Thursday, May 23, 2019

The Limits of Power

One of the more interesting stories in the Bible is the story of a man named Naaman. He was an official in a foreign land who was living with a terrible skin disease. One of his servants told him there was a God in Israel who could heal him, so they set out to be healed. When Naaman finds the prophet, the prophet gives him the most basic, unglorified instructions for healing in all of Scripture - go and wash in the river 7 times - and Naaman protests. Then, his servant says to him, "But if he had asked you to do some grand and glorious and difficult thing, wouldn't you have gladly done it?" 

And that's often what we take away from this story, as well we should. I have had a number of Naaman moments in my life, moments that seemed too easy. But then, that's the grace of God, isn't it? It just seems too easy. If it were more difficult, it seems it'd be easier to do somehow. 

But there's a part of this story that we often read right past, and it's important, too. Especially in a day and age where we worship power and authority and celebrity.

You see, when Naaman comes to Israel, he goes straight to the king. This makes sense. Since Naaman is an official in his own land, he comes to the official in the other land. He comes bearing a letter from his own king, requesting his healing and giving him the authority to ask for it. Politics, you know. Always politics. 

When Israel's king reads the letter and hears Naaman's request - this official of another kingdom - he freaks out. He starts worrying, severely. He tears his robes and cries out, asking this Naaman just how he thinks the king is. Is he God? Can he heal anyone? 

It seems like a setup. It seems like something fishy is afoot. A foreign king sends his servant to Israel's king to be healed, but Israel's king knows he can't heal anyone. If he fails to heal the servant, however, then what will happen to his kingdom? The other king will come and attack! He'll claim betrayal or something! He'll rally the troops and exact vengeance on Israel's failure to act! This couldn't be a bigger disaster, not only for the king but for his kingdom! 

It doesn't seem to occur to the king at all that he doesn't have to personally heal this man. It doesn't seem to occur to him that there might be someone in his kingdom who is capable of doing what he is incapable of doing. It doesn't occur to him to ask anyone else for advice or suggestions. It doesn't even occur to him to think about the God of his land, the Lord Himself, who might be able to do this. 

All he's thinking about is his own inability. After all, he's the king. He is the seat of unlimited power and authority; he should be able to do all things.

But he can't do this.

It takes a servant to say, wait a second. There's a man of God here. He can probably do it. What you need is not power, but prophecy, and I know just where to get it. 

Read that again - what you need is not power, but prophecy. Not authority, but truth. Not politics, but faithfulness.

How easy it is for us to forget that there is a God in our land, in our hearts, in our souls who is able to do immeasurably more than we are able to do. We think we always have to act out of who we are, our own power and authority, our own skills and abilities, but really? Really what we need is His. 

Not politics, but faithfulness. 

So before you tear your robe and cry out about your own insufficiencies, ask yourself this: is there someone else who can do it? Someone else capable of what you are incapable of? Is there a God in the land who is a Healer? Send for Him. Seek Him. Ask Him. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

On Mission

Yesterday, we looked at the difference between mission and truth, as shown in the story of Elisha and his servant attempting to revive the widow's son. The servant only tries once; the prophet again and again until he gets it. And the question we raised is this:
Do you see what you see or do you see what God sees?

This question, and this discussion, is fundamental to what we are doing as a church. Not as a local church, but as a global one - as a body of Christians with a message for the world. It is fundamental to the way we're doing outreach, to how we are evangelizing the world. 

Here's what I mean: it's a little late, but let's take Easter as an example because it's a good one. When Easter starts to come around, most of our churches start talking about the importance of inviting others to the Easter service. Invite your friends, your family, your neighbors, your community. Go out and invite one person. (We put an emphasis on one because it seems doable to most everybody.) 

And most church members will go out and invite someone to the Easter service. It's true. It works. And some of them will even come. 

But here's the thing - are our people going out and inviting that one person to Easter because they have a mission...or because they have a truth? 

A mission means the primary goal is to invite someone. It's to get someone to potentially come to the service and fill another seat. It's about getting the numbers, getting humans in the door. It's about believing in the church and its programs and pumping them up in our communities. Yes, you should totally come to my church for Easter - we have great music, a good sermon, snacks and coffee in the lobby, a fellowship meal afterward, friendly folks, and a casual dress code. You'll absolutely love Easter at my church. And we think that what's important is getting that one person to the Easter service. That's everything. 

A truth, on the other hand, means that you can already see what happens as a result of the Easter service. You have your eyes on a life transformed. You have a vision for a soul redeemed. You are thinking about brokenness healed, blind who can see, lame who can walk. You're burning with a passion for this Jesus that someone you know could come and meet on Easter Sunday, if only you could get them in the pew. 

The vision in truth is larger; it looks beyond what seems like the goal and burns in the soul. It doesn't see the task as the end game; it knows there's something larger at play.

Are your people inviting someone to the Easter service because they love the Easter service and the church and think it will be fun and cool and neat to have their friend/family/neighbor there with them? Then your people have a mission. They are servants. They'll try once and if it doesn't stick, they'll just move on. And probably never invite that person again

Or are your people inviting someone to the Easter service because they love Jesus, believe in the power of the resurrection, preach the Good News, know how it can heal the broken and redeem the sinner and find the lost? Are they inviting others to the Easter service because they can already see how Jesus can radically transform someone's life for the better? Then your people have a truth. They are prophets. They'll keep going at it again and again and again until it works, and they'll invite that same person every year until they come. 

It's a sad reality that most of our churches are churches on mission, not churches on truth. Most Christians today have lost that essential essence of this thing called truth, this burning passion for the lost, the absolute belief that Jesus saves and transforms the lives of sinners, and the vision to see it before it even happens. Most Christians today are working for the church, not for the Christ - for our programs and not for the Promise. 

Imagine what would happen if that weren't the case. Imagine if more of us were prophets, not servants. Imagine if we ministered out of truth, not mission. Imagine...

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

A Servant and a Prophet

In keeping with the pattern of the prophets, it's not long after the widow receives a miracle in the blessing of the ingredients that her son, her only son, dies and she turns to the prophet in anguish.

In this case, Elisha's servant runs ahead of him and reaches the boy before the prophet does, following precise instructions precisely one time to revive the boy...and failing. By the time Elisha arrives, his servant has a report: I did what you told me to do, but it didn't work; the boy is truly dead.

But then, Elisha himself tries to revive the boy. And that doesn't work, either. 

But then, Elisha tries again. Until it does work. 

And that is the difference between mission and truth. 

The servant only had the mission in him - go and revive the boy. Follow these precise steps in pursuit of this precise outcome. Do this very thing in the hopes of achieving this certain thing. He was on a mission, following orders, and when it didn't work, well, it didn't work. Because all he had in him was what he was supposed to do; all of the "facts" were outside of him. And the fact was that the boy was dead. 

The prophet, on the other hand, had the truth in him - this boy will not die. He's not dead. He might be dead right now, but he's not really dead. The prophet saw more than the situation showed him, and so he was able to persist and to keep on in the face of what seemed like "facts" because he had truth in his heart - this boy would live. It was such a real, powerful, vital truth for Elisha that he could already see it. 

It's a question for all of us to keep in mind when we pursue the things the Lord calls us and sends us to do in the world. Do we have in our hearts just a mission? Just something we're supposed to "do," a plan to follow? Or do we have in our hearts a truth, an ability to see beyond what is right before our eyes and to know something that doesn't seem possible to know right now?

Do you see what you see or do you see what God sees?

The answer to this question will change the way we engage the world. If you only have a mission, then you go and do and whatever happens, happens. However it turns out is how it turns out. You tried...once. You see no point in trying again. You did it. It's over. It either "worked" or it didn't. 

But if you have a truth, you'll keep at it. You'll pursue it. You'll try again and again and again, go harder and longer and faster until what you know is true becomes real right before your very eyes. Until God does the thing God has shown you God will do, God is doing. Until the so-called dead boy lives. You'll persist because you already have your eyes on what you cannot yet see, and you know that it's real and powerful and vital. It's truth. 

So the question again - do you see what you see or do you see what God sees? Are you a servant or a prophet? Do you have a mission or do you have truth? 

How does that impact what you're doing and how you're doing it?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Sell the Oil

Prophets in the Old Testament seem to have a thing for finding widows, and it happens again in 2 Kings 4. And again, the story centers around oil.

Here, we have Elisha come upon a widow who is down to her last little bit, the same way that Elijah had not long ago. And he tells the widow to find herself a bunch of jars, as many jars as she can find, as many as her neighbors are willing to give to her. Go, ask everyone for jars until there's not one more jar that she can find anywhere to have or to borrow or whatever. And then, he says, shut the door and start pouring your little bit of oil into the jars. 

She does this, and by God's good grace, every jar is filled up with oil. Filled to the brim. Overflowing. She's got more oil than she knows what to do with. And that's...well, that's something. 

But the widow doesn't know what it is, so she goes back to the prophet to ask what to do next, now that she has all of the jars and all of the jars are full.

It seems rather obvious to most of us, doesn't it? She doesn't probably have a personal use for so much oil. There's only so much you can do with oil if you don't have any of the other ingredients needed to make anything of nutritious value. It's a raw ingredient, not a finished product. And having oil won't really provide for her family the way that she needs to...unless she sells it.

Apparently, though, that thought didn't cross her mind. Nowhere do we see her pouring oil and thinking out loud, "Gosh, what a great abundance of oil. I could sell this for a pretty penny!" Rather, she just pours the oil and then goes back to the prophet and says, "What next?"

He tells her what seems so obvious to us - now, sell it. 

But how often are we guilty of missing this crucial second step? How often are we guilty of going ahead with what seems right and obvious instead of asking what's next in God's plan? 

God often gives us something to go on, a new direction to turn, a next step to take. We often get a glimpse of where we might be going, and so often, we are a people who move impulsively after the first "yes." God says one thing, and then we fill in the blanks and take off running toward what seems obvious.

What, though, if it's not? 

What if the prophet had said something else? What if the plan wasn't to sell the oil? What if what seems obvious only seems so because it's all we can think of, the best we can imagine, the product of our own limited perspective? What if there's something we can't see, something we have to ask God about? 

What if it's not always so simple?

Maybe it is. Maybe it really is that simple. Maybe the obvious thing is also the right thing. But the point is that we don't know - not for sure - until we ask. And most of us aren't asking. 

What if we did?

Friday, May 17, 2019

When God Speaks

We are living in a time and place that likes to say that God is whatever you make of Him and that faith is such a private thing that whatever you believe, it's probably true...at least for you. We're told we can't question what someone else says, does, or thinks because if they say, do, or think it, then it's valid for them and for the version of God that they cling to. And He loves them for it, unconditionally and without expectation. 

And while it seems like such a time is strange and new, like the concerns of the postmodern, relativistic 21st Century are beyond anything that Scripture has to say to us, there are a couple of stories in 1 Kings that remind us how dangerous our world's mindset really is and how real, righteous faith offers us something more solid to stand on.

The first of these stories comes in 1 Kings 13. Here is a story of two old men, one of whom is a prophet. He speaks to the king and then turns to go home another way, just as the Lord has commanded him. In fact, he's pretty clear on what God requires of him - he is to come, speak, and go home another way and not to go with the king or to stay with him or accept any invitations. This, he does.

But then, another man comes along and tells the prophet to come and eat at his house. The prophet repeats the orders that he has from the Lord and refuses, but then the other man says, "Oh, I'm also a prophet, and God told me to do this." So the prophet goes, and he loses his life for disobedience. 

Because it turns out, of course, that the other man was no prophet at all. 

The moral of this story is simply this: if the Lord has spoken, He will not say one thing to you and something contradictory to someone else. If He has said it, it is true and real and valid and vital, and He will not give someone else a message that contradicts it. 

This is a bind that we're put into all the time. God says something and we know it, but then someone else claims that God spoke something to them that is different and would actually negate what we know. Our world solves this problem by telling us that both are equally true, but we know that they can't be - and so what we must decide is which is true. We do this by knowing what is the character, heart, and reality of God. Which would He have spoken? And whatever God has spoken, we must act on and throw the other out. Otherwise, we condemn ourselves. 

The second story comes just a couple of chapters later in 1 Kings 20. King Ahab goes into battle, and he has explicit orders from God to kill the competing king. But the enemy king is captured and is brought to Ahab, where he begs for his life. Ahab, thinking himself cunning, makes a deal with the king and sets him free, at which point a prophet of the Lord comes to Ahab and tells him that Ahab is now the condemned man because he has not done what God desired him to do to the enemy king.

And this, too, is something that we're familiar with. We're told we can't judge anyone's actions or motive or behaviors or beliefs, that we're supposed to just make peace with everyone and let them live the way they want to live. That even God doesn't expect anything out of them, but simply loves them. 

But Ahab had mercy where God did not have mercy and thus brought the other man's curse upon himself, and we, too, are living this. Our children are living this. We're living in a society that doesn't have structure or rules or expectations because we've let this go on for far too long, and we are now reaping what we've sown in a generation that doesn't know how to live or act. We are a cursed generation because we have mercy where God has none, and we have replaced conviction and standards with "tolerance" and blind affirmation. 

So although it seems that maybe our times are not like any other times or that the Bible doesn't speak to today, there are still some powerful lessons we can learn from the Scriptures about what it means to be a people of the 21st Century in our postmodern, relativistic culture. We don't have to, and we shouldn't, just go blindly along with it.

Lest we condemn ourselves.