DOES HE OWE US ANYTHING? (Elisha – 3)

The wife of a man from the company of the prophets cried out to Elisha, “Your servant my husband is dead, and you know that he revered the Lord. But now his creditor is coming to take my two boys as his slaves.” [2 Kings 4:1 (NIV)]

roseate spoonbillWhen writing about Elisha, the widow, and the oil, I thought the first conversation between the prophet and distraught woman worth a deeper look. From their exchange, it is clear that the prophet either knew or knew of the widow’s husband. One of Elisha’s followers, the widow reminds the prophet of how much her husband revered and feared the Lord.

While Scripture doesn’t name her husband, other sources do. Both the 1st Century Jewish historian Josephus and the Targum (an Aramaic paraphrase and explanation of the Hebrew Bible) identify him as the Obadiah mentioned in 1 Kings 18. Although he was in charge of Ahab’s palace, Obadiah remained faithful to Jehovah and hid 100 of God’s prophets in two caves during the time Jezebel was killing them. Both Josephus and Jewish tradition suggest that Obadiah sustained these men at his own expenses and, when his money was spent, the man borrowed money to continue to feed them. It was because of this debt, incurred in the Lord’s service, that the widow’s sons were to be taken as bondservants. Whether the woman was Obadiah’s widow or the widow of another faithful follower of Jehovah we really don’t know. Nevertheless, the widow appears to think that, because her husband faithfully served the Lord, Elisha should do something about his debt.

Does God owe us anything for our service? If we look at Luke 17, it would seem that Jesus is telling us that, even when we’ve done absolutely everything God commands, we should not expect an earthly reward. We are God’s unworthy servants and have only done our duty. He is our master and His job is not to make our lives easier; our job is to do His work and build His kingdom. Whatever the widow’s husband did for God, Elijah, or Elisha, he did as God’s servant; it was only what he should have done! Our good actions are never a favor for God. Righteousness, worship, generosity, forgiveness, sacrifice, and even suffering aren’t extraordinary; they are expected of us!

Fulfilling our duties and obligation to God is not a business transaction. God owes us nothing but we owe Him everything. We are to serve the Lord with gladness, out of love and gratitude. What He may or may not give us is from His grace; it is neither payment nor reward. While we’re on this side of the grass, we should never expect to profit or gain from serving Him. As God did with the widow, He may choose to fill our jars with oil but, never forget, He doesn’t owe us even one ounce of it!

Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, “Come along now and sit down to eat”? Won’t he rather say, “Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink”? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.” [Luke 17:7-10 (NIV)]

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WHICH IS MORE IMPORTANT?

Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense? [James 2:14-17 (MSG)]

Which can you do without? The right side of your heart or the left? Which blade on the scissors wouldn’t be missed? What is more important? The front wheel or the back one on your bicycle? The gas pedal or the brakes on your car? The right wing or the left of an airplane? Faith or works? Neither! None of these things can operate without the other. We need two blades on the scissors, two wings on the plane and we can’t be Christians without both faith and works.

We sometimes use the word “Christian” simply as an adjective to describe good, generous, moral or loving behavior. I have Jewish, Muslim and non-believer friends who easily could be described with those same adjectives. Good works alone cannot be used to define Christianity. On the other hand, I know people who say they believe in Jesus and call themselves “Christian” who appear to be sorely lacking in the good, generous, moral and love departments. So simply saying we have “faith” in Christ doesn’t seem to define Christianity either.

Our faith makes us Christians but that faith is far more than intellectual belief. Because the Holy Spirit comes along with faith, our faith is God at work in us. True faith changes our hearts, minds and souls. Since the Holy Spirit can’t help but do good works, if we have faith, neither can we!

Works follow from faith and yet faith, without works, cannot be faith. We can neither think our way nor can we work our way into heaven but, by the grace of God, with faith, we will live our way there!

Faith without works is like a bird without wings; though she may hop with her companions on earth, yet she will never fly with them to heaven. [Francis Beaumont]

I can already hear one of you agreeing by saying, “Sounds good. You take care of the faith department, I’ll handle the works department.” Not so fast. You can no more show me your works apart from your faith than I can show you my faith apart from my works. Faith and works, works and faith, fit together hand in glove. [James 2:18 (MSG)]

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DO YOU HAVE HIS SHOES?

Never walk away from someone who deserves help; your hand is God’s hand for that person. Don’t tell your neighbor “Maybe some other time” or “Try me tomorrow” when the money’s right there in your pocket. [Proverbs 3:27-28 (MSG)]

deer - young buckYesterday, I wrote about finding the 1967 church program from the day my in-laws joined their church. The mimeographed bulletin insert for that day included a story about a little boy, barefoot and dressed in rags, who was walking home from church. A neighbor fellow asked where he’d been and, when the boy said he’d been at church, the man asked what he’d learned there. The boy joyfully replied, “Jesus loves me!” The fellow responded disdainfully, “If Jesus loves you so much, why didn’t he tell somebody to give you some decent clothes and a pair of shoes?” The boy confidently answered, “Jesus did tell someone, but I think they forgot!”

This story reminded me of one I heard recently about a well-known pastor. The gentleman was invited to speak at a Christian women’s conference at a large wealthy church. Before the program began, the event’s chairwoman read a letter from a Venezuelan missionary expressing an urgent need for $4,000. She then asked the visiting pastor to open the conference with a prayer that God would provide the resources to meet the mission’s needs. The man surprised everyone by denying her request. Explaining that he believed God had already provided the money, he added that he was going to place all the cash he had in his pocket on a table and invited the women to do the same thing.

Confused, the chairwoman finally said she saw his point; of course, they all need to give sacrificially. “No!” he said, adding that he was trying to teach them that God had already provided for the mission. Putting the $15 from his pocket on the table, he looked at the chairwoman expectantly. Reluctantly, she opened her purse and added her cash to his. One by one, the other women opened their purses and brought their money to the table. When it all was counted, more than $4,000 had been collected. The pastor explained: “Now, here’s the lesson. God always supplies for our needs and he supplied for this missionary, too. The only problem was that we were keeping it for ourselves. Now let’s pray and thank God for His provision.”

When we become members of the Church, we become the mouth, hands, and feet of Jesus and should be doing the things that Jesus would do if He were here physically on the earth. As members of His body, do we honor our commitment to be the conduit of God’s blessings to His children? Could we be holding the answer to someone’s prayers right in our hands? Could we have forgotten to give a little boy his clothes and shoes? Or weren’t we listening when Jesus spoke to us?

“I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, “Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?” Then the King will say, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” [Matthew 25:35-10 (MSG)]

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A WEAPON OF WAR

How long will you hurt me and crush me with your words? You have insulted me ten times now and attacked me without shame. [Job 19:2-3 (NCV)]

hot air balloon When writing about nitroglycerin yesterday, I realized there’s something else in our lives much like this strange chemical that can both hurt and help. Like nitroglycerin, man’s capabilities are a dichotomy between good and evil, building and destroying. The same mind capable of creating a vaccine that saves lives is capable of creating a bomb that can take those lives. While most of us have nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction and can’t destroy thousands with the push of a button, we all carry a weapon that can destroy one life at a time: our tongue!

Like nitroglycerin, our words can cause an explosion and major destruction. We can squash ambition with disparaging and demeaning remarks. We can shoot down someone with blame and guilt. While we’d never think of physically harming a person, with a few words, we can wound an ego. We’d never murder anyone but we certainly can manage to kill someone’s hopes and dreams. We’d never destroy a person’s home, yet we can destroy their reputation with just a few words! Ridicule and shaming can deflate self-esteem faster than an arrow can a hot air balloon. Our words, like nitroglycerin, can be devastating weapons.

Nevertheless, like medical nitroglycerin, our words also can help. Words of love, comfort, forgiveness, encouragement, respect, or sympathy can lift burdens and defuse situations better than any bomb squad. It is our choice as to whether we crush or nurture, rend or mend.

Father, forgive us for our thoughtless and often cruel words. Guide us to use our tongues with wisdom and love; show us how to heal, not harm. Let our words be ones of encouragement and support. Rather than destroyers, show us how to be builders; rather than combatants, let us be peacemakers; and rather than adversaries, let us be advocates.

Only speak words that make a heart grow stronger. [Ann Voskamp]

If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all! [My mother’s advice]

What you say can mean life or death. Those who speak with care will be rewarded. [Proverbs 18:21 (NCV)]

With words an evil person can destroy a neighbor, but a good person will escape by being resourceful. … Good people bless and build up their city, but the wicked can destroy it with their words [Proverbs 11:9,11 (NCV)]

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BEARING FRUIT (Part 2)

Remain in me, and I will remain in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you remain in me. Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. [John 15:4-5 (NLT)]

concord grapesBeing the branches on the vine of Jesus means that we are extensions of Him and a good branch is one that produces fruit. In Galatians 5, Paul told us that fruit should look like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Our fruit doesn’t come by following guidelines or obeying laws; it comes from a relationship with God through Jesus Christ; it comes from staying connected to the vine.

My son lives in California and has several beautiful trees in his yard. Not an arborist, I didn’t know what kind of trees they were until I saw their fruit. It was only by the orange persimmons, yellow lemons, and dark figs that I recognized the trees. As with my son’s fruit trees, it is by our fruit that we are recognized as Christ followers. Our responsibility as Christians is to bear godly fruit and, if we’re not producing fruit that looks and tastes a whole lot like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, we’re not connected to the vine!

As with any orchard, it takes time for trees and vines to grow and fruit to ripen and mature. Moreover, being a Christ follower doesn’t mean we’ll never sin. Admittedly, in spite of the Holy Spirit, often my behavior is anything but Christ-like and, frequently, there’s a shortage of good fruit in my orchard. There will be people and situations that challenge our capacity to act as would Jesus. Things will try our patience, test our faith, cause us to question our ability to love our neighbor, and challenge us to curb our anger. There will be times we’re exasperated, irritated, distressed, offended or worried. We’ll fail to turn the other cheek, lose our tempers, and say things we shouldn’t.

Because our behavior in these instances is a clear indication of where we are in our faith walk and how connected we are to the vine, I call them our “Jesus meters;” a bad score on the Jesus meter tells us we’re not walking His walk! When that meter indicates rotten fruit (or none at all), we repent, ask forgiveness, take comfort in God’s grace, reconnect with the Holy Spirit, learn from our errors, and continue to grow on His vine.

Just as I know my son’s trees by their fruit, Jesus know us by ours. If we’re bearing the Fruit of the Spirit, people will see some of Christ in us. If there were a litmus test for Christlikeness, it would not be pious words, powerful preaching, grandiose gestures, or even extraordinary feats; it would be the presence of the Fruit of the Spirit. If love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control aren’t evident in our lives, we may be talking the talk but we’re clearly not walking the walk.

Being reborn takes only a moment but becoming a Christian, now that takes a lifetime. Every life bears fruit of some kind. The question for each of us is, “What kind of fruit is mine?”

When you produce much fruit, you are my true disciples. This brings great glory to my Father. [John 15:8 (NLT)]

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LIVING THE WORD – Father’s Day 2019

A righteous man who walks in his integrity—blessed are his sons after him! [Proverbs 20:7 (RSV)]

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. [Proverbs 22:6 (RSV)]

Yesterday, when writing about various translations of Scripture, I was reminded of a story about four ministers who were discussing their preferred Bible translations. The first pastor said he favored the King James because, in spite of the archaic language, its words conveyed divine power with their elegance and majesty. The second pastor noted that he preferred the Amplified Bible because its alternate readings helped clarify and broaden the meaning of the original text. Explaining that his church was made up of new believers, the third pastor said he liked the Living Bible because its modern paraphrase of traditional Scripture was easily understood by his congregation. The three men then turned to the fourth minister and asked what Bible version he favored. The man answered that his favorite translation was his father. “You see,” he explained, “He put God’s word into practice which is the best translation of Scripture that I’ve ever seen!”

Shortly before our pastor’s first mission trip, his grandfather gave him a book about ministerial ethics and morals. Although he still has that book, I think he had an even better book in the examples of both his grandfather (a man who truly served “the least of these”) and his evangelist/pastor father. Both men’s lives witnessed the truth of the Gospel message. Some of us were blessed with fathers or grandfathers like his: godly men, the salt of the earth, men who embody the message of God’s word in their daily walk. Sadly, others may not have been so fortunate. Nevertheless, through the power of the Holy Spirit, every one of us can translate God’s word into practice. A popular saying is, “You may be the only Bible some people read.” Indeed, we may be the only glimpse of Jesus seen by some.

Sunday is Father’s Day, a day when we honor the men who raised us. Let’s remember to honor our spiritual fathers, as well: those men we’ve know who didn’t just profess their faith but truly lived it. The best way to honor any of them isn’t with t-shirts, books, baseball caps, or after shave. It’s by living the way our Father in heaven wants us to live: with faith, generosity, joy, love, mercy, fairness, gentleness, compassion, honesty, wisdom, forgiveness, peace, humility, patience, kindness, and self-control. In honor of God the Father, let us all be faithful translations of His holy word.

There are five Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christian—but most people never read the first four. [Rodney “Gypsy” Smith]

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:8-9 (RSV)]

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