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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FATHER’S DAY – 2018 

the old man and the sea
And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. [Deuteronomy 6:-7 (NLT)]

I lost my first father the same year I gained my second one: my father-in-law. Although I only had my birth father for twenty years, I was blessed to have my father-in-law for thirty-seven! I think I married my husband out of my love for his parents as much as for my love for him! Dad J lived his life well: with faith, vigor, enthusiasm, joy and a whole lot of love. Compassionate and generous, responsible and helpful, good-humored and resourceful, he was a man of absolute integrity (with a touch of mischief on the side). The Bible might describe him as a man after God’s heart.

My father-in-law died nearly fourteen years ago as the result of a car accident. His injuries necessitated him being air-lifted to a distant hospital. It troubled me that in his final hours, Dad was alone in a strange place. There was no one to tell him his wife had survived the crash and no loved ones to hold his hand or pray with him. Then I realized that he was never alone; Dad always walked with God. As he walked through that dark valley, the Good Shepherd was with him, His rod and staff protecting and comforting my father-in-law the entire journey home.

If, at any point in his ninety-six years, Dad had been told that he had only one day left in which to live, he would have lived that last day in the same way he lived every other one. He had no regrets, no grudges, no scores to settle, and no debts to repay. There was no one to whom he owed an apology, no amends that had to be made, no deeds left undone and no loving words left unsaid. He was an example of how life should be lived and an inspiration to us all. In the words of Will Rogers, Jr., “His heritage to his children wasn’t words or possessions, but an unspoken treasure, the treasure of his example as a man and a father.” Indeed, he was as close to an ideal husband and father that any mortal man could be. I enjoy the benefit of his example in my husband and our boys. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree and there’s a beautiful bit of Dad in them all.

On this Father’s Day, join me in thanking God not just for our fathers, but also for our fathers-in-law, step and foster dads, uncles, coaches, mentors, big brothers, teachers, pastors and all the other men in our lives who have been examples of how to live a Christian life.

Every father should remember that one day his son will follow his example instead of his advice. [Charles F Kettering]

Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him. [Psalm 127:3b (NLT)]

The godly walk with integrity; blessed are their children who follow them. [Proverbs 20:7 (NLT)]

Those who fear the Lord are secure; he will be a refuge for their children. [Proverbs 14:26 (NLT)]

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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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CHARACTER WITNESSES

So Jesus healed many people who were sick with various diseases, and he cast out many demons. But because the demons knew who he was, he did not allow them to speak. [Mark 1:34 (NLT)]

Great Blue HeronMatthew tells us that after Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee and landed near the town of Gadara, He was greeted by two violent demon-possessed men who’d been banished to live among the tombs. Upon seeing Jesus, they immediately started screaming at Him and called Him the “Son of God.” Recognizing Jesus’s divinity, they knew He possessed the power to cast them out and the authority to send them to their final torment. When the demons begged to be sent into a herd of pigs and Jesus obliged, it didn’t end the way they expected; the swine plunged into the lake and drowned.

Whenever Jesus encountered demons, He always silenced them. Since they acknowledged Him as the Son of God, why didn’t He let them speak? Demons don’t make good character references and allowing them to attest to His identity would be like asking Charles Ponzi or Bernie Madoff to endorse an investment company, Benedict Arnold to guarantee someone’s patriotism, or Al Capone to corroborate an alibi. Since demons can say whatever they want, their declaration of Jesus’s divinity would not help His case! If they told the truth, the Pharisees would say Jesus commanded them to lie and, if they lied, the Pharisees would say they told the truth! In a no-win situation, Jesus simply commanded them to be silent!

Long ago, one of my children tugged at a crowd control rope attached to a long series of stanchions. When they all fell like dominoes, I simply turned away and said, “I wonder whose child that is!” Lord, forgive me, but it had been a trying day with a series of toddler challenges and this was the frosting on the cake. That child’s behavior was not a testimony to my good mothering skills so I denied knowing him!

While we’re not demons (or difficult mischievous children), I wonder if, like them, we can be poor character witnesses for Jesus. Could there be occasions He looks at us and says, “Be quiet!” because our testimony is so suspect? Do we ever undermine God’s character by our poor choice of words or shoddy behavior? Does He ever want to say, “That’s not my child!”? The validity of our witness to the power of Christ is found in how we live our lives; let’s make sure He wants people to see and hear it!

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. … If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you. [James 1:22, 26-27 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

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THE PRESCRIBED BURN

blue eyed grass- shooting star - rue anenome

I will bring that group through the fire and make them pure. I will refine them like silver and purify them like gold. They will call on my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “These are my people,” and they will say, “The Lord is our God.” [Zechariah 13:9 (NLT)]

The darkned soil, scorched bark, blackened remains of dead trees, and faint aroma of smoke indicated a prescribed burn occurred earlier this spring. But, even without those tell-tell signs, the abundance and diversity of wildflowers blanketing the forest floor told me there’d been one. Fire used to be a natural occurrence in our woodlands, prairies, and wetlands. Nowadays, we suppress natural fires, and invasive plants crowd out native flowers and grasses. Planned and controlled, these prescribed fires defeat non-native plants, stimulate the growth of native ones, restore valuable nutrients to the soil and, by eliminating leaf litter and dead wood, reduce the chance of uncontrollable wildfires. When brush and small trees are checked by the fire, flowers and grasses get enough sunlight to grow and the native plants regrow from their roots. Unlike invasive species, native plants have deep tap-roots and thick bark that enable them to survive the controlled burn’s heat.

When something similar to a controlled burn happens to us, the Bible often refers to it as refining and likens this purifying process to separating out precious metals from ore, such as silver from lead. After the ore is melted over a hot fire, hot air is blown across the surface which changes the lead to powdered lead oxide. When this dross is blown away, pure silver remains. Being more a naturalist than metallurgist, I prefer the analogy of a prescribed burn to smelting metal.

While necessary for a healthy habitat and biodiversity, I’m not sure the plants and animals appreciate the fire when it happens. I know I don’t appreciate it when God refines me. Rather than impurities like lead or invasive weeds, He wants to eradicate offensive behavior, false ideas, and bad attitudes. When weeds like jealousy, self-reliance, self-centeredness, pride, covetousness, selfishness, materialism, intolerance, or impatience invade my heart, God has a way of refining me. Rather than fire, He allows things like challenges, trials, opposition, disappointment, loss, and even illness to eliminate my invasive unwelcome weeds.

Like the native plants in the forest, I have deep roots. Not only will I will survive the trials of a burn, but I also will thrive and (like both purified silver and the renewed forest) be all the better for the experience. I can reach up to the Son’s light and blossom with the flowers of God-dependence, hope, humility, thankfulness, love, joy, peace, patience, tolerance, generosity, compassion, self-sacrifice, goodness, faith, gentleness and self-discipline.

Trials are medicines which our gracious and wise Physician prescribes because we need them; and he proportions the frequency and weight of them to what the case requires. Let us trust his skill and thank him for his prescription. [Sir Isaac Newton]

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. [1 Peter 1:6-8 (NLT)]

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. [Colossians 2:7 (NLT)]

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THE GOLDEN RULE

peony - red clover - common milkweed
Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. [Matthew 7:12 (NLT)]

 This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. (Hinduism: Mahabharata)

 Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Buddhism: Udanavarga)

In “Baby Blues,” drawn by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, the mother discovers Zoe, the bossy big sister, putting salt in her little brother Hammie’s milk. “What about the golden rule?” she asks her daughter. “I am following the golden rule!” Zoe responds, “Do unto brothers before they do unto you!” Having endured my share of brotherly aggravation, I sympathize with Zoe. Hoping to beat him to the punch, there were times I’d yell, “Mom, Steve’s hitting me again!” even before he managed to make a fist. “Do unto brothers before they do unto you,” however, isn’t what Jesus said; Zoe’s mother wisely says, “Let’s go read that again.”

Like Zoe, non-Christians tend to have a somewhat cynical view of life—do unto others before they can do to you. Of course, many also have another golden rule—whoever has the gold makes the rules. Neither interpretation is what Jesus had in mind when he gave us what has become known as the “golden rule” (although that term is found nowhere in Scripture).

This “golden rule” reflects the very character of God—His benevolent heart and grace regardless of whether or not it is deserved. We, in turn, are to mirror His love—a love that is not based on reciprocity but rather on God’s unconditional regard for all of mankind. Instead of looking out for the other guy only because we expect him to stab us in the back, we look out for the other guy out of love for him and obedience to God.

Many Eastern religions have a similar command regarding how to treat others. There is, however, a subtle but major difference between their philosophy not to do to others what we don’t want done to us and Jesus’s command. Jesus tells us it’s not enough to refrain from negative behavior; we are to act in a positive way to everyone. It’s not enough not to hurt someone; we are expected to act in love to everyone (even our enemies). Sorry Zoe: that even applies to troublesome little brothers!

But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. Do to others as you would like them to do to you. [Luke 6:27-31 (NLT)]

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