A SERVANT’S HEART (Naaman – Part 1)

But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. [Mark 10:43-45 (ESV)]

PansyOccasionally, bands of marauding Arameans would go out into neighboring nations. It was during one of those raids into Israel that they captured a young girl and brought her back to Aram. Picture her fear as she stood on the auction block and was sold to the highest bidder. This child, a spoil of war, became the servant to Naaman’s wife. The commander-in-chief of the army, Naaman developed leprosy. Had I been that girl, I probably would have rejoiced silently at his plight. He was the enemy; it was because of his soldiers that she’d been kidnapped and made a slave in a strange land. A lesser person would have thought Naaman deserved all the pain and misery he could get! Although it would have been easy to remain silent and watch him suffer, this nameless slave girl didn’t. Instead, she sang the praises of Elisha and told her mistress that Naaman should go to “the prophet who lives in Samaria” where he could be healed.

This young girl, of such little significance that her name isn’t even recorded, didn’t hide her light under a bushel. Her story reminds us that we all have opportunities to share God’s light and serve His people. The loving action of this child, who gets only a brief mention in 2 Kings 5, teaches us all a valuable lesson about forgiveness, love and obedience to the word of God. She may have worked as a servant to Naaman’s wife but, by her actions, we know that she lived as a servant to God.

One of the principal rules of religion is, to lose no occasion of serving God. And, since he is invisible to our eyes, we are to serve him in our neighbour; which he receives as if done to himself in person, standing visibly before us. [John Wesley]

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [Philippians 2:1-4 (ESV)]

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IN THE DARK

And the judgment is based on this fact: God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed. [John 3:19-20 (NLT)]

sunriseAlthough demons had no trouble recognizing Jesus, the people who were most knowledgeable about Scripture and best knew the Messianic prophecies often seemed blind to what was before them. In fact, even after hearing Jesus speak and watching Him heal, the Pharisees and scribes accused Him of being a demon. Why did they refuse to see what was right in front of them?

Of the people who recognized Jesus as the promised Messiah, only a few were what would have been called religious. The devout Simeon and Anna knew the Messiah when Jesus came to the temple as a baby yet, twelve years later, no one in the temple recognized Him as anything more than a perceptive intelligent boy. Most of the others who recognized Jesus were secular people who knew they were flawed and in need of Him: the woman at the well, the Gentile woman with a demon-possessed daughter, the prostitute who washed His feet, the blind Bartimaeus, the corrupt publicans Zacchaeus and Matthew, Mary Magdalene, the lepers, the adulterous woman, and the paralyzed man and his friends. On that dark Friday, rather than a religious scholar, it was one of the Roman soldiers who’d nailed Jesus to the cross and a thief hanging beside Him who testified to His true identity.

Just as sunlight reveals fingerprints on the window and dust on the table, the Light of the World revealed the sins of the world. Without light, a zircon can pretend to be a diamond, stainless can pass for sterling, and a designer knock-off can be mistaken for the real thing. In the darkness, hypocrisy, deceit and legalism can pass for righteousness, morality and piety. Until it recognizes what it actually is, corruption can call itself integrity, wickedness can say it’s virtue, and arrogance can profess humility. Those unwilling to see their own sinfulness and need for salvation rejected Jesus—the one without sin. Not wanting to see what the Light revealed, they chose to remain in the dark. Those who admitted their sins knew they were in the dark and welcomed the Light. Recognizing their need for Jesus, they accepted Him and received healing, mercy, forgiveness, and everlasting life.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” [John 8:12 (NLT)]

He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. [John 1:10-12 (NLT)]

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ONE AT A TIME

But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval. [John 6:27 (NLT)]

northern mockingbird

There once was a beautiful mockingbird who loved to sing from the branches of the forest trees. An old sly fox sat beneath the trees and licked his lips as he thought of devouring her. Every time he tried to snatch the bird, however, she would fly away to safety high in the oaks. One day he offered her a mouthwatering berry for the price of just one feather. Accepting his offer, she plucked out a feather, swooped down for the fruit and flew back up to the treetop before the fox could catch her. The next day, he made the same offer and the mockingbird, anxious to enjoy the sweet bite again, gave him another feather. The wise owl warned her not to play this foolish game with the fox but the bird, hungry for the tasty berries, ignored him. This went on for several days until one day, after giving the fox a feather and snatching the berry, the mockingbird tried to fly away only to discover that she couldn’t. Foolishly, in her desire for the passing pleasure, she had given away one feather too many. The fox had his meal and the mockingbird was no more—all for a perishable and momentary indulgence.

Berries won’t cause our downfall, but pursuing fleeting pleasures can. We don’t have a wise owl on a neighboring branch but we do have the Holy Spirit living within us. We must listen to his voice and live by his power. Best of all, even if we lose our feathers, all is not lost. Because of Jesus Christ, God’s final word is not punishment and death but grace, forgiveness, redemption and restoration.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) … Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. [Romans 8:9, 12-14 (NLT)]

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EXCUSES

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts. [1 John 1:8-10 (NLT)]  

black eyed susan - blanket flowerWhen the woman joined our group at the work table, she told us, “I got a late start so I was speeding to get here. I decided that if a cop stopped me, I’d just tell him I was doing the Lord’s work and, since God will forgive me, he should too.” When I questioned her reasoning, she insisted that speeding for a godly purpose was a justifiable offense and, since God offers forgiveness, so should the police. Granted, we were doing God’s work by packing food for the needy but, as the Blues Brothers learned when they saved the orphanage, a mission from God is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card.

Short of rushing someone to hospital in a life or death situation, I’m not sure there is a valid excuse for speeding. While the bags we filled with rice and beans could be considered life-saving, we were packing food all morning so there was nothing urgent about the task. If the woman’s speeding had caused an accident or injury, would she still have thought her mission from God was a valid excuse for breaking the law?

When we offer our confession to God, I wonder if we’re like this woman. I know I am. Rather than a contrite confession, we often offer a litany of excuses along with our transgressions: I wasn’t to blame, I didn’t mean it, there were extenuating circumstances, I forgot, it was the only way, I meant well, no harm done, I didn’t know, it was an accident, and so on. Although being on a “mission from God” is not an excuse for sin or law-breaking, part of the woman’s theology is correct. She’s right that God will forgive her but she was totally wrong about why. God doesn’t forgive us because of our good works or great excuses. It is only by God’s grace and our faith in Jesus that we are forgiven.

God’s not interested in excuses because there is no excuse for sin; what He wants is a sincere and penitent heart. Although it’s easier to spot other people’s sins than to look deep into the darkness of our own souls, we must be brutally honestly about our transgressions. Until we recognize and admit them, we’re not likely to repent of them. It is when we truthfully look at our sins, when we contemplate how pitiful and unworthy we are, when we offer our failures in their naked ugliness without excuse, that we can truly understand how loving, compassionate, generous, and forgiving our God really is. It is only then that we truly appreciate the gift Jesus gave us on the cross.

We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. [Romans 3:22-24 (NLT)]

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LOWERING THE BAR

He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them. … This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! [2 Corinthians 5:15,17 (NLT)]

Never did God so manifest His hatred of sin as in the death and suffering of His only begotten Son. Hereby He showed Himself unappeasable to sin, and that it was impossible for Him to be at peace with it. [Jonathan Edwards]

blue flag irisIn a recent Doonesbury comic (written by Garry Trudeau), a pastor is explaining to the congregation what constitutes sin in the eyes of their church. The elders now will condone conduct such as, “lewdness, vulgarity, profanity, adultery, and sexual assault,” and exemptions from Christian values include, “greed, bullying, conspiring, boasting, lying, cheating, sloth, envy, wrath, gluttony and pride.” In addition, the church will overlook such things as, ”Biblical illiteracy, church non-attendance, and no credible sign of faith.” After the service, one church member says, “Lovin’ the lower bar, Pastor!” while another adds, “I feel like a freakin’ saint now!” Trudeau’s comic may be satire but it is closer to the truth than I care to admit.

The church of the 18th and 19th centuries often preached a fire and brimstone message that emphasized a wrathful and vengeful God. During the 20th century, the pendulum moved toward God’s love and mercy. In the 21st century, perhaps in an effort to fill empty pews, we see the pendulum moving to the other extreme where there are feel-good messages that come more from self-help books than the Bible, an emphasis on self-esteem rather than self-denial or self-control, an “anything goes” God who would never allow anyone to go to hell, and the absence of words like sin, guilt and repentance. The concepts of right and wrong, good and evil, appear to have gone out of style along with madras shorts, poodle skirts, and velour track suits. Rather than list acceptable sins as did Trudeau’s pastor, the church simply avoids mentioning sin or hell at all. This new age feel-good doctrine is correct that Jesus loves us and accepts us just as we are but it is woefully wrong when it neglects to mention that He doesn’t want us to stay that way! Since Jesus came to earth, suffered and died on the cross to pay for our sins, sin is an important part of any Christian conversation; without sin or hell, there was no need for a Savior.

Some people find this new version of Christianity an ideal arrangement: mankind loves to sin and God loves to forgive so it’s a win-win situation! Let us remember that a profession of faith that doesn’t result in a changed life and good works is not a true profession of faith. For the true Christian, deliberate sin is not an option; he should hate sin, not accept it! As St. Augustine wisely said: “It is human to err; it is devilish to remain willfully in error.”

It was said that when listening to the 18th century Puritan pastor Jonathon Edwards, one could almost smell the sulfur burning when he spoke about hell! That wasn’t all bad. Unlike Trudeau’s comic strip pastor (and many popular pastors in real churches), at least Edwards cared enough about his flock to warn them of hell’s reality and the dangers of sin.

Some people have no sense of the vileness of sin, and no sense of God’s infinite and holy opposition to it. They think God has no higher standards than they have! So they get on well with him and feel a sort of love for him, but they are loving an imaginary God, not the real God. [Jonathan Edwards]

You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. [Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT)]

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KNOWING WHY (Discipline – Part 2)

As you endure this divine discipline, remember that God is treating you as his own children. Who ever heard of a child who is never disciplined by its father? If God doesn’t discipline you as he does all of his children, it means that you are illegitimate and are not really his children at all. Since we respected our earthly fathers who disciplined us, shouldn’t we submit even more to the discipline of the Father of our spirits, and live forever? [Hebrews 12:7-9 (NLT)]

water dropwortSeveral years ago, there was a popular television program in which “Supernanny” Jo Frost would visit a home to help parents deal with the behavior problems of their children. She emphasized the need for both discipline and forgiveness. If children misbehaved or broke a rule after receiving a warning, they served a time-out on the “naughty step.” The parent clearly explained the reason for the discipline and the length of time they’d be sitting there. Once the sentence on the step had been served, the parent offered a second explanation for the discipline. An apology was requested which, once offered, was followed up by a kiss and cuddle and the incident was over and done.

I thought of the nanny’s insistence that an explanation for the discipline was essential. After all, what good is discipline if we don’t understand the reason for it? In yesterday’s devotion about Aravis and Aslan, it was not the wounds that changed Aravis; it was understanding the connection between her wounds and her callous behavior that did. In real life, however, we don’t have a talking lion to explain our wounds. Moreover, God’s discipline involves far more than a few minutes in “time out” and can be more painful than the cuts received by Aravis.

We live in a fallen world and troubles will besiege both the righteous and sinner. As the Book of Job illustrates, not all trouble, hardship, sickness, and disaster come from God’s discipline. Nevertheless, we’re usually more than willing to blame the world rather than ourselves when life goes awry. When we dismiss our troubles simply as bad luck or complain about them without realizing we could be reaping the consequences of our own sin, we miss the point of enduring them. The one thing troubles aren’t is mere chance or fate. All that happens to us is part of God’s providence; there is a reason for the storms of life whether it is direction, inspection, protection, perfection or correction.

Unlike the Supernanny, God doesn’t sit us on the naughty step for as many minutes as our age. If He did, I might spend hours each day sitting on the stairs! We’re not toddlers but even toddlers know when they’ve misbehaved. As for me, with just a little Scripture reading and prayerful thought, I usually know when my troubles are of my own making. Rather than mistakenly asking Him, “Why?” the question should be, “What do you want me to learn from this?” God is far wiser and loving than even Jo Frost and He’ll be sure to tell us! God will sit us on that step, the Holy Spirit will convict us, and Jesus will forgive us. Like the toddler’s error, the incident will be over and done with as far as He is concerned.

For our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in his holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. [Hebrews 12:10-11 (NLT)]

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