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Sunday, November 27, 2016

First Sunday of Advent: A Candle of Persistent Promise

LEFC Family Advent Readings: “A Shoot from the Stump of Jesse”
Isaiah 11 :: November 27, 2016
Week #1: Persistent Promise

“Advent” means “coming.” Christmas is coming. Jesus has come and is coming again.

During this year’s Advent season, we will be reflecting together on the ancient promise of the Messiah revealed in the prophecy of Isaiah chapter 11. Isaiah predicts:

[READ ISAIAH 11:1 AND LIGHT FIRST CANDLE.]

Our first candle is a candle of persistent promise.

Isaiah’s prophecy anticipates a time when all of the kings of Israel have been cut down to size. As kings, they were all disappointing and never lived up to their potential.

These kings failed. They did not lead the nation into covenant faithfulness, and their people suffered for it. David’s royal dynasty had declined until it was almost as good as dead.

But in this bleak time, God was still at work. He was still keeping His promises to His people.

Isaiah says that the Lord will startle everyone and bring a glorious new ruler out of the family line of Jesse. Though every son of David so far has been a sad disappointment, God’s promise remains persistent.

The Lord will bring a powerful king out of humble origins. A tiny shoot will poke up from the stump of Jesse and then grow into a mighty tree. From modest roots, a magnificent Branch will one day bear flourishing fruit.

Sometimes it seems as though God’s promises will never come to pass. May this candle remind us that God always keeps His promises, often in surprising ways which we would never have anticipated.

His promises are persistent, and so should be our faith.

[Matt's Messages] "If the LORD Should Open the Floodgates of Heaven"

“If the LORD Should Open the Floodgates of Heaven”
The King of Kings in the Books of Kings
November 27, 2016 :: 2 Kings 6:24-7:20  

Last week, the story ended with the Lord, through the prophet Elisha, providing a feast to the enemies of Israel whom He had captured through His supernatural power.

We went into the Thanksgiving season reminded that God shows amazing grace even to His enemies.

But as the curtain opens on this very next story, Israel is back at war with the Arameans.

And they are showing Israel no mercy.

In fact, they have laid up a siege against Samaria, the capital of Israel. And the siege is so successful that Samaria is devastated and nearly everyone within its walls are dying of starvation.

2 Kings Chapter 6, verse 24.

“Some time later, Ben-Hadad king of Aram mobilized his entire army and marched up and laid siege to Samaria. There was a great famine in the city; the siege lasted so long that a donkey's head sold for eighty shekels of silver, and a quarter of a cab of seed pods for five shekels.”

Now, we don’t know exactly how much these weights and currency would be in today’s measurements, but it’s obvious that things have become desperate.

A donkey’s head has almost no nutritional value. And here they are paying eighty shekels, perhaps 80 month’s wages just to get their hands on one.

The word translated “seed pods” in verse 2 could be translated “dove’s dung.”

Which has absolutely no nutritional value, but maybe a little bit of fuel for a cooking fire. Five shekels for that?!

That’s how utterly awful things have become in Samaria.

And here’s the worst. Verse 26

“As the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried to him, ‘Help me, my lord the king!’ The king replied, ‘If the LORD does not help you, where can I get help for you? From the threshing floor? From the winepress?’ [You can tell how disheartened he is. How powerless he feels.]

Then he asked her, ‘What's the matter?’ She answered, ‘This woman said to me, 'Give up your son so we may eat him today, and tomorrow we'll eat my son.' So we cooked my son and ate him. The next day I said to her, 'Give up your son so we may eat him,' but she had hidden him.’

When the king heard the woman's words, he tore his robes. As he went along the wall, the people looked, and there, underneath, he had sackcloth on his body.

He said, ‘May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!’”

He blames Elisha for all of this.

He’s put in a situation where this woman is clamoring for justice and it’s sick and totally wrong.

It’s supposed to remind us of the wisdom of Solomon.

But this king, probably Jehoram, is two-thumbs down. He has no wisdom. He has no power.

He has almost no kingdom left.

And he blames Elisha.

He’s living in sackcloth because his life is a constant lament.

And he knows that all of this judgment.

Deep down, he knows that he deserves all of this.

That he has led his people into all of this misery. All of this suffering.

Now he doesn’t admit that. Instead, he pins the blame on the man of God.

“May God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if the head of Elisha son of Shaphat remains on his shoulders today!’”

It may not fix this situation, but it will feel really good to take it out on someone.

So he sends a messenger to collect Elisha, or at least his head. V.32

“Now Elisha was sitting in his house, and the elders were sitting with him. The king sent a messenger ahead, but before he arrived, Elisha said to the elders, ‘Don't you see how this murderer is sending someone to cut off my head? Look, when the messenger comes, shut the door and hold it shut against him. Is not the sound of his master's footsteps behind him?’ While he was still talking to them, the messenger came down to him. And the king said, ‘This disaster is from the LORD. Why should I wait for the LORD any longer?’”

Did you ever feel like that?

I’m not exactly sure why the king says what he says to Elisha.

My best guess is that Elisha has told the king to repent in sackcloth and to wait upon the LORD for deliverance.

And the king basically says, “I tried that, and it didn’t work. Look around you.”

“I’m giving up on the Lord.”

Have you ever been there?

Now, Elisha speaks in chapter 7 verse 1 and he makes a surprising prediction of God’s grace. V.1

“Elisha said, ‘Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.’”

That would be amazing.

Those wouldn’t be normal prices, but these people have not seen normal prices [or flour or barley!] for some time.

And now Elisha says that it will happen tomorrow.

It’s so unlikely, it’s almost unbelievable. V.2

“The officer on whose arm the king was leaning said to the man of God, ‘Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?’ ‘You will see it with your own eyes,’ answered Elisha, ‘but you will not eat any of it!’”

#1. BELIEVE GOD’S (ALMOST INCONCEIVABLY) GOOD PROMISES.

You see our title there in verse 2?

“Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?”

I mean, really?!

Some translations have “window of the heavens” there in verse 2.

The idea is that God throws up the sash and starts pouring out His blessings on the people.

But this guy doesn’t believe.

He says that even if God threw open the sluicegates of the heavens and started blessing them, he probably couldn’t pull off the miracle that Elisha predicted.

What do you think of that?

Well, I know that we’re supposed to root for God and for Elisha.

But there is a part of me that understands where this guy is coming from.

Because sometimes it feels and seems like God’s promises are just too good to be true.

In this situation, to go from devastation and cannabalism-tempted starvation to full tummies in just one day seems more than just a little hard to believe.

And what about all of those other promises from God?

Like:

Every evil thing ever done to you or me worked to our good?

Each and every one of our God-betraying sins forgiven?

Being resurrected from the dead and given a new indestructible glorious body?

Do those promises (and there’s more where those came from, do those promises) sound almost inconceivably good to you?

They do to me.

When I look at the state of our world today, it’s easy for me to start thinking like this guy did.

“I don’t know. It seems to good to be true. Even if God threw open the windows ans started raining down blessings, I don’t know if everything He’s promised could come true.”

But, friends, that’s unbelief.

Everything we’ve seen in this book so far and everything we read in the rest of the Bible tell us that God’s promises are real and true and certain. God will bring them all to pass.

“Hear the word of the LORD. This is what the LORD says: About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.”

Believe it or not.

It’s going to happen.

Brothers and Sisters and Friends, God is calling us to trust in His (almost inconceivably) good promises.

And take them to the bank.

Do you know them?

Do you know what God has promised to His children?

Sometimes people believe in things that God has not promised. And then they get disappointed.

If I think that God has promised me a happy Christmas with dozens of presents under the tree, and good health and a happy family and a happy church family, then if I don’t get some of those things, I’m disappointed and feel let down by God.

So it’s important to know what God has promised and what He has not.

And to believe Him for every single thing that He has said He would do.

No matter how difficult or unlikely or improbable they would be to come true.

I mean, a resurrected body?!

Yesterday, I read a quote from D.A. Carson that said, “I’m not suffering from anything that a good resurrection can’t fix.”

Ain’t that the truth?

But a resurrection?

Have you ever seen a dead body?

Have you ever seen a grave?

Do people get up out of their graves?

That’s what we believe.

We don’t just believe in “going to heaven when you die.”

Christians believe in the resurrection of the body.

Christians believe in the (almost inconceivably) good promises of God.

We should know what they are. We should ransack our Bibles until we know what God has promised to do and then trust Him full for it.

Elisha has spoken the word of the LORD and has told this fellow that he will see it but not taste it.

And now, for something completely different.

In verse 3, the curtain opens early the next morning on four lepers.

Four guys with leprosy. The last people we expected to hear from. V.3

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

You see where these guys are at, don’t you?

They have absolutely nothing. They are social outcasts who have to live outside the starving city.

And they are planning to die so they decide what could it hurt to try to surrender to the Arameans. Maybe they’ll feed them. If not, they are going to die anyway.

What do you think is going to happen?

Well, it’s God, right? And it’s 2 Kings. So they probably aren’t going to die. But it sure seems like it. V.5

“At dusk they got up and went to the camp of the Arameans. When they reached the edge of the camp, not a man was there, for the Lord had caused the Arameans to hear the sound of chariots and horses and a great army, so that they said to one another, ‘Look, the king of Israel has hired the Hittite and Egyptian kings to attack us!’

So they got up and fled in the dusk and abandoned their tents and their horses and donkeys. They left the camp as it was and ran for their lives.

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

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

If the LORD Should Open the Floodgates of Heaven:

#2. SHARE THE (ALMOST INCONCEIVABLY) GOOD NEWS.

Can you imagine how these guys felt?

They went from starving to feasting and trying on new clothes and putting stuff away for a rainy day.

They had hit the jackpot!

Imagine the soundtrack for this moment.

It’s a ghost town. God had orchestrated this miracle so that the Arameans were so scared that they left all their good stuff behind.

It was better than Black Friday.

The stores were empty of people and everything was free!

The four guys are running from tent to tent.

“Do you see what they have behind door number 3?”

And it’s all ours!

And then they come to their senses and remember that there are people starving just over there behind that wall.

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

What a picture of the gospel!

God’s good news is too good to keep to ourselves.

What Jesus did for us on the Cross. What He purchased there when He died?

That’s too good to not share.

What Jesus did at the Empty Tomb. What kind of life He brought on that day?

That’s too good to keep to ourselves.

Like the song says:

“Hide it under a bushel, No! I’m gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel, No! I’m gonna let it shine.
Hide it under a bushel, No! I’m gonna let it shine.

Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine!”

I’m afraid that many of us are ashamed of the good news.

We don’t feel like sharing it.

We love it. We cherish it. We sing about it on Sundays.

But what about on Mondays?

Do we keep all of this gospel wealth to ourselves?

If so, “We are not doing right. This is a day of good news...” and we should get busy sharing it.

When was the last time you gave testimony of God’s grace in your life to someone who needs to hear it?

This is a good season for it. The Advent season leading up to Christmas.

We don’t need to get all preachy.

But we do need to share the wealth that we have been given.

Given!  Not earned.

These 4 lepers did nothing to deserve all of these blessings.

And neither have we.  But we are the beneficiaries of God’s almost unbelievably generosity, and it would be wrong to hoard it.

Share the good news.

Whether they believe it or not themselves. V.10

“So they went and called out to the city gatekeepers and told them, ‘We went into the Aramean camp and not a man was there–not a sound of anyone–only tethered horses and donkeys, and the tents left just as they were.’

The gatekeepers shouted the news, and it was reported within the palace.

[And because Elisha had said that it would be so, they were all ready to go out there. Not so much. V.12]

The king got up in the night and said to his officers, ‘I will tell you what the Arameans have done to us.They know we are starving; so they have left the camp to hide in the countryside, thinking, 'They will surely come out, and then we will take them alive and get into the city.'’ [It’s a trap!]

One of his officers answered, ‘Have some men take five of the horses that are left in the city. Their plight will be like that of all the Israelites left here–yes, they will only be like all these Israelites who are doomed. So let us send them to find out what happened.’

[I think that guy believed Elisha! But he says, “What do we have to lose?”]

So they selected two chariots with their horses, and the king sent them after the Aramean army. He commanded the drivers, ‘Go and find out what has happened.’ They followed them as far as the Jordan, and they found the whole road strewn with the clothing and equipment the Arameans had thrown away in their headlong flight. So the messengers returned and reported to the king.

Then the people went out and plundered the camp of the Arameans.

So a seah of flour sold for a shekel, and two seahs of barley sold for a shekel, as the LORD had said.

Now the king had put the officer on whose arm he leaned in charge of the gate, and the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died, just as the man of God had foretold when the king came down to his house.

It happened as the man of God had said to the king: ‘About this time tomorrow, a seah of flour will sell for a shekel and two seahs of barley for a shekel at the gate of Samaria.’ The officer had said to the man of God, ‘Look, even if the LORD should open the floodgates of the heavens, could this happen?’ The man of God had replied, ‘You will see it with your own eyes, but you will not eat any of it!’ And that is exactly what happened to him, for the people trampled him in the gateway, and he died.”

How many times does the author emphasize that God did it just like He said He would?

God did it just like He said He would.

God always keeps His promises.

Believe it!

Disbelieve it at your own peril.

What happened to this man, trampled in the gateway, is a picture of what the author of Hebrews says when writes, “[H]ow shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” or when he says, “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?” (Heb 2:3, 12:25).

There is a great price to pay for unbelief.

God has made almost inconceivably great promises, and they call come true for those who put their faith and trust in Him.

But those who ignore His promises and choose to not believe them?

Don’t be that guy.

Because the LORD has promised to open the floodgates of heaven on all who trust in His very great and precious promises.

Only trust Him.
Only trust Him.
Only trust Him now.


***

Messages in this Series:

01. Who Will Be King?
02. The Wisdom of the King
03. The Temple of the King
04. The Incomparable King of the Temple
05. A Breathtaking King
06. The Turned King and the Torn Kingdom
07. The Two Kings and the Tearing of the Kingdom
08. The Word of the LORD
09. In the Eyes of the LORD
10. The LORD Lives
11. The LORD Is God!
12. The LORD Is Still God.
13. “You Will Know that I am the LORD”
14. "Thus Saith the LORD!"
15. What the LORD Says
16. Is There No God in Israel?
17. Where Is the God of Elijah?
18. How NOT To Relate to God
19. God of Wonders
20. No God in the All the World Except in Israel
21. LORD, Open Our Eyes!

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Sunday, November 20, 2016

[Matt's Messages] "LORD, Open Our Eyes!"

“LORD, Open Our Eyes!”
The King of Kings in the Books of Kings
November 20, 2016 :: 2 Kings 6:1-23  

I think that our message for today is a good one for the Thanksgiving holiday.

It’s all about seeing things that are easily missed.

Like our blessings.

We always sing that song this time of year, “Count Your Blessings.”

Count them one by one.

And it’s good advice. Because we can easily forget how good we have it until we get to thinking about, reminding ourselves.

So it’s good to slow down and count those countless gifts.

The title I picked for today’s message is “LORD, Open Our Eyes.”

And you’ll see where I get that as we study chapter 6 together.

Today, we’re only going to make it the first 23 verses.

We’ll have to save the rest for next week.

Today, we’re just going to read two short stories with more a few more miracles done by Elisha.

Strangely enough, the Books of Kings haven’t been talking that much about the kings for the last several chapters.

It should almost be called the Book of Prophets!

Because first Elijah and now Elisha have held center stage.

We’ve learned that one of the reasons for that is because the kings have been doing such a bad job.

There are little glimmers of goodness in the Southern kingdom, but every king of the Northern kingdom, every king of Israel has been at least two thumbs down. Some more than two!

Each and every king has been a big disappointment. All of the kings have been a failure.

But God has not failed.

The LORD has not failed His people.

He is still caring for them, especially for those who have stayed faithful to Him.

Kings may fail us (and often do), but the LORD never fails His covenant people.

I think that’s one of the big truths that this section of Scripture is getting across to us.

That’s why so many of the stories are simply God graciously caring for His people during hard times.

The hard times have come, in many ways, because of bad leadership.

But Elisha, the man of God, is on the spot to remind God’s people that no matter what God is still on the spot, God is still on the job.

2 Kings 6 starts with a quirky little story about an unusual and unique miracle.

“The company of the prophets said to Elisha, ‘Look, the place where we meet with you is too small for us. Let us go to the Jordan, where each of us can get a pole; and let us build a place there for us to live.’ And he said, ‘Go.’ Then one of them said, ‘Won't you please come with your servants?’ ‘I will,’ Elisha replied. And he went with them.

They went to the Jordan and began to cut down trees. As one of them was cutting down a tree, the iron axhead fell into the water. ‘Oh, my lord,’ he cried out, ‘it was borrowed!’ The man of God asked, ‘Where did it fall?’ When he showed him the place, Elisha cut a stick and threw it there, and made the iron float.

‘Lift it out,’ he said. Then the man reached out his hand and took it.”

Now, that’s a pretty unique story, isn’t it?

I don’t think there’s anything quite like it in the rest of the Bible.

Elijah never did that. I know that!

Elisha is apparently the head of the company of the prophets and this group of them needed a new place to meet and apparently to live.

And they Elisha agreed to go along for the barn raising.

They are cutting wood near the Jordan and the axehead, at least, this is how I picture it, the axehead flies off backwards over the man’s head and into the Jordan.

Deep! Unsalvageable. Unable to be found.

“What are we going to do?”

Now, what I never thought about before was just how bad this was for this man.

You can see how distressed he is. “My master Elisha, it was borrowed!”

Now, when you and I read that, what we do we think?

We think. How embarrassing. I’ve lost something I’ve borrowed before.

And you have to go to Lowes and get another. Right?

What did he think?  He thought, “I’m going into slavery.”

Does every man have a iron axehead in the days of Elisha?

No. Why? Because they’re expensive.

This guy had to borrow one.

It’s more like this. What if you borrowed your friend’s truck to do a little job and you totaled it and you didn’t have insurance.

How would you feel then?

That’s how this guy feels.

He’s just gone deep into debt that he can’t repay, and it probably means servitude until he can pay it off.

And what does Elisha say to that?

“It’s tough to be you!”

Is that what he says?

No, he says, “Where did it fall?”

And he does a miracle in the name of the LORD.

The iron axehead floats!

Here’s point number one.

Lord, Open Our Eyes to See That:

#1. YOU CARE ABOUT OUR (little) BIG DEALS.

No matter how little they are.

Isn’t that great?

God is the God of small things, not just big things.

You know the things that to us are a big deal even if they aren’t a big deal to other people?

What’s an axehead worth, really?  Is it worth asking for a miracle to get one back?

I’ll bet this guy thought so.

I’ve always thought this was almost a trivial pursuit.

Whenever I’ve read this story before, I always focused on how different and weird it was. Iron floating!

But it’s not very different from the widow’s oil, the Shunammite’s son, the death in the pot, and the feeding of the hundred.

Those were all small to us and are tucked away deep in the Old Testament, but they were gigantic to those needy people at that time.

What’s your “big deal” right now?

What are you worried about?

What’s got you concern, your attention these days?

Does it seem too small to bother God with?

Author Dale Ralph Davis says about this story:
[T]he greatness of God in large measure consists in the fact that he is ‘faithful in little’. We make a mistake when we confuse God’s greatness with ‘bigness’ or when we associate his greatness only with bigness. Then we begin to carve out for ourselves a graven image of the living God which shapes him in our image: his is so busy, so preoccupied and distracted, pressured under time constraints. This CEO-type God can have no time for Joe or Jane Peon. Ah, but that is not our God. Part of his greatness appears in the fact that he does attend to the small problems, the dinky details, the individual needs, the mundane and ordinary affairs of the believer’s life. The hairs on your head are numbered; God does care about your axe-head (The Power and the Fury, pg. 104).
God cares about your big deal right now, no matter how small it really is.

Isn’t that comforting?

I remember a number of years ago, I was buying plane tickets, and I prayed really hard about when to buy them. And I had to go to the public library and get internet access to purchase them. So this was a while ago.

And I remember praying about it, and then sitting down to the computer and buying the tickets, and getting the best price I could have every imagined.

And I went out to lunch with a guy from our church who no longer goes here. And I was telling him about what the Lord had done.

And he said, “You think the Lord actually cares about that stuff? About the price of a plane ticket? And whether or not you got one in time?”

I said, “Absolutely. Don’t you?”

Yes, it’s no big deal to Him. But it’s a big deal to us.

And God cares about our big deals.

Now, that doesn’t mean that He always does what we want about them! Certainly not.

He does not always give us our axe-heads back!

But count your blessings. Nothing you care about is too small for God to take notice of and be involved in.

He’s the God of small things. He is the God who answers prayers for parking places. And for postage stamps. And business deals. And health insurance problems. And whatever your big deals is right now.

He cares. Even when the kings who are supposed to be looking out for your welfare do not, God is on the spot and on the job.

Put your trust in Him.

And that would be enough for us to take into Thanksgiving, but let’s see some more.

In the next story, the prophet Elisha is supplying military intelligence to the King of Israel. V.8

“Now the king of Aram was at war with Israel [back to that again!]. After conferring with his officers, he said, ‘I will set up my camp in such and such a place.’ The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: ‘Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.’

So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places.

This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, ‘Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?’ ‘None of us, my lord the king,’ said one of his officers, ‘but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.’

‘Go, find out where he is,’ the king ordered, ‘so I can send men and capture him.’ The report came back: ‘He is in Dothan.’ Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.”

It doesn’t say when this happened or where. It’s kind of vague on the details. It doesn’t even actually say which kind of Aram or which king of Israel. And some of these stories may be out of chronological order.

But none of that is very important.

What is important is that Elisha is using his prophetic abilities to inform the king of Israel of the troop movements of the King of Aram. Elisha and the king are working together here.

And he’s got miraculous intel to reveal military secrets.

And the king of Aram thinks he must have a mole, a traitor, inside his own team.

They assure him that they are all loyal, but the tell the king about Elisha’s abilities.

“He knows the very words you speak in your bedroom!”

So the kings sends a strike force to take Elisha out.

Now, what I always think is funny is that they think they can take him by surprise in the middle of the night!

“He knows the very words you speak in your bedroom!

So try to sneak up on him.”

But it does bother Elisha’s servant, perhaps Gehazi, but it doesn’t say. V.15

“When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh, my lord, what shall we do?’ the servant asked.

‘Don't be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’

And Elisha prayed, ‘O LORD, open his eyes so he may see.’ [There’s our sermon title.] Then the LORD opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

LORD, Open Our Eyes to See That:

#2. YOU ARE UP TO SO MANY THINGS WE AREN’T AWARE OF.

Here’s the thing. Verse 16 is true even if there is no verse 17.

Do you get that?

It’s amazing what the servant sees!  He sees hills full of horse and chariots of fire.

There is an amazing army of, angels? I assume.

Fiery horses and chariots like what took Elijah up in chapter 2.

And they vastly outnumber the Aramean strike force. If the two got into a battle, there would be no contest.

But here’s the point. Verse 16 is true even if there is no verse 17.

“Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”

That’s always true.

Whether we see it or not.

And not just that there is an unseen reality of spiritual warfare out there. Beyond our vision.

There are an infinite number of wonderful things out there beyond our vision!

We don’t know the half of it.
We don’t know a fraction of it.

We don’t know most of what God is up to!

Even in our situations.

Is that encouraging?  It is to me.

Because sometimes it feels like God isn’t doing anything.

And the reality is that God is doing an unimaginably great amount of things around me out of my perception all of the time.

Why don’t we all die today at church?
Why doesn’t a plane fall on our building?
Why don’t we all have heart attacks?

Are all of those things that could happen? I guess so. Why don’t they?

Sometimes miracles. All of the time, because God is doing stuff.

On the macro level and the micro level. And on the spiritual level.

We learned about Job today in Sunday School.

The thing about Job is that he didn’t know he was in the story of Job!

We know about the cosmic quarrel between the Lord and Satan in chapters 1 and 2.

But Job doesn’t know about any of that.

It’s all behind the scenes.

And Job trusts and learns to trust deeper that God is doing things behind the scenes, the right things, the things that need done.

Count your blessings. God is at work in ways you can’t see and probably can’t even imagine.

And He’s bigger than all of your enemies, combined.

What is the New Testament version of verse 16?

1 John 4:4, “The one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”

That’s always true. Whether you can see it or feel it or not.

If you belong to the LORD, the one who is in you is greater than all of your enemies combined!

Put your trust in Him.

The story isn’t done yet. V.18

“As the enemy came down toward him, Elisha prayed to the LORD, ‘Strike these people with blindness.’ So he struck them with blindness, as Elisha had asked. [The opposite of what he asked for his servant.]

Elisha told them, ‘This is not the road and this is not the city. Follow me, and I will lead you to the man you are looking for.’ And he led them to Samaria.

[This is called a “Yahweh mind trick.” Get it? A little Star Wars reference for you there. No? Okay, we’ll move on. V.20]

“After they entered the city, Elisha said, ‘LORD, open the eyes of these men so they can see.’ Then the LORD opened their eyes and they looked, and there they were, inside Samaria [Israel’s capital city!].

When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, ‘Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?’

‘Do not kill them,’ he answered. ‘Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master.’ So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel's territory.”

Lord, Open Our Eyes to See That:

#3. YOU WANT US TO LOVE OUR ENEMIES.

The King of Israel was just drooling wasn’t he?

“Shall I kill them? Shall I kill them?”

But Elisha says, “No, they aren’t your prisoners. The are the LORD’s prisoners, and today He is showing them mercy.”

And they get a great big feast.

Probably turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and cranberry dressing....

Well maybe not that.

But they get a great big feast! The enemy gets a great big feast and then gets sent home and (at least for a time) the war is over. “The bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel’s territory.”

King Solomon said, “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22).

Yes, that’s in the Old Testament!

But our Lord Jesus said it even stronger in the New.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” (Matthew 5:44-47).

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”

That’s not an easy one to see.

It’s certainly not an easy one to do.

But when we love our enemies, we are being like our Father. Showing the family resemblance.

And we’re acting not like King Jehoram or whoever this is, but like King Jesus, the king of kings.

Who do you need to show love to this week?

Who is your enemy? How might you seek to bless them?

Do it wisely. Do it prudently. Shrewd as a serpent, innocent as a dove.

But do it.  Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Maybe even throw them a big turkey dinner.

They’ll never see it coming. And it might even end the hostilities.

Count your blessings. Because you were loved in this way.

“God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

While were His enemies, Jesus showed us love.

And think about this, Jesus had the ability to see spiritual realities that we can’t.

He knew about those horses and chariots on the hillside.

And He didn’t call on them.

In the garden of Gethsemane, He told Peter to put back his sword and He said, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt 26:53).

But He chose not to do that.
He chose not to protect Himself.
Instead, He chose to die for His enemies.

Put your trust in Him.

And follow His lead.

Have you put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?

If you have not yet, make this the day!

Because even though we are His natural born enemies, Jesus died to save those who will believe in Him.

And He came back to life to give us all of the blessings that we don’t deserve.

A feast with the king had been our enemy.

Once Your Enemy
Now Seated at Your Table
Jesus, Thank You!

Put your faith and trust in Him.

And if you have, then count that as your greatest blessing.

Pray that the LORD would open your eyes to see just how great our salvation truly is.

Because, thank God, we now belong to the God who cares about our big deals no matter how small they really are.

Thank God, we now belong to the God who is up to so many things we are not remotely aware of.

Thank God, that we belong to the God who loved us even when we hated Him.

And now He call us to love, not just our brothers and sisters though we need help to do that, too, but to love even our enemies.

And invite them to the feast that makes peace.

***

Messages in this Series:

01. Who Will Be King?
02. The Wisdom of the King
03. The Temple of the King
04. The Incomparable King of the Temple
05. A Breathtaking King
06. The Turned King and the Torn Kingdom
07. The Two Kings and the Tearing of the Kingdom
08. The Word of the LORD
09. In the Eyes of the LORD
10. The LORD Lives
11. The LORD Is God!
12. The LORD Is Still God.
13. “You Will Know that I am the LORD”
14. "Thus Saith the LORD!"
15. What the LORD Says
16. Is There No God in Israel?
17. Where Is the God of Elijah?
18. How NOT To Relate to God
19. God of Wonders
20. No God in the All the World Except in Israel

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

An Interview with Champ Thornton on "The Radical Book for Kids"

I'm excited today to participate in the new blog tour for The Radical Book for Kids by Champ Thornton.

I got to read a copy before it was released and was really impressed. Here's my short review:
The Radical Book for Kids is deceptively fun! While preteens are utterly enjoying themselves with the creative games, hands-on projects, laugh-out-loud jokes, and cool stories, Champ Thornton is radically discipling them with a crash course on Bible study methods, hermeneutics, church history, biblical theology, and Christian life and ethics. This is the kind of book that stealthily helps parents, pastors, and teachers make young followers for Jesus Christ.
It really does all of that! 

I recently got to ask Champ (what a neat name, huh?) a few questions about this really cool book he's written.

Matt:  Tell us about yourself and your family. Who is Champ Thornton and how did you come to write this book?

Champ:  Most centrally, I’m a sinner now welcomed into God’s family through Christ. I’m husband to Robben (we’ve been married since 1996) and dad to three children, all presently under the age of 12. I also serve as an associate pastor at our church in the state of Delaware. Before moving here in 2012, I’d lived most of my life in the Carolinas. That’s where I grew up, went to college and seminary, started a family, and followed the call into pastoral ministry. I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, drinking coffee, listening to music, and reading—especially theology, biography, and fiction. But even as a kid, books have been a big part of my life. I remember enjoying the Hardy Boys, then Sherlock Holmes, and later Alistair MacLean novels. So, having enjoyed reading for so long, it has been a privilege to begin putting words back onto the page for others. The Radical Book for Kids started as a conversation over lunch with Marty Machowski, author of many children’s books, including The Ology: Ancient Truths, Ever New. At that time, our church was without a children’s pastor, so I was asking Marty questions about children’s ministry. The conversation turned to writing, and eventually New Growth Press asked me to give them some sample chapters from the book which became The Radical Book for Kids: Exploring the Roots and Shoots of Faith

Having three young children (two boys and a girl), I wanted to write for boys and girls in the next generation. My hope for them is that they grow up to know God, trust him, love him and serve him with all of their lives. So this book is an attempt to point my kids and others toward that goal. And in the background of this desire is that in 2003 I was diagnosed with a blood clot and a genetic blood disorder. When you’re 29 years old, you think you’re fairly invincible, but God brought into my life a daily reminder of my mortality. I’ve not had another scare like that since, but God has used this diagnosis to raise my awareness of the importance of passing along to the next generation the good news of Christ and the truths of His Word. 

Matt: What is the central message of The Radical Book for Kids? What are you hoping that readers come away thinking, believing, feeling, and doing?

Champ: The Radical Book for Kids is a fun-filled explorer’s guide to the Bible, theology, church history, and life for boys and girls ages 8 and up. In this book, I introduce young readers to the stories of men and women who have lived out their faith in Jesus in radical ways. God sustained them to trust him despite great opposition and difficulty. The book also focuses on the radical roots of our faith. (The word “radical” comes from the Latin word “radix,” which literally means “roots.”) So in many ways it is a “root” book, leading young minds on a tour of the roots of their faith — a tour of the Bible, what it teaches, how to read it and why we should believe it and tell others about it. The Radical Book for Kids also includes radical fun with a 3,000-year-old game, a secret code, hands-on activities, fun facts and more. It’s radical strength, depth and fun.

On one level, I hope those who read this book — whether children and teens or their parents and grandparents — would come to love, trust and follow the Lord Jesus Christ more. It’s my prayer this book will be used by God to grow deep roots of faith in all who read it.

In addition to this, it’s my hope that the middle schoolers and young teens who read about the spiritual disciplines, the names of God, biblical wisdom, union with Christ or men and women who gave their lives for the Lord will one day come back for more as they later decide to explore more deeply and widely the riches of God’s truth. In other words, I want to scatter a packet of assorted seeds across the minds and hearts and imaginations of the next generation, which in God’s time and by His Spirit will take root, sprout and bear much fruit. If this book makes children and teens (and adults) more curious and thirsty to know God and the good news of His Word, then it will have done its job.

Matt:  Tell us a little about the process of creating this creative book. How did you come up with the unusual format and all of this cool content? What was the hardest thing to write and the happiest thing?  What surprised you the most as you wrote it?

Champ: A quick search on amazon.com will yield various books promoting: “everything a boy/girl should know or do.” Yet all of them are secular in content and approach. The Radical Book for Kids is different; it’s what I wanted my own children to know about God our Savior, the Word He has written, and the world He has created.

So I started by making a list of all the things (about God, the Bible, theology, life, etc.) that I’d want my kids to know about or know how to do. Then I emailed over a dozen friends in ministry, asking them what they’d include on their short list of things for kids to know or do. Initially, over 100 topics made the list, but we eventually landed on the 67 mini-chapters that make up The Radical Book for Kids. 

Through the entire process, I wanted to write in a way that would resonate with young readers. There’s nothing boring about God — He’s the most engaging, creative, vivid and energizing Being in the universe. In fact, just look at the universe He’s created! A riot of colors, sounds and smells, tastes and textures. This is beauty, but His truth is just the other side of the same coin. God’s beauty, truth and goodness are all different expressions of the same reality — God’s reality. So, He’s the farthest thing from boring, and when we teach about Him in a way that’s uninteresting, we misrepresent Him. 

New Growth Press and I wanted this book to engage minds with truth, ignite hearts with His goodness and captivate imaginations with His beauty. And Scot McDonald’s creative design work has brought all the wonder-filled fun-factor I had hoped for when writing the book. Vivid colors, eye-catching pictures, hand-drawn sketches and illuminating sidebars fill its pages. It’s been a collaborative creative process throughout.

Numbers of chapters presented a challenge to write—how to communicate big and sometimes complicated truths in an age-appropriate and engaging way? Perhaps one of the most difficult was the chapter on how to read the prophetic books in Scripture (“How to Profit from the Prophets”). I wrote probably 4 or 5 significantly different drafts of that chapter before finally landing on the finalized version which is in the book. The happiest was periodically getting to collaborate with my oldest son—hearing his opinions (pros and cons) and seeing the book through his eyes. As to the most surprising element, it may be the time involved. I started writing in the spring of 2014; after this the book went through several rounds of re-writing and editing over the next few years.

Matt: Give us a guide to the best reading experience. Who do you hope reads this book and how do you hope they read it?

Champ: This is a book that kids, ages 8 and up, can read on their own. For curious readers, a table of contents and index make topics easy to find. So kids can explore their book however they like: hopscotching around via topic or just reading straight through. For kids of younger ages, parents can also read this book aloud in family devotions. Bible teachers can use it to supplement their main curriculum. For parents or teachers, there are plenty of places to stop reading and to discuss issues posed, consider questions asked or just laugh at something funny. (Also, as the book has been previewed, I’ve learned adults have found this book useful for themselves or to give to others who are growing in their faith.)

Matt: Thanks, Champ, taking the time to answer these questions, but even more for investing the many hours to creating the Radical Book for Kids. I think it's a great resource. When I got my advanced copy, I read parts out loud to my family, and they chuckled, hooted, and hollered at all the right places, and didn't realize that they were learning something important. That's a mark of a great book!


Sunday, November 13, 2016

[Matt's Messages] “No God in All the World Except in Israel”

“No God in All the World Except in Israel”
The King of Kings in the Books of Kings
November 13, 2016 :: 2 Kings 5:1-27

We’ve turned the corner from the first Book of Kings to the second Book of Kings. And we’ve turned the corner from the first major prophet in the Books of Kings, Elijah, to the second major prophet in the Books of Kings, Elisha.

But we have not been introduced to a second God.

It’s all been about the same God–Yahweh.

Yahweh is the God of 1 Kings, and He is the same God in 2 Kings. And He’s the same God forever.

He’s a God of Wonders. He’s is compassionate and powerful and generous.

Even though Israel’s kings have been dismal failures, two thumbs down, God has continued to graciously care for His people through His wonder-working prophet.

And in chapter 5, that prophet, Elisha, does yet another miracle that reveals the glory of Yahweh.

But this time, the miracle is done for someone who is...not a Jew.

Someone who is not from Israel at all.

Someone who, at least at the start of the story, does not yet even believe in the LORD!

And yet God shows his mercy and grace and power and glory to this man.

So that he proclaims the title of today’s message, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”

And that’s the God that gets the glory.

Today, as we read this story, let’s see what it reveals about Who God truly is and what that means for us today.

The story in 2 Kings is very familiar to many. Other than the Elijah and the fiery chariot of chapter 2, this is probably the most familiar story in 2 Kings.

And for good reason. It’s a great little story. It’s really interesting and different, and it’s funny. There are so many humorous little twists and turns in these 27 verses. And it’s weird and strange like many of the other stories in the Books of Kings, so it keeps your interest the whole time.

Raise your hand if you already know this story.

I know you do, Wally. When Wally was a kid, his pastor, preached on this story and Wally still remembers the title, “Seven Ducks in a Muddy River,” right? Clever!

I remember Doreen Crandall of WTLR tell this story to our Kids for Christ at a Kick Off many years ago.

I remember our missionary Kim Cone preaching on this story a few different times when he was here.

And the president of Wheaton, Phillip Ryken, told this story to us at the last EFCA One national conference.

It’s a very familiar and beloved story to us.

BUT...IT WOULD NOT HAVE BEEN LOVED BY ISRAEL.

It would not have been a beloved story for most Israelites.

In fact, it was more like a slap in the face.

You know why?

Because it was a story about how God was gracious to one of their enemies.

A man named “Naaman.”

Look at verse 1.

“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.”

Now try to put yourself in the shoes of an ancient Israelite who is hearing this story for the first time.

Listen again to the first sentence.

“Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram.”

What would be your reaction if you were in the shoes of an ancient Israelite that hears that sentence?

“Boo! Hiss!” Right?

This is a bad guy.  We’ve already met this army of Aram. They are the enemies of Israel. Sometimes, Israel beats them. Sometimes, Israel loses to them.

And this guy is the current commander of the army.

And he’s big stuff back in Aram. Modern day Syria. Second sentence.

“He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded [his face was on the cover of Aram Today Magazine, he was a highly decorated general, had all the stars and bars. And so an Israelite had every reason to hate him. But catch where this goes! He was ‘highly regarded...”], because through him the LORD had given victory to Aram.”

Wait, what?

Who had given this guy victory?

The LORD? Yahweh? The God of Israel?!

Now, this does not mean that Naaman knew that Yahweh had given him victory or that he gave credit to Yahweh for his successes. It just means that the Bible knows where Naaman’s victories came from.

They were from the LORD.

Here’s point number (one of three) this morning.

The God of Israel is:

#1. SOVEREIGN.

There is no God in all the world but the God of Israel, and He is sovereign.

He is in control.

He reigns and rules over all.

He is sovereign over even the victories of His people’s enemies.

And He uses them for His good purposes.

And one of the implications of that truth is that we shouldn’t get too saucy about our successes because they ultimately come, not from us, but from the LORD.

And on the flipside, we shouldn’t get too worried about our enemies’ victories either because they are in the hands of the LORD, as well. And He has good reasons for allowing them, in His wisdom.

Last sentence. “He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.”

And what do you say if you’re an Israelite?

“Hooray!”
“He’s got leprosy!

“He may be a winner, but he’s probably in pain all the time and he looks funny. Maybe he shouldn’t be on the cover of the magazine. His skin is all white and funny looking.

And he’s unclean. Uggh. He could never worship at the temple.

Not only is he a stinking Gentile, but he’s got a skin disease!”

“Yes!”

That’s how an Israelite would feel about this story so far, right?

Well, there was at least one Israelite who didn’t feel that way.

Even though she might have had every reason to. V.2

“Now bands from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman's wife. She said to her mistress, ‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’”

This young girl demonstrates great faith and love.

We don’t know her name. But she’s a great example of both faith and love.

Imagine her life. She had been kidnaped by the Arameans.

Taken for a slave. Ripped away from her parents, from her homeland.

But here she is caring about her master, Naaman.

‘If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’”

Maybe Naaman was a good master. Maybe Mrs. Naaman was a good mistress easy to become endeared to.

I don’t know, but I do know that this little girl was not bitter about the hand that had been dealt to her. Instead, she showed love to the people around her.

She knew that the God of Israel was sovereign.

Not just over the big things like military victories, but over the relatively small things like the living situation of a little nameless slave girl.

Friends, the LORD is sovereign. So don’t get bitter.

You never know why the Lord may have you placed in a difficult situation.

You know that nothing “just so happens” right?

We says, “it just so happens that...” but there are no true accidents.

The world is broken, but it is not out of God’s control.

God is sovereign over victories and defeats.

Over wins and losses.

Over triumphs and kidnappings.

So don’t get saucy if you’re succeeding but also don’t get bitter if you are losing.

You never know why the Lord may have planned to put you in your situation.

You might even have leprosy so that you come to know God.

Or you might be forced into slavery so that you point others to God!

God is sovereign.

This little girl is a great example of faith. She knows the stories of the God of Wonders that we’ve been learning about in 2 Kings. She’s maybe heard of the healing of the water in Jericho, or the widow’s oil, or the Shunammite’s son, or the death in the pot that was no more, or the feeding of the hundred with the barley bread.

She knows that God is powerful and that He is doing miracles through Elisha. And she says, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’”

And Naaman hears about this and goes to the king with the news. V.4

“Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. ‘By all means, go,’ the king of Aram replied. ‘I will send a letter to the king of Israel.’ So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. [That is a fortune.] The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: ‘With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.’”

Now, this is curious.

Apparently, this is during a time of detente, a time of relative peace between the two nations. A cease-fire or a limited treaty.

And the king or Aram sent Naaman with a letter requesting that the king of Israel cure Naaman of his leprosy.

Now, again, how do you read this if you’re an ancient Israelite?

You might say, “Alright! Let’s see Elisha do it!”

But the letter doesn’t say anything about Elisha directly.

The king of Israel (probably Jehoram though it doesn’t say) is flabbergasted by the letter!  V.7

“As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, ‘Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!’”

See what I mean about this story being funny?

This is a thumbs-down king. And he’s just flabbergasted.

Who is he supposed to be contrasted with in this story?

The little girl, right?

She has no power, no social standing, and she’s not even in Israel, but she has faith.

He is the king! But he doesn’t even think about Elisha.

Poor guy. Thinks that the king of Aram is trying to make excuses for a fight.

Lucky for him, word reaches Elisha anyway. V.8

“When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: ‘Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ [Send him on down.] So Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha's house. [The motorcade pulls right up to the front door. Everybody gets out. Naaman walks up and knocks. But Elisha doesn’t answer it. I love it! V.10]

“Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’”

“Don’t stick around here. Go several miles away and take a bath, and all will be well. I don’t even need to stick my head out the door. Just go and do it. Okay? Go.”

Well, this doesn’t sit well with Naaman. V.11

“But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.”

Here’s point number two.

The God of Israel is:

#2. PARTICULAR.

There is no God in all the world but the God of Israel, and He is particular.

What I mean is that God wants us to do things His way and no other way.

He’s particular about it.

God wants us to do things His way and no other way.

It’s not that He’s fussy. He’s holy.

It’s not that He hard to please. This request is not difficult or demanding. And we’re going to see that it’s completely and totally FREE.

But that doesn’t mean that it comes any which way.

It comes God’s way.

And that requires humility and faith.

This was offensive to Naaman.

He had a different idea of how He wanted God to work.

Have you ever had a different idea of how you wanted God to work?

How you expected God to work?

And He didn’t work that way?

I know I have.

I’ve been disappointed with God’s way. And I say that to my shame.

V.11 again.

“Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me [he’s used to be the one people come out to!] and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. [He wanted magic! He wanted hocus pocus. He wanted Benny Hinn.] Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn't I wash in them and be cleansed?’ [Can’t I do it my way? With prestige!] So he turned and went off in a rage.”

I think he also expected to pay something for this great miracle.

That’s why he brought all of that money with him.

And Elisha wouldn’t even come to the door!

Have you ever felt like Naaman?

God’s way is counter-intuitive, surprising, and offensive to you?

It’s fundamentally humbling to do things God’s way.

So it takes humility and faith.

God is particular. He requires things to be done His way and only His way.

Salvation, for example.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Is that hard?

No.

But it is particular.

God is inclusive in that everyone who comes to Him through Jesus will be saved.

But He is exclusive in that you must come through Jesus to get to Him.

You can’t come some other way.

You don’t call the shots.

The Lord calls the shots.

So humble yourself.

Is there another area, besides salvation where you need to humble yourself and begin to do things God’s particular way?

In your family?
At your work?
In your private life?

Humble yourself and do what God says.

Even if it doesn’t seem to add up at first.

He knows what He’s doing. He made the world in a particular way. And He wants His children to act in a particular way. To trust Him.

Humble yourself. Try it!

That’s what Naaman’s servants said to him. V.13

“Naaman's servants went to him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing [some difficult thing], would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, 'Wash and be cleansed'!’ [It’s worth a try.]

So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times [1-2-3-4-5-6-7], as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.”

Now if you are an ancient Israelite who is hearing this story for the first time, you’ve begun to root for Naaman and you’re really proud he listened to your Jewish prophet, Elisha, and got healed in your own river, Jordan, by your own God, the LORD.

And you love it when Naaman returns in verse 15.

“Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.”

There’s our title for today!

I wouldn’t say it that way. He’s a new believer, so he gets excused. He has much to learn.

The point is not that God is ONLY in Israel.

The point is that there is no other God than the God OF Israel.

Naaman will eventually learn that God is not limited to the boundaries of Israel.

But he knows now that the God of Israel is REAL and glorious and powerful and gracious even to a Gentile like him.

That’s number three, by the way.

The God of Israel is:

#3. GRACIOUS.

There is no God in all the world but the God of Israel, and He is gracious.

How gracious? He gives His best gifts out for FREE.

V.15 again.

“‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. Please accept now a gift from your servant.’”

“Where do I pay?”

Like at the restaurant. “Do I pay you or at the counter?”

Neither. V.16

“The prophet answered, ‘As surely as the LORD lives, whom I serve, I will not accept a thing.’ And even though Naaman urged him, he refused.”


The point is that this gift is free. It is gracious.

Naaman did not earn it and cannot pay for it.

No matter what he says.

“As surely as the LORD lives...I will not accept a thing.”

The LORD is gracious.

Amen?

Salvation is a free gift. It does not come through our good works.

And we can’t even pay God back by doing good works!

Titus 3:5-6, “[He] saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

That’s our God for you. He is so gracious.

You know why?

Well, it’s just the way He is.

But also because “the giver gets the glory.”  (A phrase from John Piper.)

If Naaman could boast that he paid enough to get healed, then Naaman would get he glory for his miracle.

But if Naaman couldn’t pay for it, then all the glory stays with God.

And God is jealous for His glory.

There is no God in all the world but the God of Israel, and He is gracious.

And He wants to be seen to be gracious, to be known to be gracious.

You must do things His way, but His way is FREE!

Naaman is overjoyed and you can tell that he’s beginning to “get it.” v.17

“‘If you will not [accept a gift],’ said Naaman, ‘please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the LORD.

[If you won’t take a gift, please let me take a gift. A bunch of Israelite soil so that I can worship on Israelite soil back in my own homeland.

Now, I think that’s kind of superstitious. But he’s just been a believer for one day! And his instincts are right.

He is never again going to worship any other god but the God of Israel, Yahweh! V.18]

But may the LORD forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I bow there also–when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD forgive your servant for this.’”

He’s not saying that he is planning to worship this false god, but that his work requires him to be present and respectful when his boss does.

But in his heart, he’s with the LORD. That’s great spiritual sensitivity for someone who was a pagan just yesterday! And it seems to be enough for now. V.19

“‘Go in peace,’ Elisha said.”

And I wish the story ended there.

Because we’ve already seen a God who is sovereign over the big and the small, the mighty and the powerless, a God who is particular and requires we humble ourselves and do things His way and only His way, a God who is gracious who gives away His mercies to those who do not deserve them and cannot pay for them.

But this story isn’t over.

And we can’t miss this last bit.

Because it’s really important to the Lord.

His grace is really important to the Lord.  V.19

“After Naaman had traveled some distance, Gehazi, the servant of Elisha the man of God, said to himself, ‘My master was too easy on Naaman, this Aramean, by not accepting from him what he brought. As surely as the LORD lives, I will run after him and get something from him.’

So Gehazi hurried after Naaman. When Naaman saw him running toward him, he got down from the chariot to meet him. ‘Is everything all right?’ he asked.

‘Everything is all right,’ Gehazi answered. ‘My master sent me to say, 'Two young men from the company of the prophets have just come to me from the hill country of Ephraim. Please give them a talent of silver and two sets of clothing.'’

‘By all means, take two talents,’ said Naaman. He urged Gehazi to accept them, and then tied up the two talents of silver in two bags, with two sets of clothing. He gave them to two of his servants, and they carried them ahead of Gehazi.

When Gehazi came to the hill, he took the things from the servants and put them away in the house. He sent the men away and they left. Then he went in and stood before his master Elisha.

‘Where have you been, Gehazi?’ Elisha asked. ‘Your servant didn't go anywhere,’ Gehazi answered. But Elisha said to him, ‘Was not my spirit with you when the man got down from his chariot to meet you? Is this the time to take money, or to accept clothes, olive groves, vineyards, flocks, herds, or menservants and maidservants?

Naaman's leprosy will cling to you and to your descendants forever.’ Then Gehazi went from Elisha's presence and he was leprous, as white as snow.”

Why is this story in your Bible?

Why isn’t there a happy ending to this story?

Well, for one, it’s true. This is what happened.

For two, it’s to show us that Gehazi won’t ever be the successor of Elisha like Elisha was for Elijah.

And third, it shows us the ugly sinfulness of greed and covetousness and lying and deception.

But why was the penalty so severe?

I think it was because Gehazi was perverting the grace of God.

His actions here sent the wrong message about how free God’s grace really is.

You know in the ancient world, there were these rules that govern hospitality. You would offer something several times. And it might get refused several times, but that was all show. It was all ritual.

Some places in the world are like that. My sister-in-law and her husband have been to Ireland a number of times. And they have to refuse something 3 times for it stick.

“No, thank you.”
“No, thank you.”
“No, thank you.”

They don’t believe you unless you say it three times.

What do you think Naaman might have thought when Gehazi showed up?

“Oh finally, we now know what the price really was.”

He said it was completely free, but that was just for show.

Gehazi was perverting the grace of God.

God’s gifts are not fee-based. That’s a lie.

And it’s a heresy.

When it comes to salvation, when Paul hears someone talking like you can earn your salvation, working towards it, he says that it is damnable heresy.

Don’t try to earn God’s favor or to distort His grace by extorting from others.

It doesn’t work that way.

And it angers our God.

Our God is a gracious God, and it’s dangerous to present Him as anything but.

God will not be mocked and He will not be used.

And He wants to be known as the abundantly merciful and gracious One who lavishes people with unmerited favor.

Did you see (in verse 20) how Gehazi thought that Elisha had let Naaman off too easy?

We can be like that, too. We can get mad about how gracious God is.

That’s what happened to the older brother right, in Jesus’ story about the prodigal son?

He got angry that God was gracious to the big sinner.

The people Jesus preached to Luke 4 felt the same way.

They didn’t like it that Jesus was saying that Gentiles who had not even been a part of the people of Israel were getting saved and experiencing God’s favor even passing over nice, religious, legalistic Jewish men and women.

He said, “And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed–only Naaman the Syrian.”

And they were furious when they heard that and tried to kill Jesus.

They didn’t succeed, but they tried.

Don’t get angry about God’s grace.

Receive it, humbly. And then pass it on.

Don’t be like Gehazi. Hoarding God’s grace and goodness.

Be like the little Jewish slave girl who knew that God was sovereign and He was good. And she wanted to share Him with others.

And be like Naaman who humbled himself and received the gift of God.

And trusted in the only God there truly is.

There is no God in the all the world, except the God of Israel, whose son is Jesus Christ.

***


Messages in this Series:

01. Who Will Be King?
02. The Wisdom of the King
03. The Temple of the King
04. The Incomparable King of the Temple
05. A Breathtaking King
06. The Turned King and the Torn Kingdom
07. The Two Kings and the Tearing of the Kingdom
08. The Word of the LORD
09. In the Eyes of the LORD
10. The LORD Lives
11. The LORD Is God!
12. The LORD Is Still God.
13. “You Will Know that I am the LORD”
14. "Thus Saith the LORD!"
15. What the LORD Says
16. Is There No God in Israel?
17. Where Is the God of Elijah?
18. How NOT To Relate to God
19. God of Wonders

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Rose


Friday, November 11, 2016

2016 Deep and Wide Conference

I thoroughly enjoyed spending the weekend with the folks at Faith EFC in Mountain Lake Park, Maryland for their "Deep & Wide" Conference.  Our theme was "Overflow of the Heart" on the source and power of words [audio]. 

Thank you, Pastor Jeff and Vivian Kroll, and the FEFC church family for your hospitality and deep engagement with the biblical teaching!

Here are a few pictures to give a sense of the flavor our time together:

"Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."

"The tongue is a fire. Whom have you recently burnt?"

Me and Jeff, one of the leaders at Faith

Oh yummy food! International dinner. "Wide" stands for global outreach and my expanding wasteline after eating this big meal!

Meeting some of the FEFC elders 

Pastor Jeff joking with me in the introductions.

"Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."

Gossip is bearing bad news behind someone's back out of a bad heart.