacred pillar of Baal that his father had set up. 3 Nevertheless, he continued in the sins that Jeroboam son of Nebat had committed and led the people of Israel to commit.

In this passage, we see that the sins of Israel’s kings are often compared to the sins of Jeroboam, the first ruler of the northern kingdom. His great sin was to institute idol worship throughout the kingdom, causing people to turn away from God (see 1 Kings 12:25-33). By ignoring God and allowing idol worship, Joram continued the sins of his forefathers.

There are no grades of sins. One sin. We are done. No sins greater than others. One sin. We are done. We are sentenced to eternity without God by our first sin. Not to mentions the mounds of sins we commit after the first one. We can claim a momentary lapse of reason before our Righteous Judge. We are habitual sin criminals. All of us. We deserve the ultimate sentence for our lifetime of sins. Then, Jesus steps in the courtroom and says, Father this one is mine. He has humbled himself before me realizing what he really deserves and has made me Lord and Savior of his life. I grant him the grace of having borne the penalty of his sins on the cross. Let us never forget that we are sinners operating in grace. Let us always remember that we have never arrived. Let us remember that we have reprieve from the penalty of our sins, past, present and future only through the grace of Jesus Christ. Let us always remember that one sin by itself is enough to damn us forever. Let us remember the pardon we are living under ourselves. In that way, it should drive us not to grade sins of one person vs. another. Let us be driven to compassion for all who are far from God because the only thing that separates us from those who do not know God is repentance and most of all, grace!

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 2:19-25 (Part 2 of 2)

Elisha’s First Miracles

One of the things that has been resonating in my heart lately is how much God loves those who are far from Him. God desires that no one must spend eternity separated from Him in hell. From Scripture, we know that Jesus Christ, after having been beaten mercilessly to within an inch of his life BEFORE his crucifixion, is hanging and suffering mightily on the cross, one of the most cruel forms of capital punishment ever invented by man. It is from this venue of pain on His already pain-wracked body, Jesus utters the most incredulous words, “Father, forgive them! For they know not what they do!” The Creator of the Universe allowing the created to kill His human body and while suffering excruciating fleshly pain says to the Father, forgive them for they know not what they do. Amazing isn’t it! While they stand below mocking Him for not taking Himself down from the cross, He asks the Father to forgive them. While they jeer at Him, He asks the Father to forgive them. Could you or I do that? Ask God to forgive those who mock us, jeer us, make fun of us and those who marginalize us as Christians. What if we were living in a country where being a Christian can cost you your freedom or even your life? Could you say to your captors or killers, Father forgive them for they know not what they do? Could you? Could I?

After reading today’s passage with a particular eye toward those who were mocking Elisha and then what happened to them, it made me think about this whole concept of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, asking the Father to forgive those who had Him arrested, beaten, turned over to the Romans, beaten to within an inch of His human life, and then hung on a cross to die a slow, painful death. That idea got me to thinking about how we now live in a country where people are far from God, a country where we are now being marginalized to the sidelines of the public forum and our beliefs are mocked as antiquated and out of step with this higher evolution of man that we think we have become.

That’s where the thought of Jesus on the cross comes in. He loved those who were mocking Him and those who had put Him on the cross. The love that Jesus had for them was not because of what they were doing but rather what He knew their hearts and minds were going to cost them. That’s the thing. He knew their hearts were hard and proud and that they could not see the Messiah before them. He knew that their own pride would sentence them to eternity without Him. He loved them so much that it broke His heart to see them thumbing their nose up at the Creator on the cross. Isn’t that where we are at now in our country? People who are far from God think God does not exist. They think that Christianity is some fiction that was made up to control people. We would rather be independent, free thinkers who pursue what our hearts desire. We pride ourselves in our evolution beyond Christianity now. We are the same as the Jewish religious elite who put Jesus on the cross. They thought they had a corner on the market of what was right and true. That’s the America we live in today. We have decided for ourselves that we know better than some God that we made up thousands of years ago. We have evolved. We are our own gods now.

However, the sadness is that just because we as a nation have decided that God no longer exists DOES NOT make Him not exist. Just because you believe that God never existed does not mean that God has not always existed. The sadness is that those who are far from God do not even fathom the consequences that they are up against when it comes to the end of their lives. The sadness is what we are to do about it. Let’s read the passage now with an eye toward the mockers of Elisha:

19 One day the leaders of the town of Jericho visited Elisha. “We have a problem, my lord,” they told him. “This town is located in pleasant surroundings, as you can see. But the water is bad, and the land is unproductive.”

20 Elisha said, “Bring me a new bowl with salt in it.” So they brought it to him. 21 Then he went out to the spring that supplied the town with water and threw the salt into it. And he said, “This is what the Lord says: I have purified this water. It will no longer cause death or infertility.[a]” 22 And the water has remained pure ever since, just as Elisha said.

23 Elisha left Jericho and went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, a group of boys from the town began mocking and making fun of him. “Go away, baldy!” they chanted. “Go away, baldy!” 24 Elisha turned around and looked at them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of them. 25 From there Elisha went to Mount Carmel and finally returned to Samaria.

In this passage, we see that there are consequences to the mocking of God’s prophet, Elisha. They are devoured by bears. Some might see it as coincidental. But to mean their death is symbolic of what happens to people when they never repent of their unbelief in God. God may be standing in front of them through His people but they ignore Him, make fun of Him, behave as if He is a figment of overzealous imaginations. They pride themselves in their evolution beyond the God of the universe.

Yet, Jesus shouts from the cross that He loves them. He asks the Father to forgive them for they know not what they do. That’s the thing this morning for me. We, as Christ followers who have been saved by grace, know the consequences that awaited us in the absence of God’s grace and mercy. We have stared at the pits of hell from the cliff and know that it was where we deserved to go. We know that hell is real and not some figment of our imagination. However, our mockers do not know their own fate in the absence of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Should we get in shouting matches with those who disagree with us about our faith? Or should we be heartbroken as Jesus hanging on the cross asking the Father to forgive them for their ignorance and pride! Should we write people off who mock us? Or should we cry for their souls? Should we disassociate ourselves from the world that is heading headlong to hell and doesn’t even realize it or should be shed tears for them and try to help them open their eyes? Shouldn’t we be a people who seeks to show love to those are unrepentant in their sins because we know their fate in hell and they do not?

Their sins are eventually going to maul them like the bears did the mockers in this passage. Their sins will maul them in the absence of Jesus. How much do you have to hate someone not to get upset at the thought of them being separated from God for eternity in hell and sentenced there because no one cut throw their pride to reveal the true gospel of Jesus Christ. We cannot write off those who mock us because Jesus never did? Jesus never gave up on us and we should never give up on them. We should always shed tears for those who are far from God and mock us to our faces? It sounds hard and it is. But we owe no less to our Savior who did the same for us!

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 2:1-18 (Part 3 of 3)

Elijah Taken into Heaven

As the coach of one of the two most successful college football programs over the last decade, Clemson’s coach, Dabo Swinney, is often asked the question that if the other most successful college football program, Alabama, came calling would he go? Since Swinney is an Alabama native, got his degree from University of Alabama and played football there, the speculative question is a valid one. He is about 20 or more years younger than current coaching icon, Nick Saban, who is the head coach at Alabama now. So, it is certain that Saban will retire within the next few years as he is fast approaching 70 years old. The question is real. Alabama will not go after just any coach when Saban retires. It is a rich and storied program with 17 national championships to its name. They will go after a highly successful coach to take over after Saban retires. Dabo Swinney is going to be on that short list.

However, when asked about it (and it seems that he is asked every year at least once), Coach Swinney says that he can never say never about anything but he is “blooming where he is planted.” He says he is happy at Clemson and he and his family have sunk deep roots in the community surrounding the university. He has two kids that are student athletes at Clemson and another that will be soon. He has a staff of coaches that have been together in tact now for a long period of time. The least longevity on his staff is 7 years and the remainder have been with coach Swinney since he took over as head coach 11 years ago. Thus, the entire staff has deep roots and deep friendships with each other. And, Coach Swinney will always look within the staff first to hire a new assistant before he looks outside. There is an intentionality on developing his staff. Because of his intentions of developing his staff, we have seen his role as the head coach evolve over the past 11 years. At first, he was heavily involved in every position coach’s responsibilities. At they have developed, he has taken on less direct involvement and now more of a CEO type than a “in-the-trenches” coach. It is all because he desire longevity on his staff and works hard to develop and push his staff to grow. So, who knows? One day, Swinney may return home to Alabama but with each passing year at Clemson, it’s going to be harder and harder for him to walk away from what he has built at Clemson.

The biggest thing that you see among Swinney’s staff at Clemson is their willingness to learn the art of being a coach from Coach Swinney. Each one all the way up to his offensive and defensive coordinators (who each could be head coaches in their own right, right now) seems to adore Coach Swinney and the way that he invests in the development of his staff. If Coach Swinney retires from Clemson or gets lured away by his alma mater before then, one of these guys will be ready to take over. They have learned from the master and he invested in them. The opposite is true at Alabama where Saban has had so many different coaches on his staff over the past dozen years that you have to look at the media guide to remember who is on his staff. It is all about Saban and success. He does not seem intent on developing his staff. So, for that very reason, when Saban retires, the school will HAVE to hire a coach from outside the program…and thus the speculation about Clemson’s coach.

That’s the thing that came to mind this morning is how the staff coaches at Clemson eagerly learn from their head coach and he is intentional about developing them. That is the thing that I see in Elijah and Elisha this morning. There was a mentor-mentee relationship between them. There was a deep relationship (see Elijah where he comments, “you have asked a hard thing”… he didn’t blow Elisha off, he wanted to give him what he wanted but knew that it was a tall order…that’s relationship). Because of their relationship (the willingness of Elisha to learn and Elijah’s investment in developing his protégé), Elisha continued the ministry of Elijah without missing a beat.

From my own perspective, I look at Elisha’s willingness to learn from the master more closely than Elijah’s investment in Elisha. Although I have been a leader in my secular world jobs in the past, I am a newbie in my second career now – being a full-time pastor. Part of Elisha’s success in carrying on the ministry was the humbling of himself to Elijah and soaking in everything that Elijah did. That’s the hard part sometimes! Humbling ourselves to learn a new craft. Elisha was a second career guy too. Elisha was a wealthy farmer before he became a prophet-in-training. He went from in-charge to be an associate prophet. He had much to learn. Being a prophet and being a farmer were two different things. Being a corporate finance manager is different, too, than being a finance pastor. That’s the thing that I have learned over the past 15 months is that I have much to learn. That’s the thing, in order to take advantage of the wealth of experience that I find in Pastor Tim and Pastor Jeff, I must be willing to learn from them even when the lessons are hard to learn or when it reveals things about myself that I must work to improve on. The willingness to learn is as much as important to the process and the willingness of mentors to invest.

Let’s read the passage now with that idea of the willingness to humble ourselves and learn is a key to our becoming what God has in store for us:

2 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. 2 And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”

But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.

3 The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

4 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.”

But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.

5 Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

6 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.”

But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.

7 Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. 8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

9 When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 “Sir,” they said, “just say the word and fifty of our strongest men will search the wilderness for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has left him on some mountain or in some valley.”

“No,” Elisha said, “don’t send them.” 17 But they kept urging him until they shamed him into agreeing, and he finally said, “All right, send them.” So fifty men searched for three days but did not find Elijah. 18 Elisha was still at Jericho when they returned. “Didn’t I tell you not to go?” he asked.

For today, in this passage, we see that Elisha asked to be Elijah’s successor or heir, the one who would continue Elijah’s work as the leading prophet in the land, the leader of all the prophets. That is why he asked for a double share of Elijah’s spirit.

Before we get into the immediate theological implications of Elisha’s request, we first must back up and take a look at the laws of inheritance that were part of the Sinai Covenant God made with his people. If the law of Deuteronomy 21:15-17 is uniquely tied to the Sinaitic covenant, what is its rationale? The rationale is that the oldest son was to take over the family business and all its responsibilities. He was also charged with caring for his unmarried sisters. Thus, the responsibilities of the eldest son were much greater than those of any of his younger brothers. Naturally, as the new leader of the family, he should be provided a greater amount of assets so that he could carry out his family and business responsibilities.

The request by Elisha for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit in 2 Kings 2 referred likewise to being doubly blessed in his life and ministry. Interestingly, Scripture records exactly twice as many miracles through Elisha (28 miracles) as took place through Elijah (14 miracles).

When Elisha first made his request, Elijah answered, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so” (2 Kings 2:10). After Elisha watched Elijah taken up to heaven, he picked up Elijah’s cloak. Returning to the Jordan River, he called out to the Lord and struck the water with the cloak. The water opened up, and Elisha walked across on dry ground. This act affirmed the transition of the prophetic office from Elijah to Elisha as well as the fulfillment of Elisha’s request. The miraculous crossing of the Jordan was witnessed by men from the school of prophets. “Now when the sons of the prophets who were at Jericho saw him opposite them, they said, ‘The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.’ And they came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him” (2 Kings 2:15). From that point forward, these men appear to have followed Elisha as their spiritual leader (2 Kings 4:38–41). Two other miracles soon follow the parting of the Jordan River to conclude this section of Scripture. First, Elisha turned bad water into clean water (2 Kings 2:19–22). Second, he cursed a group of young men who mocked him, and two bears came from the woods and attacked them (verses 23–24). The taking of Elijah to heaven, the parting of the water, the response of the company of prophets, and the two additional miracles recorded immediately afterwards all affirm that Elisha’s request for a double portion was both honorable and granted by the Lord. Elisha’s ministry was one of the most influential in the Bible and continues to be remembered today.

So what’s the takeaway for Christ followers in the 21st century? The thing that I see when we read this passage with special attention to the request for a double portion is that we must be willing to learn from the spiritual giants in our lives. We must be willing to submit ourselves to those who are spiritually more mature than us. And realize that God has placed us in their charge for a reason. It can be an humbling experience for us in the me-first world in which we live. The only way that we can ever learn to be more mature in Christ is to watch and learn from those who are ahead of us in spiritual experience and maturity. Then, when the time is right for us to lead, we can boldly proclaim that we want a double portion of the effectiveness of those spiritual giants that we have learned from. God has placed me under the care and authority of Pastor Tim and Pastor Jeff and I am learning, learning, learning, and am at the point now that I just want to soak in everything that they do. I am thankful that they have been so patient with me so far as God is doing his work in me. Then, one day, when the time is right, I can proclaim that I want a double portion of the wisdom and leadership skills that Pastor Tim and Pastor Jeff possess.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 2:1-18 (Part 2 of 3)

Elijah Taken into Heaven

Today, we have to ask questions and maybe not get satisfactory answers. Why does God take people away while they seem to be in the midst of their best years of ministry? Recently, here in the Quad Cities, we have had to ask that question. Amy Rowell, the director of the local branch of the non-profit agency, World Relief, known as World Relief Moline, passed away suddenly at the age of 48. She died from the effects of Influenza-A of all things. She was fine and fit and working to resettle refugees from other nations here in our Quad Cities just as short as two weeks ago. She even had an interview with our senior pastor at Calvary Church as short as three weeks ago (for use in our monthly Outreach Minute video segment for church services). In that video, she seemed vibrant, healthy, and about her ministry’s work. But two days ago, my wife, who is outreach coordinator at our church, and my senior pastor attended her funeral. Within a week or so after contracting influenza, she was gone. Just in a flash of a week, her work here on earth was done. Although my wife had not known Amy for very long but because of Elena’s position at the church, she and Amy had become good friends. Elena admired Amy a great deal for the passion and zeal with which Amy lived out God’s command to love our neighbor. As Pastor Tim said Wednesday night, “we don’t get to choose who our neighbors are, but God commands us to love them…our neighbors…regardless of where they come from, regardless of what they look like…we are to love those who are right in front of us, our neighbors!”

World Relief Moline is part of the global World Relief organization and here in the Quad Cities, they provide resettlement services to refugees who fled persecution in their home countries to come to the United States in hopes of a better life. They partner with local churches to provide assistance to refugees to integrate these refugees into productive lives here in the US, and in particular here in the Quad Cities. Amy was a bold believer, but she did not preach. She was an effective servant of the Lord who shared her faith whenever she could but her actions of faith and living out the gospel is what made you admire her so much. What a passion she had “for the least of these” and she World Relief Moline as her ministry and not a job. She loved the least of these, our new neighbors from foreign lands, well.

So why did God take her away in the prime years of her ministry? She was doing so, so much good in this ministry. Thousands of people have been resettled in the Quad Cities by the efforts of Amy and her team, are leading productive lives, and many have come to know Jesus or grown deeper in their relationship with Him because of World Relief Moline and Amy Rowell. Why did God take her away…when she was in the grand scheme of human time…just getting started good! She was hitting the prime of her ministry at age 48. Why? Why does God take people away in their prime effectiveness in the lives sometimes and yet others are allowed to work for the Lord until an old age and die only have they have grown too old to do the work anymore? Why does God do things like this? We ask why and we do not get answers that satisfy us?

We have all asked this question before? I know I have. I bet you have too. We have all most likely experienced the sudden death of someone in our family or among the friends we have. Usually if you have not experienced the sudden death of a family member or a friend, you probably just haven’t lived long enough for something like this to have happened to you. We ask why, Lord? Why? That’s the idea that came to mind this morning as I read 2 Kings 1:1-18 a second time this morning. Why did God take Elijah up into heaven right in what appeared to be the prime of his ministry? There is no mention in the Bible of Elijah becoming an old man and it seems as though he was just getting started as a prophet, a man of God! He had garnered great respect from all people but the Bible does not ever say he was getting old. The amount of space in the Bible dedicated to his life is small compared to, say, someone like Moses who lived a long, long life, got a lot of biblical press coverage, and was specifically stated to have grown old and died. No mention of that type of thing with Elijah so Elijah was, in my mind, just getting started good. He was in his prime. Just beginning to make an impact. Just beginning to have great influence for the cause of the Lord. But…bam…he was gone in an instant. Why does God do things this way sometimes? That’s the frame of mind with which I want us to look at this passage today. Let’s read the passage now:

2 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. 2 And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”

But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.

3 The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

4 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.”

But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.

5 Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

6 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.”

But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.

7 Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. 8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

9 When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 “Sir,” they said, “just say the word and fifty of our strongest men will search the wilderness for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has left him on some mountain or in some valley.”

“No,” Elisha said, “don’t send them.” 17 But they kept urging him until they shamed him into agreeing, and he finally said, “All right, send them.” So fifty men searched for three days but did not find Elijah. 18 Elisha was still at Jericho when they returned. “Didn’t I tell you not to go?” he asked.

For today, in this passage, we see that Elijah is only the second person in all of biblical history to be taken alive into heaven. Enoch was the other one. Even Jesus died. This is a cornerstone of Christian theology. The Son of God died, but then rose from the dead three days later. However, Enoch and Elijah did not die. They were taken from earth to heaven by God.

“Enoch walked with God after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” reads Genesis 5:22–24. Others listed in the Genesis 5 genealogy are clearly said to have died. But Enoch simply “was not, for God took him.” No explanation for why he did not die is given.

We read of Elijah in 2 Kings 2:11, “And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven.” Elijah had warned Elisha, who he was walking with, that he may be taken to heaven. And he was. Elijah, one of God’s most powerful prophets, did not die but was simply taken to heaven. Malachi 4:5–6 speaks of his return.

Some believe Enoch and Elijah are the two witnesses described in Revelation 11:3–12 and were taken in preparation for this role. There is no direct evidence that Enoch and Elijah are the two witnesses of the end times, though it is possible. Others think that Enoch and Elijah were spared death because of their faithfulness in serving and obeying God. But the Bible is silent as to the specific reason why. God does not directly tell us in an audible voice nor does He give revelation to any biblical character. There is no doubt that Enoch and Elijah were faithful and obedient children of God. So much so that the Bible points them out as great men of biblical history. But the “why” is not specifically answered.

So here we are with the same exact question when it comes to Amy Rowell here in the 21st century in America, in the Quad Cities. What a dynamo of faith and faith in action was Amy. Taken too soon by our limited human understanding. She leaves behind a husband and four teenage children. How do we respond in these situations?

One thing to start is not to claim to know why God chose this course of action. To say that we do is simply a disservice to our faith, a disservice to the church that Christ died for, and unhelpful to grieving people. When we ourselves cannot explain to ourselves why God chose this course of action, then, we should not try to have an answer for others who are grieving. The best thing we can do for those who are grieving an unexplainable loss is to simply love them, simply BE THERE with them as they grieve.

What I do know and trust is that God’s plan and purpose for our loved one and for our lives are not subject to whims, accidents, circumstances, illnesses, and evil. God works through these things to bring about His will. We stand on the assurance, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isa. 43:1–3).

In an article at Lifeway.com, I found this excerpt of a message from a funeral sermon:

David Watson was the dynamic pastor of the St. Michael’s Church in York, England. Large crowds filled the sanctuary week after week to hear him call them to faith and fellowship with Jesus. In the prime of his life, Watson was diagnosed with cancer. The people prayed, and he fought it. But, in the end, it ravaged his body and he went home to the Chief Bishop of his soul.

The following Sunday, a cherished friend was asked to lead in the worship and the communion service. When he stood to speak, emotion overcame him as he thought of the absence of his recently deceased friend. He wept, as did the grief-stricken congregation. Then someone thought about a phrase that David often used. Sometimes, even in the middle of a message, Watson would shout, “Our Lord reigns!” Quietly, but strong enough to be heard, he said, “Our Lord reigns.” Another picked it up. Then another joined them. Soon the packed sanctuary was filled with hundreds of voices, chanting together on their feet, “Our Lord reigns!” For minutes, it rocked the cavernous worship hall. Applause and cheering broke out.

Depression gave way to celebration. The Sovereign of the Sudden was, is, and always will be in charge. In our pain and sorrow, we stand on the everlasting truth, “Our Lord reigns!”

Maybe the outcome of a sudden death of an “on-fire for the Lord” person such as Amy Rowell is that her impact will be even greater as people honor her memory by taking up her mantle and expanding her ministry. Jesus told his disciples that they would be able to impact the world in far greater ways after He ascended into heaven than they did when he was on earth. God is a sovereign God and often achieves His will in ways that we do not like or even understand. Sometimes we have to trust His “big picture” view as we have such a “small picture” view of time, space, and eternity. To claim that we know what God is doing is wrong, because we are not God and we are limited. Often God shocks us in these ways to make more people aware of their calling to take up the mantle of those who were taken from us suddenly.

That’s the hope that we must have. Elisha was left behind to carry on the ministry of Elijah and He did it well. The disciples were left behind to carry on the ministry of Jesus. And boy did they! We are left behind here in the Quad Cities in the 21st century to carry on the ministry of Amy Rowell. Let us love our neighbors. Let us welcome those who are escaping persecution. Let us assist the refugees among us to become part of our society. Let us not get hung up on the differences. Let us not consider them as “them” and consider them as “us”. Let us love the people that God has put in front of us. Let us love our neighbors. Let us love them in such a way as they ask why we would do such a thing for them without expectation of return. Let us then tell them that Jesus commanded us to love God (and this is how we do that). Let us tell them that Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor no matter who that neighbor is (and this is how we do that). That is how we make sense of Amy Rowell’s sudden passing – to honor her passion and her mission by expanding it and making it the passion of numerous others. That’s how we express our trust in God over a sudden death of a passionate disciple – to carry on their work, to deepen and expand it, to honor their memory with our own hands and feet.

Let us trust God with the why…because we do not know why nor can we have the answer right now, if ever…but we can be about the what…love your neighbor. Love the least of these.

Amen and Amen.

2 Kings 2:1-18 (Part 1 of 3)

Elijah Taken into Heaven

My father, who passed on to be with the back in late October, once told me, “If you can be anything else other than a pastor, do it. But, having said that, if you have a burden for it and a calling to it, by all means, be a pastor.” I guess what he was telling me was that many people suppose that being a pastor is easy stuff. Ya know, sit around and write sermons and then preach on Sunday, right? However, being a pastor is so much more than that. Yes, when you are a preaching pastor, you do have to write sermons and you do have to preach, but it’s more than that. It is meetings, meetings, meetings. It is counseling. It is discipling. It is comforting the sick and their families. It is leading teams of volunteers. It is nights and weekends. It is a lot. It is so much more than what people think and expect when they think of their pastor.

In a recent survey of solo or senior pastors, one half of all pastors in the survey reported working as much as 60 hours per week. One quarter reported working more than 60 and one quarter reported working less than 35. The middle fifty percent of full-time (those working for the church 40 hours or more per week) Protestant pastors reported working between 42 and 63 hours per week. The remainder of the work week not accounted for by these core tasks of ministry is taken up by other tasks specified by the pastors, such as: fund raising, writing articles, correspondence, volunteer chaplaincy, and helping to oversee other ministries as board members or advisers.

But it is also more than about the numbers of hours. It is about loving the flock. That the hard part. It is about caring so much about the people of your church that it hurts when they hurt. It is also wondering why God chose you for this task of pastoring when you often feel inadequate to what He has called you to do. It is about trying to find time to develop relationships with the people of your church when there is just so finite of an amount of time each week. It is struggling with sermons in your soul as God lays the burden of a good word on you. It is writing 50-52 sermons each year without repeating yourself. It is about caring for the people to whom you have been assigned by the Lord. God gives us that talent to truly care about people. It’s more than just sitting around thinking and writing. So, that’s what I think my dad said if you can do anything else, do it.

I have learned in the past 15 months in my first full-time ministry position that I cannot do anything else anymore. Even though this first year has been quite the learning experience and has been extremely soul-rocking at times, it has quickened my burden for pastoring. The work of administrative pastor is the assignment but the burden for pastoring is the lives of people in our church that we have been able to be a part of over the last year and three months. That’s the part that means the most is helping people and learning from the wise in our church. Discipling a young couple. Helping another couple. Assisting a friend with a pastoral licensing exam. Helping a couple figure out how to better communicate. And then just deep conversations about God with others. And then there just the laughter and the fun times with friends that we have made in a jiffy thanks to the common bond of our church and of Jesus Christ. These are just things that you cannot experience when are not in ministry full-time. The key thing that I have learned since coming to this church is that being a pastor is about relationships – with each person you get to know in the church (the horizontal) and helping them have a better, deeper relationship with Jesus Christ (the vertical). That’s ministry. That’s the burden that makes you incapable of doing anything else but being a pastor. That’s the calling that God lays on you that you cannot shake.

If you asked me now to go back to the corporate world, I would tell you that there is no turning back now. This is what God called me to do. It is a burden and a passion to minister to people in the church to which God has us assigned. If I could do anything else, I would do it, but being a pastor is what God has called me to do and it is the passion to see lives changed by deeper relationships with Jesus Christ that burns in my soul such that I cannot do anything else now.

That idea of pressing forward in ministry no matter what is what I thought of this morning as I read through this passage, 2 Kings 2:1-18, for the first time this morning. It was striking to me that Elisha kept going on with Elijah even after three times being told to stay behind. He had that passion, that burden, that calling to press forward in ministry. Let’s read the passage now:

2 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were traveling from Gilgal. 2 And Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Bethel.”

But Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you!” So they went down together to Bethel.

3 The group of prophets from Bethel came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

4 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to Jericho.”

But Elisha replied again, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together to Jericho.

5 Then the group of prophets from Jericho came to Elisha and asked him, “Did you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?”

“Of course I know,” Elisha answered. “But be quiet about it.”

6 Then Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here, for the Lord has told me to go to the Jordan River.”

But again Elisha replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and you yourself live, I will never leave you.” So they went on together.

7 Fifty men from the group of prophets also went and watched from a distance as Elijah and Elisha stopped beside the Jordan River. 8 Then Elijah folded his cloak together and struck the water with it. The river divided, and the two of them went across on dry ground!

9 When they came to the other side, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I can do for you before I am taken away.”

And Elisha replied, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit and become your successor.”

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah replied. “If you see me when I am taken from you, then you will get your request. But if not, then you won’t.”

11 As they were walking along and talking, suddenly a chariot of fire appeared, drawn by horses of fire. It drove between the two men, separating them, and Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. 12 Elisha saw it and cried out, “My father! My father! I see the chariots and charioteers of Israel!” And as they disappeared from sight, Elisha tore his clothes in distress.

13 Elisha picked up Elijah’s cloak, which had fallen when he was taken up. Then Elisha returned to the bank of the Jordan River. 14 He struck the water with Elijah’s cloak and cried out, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” Then the river divided, and Elisha went across.

15 When the group of prophets from Jericho saw from a distance what happened, they exclaimed, “Elijah’s spirit rests upon Elisha!” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him. 16 “Sir,” they said, “just say the word and fifty of our strongest men will search the wilderness for your master. Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has left him on some mountain or in some valley.”

“No,” Elisha said, “don’t send them.” 17 But they kept urging him until they shamed him into agreeing, and he finally said, “All right, send them.” So fifty men searched for three days but did not find Elijah. 18 Elisha was still at Jericho when they returned. “Didn’t I tell you not to go?” he asked.

For today, in this passage, we see that Elisha is told to stay behind by Elijah on three different occasions but yet he persisted. The account of Elijah’s preparations to depart and Elisha’s determination to follow presupposes previous revelation, not in Scripture, that this day was to be Elijah’s last on earth (v.3). By repeatedly granting Elisha permission to remain behind (v.2, et al.), Elijah was testing Elisha’s commitment to himself and to his calling as Elijah’s successor. In a sense, Elijah was giving Elisha the opportunity to decline the difficult life and calling of a prophet.

So have there been tough times in this first year and three months. You betcha! Satan wants to attack us and make us doubt our calling to ministry. When we step out for the kingdom, we will be a target of Satan and doubt is his favorite weapon. However, it is in those low moments filled with self-doubt as to why you went into full time ministry at this place at this time, that’s when you have to cling to God all the more. That’s the big thing that the past 15 months has taught me. Trusting the Lord. Trusting the calling. Trusting that it all has a purpose. A pastor once told me that “God is preparing us for what He has prepared for us!” Sometimes, the preparation is hard. But it is these times that we learn trust in the Lord. Keep plugging ahead with the calling even when you want to quit and go back to your old life. God has called you to ministry and he never said it would be easy. It will be hard. But it is in the hard times that we learn to press ahead with trust in the Lord for the calling and the passion He has placed on our lives.

Amen and Amen.