This was posted original on Russell Purvis’ Weblog on Easter of 2013
This was originally posted on Good Friday of 2013.
This was originally posted on Palm Sunday of 2013
This rather long and drawn out story continues part of the story we mentioned last week in that we see the Armies of Aram attacking Israel. Desperation is running wild in the streets. Famine has hit the city and the worst things you could imagine that could result of starvation are happening inside the city walls. Life is falling apart and everyone is looking for a way out. Last weeks story showed us that God is in the business of fighting for humanity, but this story shows us that the worst of things can bring a fear into our lives and make it seem like God is non existent or at least not looking out for us.
The worst element of this story is that people resorted to cannibalism in order to survive. The city of Samaria was so worn out that people are doing anything to survive. Desperation can create a reality full of danger and vices. The reason is that desperation can suck hope out of your heart just like a parasite can latch onto an animal and suck life from its body. Fear has that kind of effect on people.
Have you ever been frozen in fear or had that moment where fight or flight was in your system? It can be a scary moment. It can make you do anything to survive. We all have a mental system the makes us fight for something. This story shows us that what you value can make you do crazy things: power, survival, fame, etc. What we are invested in during everyday life defines what we live for when we are struggling to survive.
What’s amazing about the difference between hope and despair is that both are perspectives of the the same reality. Despair looks at the reality at hand and says there is not future reality. Hope is quite different. It says that despite the reality now, there can be a good reality in the future that is different than now. What most of the people in Samaria were thinking about God was that he could not produce a better future. Elisha, however, had imagination. He knew what God wanted to do and what he could do, which produced hope in his life.
Heroes of faith have an amazing ability to look the terrible circumstances in the face and say that this moment will pass and a better future will come. They know that God has good plans and is actually interested in our situations and chooses to be invested in our survival for eternity. We as a people can decide if we are going to buy into despair and let that be what makes our reality. We also have a choice how to live our lives now in a way that cultivates hope so that when those times come we can become heroes like Elisha. If we begin to see what God can do and believe that He will do it, we can live in such a way that will produce a better future. We have to make the choices to invest in each other so that we will not live like the Israelites did in this desperate time. We have to choose to live in a way that will bring life, hope, and love. If we begin down that path we will become reflections of this go and become heroes of faith. We will influence a world in despair that is waiting for a reason to hope.
When we think of surprising, life threatening events, most of us can think of some that have happened to us or at least imagine one or two possibilities. It’s interesting that we live our lives full of a sense of control and then when these events happen we are filled with a sense of fear at the fact that we are not controlling the moment and the the world is crashing down around us. It’s at those moments that we begin to feel a complete inadequacy to rule the world around us or to keep safe when danger is around.
This moment happen to Elisha and his servant at this moment. The King of Aram was trying to conquer land and Israel was next on his list. The problem was that God kept Israel safe by warning them of where the armies of Aram were heading next. Imagine coming up with a great plan of taking care of something, but when you get there you cannot do anything about it. The King of Aram is looking for who is to blame, and finds out that Elisha is giving away his positions. So he makes a plan to capture him.
When Elisha’s servant wakes up in the morning to the surprise of an entire army ready to siege the walls of the city. The servants immediate reaction is that to resist this would be futile. But Elisha knows better and reveals to his servant that God’s got this one under wraps. Long story short, the entire Aramean army is rendered blind. Elisha leads them straight to the capital of Israel and opens their eyes. The tables were turned, and now the pagan force was in danger. The King of Israel in his excitement begins to ask if he can have them killed.
It’s easy for believers to look at winning against the world and begin to keep attacking the other people even when they are in a losing position. We do this all the time. Think of all the apologetics and ethical arguing over who is right and wrong. It seems to make sense. Whoever wins is superior and can do whatever they want to the defeated. That is the way the world works and it ensures that the other side will not try to rise back up.
The problem with this view is that it does not reflect God’s character. Elisha makes sure that God’s will is upheld. When the King begins to say let’s kill them to teach Aram a lesson, Elisha says no. He even says feed them and send them home. This move seems to go against everything the we know today. Even the country of America would not do things that mercifully. We take prisoners after a fight. God, however, takes no prisoners. He liberates. He gives a way out of being destroyed. If we are going to match God and His goodness, we have to learn what Elisha learned. Elisha, the same man who had a group of boys killed for making fun of his bald head. The Elisha that we see in this story has learned the mercy fits better to the good life God made us for.
How many times have we beaten people when the were already down on the ground? How many wars have been fought on the premise of total annihilation? How often do our tongues burn hot when the rest of the environment has cooled? We love to win and we like to make sure everyone knows it. To make the world a little more like heaven, we have to win in a way that is not against others, but is for the betterment of others. The argument and the battle is not a tool for destruction. It’s for building others up. God won for us through His Son Jesus. In sending Jesus, He was giving us forgiveness for the taking and a way into a beautiful, creative, good life in Him. That is His mission, and if we are part of the Kingdom, then that is our mission too.
There can be stark contrast in our community of faith. Most of the contrast is due to the fact not everyone who says that they are part of God’s Kingdom is pursuing God’s plan for living out faith. In this story we see contrast between two people who are supposed to be on the same page when it comes to God’s plans for the world. The problem comes in that one person had assumptions about the best plan for everyone that did not match the character of God and the other did.
Gehazi was Elisha’s servant. Elisha had just led Naaman to healing and had sent him away without accepting any gifts. It was a time of drought, making it a time of need. It is in this moment that Gehazi makes a bold decision. It was a moment of risk and danger. The only problem is that he decides to risk for his own self improvement instead of risking for the betterment of someone else. He knew the Naaman was not an Israelite and that he had a pagan history. Although Naaman begins to honor God from his experience, all that Gehazi sees is someone not worth grace and blessing. Gehazi thinks that being part of God’s chosen people means that he deserves blessing. In his eyes, the Israelites did Naaman a favor, so he owed him. What Gehazi does not get is that God is a grace filled entity, something that Elisha, his master, fully gets. When we read the story, it would make sense that with the way God heals Naaman, although humbling, that his intention is healing anyone and everyone that wants healing. God is in the business of giving with no strings attached. Gehazi was in the business of getting payment for services rendered.
When we read of Elisha in the following story, it can seem that this is just some cool story that is almost magical. Not many people see floating axeheads, and if you did, it would be very mind-blowing. But that is not the point of this story. The important part of this story comes alive when we consider what this event meant for the man who borrowed the axe. Losing this axehead meant that he owed a tool to the owner. If he could not supply a new tool, which would have been a big deal in that day, he would be indebted to the owner and may have been put into a temporary servant or slave role for that owner. When he approaches Elisha, Elisha gets that this is an urgent situation. Things could go very wrong for this individual very quickly. Instead of entering a the panic, Elisha begins to seize his God given moment to be a hero of faith. It’s in that moment, where there is a drought that was mentioned earlier in this book that was never said to have ended yet. It is a time of great need. Every resource matters. This is a moment of weakness.
We have a choice to reflect Gehazi or Elisha. Are we the kind of people that chase greed, ethnic pride, selfishness, spite, etc.? Or are the kind of people the reach across boundaries and produce moments of healing, grace, and blessing? God is calling us towards the healing and benefit that His kingdom is bringing to humanity and the world. Christianity in its history has had its fair share of not reflecting what God is doing in history, but at certain moments, we have seen people rise to the calling that God is putting on humanity and made a difference that saved people from a life of hurt and death. These moments exist every day in our lives. If we seek out the needs of others, we can find a way to live God’s dream and be hero of faith. It is much easier to live out what Gehazi lived out, but the way that changes the world for the best is found in what Elisha discovered, that is God’s plan being the best way to live.
God has a peculiar way of being gracious and accepting of humanity. This story of Naaman’s cleansing is one of the prime examples of God’s grace. When the story begins, Naaman is not a God fearer. He is far from it. He is not an Israelite, but is a pagan worshiping warrior who is highly honored in his pagan community. In his eyes, he has no reason to follow the God of Israel. He has it made with power and honor in his community, except for one thing, he had leprosy. It is not clear how intense his skin condition was, but the ancient world skin disease was considered very unclean and very unlucky. It was the one thorn in his side that made people want to steer clear of him.
When Naaman learns of Elisha, he takes it seriously, probably because he has tried everything else. If there is anything in the world that would take this obstacle away, he would try it. He was estranged in a way that kept him from close social interaction with others, which is devastating to any human. Proximity and relationship is important for a healthy person. When we are disconnected and do not have people to share life with, we experience the equivalent of leprosy in the ancient world. The world does not change much. We live in a culture that has the most potential for connectivity in history. Millions upon millions of people connect every day through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. and yet our culture is the most depressed and socially disconnected culture to roam the earth. This is not the way God created us. If you look at the first five books of the Old Testament known is the Torah (Law), you see that God has a plan for humans to actually relate to each other in positive, healthy ways. If you look at the first book of Genesis, the majority of it is God attempting to help humanity to connect positively. Most of those people start with not having relationship with God. God comes to meet them where they are. Naaman is exactly in the same place when he seeks out the healing, but God decides to use Elisha to meet him where he is.
Experiencing God’s favor and redemption is not an event that has a prerequisite. God is a gracious God and keeps meeting people where they are in life. When people come to seek healing, we need heroes of faith like Elisha to reflect a gracious God. People can tend to assume so much about an unbeliever when they come seeking faith and healing, much like Israel’s king in this story, who panics and thinks that Naaman’s country is out to get him. So many churches and christians act this way. They think that any unbeliever is out to tear down the faith and deconstruct religion. We are in need of Elisha’s who will step out in faith and show enough grace to minister to someone different from himself. With all the history of God reaching out to people, even when they were not seeking Him, it only makes sense that a religion based on being like this God would mimic this characteristic. Jesus told us to be “holy as your heavenly Father is holy (Matthew 5:48),” reflecting what was found in the Torah (Leviticus 11:44). God is not in the business of asking people to become holy before knowing Him. He wants them to know Him and be holy in response to His healing and faithfulness.
Living in today’s culture, we know that people are disconnected at an unprecedented spiritual and emotional level. The question is not how are they going to help themselves. The question is who will show them a better way. People of faith are existing in a divine moment where God is priming us for showing them a better way of relating to each other. We cannot continue to expect the church doors to be a filter keeping the holiness in and the impure out. It should be where the hurting people enter and are healed. It can be a place where people become healers instead of judgers. It can be a place that produces a movement that will make the world a better place.
When Naaman is healed, it comes as a surprise, because he thinks that Elisha is not taking him seriously, but what actually was happening was that Naaman’s pride was being challenged. He was supposed to be a mighty warrior. Where was the great challenge to put him in the history books as the achiever of his own healing. Dipping into a nasty river was not the image he had made for himself. Once he tries it, surrenders to a lower position, and is given the healing, he sees God as a provider. He starts to shed the false image he made for himself. The mighty warrior he wanted to be honored was transformed into someone better.
We have a chance to show people a better image to go for. We have something God has for us. Are we showing people what that looks like. Are we showing them something admirable, or showing them the door to get out? To be the heroes that God wants us to be, we have to be filled with love and grace to carry out the truth that we have been given. If we reflect what Elisha reflected, we will see people connect and become whole people.
This passage centers around food, famine, and the response to needs. In the modern Western World, we have a hard time understanding the effects of famine on an agrarian society. When famine comes along for people who depend on local farms for food, the results is tragedy and devastation. To paint this picture more clearly, most families had their own farms. They would plant, grow, and harvest for their families, communities, and sometimes for others they would sell to if they did not have what that farm was growing. They would also buy the stuff that they were not growing as well. As far as their families were concerned, what was on the farm was their main food source for survival. In the end, most people grew just enough to put enough calories into their bodies to be alive and healthy. So when a famine comes, life hung in the balance. You can see why these stories of food distribution during famines was not just a nice story; it was a story of saving lives.
In the first story, Elisha is sharing food with others during a time of famine. What makes that amazing is that most people were probably foregoing the cultural expectation to feed guests. If there is not enough food for your house, why entertain guest. It does not seem smart to the world. But there is a difference between the world and God’s Kingdom. The world says to preserve yourself, especially when there is not enough to go around. The Kingdom says that we must share and that there are enough resources to go around, we just have to creatively get them for each other.
The story does take a turn for the worst when a servant grabs poisonous herbs by mistake. When the guests eat the meal, they know exactly that they are poisoned and doomed. They let Elisha know about it quickly. That has happened many times in different ways to the Church today. We go out, try to serve, and totally botch a project up. We are very prone to mistakes and misunderstandings. Sometimes, we hurt people badly when we mean to do good. People are quick to point this out. We have seen many great leaders fall at the hands of an average Joe critic. Turning these mistakes into moments of spectacular heroism does not take some tactical rhetoric or clandestine coverup. Elisha, when the people mention this to him, acts in that unusual way that God always tends to lead him towards.
What many people of faith tend to assume is that acts of faith are flawless events with no obstacles are mistakes. What the Bible points out is that mistakes are to be made. Even when there are no mistakes, the world is full of obstacles that get in our way. When we act in faith, we approach the world with hope. We plan our best, but there are many things that we are unable to plan for. The only one who can plan for the unknown is the one who is over the unknown world and created it. Being a hero of faith takes trusting a God in the midst of our problems and mistakes and trusting Him to use us to bring good things to others. It’s at these moments, we learn what faith, hope, and love really mean. We find that in the uncertainty that need and tragedy bring that God to brings clarity and vision for a better future.
When you find yourself ministering to people, embrace what could go wrong. Although we do not plan the worst ministry ever, we can trust God to make the ministry work for everyone to experience the blessings of the Kingdom. Remember that He is strong and able and that when we show our weakness as humans, He acts in ways that are surprising and redeeming.
Last week we talked about the Shumenite women being blessed by God with a son. This week we take a look at the continuation of that story. When we think of having children, most of think of positive words like joy, love, and thankfulness. It’s a great thing to have kids and if you are guided by God to be married, then having kids can be one of the blessings in life. If you have already experienced this, you know what that feeling is like. You also probably know how devastating it would be to lose a child. This women experiences this loss and immediately is demanding an explanation from Elisha, which is completely understandable. Elisha was prompted by God to promise a son to this woman. Now that the son is dead, the woman feels betrayed. Why would God reward her act of heroic faith with death?
This question is not limited to parents. Great heroes of faith of any type experience trouble everyday. Some even have things great for awhile and then lose everything. Some of the most blessed believers in the world have watched all that they owned slip from their fingers and go down the drain. It’s enough to make you question God’s plans for you. It’s that moment where you know you should trust God because you know that He is good, but you also have seen life experiences that have made question God’s goodness. Some of you may have even turned away from the faith and said that God is not to be trusted at all.
The woman turns to a man of God for some explanation. Have you ever turned to God like that? Have you ever asked God what He was doing since life was not making any sense for you? Have you ever been able to look to a body of believers for help rectifying the idea of a loving God when something tragic happens? When tragedy strikes it is alright to turn to God and ask questions. In the Psalms, we see again and again that the writers would question God’s commitment to His covenant with Israel because it looked like they were on the brink of destruction. It was not a sign of a lack of faith, but a sign of utmost belief that God made covenant with them. They could not believe that God would just abandon them, so they could not help but cry out. They would even cry out to their fellow believers, as we see in Job, for explanation. God has mercy on those who are in the midst of tragedy and question Him. It’s turns out that it is important to rest on God and our brothers and sisters of faith when we struggle.
Elisha shows what a response of faith is like. He immediately has the response, “Let’s move.” He is not wasting time exercising his faith. Elisha starts by sending his servant, which does not work. So he starts towards the woman’s house to do act on this himself. We might not know if God will change things if we move, but if we do not move, we will never experience God’s moving life’s obstacles away. Movement towards the needs of people is what cause us to see God’s miracles. When tragedy strikes, it gives us opportunity to be heroes to the people who have been heroes before. We all are being used by God to speak peace and love and healing into each other. We have to remember that doing something to curb evil in the world does not always work the first time. Sometimes you have to reassess the right move. Other times you have to find another person to help. Whatever the case, we cannot give up on God’s mission for humanity.
Elisha performed really weird actions when performing this miracle. Laying on someone to do a healing these days would get you labeled weird and possibly creepy. But Elisha does it and something begins to happen. God will continually use us to confront bad situations, but they will not always be ways that are proven theories or make sense to us. We have to be open to the strange way that God interacts with the world. But when we do the things He asks us to do, we will see the miracles start. We will begin being a hero and will watch fortresses that seem indestructible crumble to the ground like a house of cards. In the end, the boy is healed and returns to his mother. This was more than have a son come back to life, but a sign that God was caring for that family and keeping them from not having a way to survive, which is what having a male child meant back then.
This story is a response to the events that we cannot explain and leave God’s plan looking like a farce. God’s plan is one of resurrection. The boy was raised in this store and the promise of life and provision was upheld by God. When we see how the resurrection applies to us, we see that we identify with Jesus. Since we have been adopted by God, we are destined to be raised. If we live the heroism that God is calling us to, we will see not only the miracles of today, but the one of tomorrow. When God returns, no more death, war, injury, slander, injustice, lies, conspiracy, or any other evil thing will be allowed on the earth. God will recreate everything, even us. We will be walking miracles and will experience what it means to be completely heroic.
This story of the Shunemite woman teaches how unexpected leaders can come out and change lives. It is always riveting to hear about a child or a poor person helps an adult or rich person out of a mess. It shows that God can have a sense of humor, but more importantly it shows how God can change the world and that He can do it with even weak people. The Shunemite woman is surprising is that she is living in the Middle East around 3000 years ago and she is someone’s wife. What that meant was that she was not supposed to be the one doing the inviting. The husband was. So it was strange to have the woman do that inviting. Also, she invites a highly revered man of God into her home with a method that was not encouraged.
God has this knack for asking people to do impossible, taboo things that culture deems inappropriate. For example, take the pacifist mennonites during World War II who refused to fight and were forced to work in other situations that were dangerous. These people were expected to fight in a war regardless of convictions and were put into situations that might scare them into conforming. To the surprise of our country, the opposite happened. When these pacifists had to interact in the dangerous situations, they ended up changing there surroundings with love. The dangerous people they worked with began to be more peaceful and manageable. If we follow what God has for His people, we can see the world change unexpectedly. Many people may say that we should be careful or fiscally responsible, but what is missed when we follow that advice is the very thing that makes a hero of the faith. This thing is a primitive faith that is willing to grow in God’s direction. Instead of resting on what the World says is the straight path of convenience and conformity, we follow a God who made reality and can guide to the places where we will be most effective for His kingdom and the peace that He brings.
One other amazing thing about this woman is that she never really asks for anything in return. That is one characteristic of the hero of faith that should never be missed. Selfless living is one of the primary virtues that Jesus and His follows preached through their ministries here on earth. When we fight to change the world, it has to be selfless and loving. We cannot continue to expect coercion to be the sword of the Spirit. We have to make Jesus words to us the sword. When we do that we will see the hearts of unbelievers pierced. But we will have to accept that our hearts need continual piercings too. We Christians tend to pick up our own swords and use them to change people. These swords might be hate speech, law, legalism, gossip, and other things that try to change others through guilt and shame. Jesus however wants us to God and love others. Both are equally important and that is how the world knows us. To change the world, we have to be an community of ever changing people who are continually pierced by the love of God. If we finally do that, we will see God work. We will also at times receive unexpected rewards in God’s own timing, much like the Shunemite woman becoming pregnant. But we must not act with the desire to receive. We need to act with giving as our God given purpose.
There are people who would say a hero is defined by power, control, and sometimes, how much he owns. In a community of faith, it is different. We defined our heroes by who is generous, serving, and being kind to others. This may not be the way the world has always done it, but it is the way that will change things. It will redirect humanity onto a better path. It’s a path that is defined by the cross of Jesus. What that means is that when we live this life, we have to go to the edge of our experiences and then go even further, even to the point of death. If you have never served, take the next simple servant action available to you. If you are not generous, give some money away to someone who really needs it. If you are already doing the things that God has called humanity to do, go further. Do not stop running the race just because you think you have beaten the guy next to you. Let’s finish the work God has given to us. If we settle we fail. If we keep moving, we will win.