I know some of you think that the God of the Old Testament is vengeful and overall a big meany, but the God we see in the New Testament is one of love and forgiveness. In a brief phrase– totally wrong! Look in your concordance to see how many times the word ‘love’ appears in both Testaments of your Bible. And you will see, as I did, that ‘love’ can be found in more verses of the Old than the New. Bottom line, the same God, the One and Only, can be found equally loving and forgiving and compassionate and totally just all through the Bible! Here in 2 Kings 5 is a good example of the God of mercy and understanding in the Old Testament. Have you read it yet? I’ll pause while you catch up! Naaman, the high mucky-muck commander of the military forces of Aram, a country northeast of Israel in what would be Syria today, has contracted leprosy and through the witness of his Israelite slave-girl comes to Elishah to have him pray for his healing. The Aramites rarely got along with the Israelites. Rarely and hardly ever. Strange for the Middle East, people not getting along! They worshiped Baal, a false god of the entire region, but here under the name of Rimmon. Naaman comes for healing and Elisha prays for him as he’s dipped 7 times into the River Jordan–and he’s healed! Whereupon Naaman says, ‘Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel.’ (verse 15). He becomes a believer in Yahweh God, the One and Only True God. Now I’m looking at verses 17-19, and it hit me between the eyeballs. God is so sensitive to me and to us! So caring and concerned about what bothers us. Do you see what I see? Naaman has come to accept the true God of Israel (and the whole world, may I add), to commit to Him alone; yet, he faces a huge problem, a dilemma that he just can’t shake as much as he tries. As the commander of the King’s armed forces, he escorts the King into the temple of Baal as the King leans on Naaman’s arm, bowing in reverence and respect and worship of Baal. He’s caught between faithfulness and fidelity to Yahweh alone, and respecting and obeying the wishes of his King as he has for a long time. What to do? A real bind. So, he tells the prophet Elisha all that’s on his heart. The twists and turns, and asks him to speak to the Lord asking for forgiveness. He means no disrespect, no lack of commitment to his God, no double-dealing in his spiritual life. None whatsoever. And the Lord knows Naaman’s heart. He trusts his humility and honesty–as the Lord will with each of us. When we’re caught in all kinds of binds, all kinds of places we don’t want to be, nevertheless, here we are. Do you know what I mean? Have you been there? Are you there now? Pour out your heart to the Lord, to Jesus our Savior, to the One true God of the Old and the New. Pour yourself out and you’ll find, as Naaman did, peace coming your way. What does Elisha say to Naaman? ‘Go in peace'(verse 19). Peace, Shalom…Such mercy and forgiveness and understanding and sensitivity of our Lord. I love this chapter. I love the God of the Bible. I love Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior…for He loves you and me with all the sensitivity and caring in this world and out of it as well! Isn’t that good news?
We hear of famines around the world, and even close to home with the lack of rain for many years in agricultural California. Threats of shortages of fruits and vegetables stretch our bank accounts with higher prices. The Bible talks about another type of famine coming. I hope you read those 2 short verses in the prophecy of Amos chapter 8 in your Old Testament. He quotes the Lord who says, ‘…not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.’ The reference is made to ‘in that day’and ‘the days are coming’; and I wonder, just wonder, if we’re not in that day now. Maybe they’re no longer coming…they are here– at least in a certain sense. Who knows? But we certainly suffer from it. A drought and dearth of hearing anything from God, any thing at all from His Holy Word. I have a small commentary book about the Minor Prophets, of which the book of Amos is one. This commentary was written about 35 years ago now. The author says that “our generation is shoving God to the margin of life. We are crowding Him out of the center of our lives and leaving the edges to Him. We want Him around when it is useful to us…”(Themes from the Minor Prophets by David Hubbard). That was then. And now I imagine our culture has pushed God over the edge, out completely. Not even the edges are His anymore. And to top it all off, He’s no longer useful. So get rid of Him lock, stock and barrel. And even if He’s allowed to hang around in old prayers or old commandments and crosses in cemeteries, the rationale runs something like ‘well, it’s just tradition and cultural heritage. Nothing religious about it.’ Really? That offends me in a society so easily offended by everything and everyone else. To the edge and over! Over and out! A few years back I asked a professor I had at Moody Bible Institute in the late 1960’s what differences he’s noticed in the students then and now. Of course, we were much smarter! No, he didn’t say that, did he!? Which I felt was too bad! But what he did say was that the average incoming Bible school student today knew so very little about the Bible. What? Did you read that? That was my reaction–incredulity. And if they don’t know the Bible well, how about the average Joe both in our churches–and might as well just forget about society… at all. The famine and thirst is here. Money and sexual titillation, politics and gender issues ad nauseam, terrorism and sectarianism, and all those latest food and fashion fads. They occupy our minds and time. As the Lord says in Amos 8:12 people all over the world are staggering, wandering and searching for truth (but not the Truth)–‘but they will not find it’. No, not until we bow the knee and come to faith in Jesus Christ alone, trusting in Him alone knowing that Truth with a capital ‘T’ resides in the book He has given us, the Bible. Best way to push back the drought and famine in our lives? Dive into the Word, immerse ourselves in it, plant the seed of God’s Word deep in our hearts and minds and will. Push back…don’t give in…spread the Word of God…wear out your Bible and buy a new one! Don’t just read the Word, hear it and heed it. And the blessings of God Almighty will keep a harvest and a well-watered life forever. Push back!
Looking back a bit into the life of Elijah, remember when he had that super-competition with the priests of Baal? Baal had it much easier. Just wood and a bull animal–let Baal set fire to it all. But nothing happened. Nothing at all! Now for the God of Elijah. Wood, a bull, trenches, water-all-around soaking and dripping throughout–with prayers to Yahweh, to send fire down from heaven and torch this drenched site of sacrifice. Will He do it? Can He? Which god is the true One and Only? Baal? What of him? The god of fire and water and life itself? The ancients pictured their god, Baal, standing up holding both his hands upright with one hand holding a hammer for thunder and the other with lightning bolts along with bull’s horns on his head symbolizing virility. He was thought to be the god of fire. Surely, he could perform in this challenge. Cry out to Baal, pray to him! And you know the outcome–the true God, the One and Only, Yahweh of Israel, overcame all those obstacles. Fire fell from heaven leaving a blazing inferno. Baal was a fire-less flop! Not Yahweh. No, for many times our God is associated with fire in the Old Testament. Moses at the burning bush, that fire by night for Israel in the desert for 40 long years to provide light and warmth on those cold, desolate desert nights. Fire. And here in our Bible text today we see Elijah and Elisha walking together and talking together, when suddenly a chariot appears with horses attached and fire…fire…fire! It’s so intense that it separates the 2 men. Elisha is probably thrown to the ground as he watches that chariot on fire with horses on fire lifting Elijah right up to heaven, to the very presence of God Himself, the One and Only True God. What a sight! What an experience! They have just been walking and talking together when all heaven breaks loose! When you or I are interrupted in our daily lives by what just feels like the temperature has been turned way up, stand back and see what the Lord has in mind for us. He’s the One and Only, our One and Only. We can trust Him even when the fire comes close and separates us from who or what we’ve loved. We were just walking and talking when… But He won’t burn us, He loves us. A cloak from heaven will drape us with new purpose, new life, new love covering us with His protection and His warmth and His light. His light should lighten the weight on our shoulders as we journey together with Him as if we’re walking on step upon step leading right up to heaven itself!
I love the story of Elijah’s last days on earth. He’s, of course, one of the great prophets of the Lord in the Old Testament. He’s also, along with Moses, on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, talking with Him and encouraging Him, as witnessed by the Apostles Peter, James and John. And here in chapter 2 of 2 Kings we have the last days of Elijah on earth. Elijah and his chosen successor, Elisha, were traveling from Gilgal, a small town in Israel –but where big things happened. In Joshua 5 we read that it was here that the people of Israel renewed their covenant promises with the Lord; and where, in 1st Samuel 11, that last of the judges, named Samuel, anointed Saul the first King of Israel. Elijah is on his way to another important town, Bethel, and tells Elisha to stay behind here in Gilgal. But Elisha knows, he’s been told by that group from Bethel called the ‘company of the prophets’ that Elijah is on borrowed time, and on top of that that the Lord would take him home this very day. Elisha is just brokenhearted. He’s grieving in anticipation of the departure of his dear mentor and friend, whose more like a father to him. He just can’t accept it. And, no, he will not stay behind when Elijah moves on. No, he’s made it perfectly clear that he’s not budging, he’s staying with him as long as possible, until the end and hanging on for dear life– even then. ‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ Sounds like that gospel song that sings ‘I shall not be, I shall not be moved’. That ‘company of the prophets’ keeps repeating what Elisha does not want to hear–‘do you not know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?’ And Elisha shouts back at them to shut them up–‘yes, I know, but do not speak of it.’ I wonder if Elisha is just feeling that if they just don’t talk about it maybe it’s all a bad dream and nothing will really come of it. Don’t say another word! Keep quiet! You know what it’s like to just want to hear nothing more about, well, whatever has torn your heart to pieces. To talk about what keeps going around and around inside your heart and emotions; to talk about it with someone else, even someone you love and trust, it’s just too much. You’re having a hard time letting go. Too painful…too difficult…too unbelievable. You know the feeling. You remember going through such a time? Maybe this is such a time, now. So, listen then for a moment longer. Elijah lets Elisha go with him, express what’s on his heart–his incredulity and horror at what’s coming. He doesn’t scold his friend, he doesn’t belittle him or make him feel guilty like he’s a second-class spiritual failure. No, he lets him be. He lets him work it through. He stays with him until…Well, that’s more for next time! But, today, think about letting someone else just feel what they’re feeling, staying with them, not analyzing them or berating them…but being with them as they, through the help of the Holy Spirit, work through a difficult letting go in their lives. How many times has that happened in my life? Just one or two fingers on one hand. Not often at all…but maybe, just maybe, I can be a good friend to someone else today. And you too? Could make all the difference for someone else…
A few weeks ago, my wife Sue and I took yet another Alaska inland-passage cruise, our 4th one. We just love being out on the ocean, seeing glaciers and bald-eagles, whales and all that good food! One late morning while ordering special coffees at the International Cafe on the Grand Princess, I noticed the Eastern European waitress talking with a young family also getting some refreshments. Trying to focus my ears to hear what was going on(not being the snoopy type!), I discovered they were all speaking the same language, Russian or something similar. And what a happy, joyous, animated conversation! They, crew and passenger,spoke the same language, and that made all the difference. As a matter of fact, we saw that same waitress and this young family of 4 talking together just about every time we were in the International Cafe. It was so special for them. Probably they knew all the same places and towns and holidays and customs. They had a bonding that the rest of us just did not enjoy. I was thinking though–it’s the same in the Lord. When we’ve opened our lives to Jesus as Savior and Lord,when we accepted Him into our hearts, we feel such closeness and intimacy with others who likewise know Him. There’s that bond in Jesus that makes us brothers and sisters, family really. And what could be better than family! Now don’t groan! I know…God made family at a weak moment! He had troubles with His first 2 kids also! I know. But blood is thicker than water. And Jesus’ blood makes us one in Him, a bonding that can never be broken. My wife and I always request a table for 2 from the Matre ‘de. And to be served dinner at the earliest hour. Usually, they can accommodate us, and that was the case on this Alaskan cruise. Yeah, not having to chit-chat with some strangers who are loud and feeling no pain, if you know what I mean! And 5:30pm so we’re not carting around all that food and then to bed on a super-full stomach. Before we sail, we always pray to find Christians on our trips–someone who speaks the same language. But this cruise had an amazing answer to prayer…3 couples in a row, all at tables for 2, all quiet and fun, and all believers in Jesus Christ. All of us! Like those men on the Road to Emmaus who encounter Jesus where He opens the Scriptures to them about the Messiah, about Himself, then sharing a meal together; and their hearts become so warm because of Jesus and that same language and those bonds of love that can never, ever be broken!
My cousin Arthur–well, he wasn’t really my cousin. When my Irish relatives emigrated to America, to Jersey City, New Jersey, in the late 1800’s, their new neighbors were like family and Mrs Ronson became Aunt Flo and Mr Macannerny was Uncle Clive. So, my cousin Arthur, the true nephew of Aunt Flo, who lived in England and was, as a young man, a great cyclist. He rode all over southern England with his mates until he barely missed being hit by a car causing him to hit a rut in the side of the road tossing him off his bike and landing him on the ground right on top of a pointy rock. He never rode again or even walked without the help of calipers and crutches. I remember him telling me that when he looked down at his legs on the ground that day they felt like they were still up in the air just as they had been a mili-second before hitting that rock. He had what many amputees experience–called ‘phantom sensation’ or feeling. They can still feel their lost leg or arm; experiencing a tingling, and sometimes pain and itching where an arm or a leg no longer exist. Phantom feeling. That phenomenon came to mind as I was reading what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in his first letter chapter 5. ‘Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast–as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed’ (verse 7). He’s been writing about how sin can just take off like wildfire in us, others and the church, let alone the world. He urges them to identify the old rapid-rising yeast and just get rid of it. Find the sin, name it, confess it and move on as forgiven children of God. Now, we can’t get rid of our own sins. No way. Only God can do that– and He has by sending His only Son, Jesus Christ. His sacrifice on the Cross, His offering of Himself in our place, doing for us what we could never do ourselves–because of Jesus on the Cross, we are forgiven! When we accept what He’s done for us, that time of belief and faith, of being born-again and converted, that’s when the old yeast has been rid of and the new batch been made… without that old yeast! The apostle says, ‘as you really are’! Did you hear what he said? I hear it but so many times I don’t feel it. I have phantom feeling. Like I’m still carrying around all that guilt on my shoulders. The memories of shame and humiliation, of shiftiness and so-called getting away with things. All those sins of mine that I’ve asked God to forgive and that He has in Jesus Christ, and yet I still carry the weight of what no longer holds true between God and me. Phantom feeling. Am I alone in this? How about you? So, maybe we should start to really read and heed what’s in the Bible. Let it really sink in and soak in our hearts and souls, and accept the newness that God has given us. Forgiveness is not homemade. Not at all. But it’s totally of Him, of Jesus, thinking of me and you on the cross. You and I are new in Him! Believe it! Live like He means it! Get rid of the old yeast! Be the new batch… ‘as you really are’!
As I look back on my life in the Lord, I can see lots of two steps forward, one back; one step forward, three back and so forth. How about you? A straight line and arrow for the Lord? I hope so, but I’m not holding my breath! Wouldn’t that have been wonderful saving me and you from all kinds of dead-ends and wrong-way turns in our lives. Doesn’t take me long to mentally replay lots of terrible decisions, sinful choices and just plain going my own way. I know I’m not alone but that is faint consolation indeed. This widow from Zarephath discovers that the God of Israel, Yahweh, the One True God, is calling her to get involved helping out one of God’s choice prophets, Elijah. And she sees that Yahweh is a God of compassion answering her prayers for help when the local deity Baal just seems to be off on vacation having turned off his cell phone. Maybe he refused to put new batteries in his hearing-aids! The oil and flour never run out as long as the drought and famine are in full swing. Her faith grows as the blessings come day by day. And so would ours. I love it when blessings are poured out on me…showers of blessings along with those mercy-drops! You too? Of course! But then…oh, here we go. Storm clouds of a different sort are on the horizon coming our way. Storm clouds, not of needed rain, but of troubles and trials. Her son, her only son becomes ill. Sick as a dog and getting worse with each passing hour. ‘Worse and worse,’ the Bible says–and then his breath ceases, he’s gone, her only child. All those days of oil and flour are now useless for her son. He’s dead anyway and all the food in the world won’t bring him back. So, she turns to the prophet and rails against Elijah and, by implication, the Lord. ‘Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?’ (1 Kings 17:18). She wonders if God is more inclined toward punishment than forgiveness, revenge than love and compassion. He’s provided for her and her son and the prophet, but now this has happened. And it causes her to question all she’s recently believed about the Lord. How about you? Haven’t you had times when your faith seemed to just melt away in the flames of troubles? For me, I usually just blame myself and figure God has also given up on me and with good reason. Let you tell all about it! Still, blaming myself more than blaming God stunts my faith in our Lord. What to do? That’s the question, isn’t it? Like Elijah, take those heartaches and headaches to the Lord in prayer. Like Elijah, wrap your hands around them and go into the upper room of prayer and just pour yourself out to Him, over and over again. He never tires of hearing what is from our heart. Cry out, like Elijah did. And when the answers come, and you know it, then like that widow of so many years ago, you’ll say, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God and that the Word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth’ (1 Kings 17:24). You’ll know it…I’ll know it and our faith will keep on growing, now an in spite- of faith! Not perfect but stronger than ever…
I love all those characters that are not named in the Bible…just anonymous and unknown to us. As with this amazing widow in 1 Kings chapter 17. No name is mentioned. Just a widow in need. I have always appreciated believers who just haven’t needed their names to be up in lights,or on ‘Broadway’ or who get upset when not receiving their proper recognition or due. Just to do for the Lord. Just for Him…alone. I’ve tried real hard, and probably failed many times, not to get caught up in my own ego. I remember when speaking at a Lenten luncheon at a nearby church awhile back, and the bulletin had instead of homily, another word for sermon, it was printed homely…and with my name next to it. ‘And now preaching, the homely John Fischer’! Well, thanks, folks…for nothing! Actually, didn’t bother me at all and I’ve had a chuckle or two over it for years now. As long as the Lord knows who I am, who you are…that’s what really counts. And trust me, He does! Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are His children now and forever! This widow of Zarephath has encountered one of God’s most powerful prophets, Elijah, who as it turns out seems more like some needy person among so many hungry and thirsty and starving people in her city. All her food is almost gone. And the Bible says that God has commanded this woman to provide food and drink for Elijah. When did that happen? The commandment, I mean. Where does it say that she heard directly from the Lord? The Bible doesn’t say. As a matter of fact, we’re clueless at this point. She doesn’t tell the prophet that God has told her she must meet him and that she has to give him food or anything. No, in her quest to survive for yet one more meager meal for herself and her son, one last bite and drink; and now this stranger, this man of Yahweh when Zarephath is a city of their god Baal and the home area of the Queen Jezebel,who hates anyone worshiping Yahweh, she’s supposed to give him what she almost nothing of? Here’s where the story takes on yet deeper meaning for her. Little does she know that through encountering this strange foreigner she will have an opportunity to believe in the One True God, the God of Israel. Do you know what grabs me in this story? The truth behind the truth. We may not have any idea what God wants to do, but He will do it anyway. He is at work when we least can see it or feel it. So, my faith grows knowing that no matter what, God is working in and through me…and you. Don’t worry about it. Go about your life just as it is. Dream the dreams of your heart. Plan as much as you like. But know that the Lord will be meeting you along the way. And He will place you right where He wants you so you can reach someone else, who may not have the foggiest, to reach them for Him. That’s the Holy Spirit interceding with words we cannot even comprehend or Jesus drawing people to Himself through the funniest means and the weirdest people…using fold like me and you! I feel lighter now not worrying about what God will be doing, where or how or when; but knowing He is and will act in His time and in His way. Isn’t that neat? Get ready–surprises await!
I’ve given you a bit to read today, but none more than I’ve read as well. Meditating on 1 Corinthians 4:1 I was struck by that phrase ‘the secret things of God.’ It reminded me of Deuteronomy 29:29 where Moses says that ‘the secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law.’ God has shown us in the Bible, from cover to cover, all that we need to know. And there are secrets known only to Him, which He will not reveal to us in this life. He’s given us all we need to know to lead a godly, born-again life. The rest is His alone. So, go with what you know and leave the rest to Him. He’s more than trustworthy. Did you enjoy the story of Elijah and the widow from Zarephath in 1 Kings 17? I love this story. Elijah has been cared for by God, fed by ravens bringing bread and meat to him by the Kerith Ravine until the river runs dry and God tells him to head up to Phoenicia, to a town named Zarephath where God has commanded a widow to provide food for him. Now, Phoenicia is the center of Baal worship, the home area of Jezebel, a place where flour and cooking oil are major exports and cash crops. But the god Baal must be angry or he’s impotent to provide for his worshipers. No food, no oil…time is running out and death is stalking at the gates of the city. This poor widow has a few sticks for a fire and one last bit of flour and oil to bake some bread for her son and herself–and then it’s over. They’re done for. Elijah sees her at the town gate and asks her for a drink of water. And then, seems to me a bit nervy, Elijah asks her for some bread, to bake some for him before she does the same for her son and herself! And he tells her that the Lord, the God of Israel, the true God, the One and Only, will provide for her a never-ending supply of food and oil until the drought and famine have lifted. Elijah tells her not to be afraid. She has a big choice to make. Take a chance on faith? Trust the true God or walk away and have one last meal before they die. She considers…she thinks…she decides to trust in God. And He provides, unlike Baal who can do nothing for he is nothing but human and demonic invention. Every day bread and oil are provided by Yahweh God. Every day. God provides. I’m wondering if there’s not something in your life that you need to trust God to take care of, to provide for? Seems like you’ve reached the end of some road. One last gasp of breath. And then someone or something comes along to remind you that the Lord will provide. He will take care of you. Sure it’s scary to trust the Lord, to toss your hat in His ring and not take it back. And you don’t have to have perfect faith either. Just faith the size of a tiny mustard seed, Jesus said. Give Him whatever faith you can muster. He’ll take whatever you bring to the altar… in humility and need. He loves you and me. He promises to provide for us…I think there’s more about this next time. There’s more…there’s always more with our Lord!
The summer of 1972 I was accepted for an internship at the Princeton Medical Center in Princeton, New Jersey as a hospital chaplain, part of my certification in Clinical Pastoral Education. My concentration for my masters program at the Seminary was pastoral counseling, and this summer program would add practical training to the academic course work required during the year. I enjoyed visiting patients and families, praying with them and talking about spiritual matters. What interested me at the very beginning was finding out that Albert Einstein had been in this hospital… and had died here. No, not after a visit from me! I would have been an 8 year old chaplain if that were possible! But maybe, just maybe, some of those brain-power germs were lurking in those hallways, and I might catch some of them. Any chance? Not on your life! I escaped totally unscathed by the great mind of Albert Einstein! Too bad, so sad! I remember reading somewhere that Einstein (who lived with his daughter just a few houses down from the Seminary)had said that we humans only use a small percentage of our brain. Maybe 10 or 15 percent. Something like that–just a small portion of all its great potential. My father used to mimic what his German father would love to say: ‘smart like your father, you dope you'(say it in broken English with that thick German accent like my Aunt Bertha!). I just roar every time I think of what Adam Fischer used to say. Funny, really. But not so humorous when I read Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Have you read those few verses in chapters 2 and 3 yet? If not, take a moment and read them now. The Apostle Paul says something just earth-shattering to me, mind-boggling and amazing–‘But we have the mind of Christ'(1 Corinthians 2:16). Think about that for a moment or maybe a lot longer. Forget Einstein. We have the mind of Christ, the Son of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all, everywhere, for all time. His mind, available to little old me and you! How much do we use it? How much time do we spend with Him absorbing His mind, His will, His ways, His take on this world; and, of course, our personal lives as well. We have the mind of Christ. Well, how about using it? Thinking the way He thinks. Doing what he would do, to the best of our understanding as feeble as we are. He knows we’re made of clay, but He’s given us so much more to work with. Work that mind of Christ in you, exercise that muscle of the Lord given to you and me. As the Apostle said in his 2nd letter to those Corinthians–‘we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’ Every thought? You’ve got to be out of your mind! No, in your right mind, the mind of Christ! Smart like your Savior, you saint, you!