SERVE ONLY ONE MASTER (Naaman – Part 3)

Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. [1 Timothy 6:9-10 (NET)]

magpieIn the story of Naaman, along with the faithful but nameless servant girl, we have a scoundrel servant in Gehazi. He worked for Elisha and it must have irked him to see the prophet refuse Naaman’s offerings of gold, silver and clothing (worth something in the neighborhood of $2 million today). I imagine he was thinking how foolish it was to send that wealth back to Aram. After eyeing those riches, Gehazi wanted some for himself. Elisha would never know, so what would be the harm?

Gehazi followed after Naaman and concocted a story that Elisha would like two talents of silver (about 75 pounds) and two sets of clothing for two young prophets who had just arrived. More than happy to find a way to repay Elisha, Naaman offered twice that amount; Gehazi returned home with his ill-gotten gains and hid them. When Elisha asked where he’d been, he foolishly lied to his master. The prophet, however, was not deceived and told his servant that it was a time for worship, not a time for financial gain, and that Gehazi would be afflicted with Naaman’s leprosy forever. Gehazi had believed those riches promised power, comfort and luxury; what they actually delivered was life as an outcast and untouchable.

Gehazi’s story reminds us that God’s miracles cannot be brought and that God’s power in our lives is not for personal enrichment or financial gain. Gehazi tried to serve both Elisha and avarice; his story illustrates that we are unable to serve both God and mammon.

 Money is in some respects life’s fire: it is a very excellent servant, but a terrible master. [P. T. Barnum]

 There is nothing wrong with men possessing riches. The wrong comes when riches possess men. [Billy Graham]

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. [Matthew 6:24 (NET)]

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THE PRICE IS RIGHT (Naaman – Part 2)

And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian. [Luke 4:27 (NCV)]

Fish Creek Falls - SteamboatA friend of ours has several jewelry stores in Colorado. When he opened a store in a posh resort town, he priced his goods as he always has: reasonably. To his chagrin, plenty of wealthy shoppers came into his shop but no purchases were made. After three days of disappointment, he re-tagged everything with higher prices. The following day, instead of leaving empty-handed, most shoppers left carrying pricy purchases (and they continue to do so today). Apparently, his rich customers believe affordable means second-rate or shoddy and that quality only comes with an exorbitant price tag.

When Naaman, the commander of the king of Aram’s army, was afflicted with leprosy, he was told that a prophet in Samaria could heal him. Rather than go to the prophet, he went to Israel’s king and offered 750 pounds of silver, 150 pounds of gold, and ten sets of clothing for a cure. The king, of course, could do nothing for the man but Elisha sent a message requesting the leper be sent to him. Rather than the prophet, it was Elisha’s messenger who greeted him with instructions to wash in the Jordan River seven times. A celebrated warrior, Naaman expected an impressive cure, if not from the king, at least from the prophet himself—not a servant’s directions to bathe in a dirty little river. Failing to understand how washing in the Jordan would heal him when the great rivers of Damascus couldn’t, Naaman left in indignation. When his officers convinced him to give the simple solution a try, he was miraculously healed and Naaman returned to Elisha. Convinced in the power of Israel’s God, he offered the prophet the lavish gifts brought from Aram. Elisha politely refused; God’s grace was not for sale!

Are we a little like those wealthy Colorado shoppers or Naaman? Do we tend to associate an item’s worth with its price tag, rarity, or the complexity of getting it? Let’s not make that mistake with God’s gift of grace; it’s free and incredibly simple to receive! Jesus has already paid for our salvation; it’s ours just for the asking and washing in the water of the Spirit is even easier than washing in the Jordan. Nevertheless, while grace is free, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer points out, grace is never cheap!

Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. … Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again…It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life…what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. [ Dietrich Bonhoeffer]

God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. [Ephesians 2:8-9 (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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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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TABLE SCRAPS

Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter. Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” [Mark 7:25b-27 (NLT)]

dogYears ago, I often baby sat my granddaughter and dog sat my son’s dog at the same time. The grand in her highchair would push her food around the tray while trying to feed herself. Since fine motor skills are lacking in toddlers, a fair amount of whatever she was eating would end up on the floor. What my grand didn’t get in her mouth became a feast for the dog who waited patiently beneath her for the bits and pieces that fell.

I think of my grand and the dog whenever I read about Jesus and the mother of the demon-possessed girl. When this Gentile woman begged Jesus to help her, He gave her an odd reply. At first look, Jesus seems to insult her by comparing her to a dog. A derogatory term often used by Jews for Gentiles, His response seems very un-Jesuslike. Although the word Jesus used can also translate as “little dog” or “puppy” rather than mangy mutt, a dog is a dog and His response seems harsh. He’d never withheld healing before this, why now? Where was His compassion and love?

As unfeeling as it seems, Jesus’s response was correct. Parents would never take food from their children’s mouths and then throw it to the dogs (regardless of whether they are pedigree puppies or wild strays). I never would have fed the dog first and given my grand whatever was left in the dog bowl. My priority was feeding my granddaughter and Jesus’s priority was giving his message to the Jews; Israel was to come before any Gentile nation. The woman, however, didn’t take offense. She humbly agreed with Him; in effect, she said, “You’re right! I may be a dog because I’m not a Jew, but I’m like the little dog that waits under the table for scraps.” Jesus came as a Jew to be the King of the Jews and yet His own people couldn’t recognize the promised Messiah. This Gentile woman, however, knew Him. She was just asking for a scrap from the man who’d fed a multitude with next to nothing and ended up with leftovers. She knew that even the smallest crumb of His grace would be enough to heal her daughter.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus says, “Good answer!” and the child is instantly healed. Is it because the determined mother’s logic convinced Jesus to change His mind? On the other hand, in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “Your faith is great.” Is the healing because she passed a test of faith? Perhaps, it was both. After all, stumbling blocks are often put before us to test both our determination and faith in God. Could their exchange also have been a lesson for the disciples who would shortly be spreading the gospel to both Jews and Gentiles? This was prophesized centuries earlier when God told Abraham, “All the families will be blessed through you.” Their exchange shows that it is determined faith, not Jewishness, that brings the blessings of God.

As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” [Romans 10:11-13 (NLT)]

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ATTRIBUTES AND ESSENCE

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. [Ephesians 4:21-24 NLT]

Riger SwallowtailI can be a good person, be good-natured or be good at something (like Scrabble or bridge). I can look good, feel good, do good and even smell good. Nevertheless, I am not wholly good; try as I might, I cannot be goodness personified. The same goes for love; although I can be in love, love someone or something, act loving, profess my love, and be loved, I cannot be love.

If the piano piece is easy enough and I practice long enough, I can play it perfectly. I usually can bake perfect chocolate chip cookies, make perfect buttermilk pancakes, and choose the perfect gift for my husband but I am not (and never will be) perfect. As for righteousness—I can distinguish righteousness from wickedness, have righteous indignation, act righteously and feel both righteous and self-righteous. Nevertheless, I am not righteousness.

I can recognize wisdom, act wisely, and, on occasion, even give wise counsel, but I am not wisdom. I can know the truth, discern between truth and falsehood and, most of the time, speak the truth, but I am not truth.

Although we are made in God’s image and share some characteristics with Him, we share them only to a limited extent. We love inadequately, even our best efforts are imperfect, our sense of justice is flawed, our wisdom is unreliable, and our truth is slanted. On the other hand, God just doesn’t do good, love wholly, perform flawlessly, act righteously, advise wisely and speak the truth—He actually is goodness, love, perfection, righteousness, wisdom and truth. He is all that and more!

Heavenly Father, although made in your image, we are flawed humans and can never fully be like you. Help us as we battle our sinful natures; may your Holy Spirit fill us so that we grow more like you each day.

Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ
For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly. [St. Richard of Chichester]

So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image. [2 Corinthians 3:18 (NLT)]

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 5:17 (NLT)]

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