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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WHEN GOD REMODELS

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6 (ESV)]

tiger swallowtailMany years ago, we did some major remodeling on our lake house. The original structure was gutted: carpets ripped up, paneling pulled off, decks knocked down, stairs demolished, walls cut open, and our landscaping ruined. Filled with fear and misgivings, I stared at the gaping hole in the hillside and what was left of the original dwelling. The architect/builder kept reassuring me that, having drawn the plans, he knew how everything would eventually fit together. Me? I just saw the ruined house, a deep pit and piles of dirt. I hadn’t expected this devastation; it had seemed so simple on paper. How this mess was ever going to become the house we’d pictured, I didn’t know. I simply had to trust the builder and leave it in his hands. Seven months later, I stood in the same spot, thrilled with the final result; it was better than I’d ever expected!

Life can be like that remodeling project. Change can be unpleasant; at times, it may even look downright ugly and hopeless. We can rest easy when God is in charge; we’ll find that all will be good in its proper time. When God is finally finished, everything will make sense. We have to trust Him and not judge His work before it’s complete. He is a master architect and builder; let Him do His job!

Father, thank you for the beauty and joy you can salvage from our messed up lives. Help us trust your plan and timeline; give us patience and faith as we grow and change into the people you want us to be.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. [C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)]

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 (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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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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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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AT HIS TABLE

water lilies You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. [Psalm 23:5 (HCSB)]

The cup of blessing that we give thanks for, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ? [1 Corinthians 10:16 (HCSB)]

In my younger and more energetic days, I often entertained with large formal dinner parties. I’d start days in advance to prepare the table by getting out the extra leaves and pads to extend the table full length, gathering up the extra chairs, and ironing out the creases in the damask tablecloth before laying it on the table. From the storage cupboard in the basement, I’d haul up the crystal salad plates and Lenox china that were my mother’s and the hand-painted Bavarian service plates and Czechoslovakian dessert plates that had belonged to her mother. I’d spend hours polishing the silverware and serving pieces. The service plates were set out, the silverware laid, the crystal wine and water goblets carefully placed at each setting, and the napkins artfully folded. I’d polish up the candlesticks, put in fresh candles, get flowers from the florist, and create what I hoped would be the perfect centerpiece. All of that preparation was just for the table; there was plenty more work to do in the kitchen. I’d spend days perusing recipes, planning the menu, making lists, purchasing food and preparing it all. I loved doing it because I loved the people for whom I did it. Nevertheless, as nice as my guests were and as much as they enjoyed themselves, I’m not sure they truly appreciated how much effort went into everything that went on that table.

Yesterday was Communion Sunday at our northern church. As I approached the Lord’s Table, I wondered if I genuinely appreciate all that He did to prepare that table of blessings for me. Do I truly value His gift of body and blood? It cost Him far more than a few days of work. The price He paid was far greater than any I ever paid for lobster, prime rib, artisan cheese, imported olive oil, chestnuts, or exotic mushrooms. I thought of Him washing the feet of the disciples and of His anguish as he prayed alone in the garden. I thought of His disappointment at Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and the disciples’ desertion. I thought of His silence in front of Caiaphas and Pilate, His flogging and mocking at the hands of the Roman soldiers, His arduous walk to Golgotha, and His suffering on Calvary. He may have been God but He was in a man’s body and suffered and died as a man for you and for me. Yet, Jesus welcomes us, sinners all, to come to His table and share in His gifts.

I’d like to think my guests never left my table hungry; nevertheless, I know they were hungry by the next morning. When we come to the table Jesus set for us, we will never again be hungry. Thank you, Jesus.

Jesus Christ, host of this meal, you have given us not only this bread and cup, but your very self, that we may feast on your great love. Filled again by these signs of your grace, may we hunger for your reign of justice, may we thirst for your way of peace, for you are Lord forevermore. Amen. [Lutheran Book of Worship]

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus told them. “No one who comes to Me will ever be hungry, and no one who believes in Me will ever be thirsty again. … I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” [John 6:35,51 (HCSB)]

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