ELISHA, THE WIDOW, AND THE OIL (Elisha – 2)

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. [Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)]

cassiaDuring the days of Elijah and Elisha, there were several schools or companies of prophets in Israel. Probably some of the 7,000 Israelites who remained faithful to Jehovah, they were the prophets’ disciples, maybe something like an ancient version of the Knights of Columbus. Although they gathered for fellowship and study, had a spiritual calling, and were under the prophets’ guidance, they carried on their ordinary work and family lives.

One of these men died and left bills that his wife couldn’t pay. As payment for the man’s debts, a pitiless creditor threatened to take the widow’s sons as bond servants. Without her boys, the woman had no way to support herself and, with no resources, she was facing a hopeless situation. After the frantic woman told Elisha of her dilemma, the prophet asked how he could help her and what she had in her house. Since she’d probably sold or traded anything of value by that time, I wonder if she thought his question foolish; nothing of value remained. Taking stock, other than her two sons, her cupboards were bare, her purse empty, and all that remained was a flask of oil.

The prophet told her to get as many empty vessels as she could from her neighbors. “Don’t ask for just a few,” he warned. After bringing them into the house, she was to shut the door and then fill all the containers with the oil from her one flask. Although this may have seemed like an exercise in futility, the widow and her sons obediently gathered up all the pots and jars they could and then filled jar after jar with oil. Miraculously, the oil only stopped flowing when no more empty containers remained. The prophet told the widow to sell the oil to pay her debts and then live on the money that remained. This miracle did more than just pay her bills; it would maintain her family until her boys could start earning a living.

The quantity of oil that poured out was not limited by God; it was determined by the woman’s faith. God’s provision knows no limits; there was enough oil to fill just one flask or as many as 100,000 jars. When they’d filled the last jar and the oil finally stopped pouring, I imagine the widow regretted not finding yet another container. We have a God who can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

As faith-filled believers, we know God can do the impossible. Yet, how much of our lives and resources do we commit to Him? If we bring Him just a little, that’s all He can bless. How many jars do we bring to God? What is the limit of our faith?

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back [Luke 6:38 (NLT)]

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BATTLES

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? … No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. [Romans 8:35,37 (NLT)]

columbineI prayed for Pearl for over a year. This beautiful toddler had Stage-4 cancer and her bones, brain, and internal organs were riddled with the disease’s treacherous cells. Her prognosis was bleak and there were times she nearly lost her life to the effects of the various remedies rather than the cancer. That Pearl is alive and cancer free today is nothing short of a miracle. Nevertheless, she and her family went through a very dark valley to get to this place of victory. I’m sure, if given a choice, they would have preferred God to have miraculously healed her prior to the long battle she fought for over a year.

The Old Testament is filled with conflicts. In a few instances, the Israelites were given victory without ever having to go into combat. 2 Chronicles 20 tells of the time God promised Jehoshaphat the battle was God’s. At the very moment the people began to praise Him, the armies of Ammon, Moab, and Mt. Seir started fighting among themselves. By the time the army of Judah arrived, every one of their enemies was dead. 2 Kings 19 tells of a night when 185,000 enemy Assyrian soldiers were struck dead by an angel of the Lord. When the survivors awoke to the corpse-filled camp, they retreated to Nineveh where they remained. Because God took His people around the dark valley those times, the battles were won without engaging in combat or suffering loss.

For the most part, however, God’s assurance of victory rarely meant there would be no struggle. Yes, the walls of Jericho fell but, when the Israelites charged into the city with their swords and captured it, it’s hard to believe the people of Jericho didn’t defend themselves vigorously. Although the Israelites defeated them, Scripture never tells us they suffered no battle injuries or fatalities. In Joshua 10:2, God assured Joshua of victory over the Amorites but that conquest didn’t come easily. They fought so long and hard that Joshua had to ask God to prolong the day until they’d defeated their enemies. The spoils of war may have gone to the victors but, surely, they came at a cost and not every Israelite safely returned home that day. Even when we’re victorious, every battle leaves scars of one kind or another.

God could defeat armies without using any of His soldiers but He often sent His people into battle. I have no doubt that God could have miraculously cured Pearl without her and her family having to suffer through a year of painful expensive treatment and the agony of never knowing what the next procedure or test would bring. But, like the armies of Israel and Judah, they had to go through the dark valley and into battle before victoriously coming out on the other side.

The Apostle Paul tells us to rejoice in our troubles and trials because they lead to patient endurance which leads to maturity of character. I imagine Pearl’s family felt there had been more than enough character building long before her suffering ended. Nevertheless, they remained faithful and hopeful because they knew they were never alone in that dark valley. The battle was neither Pearl’s nor theirs; it was God’s.

We do not live in a perfect world. Although we are assured of victory, we are not assured of a battle-free life nor are we assured of victory while on this side of the grass. We will be faced with trials, temptations, loss, struggle, disease, suffering, and death. That God has won the war does not mean His Christian soldiers won’t ever have to fight! Nevertheless, we are victorious!

For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God. [1 John 5:4-5 (NLT)]

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ON THE RADIO

So Joshua told the Israelites, “Come and listen to what the Lord your God says.” [Joshua 3:9 (NLT)]

While recovering from foot surgery, I had home visits from Mike, a physical therapist. He told me of a day, more than eighteen years ago, when he visited a new elderly patient. The obviously wealthy man lived alone in a beautifully appointed 6,000 square foot penthouse overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. Mike remembers him as the most unpleasant, uncooperative, bitter and miserable person he’s ever met. After that visit, the therapist drove to a nearby town for another new patient visit. Although less than an hour’s drive northeast of the affluent man’s luxurious home, it was a world apart. Today, the population in the first town has a median age of 65.6, a median household income of over $90,000, and a poverty rate of less than 10%. Just thirty miles away, the second town has a median age of 26, with a median household income of less than $29,000, and 41.6% of its population live below the poverty level. Although the numbers were different eighteen years ago, the disparity would have been the same (or even worse).

The home Mike visited was a stark contrast to the beachfront luxury penthouse. As he gingerly walked up rickety wooden stairs and knocked on the screen door of a mobile home, Mike wondered what to expect. Visiting a woman who’d had a total knee replacement, he was warmly greeted at the door by her husband and offered a cup of coffee and a churro. As he entered their cramped home, he saw pictures drawn by grandchildren decorating the refrigerator and family photos on all the tables. He knew they were people of faith from the pictures of both Mary and Jesus hanging on the walls and the cross by the door. Yet, even without those signs, the couple’s words, joy, optimism, generosity, and love for one another were evidence of their faith.

That first day, as Mike was driving back to town, Danny’s Song, by Loggins and Messina, played on the car radio. When he heard the words, “And even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey, And everything will bring a chain of love,” he couldn’t help but think of the couple he’d met that morning. It was when he heard, “Yeah, don’t you live alone, Try to earn what lovers own,” that Mike thought of his wealthy old client; he was so affected that he had to pull over to the side of the road. The man had everything that money could buy and, yet, he lived alone and had nothing of real value. The couple, living in a rented trailer, had next to nothing and, yet, they had everything: faith, family, purpose, love, and one another! As rich as the old man was, he couldn’t buy the love that the couple owned.

Eighteen years later, Mike still remembers that couple and how, in a beautifully orchestrated God-incident, Kenny Loggins’ words in a popular song helped point him to the things that mattered most in his life at a time he most needed to rethink his priorities. My therapist learned a valuable lesson that day, one his wealthy client never did. The woman became his favorite client (and not just because of the churros and loving family he met during his several visits). Every time he left their home, he felt that some of their faith, joy and hope rubbed off on him. That moment eighteen years ago has stayed with Mike all these years as a constant reminder of what actually is important in life.

Just in case Mike didn’t get His message about priorities, did God arrange that song to come on the radio at exactly that time for him? I don’t know any more than I know if God was responsible for having Zach Williams’ song Fear is a Liar come on my car radio the afternoon I desperately needed that reminder. All I know is that God, with his quirky sense of humor and amazing sense of timing, could certainly manage a song on the radio!

God speaks to us in a number of ways: Scripture, Jesus (the Word who became flesh), the still small voice of the Holy Spirit, other believers, and His amazing creation. Scripture also tells us He’s spoken in some unusual ways including the urim and thummim that were kept in the high priest’s breastplate, the fleece of a sheep, a burning bush, a rainbow, and even a donkey! Capable of speaking to us at any time in any way He chooses, He might well have used a Kenny Loggins’ song. God keeps after us until we get the message and Scripture tells us that it never went well for people when they failed to listen to Him. Let’s always be open to hearing God’s voice and receptive to His message, whether it’s in the sky with a rainbow or on the radio with a song!

As it is written in the Scriptures, “They will all be taught by God.” Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. [John 6:45 (NLT)]

I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying, for he speaks peace to his faithful people. But let them not return to their foolish ways. [Psalm 85:8 (NLT)]

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HE’S NOT A MISER

zebras - great migration -serengetiWhat shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Romans 8:31-32 (NLT)]

Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. [James 4:2b (NLT)]

Yesterday, when writing about Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban in 2012, I thought of an exchange between her parents while the girl was being operated on for the removal of the near fatal bullet. The words “the patient may die,” had been on the papers consenting to her surgery and Malala’s father was deep in prayer. Making bargains with God, he prayed aloud, “Even if she is injured, just let her survive.” Malala’s mother, a devout Muslim, stopped him in his prayers with these words, “God is not a miser!” She confidently added, “He will give me back my daughter as she was,” and then returned to her non-stop prayers for a full recovery.

Her dissatisfaction with her husband’s prayers and her confidence in God’s ability to do great things reminded me of something said by C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory. Calling us “half-hearted creatures,” he compared us to “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” While Lewis was writing about wanting things of the world when the splendor of God could be ours, I think his words apply to prayer, as well. Our prayers often are half-hearted and, like Malala’s father, we are far too easily pleased. We forget that, rather than a miser, God is our generous loving Father.

Pint-sized prayers suggest that we doubt God’s love for us and yet God is love; He loved us enough to give His only son to die for us! Small prayers imply that we think God is puny. A 97-pound weakling God could not have created man from dust and woman from man, made walls collapse and the sun stand still for Joshua, provided both drought and rain to Elijah, or given sight to the blind and raised Lazarus from the dead. Nothing is impossible for Him.

Perhaps we ask far too little of God because we’re afraid that He will think we are asking too much. Yet, without asking, we won’t receive. Malala’s mother said that God isn’t a miser and, with 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone, creation tells us that’s true. A miserly God wouldn’t have given us nearly 10,000 different species of birds, 950,000 species of insects, and even 16,000 species of mushrooms. He’s a “more than enough” God who loves to give gifts to His children. Why are we so easily pleased asking for a little bite when He’s waiting to give us the whole cake?

Mark’s gospel tells of a man who brought his demon-possessed, deaf and mute son to Jesus. He didn’t ask Jesus just to stop the convulsions or only to give the boy hearing or speech; he asked Jesus to heal him, but added, “if you can.” Assuring him that, “Anything is possible if a person believes,” the father’s reply was, “I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” [9:23-24]

Knowing that nothing is impossible with God, and remembering that God is not a miser, let our prayers be bold ones. Let us also pray that He helps us overcome our unbelief!

And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. [1 John 5:14 (NLT)]

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. [Hebrews 4:16 (NLT)]

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LEADING WITH LOVE

For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. [John 1:17 (NLT)]

mouse-ear hawkweedLegend had it that an angel of the Lord occasionally would come into the pool at Bethesda, stir up the water, and that the first person to enter the pool would then be healed. Jesus, however, simply said to the crippled man lying there: “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!” and the man did just that. Since it was the Sabbath, the man later was stopped by the Jewish leaders and condemned for carrying his mat and working on the day of rest. According to the law, either he should have stayed and watched his mat or left it behind and walked away. When he explained that the man who’d healed him told him otherwise, they wanted him to identify his healer. Their curiosity, however, had nothing to do with knowing who had performed this amazing miracle; they wanted to know who’d broken the law!

It was on the Sabbath that Jesus gave sight to a man born blind. Out Lord spit on the ground, made mud with his saliva, applied the muck over the man’s eyes, and told him to wash himself in the pool of Siloam. After the man did as directed, he could see. Stunned by the change in him, people who’d known him as a blind beggar took him to be questioned by the Pharisees. Again, Mosaic Law had been broken, not just by the healing, but also by the spitting (considered digging or plowing) and mud making (combining wet and dry was kneading). Sure that a healer who so flagrantly broke the Sabbath could not be from God, the Pharisees wanted to know who it was.

On another Sabbath, Jesus was teaching in the temple when He saw a woman so misshapen by her disease that she couldn’t even stand up straight. After calling her over, He touched her and told her that she was healed. Instantly, the woman stood erect and praised God. The synagogue leaders didn’t have to question the woman as to who healed her that time; they saw it for themselves.

In all these instances, the synagogue leaders believed Jesus had broken the law by healing on the Sabbath. Unless it was a critical life-or-death situation, healing was considered work and was to be delayed until after the Sabbath. Since the crippled man had been that way for thirty-eight years, the blind man sightless since birth, and the woman’s body bent and broken for eighteen years, there was nothing urgent about their conditions. After Jesus healed the woman, the Pharisees indignantly told Him to come some other day to do His healing! Another day meant nothing to the Pharisees. Of course, they weren’t the ones suffering! When in pain or distress, even an hour can feel like an eternity.

When questioned by the Pharisees, Jesus reminded them that the main principle behind the treatment of animals in Jewish law was tza’ar ba’alei chayim: preventing the suffering of living creatures. Even though a donkey or ox could not be untied to go out to work, it could be untied and taken out to be fed and watered so that it wouldn’t suffer all day. Moreover, an animal was to be relieved if it was suffering from carrying too heavy a load. The load those hurting people were carrying was exceedingly heavy and stopping the suffering of God’s creatures was all Jesus was doing when He healed! In their obsession with keeping to the letter of the law, the Pharisees seemed to forget the spirit of God’s law: that we are to love the Lord and love our neighbor. That wasn’t a legendary healing angel of the Lord standing right in front of the Pharisees, it was the Lord himself! Sadly, instead of recognizing Him, they persecuted Him.

So the Jewish leaders began harassing Jesus for breaking the Sabbath rules. But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.” So the Jewish leaders tried all the harder to find a way to kill him. For he not only broke the Sabbath, he called God his Father, thereby making himself equal with God. [John 5:16-18 (NLT)]

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PRAYERS FOR HEALING

But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. [Isaiah 53:5 (NLT)]

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. [1 Peter 2:24 (NLT)]

rabbitWe know Jesus was capable of big miracles: twice He ended up with leftovers after feeding thousands with only a few scraps and He brought the widow’s son, Jairus’ daughter, and Lazarus back to life. Nevertheless, when Jesus was at the pool of Bethesda and surrounded by a crowd of sick, paralyzed, blind and lame people, He healed only one man before disappearing into the crowd! That crippled man didn’t even ask for healing. From his later encounter with Jesus, we know he was a sinner so he couldn’t have been more deserving than anyone else gathered at that pool! Jesus could have healed, not just everyone at that pool, but every malady in all of Palestine. Why just that one man?

Recently, three people, all with serious health concerns, gathered around the pastor and we prayed with them for strength, courage, wisdom for their doctors, and healing. I will rejoice if God provides healing for those people and I have no doubt that He can. We have a God of miracles and nothing is impossible for Him.

Last year I prayed equally diligently for two people facing stage 4 cancer. Neither was more deserving of life but, today, one is cancer free and the other is dead. When our prayers for healing are unsuccessful, does it mean we didn’t pray hard enough or with enough faith? There are some who would say so but I disagree. When we look at the Apostle Paul, we see a true prayer warrior: a man of deep and abiding faith. If anyone had a direct line to God’s ear, it would have been Paul. Yet, in spite of his prayers, his infirmity (whether physical, emotional or spiritual) remained and there was no relief for him.

People often claim that Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:28 are promises of God’s healing. Indeed, they are; but a look at their context tells us the promised healing is spiritual rather than physical. The verses are about sin, righteousness, forgiveness and salvation rather than sickness or disease. It is our troubled souls, not our ailing bodies, that will receive the promised healing.

It is never wrong to pray for healing but we should remember that physical healing is not promised. Some people will have healing and others will have an opportunity to share Christ’s suffering. If our prayers fail to bring healing, it’s not because our faith isn’t real enough, our requests not earnest enough, we’re not righteous enough, God isn’t big enough, or that He doesn’t love us enough. It’s simply because it’s not in His plan to offer healing on this side of the grass. Let us remember our hope in not in physical healing; it is in salvation.

When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced that fiery furnace, they knew the God they served was fully able to save them but they also knew that He might choose not to do so. Their faith was not limited to a God of miracles; their faith was in a sovereign God and they trusted their destiny, whatever it would be, to His hands. We must have that same kind of faith.

All physical healing is temporary—the crippled man from the pool eventually died, as did the man born blind, the woman with the bleeding issue, the ten lepers, Peter’s mother and even Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter. Whether or not the three people for whom we prayed receive healing, at some time or another, they also will die. It only will be then that they truly receive God’s healing along with new bodies that are designed to last for all of eternity.

He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever. [Revelation 21:4 (NLT)]

If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty.  But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up. [Daniel 3:17-18 (NLT)]

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