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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mute swansBut Samuel’s sons did not live the same way he did. Joel and Abijah accepted bribes. They took money secretly and changed their decisions in court. They cheated people in court. [1 Samuel 8:3 (ERV)] 

Not all dads did as well with their boys as did my father-in-law. Eli and Samuel, for example, were both high priests and judges; while they were good at their jobs, neither is known for his parenting skills. Samuel’s sons, Joel and Abijah, were corrupt judges who took bribes. Eli’s boys, Hophni and Phinehas, were no better. They took advantage of their position to appropriate the best portion of every sacrifice for themselves and to have sexual relations with the sanctuary’s serving women. Even David had problems with his boys: Amnon was a rapist, Absalom a murderer and rebel, and Adonijah tried to seize his brother Solomon’s crown.

Clearly, being a godly parent doesn’t guarantee godly children. Were Eli and Samuel so busy with their temple duties that they failed to spend time with their boys? David had at least nineteen sons and probably several more with his concubines. Between the battlefield and his obligations as king, did he neglect being a father to his many children? In their busyness, did these men overlook their obligation to train their children in proper values? Were they as attentive as they should have been? I’m not pointing fingers because, at some time or another, we all have disregarded some of our parenting duties and short-changed our children with our time, attention, and affection.

Eli and Samuel knew their sons were corrupt and David knew of Amnon’s rape of his sister but the men did nothing about these offences. Perhaps, not wanting to face the unpleasant truth about their boys, they ignored their parental responsibility to discipline. At some time or another, in spite of evidence to the contrary, most of us have refused to believe our children are anything less than perfect, as well. Sometimes, we find it easier to ignore the elephant in the room than to address it.

These fathers were far from perfect but, then again, so are we. Nevertheless, we must remember that the failings of a child are not necessarily because of poor parenting. Even the best parent makes plenty of mistakes. We just do our best and pray (a whole lot). We’ll never know exactly what went wrong with those boys. After all, Solomon came from the same household as his malicious elder brothers and the same home that produced the honorable President Jimmy Carter, a Nobel peace prize winner, gave us his troubled and somewhat embarrassing brother, Billy.

Home may be a child’s first classroom but he continues to learn when he steps into society. As the church, we need to fill the voids in the spiritual, emotional and physical needs of our community’s children. Not all of us are parents, but we all share in the awesome responsibility of raising the next generation.

Lord, guide us in our homes, community, and churches so that all of your children become people of faith and good character.

My son, remember your father’s command, and don’t forget your mother’s teaching. Remember their words always. Tie them around your neck and keep them over your heart. Let this teaching lead you wherever you go. It will watch over you while you sleep. And when you wake up, it will give you good advice. [Proverbs 6:20-24 (ERV)]

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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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As iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens [and influences] another [through discussion]. [Proverbs 27:17 (AMP)]

roserush wildflower

When I was growing up, the Sunday dinner roast would be placed in front of my father who would then reach for the bone-handled carving knife and honing rod. With dramatic flair, he would steel the slicing knife against the stropping iron before carving the meat. That steel rod really didn’t sharpen his knife; it merely realigned it. When a knife is used, its sharp edge begins to bend and catch on whatever is being cut. Running the blade along a honing steel pulls its edge back into an upright position so the knife can perform at its best. To actually sharpen a knife, a whetstone rubs away some of the knife’s metal and creates a brand new edge. The more often a knife is sharpened, the more it thins and the shorter its lifespan.

Just as there is a difference between a whetstone that grinds away part of a blade and a steel honing rod that realigns it, there is a difference between judging one another and offering constructive comments or correction. The conversation of good friends is more like a honing steel than a whetstone. It improves the person rather than wears him down. Sometimes, we’re called on to do a little honing of our friends. Rarely an easy task, we should proceed prayerfully and gently. Remember, we are merely smoothing out the rough edges, not grinding off any mettle.

While the knife has no choice about accepting that honing rod, we do. Solomon’s son Rehoboam received wise counsel about not burdening his people with heavy taxes. Not appreciating the honing, he chose to ask others until he got the answer he liked better. Unfortunately, his foolishness divided the kingdom of Israel. In contrast, when Moses’ father-in-law Jethro pointed out Moses’ error in thinking he could manage two million people by himself, he listened. Like a good honing steel, Jethro also offered excellent advice on how to delegate responsibility.

God puts wise people in our lives for a reason and it’s for more than encouragement. As Matthew Henry said, it is to “improve both others and ourselves…to provoke one another to love and to good works and so to make one another wiser and better.”

Like Rehoboam we can resist the honing and insist on doing it our way or, like Moses, we can accept the correction that comes from those who love us. Just as we are tested by the way we respond to praise, we are tested by the way we respond to constructive criticism. In both cases, we must remain humble and thankful.

Thank you, Heavenly Father, for the friends who realign us when we need some straightening!

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism. [Norman Vincent Peale]

Better is an open reprimand [of loving correction] Than love that is hidden. Faithful are the wounds of a friend [who corrects out of love and concern], But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful [because they serve his hidden agenda]. [Proverbs 27:5-6 (MSG)]

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Charm is deceptive and beauty disappears, but a woman who honors the Lord should be praised. Give her credit for all she does. She deserves the respect of everyone. [Proverbs 31:30-31 (GNT)]

muscovy - ducklingsMy mother disliked having her picture taken. She didn’t think of herself as attractive and she probably wasn’t pretty in the conventional way. Yet, even with a face covered by freckles, unruly hair, an overbite combined with a toothy smile, thick glasses and a hearing aid, she was the most beautiful woman I’ve known.

It was at my mother’s side that I learned to love the written word. She urged me to read all sorts of books that were probably considered far too adult for my age and we discussed every one of them in detail. She was intelligent and creative and encouraged me in every one of my efforts. She was incredibly open with me about her past, her faith and feelings. Perhaps she knew her time on earth was brief so she had to pack everything a mother wants to teach her daughter into a few short years. It was from my mother that I learned about love and forgiveness. She showed me that true love takes effort and is more a choice than a feeling. She started me on my journey of faith and it was through her that I came to know Jesus.

This shy quiet woman taught me courage: courage in the face of adversity, courage in the face of cancer, courage in the face of death. She taught me how to live and how to die. She was probably the most beautiful when she was the least attractive, just a few days before her death, when I was fifteen. As we were departing her hospital room, my father leaned over, picked up a corner of the oxygen tent, and kissed her. He said, “You look like an angel tonight.” Her response, said with a smile on her radiant face, was, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll be with the angels.” As she passed through the valley of death, she had no fear. She had complete faith in God’s promise. She wasn’t worried; she trusted God that the family she left behind would be just fine and she knew that where she was going would be even better. She may not have been pretty but my mother was the most beautiful woman in my world.

On this special day, Dear Lord, we thank you for our mothers: those beautiful women who gave us life. We also thank you for all of the beautiful women of faith who have blessed our lives with their example and encouragement, enlightenment, love, and guidance. Please reassure them that, in spite of what the mirror and society may tell them, they are truly beautiful both in your eyes and ours!

…Your beauty should consist of your true inner self, the ageless beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of the greatest value in God’s sight. [1 Peter 3:4 (GNT)]

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And all the surrounding nations will ask, “Why has the Lord done this to this land? Why was he so angry?” And the answer will be, “This happened because the people of the land abandoned the covenant that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt. Instead, they turned away to serve and worship gods they had not known before, gods that were not from the Lord. That is why the Lord’s anger has burned against this land, bringing down on it every curse recorded in this book. In great anger and fury the Lord uprooted his people from their land and banished them to another land, where they still live today!” [Deuteronomy 29:24-28 (NLT)]

salt marsh mallowThe money changing and selling of animals that so angered Jesus took place in the Court of the Gentiles, but what was a Court of the Gentiles doing in the Jewish Temple? The explanation starts around 590 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar deported the Jews from Judah to Babylon (as happened to Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego). Although many Jews like Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah returned, a large Jewish population remained in Mesopotamia. The economic hardship and incessant warfare experienced by those who returned to Judah caused many to emigrate later. Jews eventually settled in Rome, Egypt, Macedonia, Greece, and the great cities of Asia Minor. Historians believe that, by the middle of the first century AD, there were more Jews living outside of Judah than in it.

Bringing their faith with them wherever they settled, the Jews built synagogues that became community centers where Scripture was taught and discussed. These synagogues drew not just Jews but also Gentiles who may have come for the interesting philosophical discussions about God or to hear the Psalms chanted. In any case, Jewish beliefs began to spread to the Gentiles. A few converted but more (preferring to avoid circumcision and Jewish restrictions) just adopted the Hebrew God as their own. They would attend synagogue, observe some of the Jewish laws, and come to Jerusalem for religious festivals. Since Gentiles could not enter the Temple proper, when Herod the Great rebuilt the Temple in 20 BC, a large courtyard was erected to accommodate the non-Jews who wanted to observe Jewish traditions. It was here that Gentiles (and ritually unclean Jews) could come and worship.

Although the scattering (or diaspora) of the Jews came from droughts, famines and Judah’s conquest by Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, Egypt, the Syrians, and Rome (among others), the Old Testament prophets’ words tell us this was punishment for their idolatry and unbelief. Nevertheless, that displacement is what helped spread Christianity. The Jews were no longer an isolated nation but a broad community of expats. Along with Hebrew, they spoke Greek (the language spoken by nearly everyone), the Hebrew Bible had been translated into Greek so that all could read it, and their synagogues had introduced the concept of one God to Gentiles throughout the area. The line dividing Jew and Gentile had started to blur.

Jews (and believing Gentiles) from all nations were present in Jerusalem for the Passover celebration when Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Many of those were in Jerusalem fifty days later for Pentecost when 3,000 were baptized in one day. Although Christianity began in Jerusalem as a subcategory of Judaism, once persecution started, these early followers of Jesus fled to Jewish communities in Syria, Asia Minor, Turkey, Greece, and Italy and it was to both Jew and Gentile that their message quickly spread. The Christian church may have begun in 33 AD, but the groundwork for its expansion had been laid long before then. God truly does work in mysterious ways.

Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews. However, some of the believers who went to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene began preaching to the Gentiles about the Lord Jesus. The power of the Lord was with them, and a large number of these Gentiles believed and turned to the Lord. [Acts 11:19-21 (NLT)]

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