2 Kings 6:1-7 (Part 1 of 2)

The Floating Ax Head

Does God care about the details of life? Does God care about the Cool Whip? How that question ties in to our topic today is coming up. But … We often think of God of being the God of significant events, significant struggles over a period of time, just anything significant. We go to Him in prayer when we are about to go through something big in our lives, when we are in the midst of something big in our lives, and so on. We often treat God as if He is not with us everyday and in everything. We consult Him like we consult a doctor. We go to Him when something major is amiss or just for an occasional checkup. Sometimes, we treat God as the God of the Significant but not of anything insignificant, the mundane, the usual, you know, the everyday. We tend to think that God doesn’t care about the mundane details of our lives. I fall victim to this syndrome as much as anyone else.

I used to make fun (in my mind) of people who would pray to God about everything. You know, those people that pray to God about what to fix for dinner and all sorts of other minor details of life. Then there are people who pray in an amazing level of specificity about things.

I remember when Meghan, my oldest daughter, was little and I was still married to her mom, we were at Lisa’s (my first wife’s) family Thanksgiving dinner. And everyone agreed that Meghan should give the thanksgiving prayer. It went something like this. The family members bowed their heads in expectation. She began her prayer, thanking God for all her friends, naming them one by one. Then he thanked God for Mommy, Daddy, her newborn sister, Taylor, her grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts. Then she began to thank God for the food. She gave thanks for the turkey, the dressing, the fruit salad, the cranberry sauce, the pies, the cakes, even the Cool Whip. Then she paused, and everyone waited–and waited. After a long silence, Meghan looked up at me and asked, “If I thank God for the broccoli, won’t He know that I’m lying?” Funny story about the specificity of prayer and kind of illustrates the question that we are wrestling with today. Does God really care about the Cool Whip?

Are you one who prays for everything, every little detail of life like my daughter did in that Thanksgiving prayer? Do you pray for what you should pick off the menu at a restaurant? Does God really care about what we are going to fix for dinner, or what we are going to choose of the menu at a restaurant? Does God really care whether the Clemson Tigers will beat the Alabama Crimson Tide in the national championship game of college football? Does God really care about what clothes you are going to wear today? Does God really care about whether my weed-eater will start on the first pull?

Sure, God gave us free will and He expects us to do our part in life. He gave us intellect to reason and to make wise choices. He gave us memory to understand that if we do x, then, y will be the result. But the answer is yes God does care about every detail of our lives. That’s what I thought about this morning as I read this passage, 2 Kings 6:1-7. It just seemed like one those stuck in the middle passages that give you a little rest between bigger events in the Bible. Sometimes, you know, there’s that first impression that a passage is an interlude, or filler, in between bigger stories in the Bible. That was my first impression when I read this passage today. But I reminded myself there is nothing insignificant in the Bible. Every passage, every story, every storyline, it’s all meaningful. You just have to look for the meaning. That’s when it hit me, this passage illustrates that God IS in the details of everyday life. Let’s read the passage now:

6 One day the group of prophets came to Elisha and told him, “As you can see, this place where we meet with you is too small. 2 Let’s go down to the Jordan River, where there are plenty of logs. There we can build a new place for us to meet.”

“All right,” he told them, “go ahead.”

3 “Please come with us,” someone suggested.

“I will,” he said. 4 So he went with them.

When they arrived at the Jordan, they began cutting down trees. 5 But as one of them was cutting a tree, his ax head fell into the river. “Oh, sir!” he cried. “It was a borrowed ax!”

6 “Where did it fall?” the man of God asked. When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it into the water at that spot. Then the ax head floated to the surface. 7 “Grab it,” Elisha said. And the man reached out and grabbed it.

In this passage, we see that the incident of the floating ax head is recorded to show God’s care and provision for those who trust him, even in the insignificant events of everyday life. God is always present.

At the Billy Graham Evangelist Association website, they have a section of the website devoted to questions from visitors to the website. In response to this very question, the response at the website said this:

Why is God concerned not only about the big things but the small things in our lives? One reason is because He loves us. If He didn’t love us, He wouldn’t care what happens to us—and He certainly wouldn’t care about the little details that often preoccupy us or cause us the greatest worry. But He does love us, and we know this because He sent His only Son into the world to purchase our salvation. Jesus said, “even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid” (Matthew 10:30-31).

But we know God is concerned about even the smallest things for another reason: His greatness. Listen: God is so great that even the very smallest detail of the universe is under His control. The most distant galaxy … the littlest seed … even the smallest sub-atomic particle—everything was created by Him, and is under His sovereign control. God is that great! In Christ, the Bible says, “all things were created. … And in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17).

So, let us be aware of God’s presence in the details of lives. That is a good thing. When we remove God from the shelf and make Him a part of our everyday life, then, intimacy with Him can grow. When He walks with me and He talks with me and tells me that I am His own, like the old hymn said, we can have true intimacy. When we make Him a part of everything, there is recognition that God is real, that we can begin to feel close to Him, that we can feel His presence. When we only recognize Him in the big things of life, we miss out and we often feel disconnected and less intimate with Him. How do you get close to people in your life? You talk to them daily. You interact with them daily. You grow close through daily contact. We should be the same with God.

Because, yes, Meghan, God does care about the Cool Whip!

Amen and Amen.

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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.

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

The Healing of Naaman

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

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

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

[Customer #1 is seen approaching the register]

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

Customer #1: Excuse me…

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

[sees Customer #1]

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

[Customer #1 looks baffled]

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

[Annoyed, Bon Qui Qui hangs up the phone]

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

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

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

Customer #1: …Pardon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Customer #2: Yes!

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

Customer #2: I tried to, but…

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

Mr. Williams: Bon Qui Qui…

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

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

Bon Qui Qui: Is that what you had said?

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

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

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

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

Mr. Williams: Bon Qui Qui, what?

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

Customer #3: No I wasn’t!

Bon Qui Qui: I will CUT you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.

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

Miracles During a Famine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen and Amen.